Abandoned tanks of Shumshu island

Abandoned tanks of Shumshu island

The article that is being offered to you this time is dedicated to the key stage of the Kuril landing operation – the battle for Altitude 171. It was here that the most fierce battles unfolded. In fact, the fate of the operation was decided precisely on the slopes of the highest point of Shumshu Island.

In the north of the Japanese Empire

Before proceeding directly to the battle, it is worth talking separately about what forces met with each other on the northernmost island of the Kuril ridge. Both on the Soviet and Japanese sides information about the battle differs in a mass of inaccuracies. Even the number of Japanese tanks that were shot down during the battle for Shumshu does not match – surprisingly, Japanese sources indicate a greater number of lost vehicles than Soviet sources do. There are also differences in the assessment of losses, and some Russian “historians” recorded in the losses the 48% of the landing troops, that is no less than four thousand people. Given the fact that in the future the forces of the Kuril landing spread out over the islands and became the basis of the occupying forces, you begin to think about the living dead.


Until 1940, there was practically no military activity in the Kuril Islands (the Japanese call them Chishima). Only in the fall of 1940, when the Army North was formed with headquarters in Sapporo (Hokkaido Island), the construction of a naval base began on the territory of the fishing village of Kashiwabara (now the city of Severo-Kurilsk, the island of Paramushir). On Shumshu, which is separated from the Paramushir be strait, a similar base began to be built on the territory of the fishing village of Kataoka (before that there was the Ainu village of Mayruppo, which was the center of trade of the indigenous population of the Kuril Islands with the Russians until 1875). Full-scale military construction began much later – in the spring of 1943, when Japanese troops were evacuated from the Aleutian Islands. The troops leaving Kiski were stationed on Paramushir. On Shumshu, the backbone of the forces defending the island was the 91st Infantry Division formed in 1944 under the command of Lieutenant General Fusai Tsutsumi (in Soviet documents he is called Tsutsumi Fusaki).

Japanese tanks.

Japanese tanks.

In 1943, work on the construction of defensive structures in the Kuril Islands began. Often you can hear the fact that the work of captured Chinese was allegedly used. In fact, the main work on the construction of fortifications fell on the shoulders of Japanese military builders, in whose ranks there were a large number of Koreans. For a year and a little, three islands (Shumshu, Paramushir and Matua) were covered with a network of defensive structures, warehouses, hospitals and a number of other premises which were placed underground. At Shumshu, really powerful defensive lines were mostly located near the base of Kataoka in the southeast of the island. Also, a defense line was created in the northwest of Shumshu. The remaining sections were covered locally.

It is worth noting that such a placement of defensive structures was entirely justified, since it was designed to protect against the American fleet, which usually attacked from the southeast. Since the non-aggression pact was signed with the USSR in 1941, defense from the north was much weaker. All that the Japanese could oppose the landing from there were two enclosed batteries at the northwestern tip of the island, an artillery battery near the height of 171, and airplanes that were based on two airfields (there was also a hydroaero station on Lake Bittobu and an airfield on the west of the island to Shumshu) .

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The 11th tank regiment, which played a key role in the battle for Shumshu, appeared on the Kuril Islands in 1944. It was formed in Manchuria in 1942 and quickly became part of the 2nd Armored (tank) Division. Colonel Ikeda Sueo was appointed commander of the regiment. It must be said that Ikeda Sueo  had an extensive experience in fighting in China, in addition, he was a prominent theorist and the author of a number of manuals for training Japanese tankmen. The base of the 11th tank regiment was located south of the base of Kataoka.

Medium tanks Type 97 “Shinhoto Chi-ha” from the 11th Tank Regiment, Shumshu, 1944. The hieroglyph 士 (samurai), which was a symbol of the regiment, is marked on the tower.

Medium tanks Type 97 “Shinhoto Chi-ha” from the 11th Tank Regiment, Shumshu, 1944. The hieroglyph 士 (samurai), which was a symbol of the regiment, is marked on the tower.

As of August 1945, the regiment contained 64 tanks (25 light Type 95 “Ha-go”, 19 medium Type 97 “Chi-ha” and 20 medium Type 97 “Shinhoto Chi-ha”). The materiel of the regiment was relatively new. It is interesting that the Shinhoto Chi-ha included tanks converted from Chi-ha (a new tower and turret box were installed on the old chassis). According to the state, the regiment was supposed to include 3 headquarters tanks, as well as 5 companies, 11 tanks each. The structure of the 11th tank regiment was different: there were 6 companies, and on light tanks there was not the 1st, but the 4th company. A distinctive feature of the tanks of the 11th tank regiment was the hieroglyph 士 printed on the tower (translated from Japanese – samurai).

Surprise effect

Despite the fact that the USSR was neutral, Japan was still regarded as a more than likely enemy. It is not surprising that forces were gradually accumulating in Kamchatka. In November 1944, the Kamchatka Defensive Region was created, and it was headed by Major General A. R. Gnechko. The KDR included the 128th mixed air division (128th SAD), the Peter and Paul Naval Base and the 60th Kamchatka Marine Border Detachment. The 101st Infantry Division under the command of Major General P. I. Dyakov remained the basis of the ground forces. According to documents, since the beginning of 1945, the division’s command conducted exercises with enviable regularity in conditions as close to combat as possible. In a word, the personnel of the division was ready for the assault on Shumsh.

On August 15, 1945, at 7:40 local time, General of the Army of the Far Eastern Front M. A. Purkaev ordered the preparation of an assault on Shumsha and Paramushir. Despite a number of difficulties, the formation of the Kuril landing took only 32 hours, and the Japanese did not know anything about it. They did not know that by 2 o’clock on August 18, six dozen ships concentrated in the area of ​​the First Kuril Strait. From Cape Lopatka, the action of the landing was supported by the gun battery, which by that time had already fired at Shumsha for several days. According to the original plan, they were going to land on the northwestern tip of the island. As a result, the landing was decided to be carried out in the north-eastern part of Shumshu, between the capes Kokutan-Saki (now Cape Kurbatova) and Kotomari-Saki (now Cape Pochtareva).

The scheme of hostilities in Shumshu and Paramushir

The scheme of hostilities in Shumshu and Paramushir

By that time, the 11th tank regiment was quite spread aсross the island. Directly near Kataoka were the headquarters, as well as the 1st, 2nd and 6th companies. The 5th company was located southeast, and the 3rd and 4th companies were located in the center of the island, northwest of the Miyoshino airfield (later on this site was the Kuzminovsky airfield). According to the recollections of Japanese tankers, the garrison was gradually preparing for surrender, and, apparently, they were waiting for the Americans. Soviet troops took the Japanese by surprise.

By 9 a.m. Kamchatka time, the forces of the first throw and the personnel of the first echelon, which had been battered during the landing, arrived in the area of ​​Mount Sirey-san (it is also Altitude 171, it is also Mount Severnaya). The forces of the first cast were commanded by the commander of the 138th joint venture on the combat front, Major P. I. Shutov. In addition to the personnel of the 101st SD, among the 171 troops who approached the Height were border guards of the 60th border post under the command of Captain N.I. Lashmanov, as well as a marine battalion under the command of Major T.A. Pochtaryov. According to the naval report, at 9:10 it was reported that the battalion of the marine corps had occupied a height.

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By this time, the 4th company under the command of Captain Ito Rikio approached the height from the southeast. The main forces of the regiment time began to advance only by 8 am Kamchatka. It is worth noting that Shushmu is noticeably inferior in size to Paramushir, but still you can not call it small. In order to get from Baikovo to Altitude 171, it will take at least three hours. So the commander of the fourth tank company had to act independently.

“Ha-go” captain Ito Rikio, commander of the 4th tank company. In 2010, the tank was transported to Sakhalin, where it was restored and installed on the territory of the Sakhalin State Regional Museum of Local Lore. But in truth, there were no Japanese tanks on Sakhalin.

Here it is worthwhile to give more details about the place where the main battle on Shumshu happened. Unlike most of the islands of the Kuril ridge, Shumshu (translated from the Ainu language as Syumusyu means “good land”) has a very flat surface. The exception is the northern end, where the height is located. In fact, this is not one height, but several: in Japanese sources it is sometimes called the “four mountains”, and the Soviet sources distinguish two heights (Height 171 and Height 165, it is also a small height) that surround deep ravines. Between the two heights, the Japanese paved the way. On the eastern slope of Altitude 165, a battery of 149-mm Type 96 fortress cannons was equipped that covered the First Kuril Strait (at the beginning of hostilities remained only one cannon, it still stands in its position). A machine-gun bunker was placed above the battery, and a gun bunker was located nearby, which housed a 105-mm Type 38 gun. Below the battery, there is a road leading to Cape Kurbatov. The 4th tank company moved along this road. The idea was quite logical: there was a chance to split the landing forces in two.

According to the magazine of military operations of the commander of the Kuril landing, captain-lieutenant P. Savateev, at 9:27 the commander of the mortar company reported the tanks of the enemy breaking through to the Altitude 171 (actually it was about Altitude 165) in the amount of 5-6 vehicles. At the request of the mortar men, the flagship of the Dzerzhinsky airborne landing flotilla of the TFR opened fire on height. A battle ensued in which the Marines took the main blow. Japanese tanks were able to push the landing troops a bit, but that was all. The attack cost the 4th company 7 tanks, lost forever. The gun was shot at the command tank, so it could no longer participate in the battle.

“Chi-ha” from the first company, shot down during an attack along the eastern slope of Altitude 165.

The same tank these days

The same tank these days.

Surprisingly, this episode did not get into any of the publications of the Soviet period. The answer is simple: the fact is that the publications are based on the report of Lieutenant General A. R. Gnechko. The naval report was not included in his material for unknown reasons. Hence the discrepancy in the number of tank losses.

After the attack of the Japanese light tanks was repulsed, the landing forces began to take hold at the foot of the heights, as well as on the eastern slope of Altitude 165. At that time, the main forces of the 11th tank regiment approached the battlefield. On the one hand, the numerical superiority was on the side of the Japanese: according to available data, the second time the landing was attacked by about 40 tanks. Japanese tankers knew the island very well. In addition, anti-tank artillery in view of the hitch at the landing get to the battlefield after the battle was all over. On the other hand, the personnel of the Kuril landing was equipped with anti-tank grenades, in addition, there were 189 anti-tank rifles. Against German tanks in 1945, these funds were practically useless, but Japanese tanks armor could be easily pierced by anti-tank rifles from all projections.

Soviet soldiers with anti-tank rifles in position.

Soviet soldiers with anti-tank rifles in position.

And anti-tank grenades were an extremely effective means, which showed the further development of events. The situation of the Japanese military was aggravated by the fact that they did not have any information on the number of landing paratroopers, and Shumshu, as usual, was covered by a rather thick fog, which only dissipated for a while.

This photograph most clearly demonstrates the conditions under which the battle was fought on August 18, 1945.

This photograph most clearly demonstrates the conditions under which the battle was fought on August 18, 1945.

Native walls did not help

The plan, according to which the 11th tank regiment originally operated, was not much different from that one the 4 tank company had previously undertaken. Japanese tanks moved along the eastern slope of Altitude 165, as well as along the road in front of it. The landing party, positioned in the Japanese trenches, they decided to take in ticks. True, the defenders had completely different plans. On the way of the Japanese tanks, walking along the eastern slope of the heights, was a group of marines, commanded by Lieutenant-technician A.M. Vodynin. Judging by the memoirs, in addition to the Marines, who had the initial task of undermining the Japanese bunkers, at least one anti-tank gun was also involved in repelling the attack. Vodynin and Sergeant S. I. Ryndin threw themselves under tanks with bundles of grenades, destroying enemy vehicles at the cost of their lives. Sergeant Petr Babich knocked out one tank. The Japanese tank tried to crush the wounded foreman, but he was saved by the senior sailor M.V. Vlasenko, who was able to drag his comrade into a trench and then destroy the enemy machine with a grenade. By the way, Babich and Vlasenko were considered dead, but they survived the battle. One Chi-Ha was hit by a turret from an anti-tank rifle and landed in a stream. Another car, the Shinhoto Chi-Ha, which was able to slip along the road below the eastern slope, also found itself under anti-tank rifles fire, resulting in detonation of the turret.

The result of the attack on the eastern slope of Altitude 165 was 7 tanks lost by the Japanese. The remaining cars were forced to move. Just at that moment, an event occurred that became one of the most famous episodes of the battle for Shumshu. A group of marines blocked the bunker, firing at the eastern slope of Altitude 165. Pyotr Ilyichyov and Nikolai Vilkov rushed into the bunker, at the cost of their lives, suppressing the firing point.

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Having failed with an end-around, Colonel Ikeda Sueo decided to go ahead between the two heights. The Chi-Ha and Shinhoto Chi-Ha medium tanks were at the forefront of attack, and the Ha-Go light tanks were supported by fire from the top. The attack was bold, but generally useless and suicidal. By the time the commander of the 11th Tank Regiment led the vehicles in the last attack, the fog had cleared, and the Japanese military vehicles were in full view. All that the tanks could do was break through the first line of defense and come close to the trenches, in which the main forces of the defenders were located. The defenders did not experience a lack of anti-tank rifles. One by one, Japanese cars stopped, engulfed in flames and riddled with bullets. Judging by the nature of the defeats, they mostly hit from the flanks, aiming at the tower.

Until recently, it was believed that this was the tank of the commander of the 11th tank regiment, Colonel Iked Sueo. However, in 2013, the remains of Sergeant Ito Taichi, who was part of the crew of Komiya Kanave, the commander of the 6th company, were found near the tank

Until recently, it was believed that this was the tank of the commander of the 11th tank regiment, Colonel Iked Sueo. However, in 2013, the remains of Sergeant Ito Taichi, who was part of the crew of Komiya Kanave, the commander of the 6th company, were found near the tank.

The result of the attack was the death of another 10 tanks, and their total number was 24 pieces. In Soviet documents, 17 tanks are usually indicated, but, again, the morning attack was not taken into account. In the battle, 97 tankers died, including all tank company commanders, except Ito Rikio. Colonel Ikeda Sueo also died, and his death was very symbolic. This is how Major Shutov describes it:

“The tanks turned into battle formation, approached with a roar. On one of them, in the open hatch, holding a banner, stood a Japanese officer. We have already prepared to repel a counterattack. Mortar menand machine gunners were just waiting for a signal to open fire on the infantry of the enemy. The calculations of the anti-tank rifles of the company of Captain Derbyshev prepared for firing at the tanks. Each fighter prepared a bunch of grenades.

– Fire!

Shots and banging bursts mixed with the roar of tanks. They shot everything. I grabbed a machine gun and hit the infantry following the tanks. No less intense fire was fought from the flanks, where the units of Dain and Inozemtsev were still located. The first enemy car stopped, another broke out. In no more than two minutes, 6 Japanese tanks were already burning.

However, the rest quickly approached. I can clearly see the skewed face of a Japanese officer with a banner. I press the trigger of the machine. The officer poked his face, the banner falls to the ground. And after a moment, the tank freezes. A shot by Sergeant Kostylev stopped him. ”

Japanese drawing depicting Colonel Ikeda in his last battle.

Japanese drawing depicting Colonel Ikeda in his last battle.

“Shinhoto Chi-ha,” the longest advancement in a suicide attack. The result is logical – several hits in the tower, the destruction of the tower ammunition, a fire …

The remaining tanks (about 30 pieces) were led by Captain Ito Rikio. After regrouping, the Japanese tankers prepared for the next attack, but it never happened. On August 19, negotiations began, which ended on the 24th with the surrender of the Shumshu and Paramushir garrisons.

According to documents, including roll-call lists, 616 people died from the Kuril landing, 329 went missing, 9 people were listed in non-combat losses, 716 were injured. Total 954 dead and missing. Of this number, about half are the dead and missing (mostly drowned) directly during the landing, when Japanese batteries point-blank shot the landing ships. According to Japanese data, only 91 infantry divisions killed and went missing 473 people. In total, the figures for losses will be quite close.

Currently, the battle of Shumsha is largely forgotten. However, this is one of the glorious pages in the history of the Second World War. Even if negotiations had not begun and active hostilities continued, the outcome of the battle was already a foregone conclusion. At the cost of their lives, the paratroopers could not only repel the attack of enemy tanks, destroying more than a third of the materiel of the 11th tank regiment, but also gain time, thanks to which they managed to unload and put into heavy combat artillery. Almost complete air supremacy of Soviet aviation left little chance for the defenders in Shumsha and Paramushira. Fortunately, it was no longer necessary to verify this thesis.

As for the 11th tank regiment, then its materiel after capitulation was in the hands of the Soviet troops. A number of tanks were sent to scrap, some were used as tractors, for which towers and weapons were removed. The main part of the tanks that participated in the last attack, still stands in the places where they was knocked out.

In the Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War there is a whole exposition dedicated to the Kuril landing operation. The first tank arrived in the museum from Shumshu in the early 90s, the rest in 2010.

In the Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War there is a whole exposition dedicated to the Kuril landing operation. The first tank arrived in the museum from Shumshu in the early 90s, the rest in 2010.

The personnel of the regiment in the late 40s returned to Japan. Now in the 11th brigade of the Self-Defense Forces of Japan, based in Sapporo, is the 11th tank battalion, which is the successor to the 11th tank regiment.




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