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Kwantung Army
Kwantung Army Headquarters.JPG
Kwantung HQ in Hsinking, Manchukuo
Active April 1906 – August 1945
Country Empire of Japan Empire of Japan
Branch Imperial Japanese Army
Type Infantry
Role Army group
Garrison/HQ Hsinking, Manchukuo
Nickname(s) Toku (德兵團 Toku heidan?), Special

Second Sino-Japanese War

Soviet–Japanese border conflicts

World War II

The Kwantung Army (Japanese: 関東軍; Hepburn: Kantōgun; simplified Chinese: 关东军; traditional Chinese: 關東軍; pinyin: Guāndōngjūn; Wade–Giles: Kuan1-tung1 Chün1; Korean language: 관동군 ) was an army group of the Imperial Japanese Army in the first half of the 20th century. It became the largest and most prestigious command in the IJA. Many of its personnel, such as Chiefs of Staff Seishirō Itagaki and Hideki Tōjō were promoted to high positions in both the military and civil government in the Empire of Japan and it was largely responsible for the creation of the Japanese-dominated Empire of Manchukuo. In August 1945, the army group, only around 600,000 (from total 1,320,000) men at the time, was defeated by and surrendered to Soviet troops as a result of the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation.



Kwantung Army on maneuvers

Following the Russo-Japanese War, Japan obtained the Kwantung Leased Territory and the areas adjacent to the South Manchurian Railway. "Kwantung" means "east of Shanhaiguan", a guarded pass, east of which lies Manchuria. The Kwantung Garrison was established in 1906 to defend this territory, and originally was composed of an infantry division and a heavy siege artillery battalion, supplemented with six independent garrison battalions as railway guards deployed along the South Manchurian Railway Zone, for a total troop strength of 10,000 men. It was headquartered in Port Arthur, known as "Ryōjun" in Japanese. After a reorganization in 1919, the Kwantung Garrison was renamed the Kwantung Army.

In the highly politicized Imperial Japanese Army of the 1920s and 1930s, the Kwantung Army was a stronghold of the radical "Imperial Way Faction", and many of its senior leaders overtly advocated political change in Japan through the violent overthrow of the civilian government to bring about a Shōwa Restoration, with a reorganization of society and the economy along totalitarian state fascist lines. They also advocated a more aggressive, expansionist foreign policy regarding the Asian mainland. Members or former members of the Kwantung Army were active in numerous coup d'état attempts against the civilian government, culminating with the February 26 Incident of 1936.[1]

Independent actions

Although the Kwantung Army was nominally subordinate to the Imperial General Headquarters and the senior staff at the Army General Staff, its leadership often acted in direct violation of the orders from the mainland Japan without suffering any consequence. Conspirators within the junior officer corps of the Kwantung Army plotted and carried out the assassination of Manchurian warlord Chang Tsolin in the Huanggutun Incident of 1928. Afterwards, the Kwantung Army leadership engineered the Mukden Incident and the subsequent invasion of Manchuria in 1931 in a massive act of gekokujo insubordination against the express orders of the political and military leadership based in Tokyo.

Presented with the fait accompli, Imperial General Headquarters had little choice but to follow up on the actions of the Kwantung Army with reinforcements in the subsequent Pacification of Manchukuo. The success of the campaign meant that the insubordination of the Kwantung Army was rewarded rather than punished.

With the foundation of Manchukuo in 1932, the Kwantung Army played a controlling role in the political administration of the new state as well as in its defense. The commander in chief of the Kwantung Army simultaneously held the post of Japanese ambassador to Manchukuo. With the Kwantung Army administering all aspects of the politics and economic development of the new state, this made the Kwantung Army commander equivalent to a resident general, with the authority to approve or countermand any command from the nominal emperor of Manchukuo, Puyi.[2]

The Kwantung Army was heavily augmented over the next few years, up to a strength of 700,000 troops by 1941, and its headquarters was transferred to the new Manchukuo capital of Hsinking. The Kwantung Army also oversaw the creation, training and equipping of an auxiliary force, the Manchukuo Imperial Army. During this time, Prince Tsuneyoshi Takeda worked as liaison officer between the Imperial house and the Kwantung Army.[3]

Second World War

After the campaign to secure Manchukuo, the Kwantung Army continued to fight in numerous border skirmishes with China as part of its efforts to create a Japanese-dominated buffer zone in northern China. The Kwantung Army also fought in the opening phase of the Second Sino-Japanese War in Operation Nekka, and various actions in Inner Mongolia to extend Japanese domination over portions of northern China and Inner Mongolia. When War broke out in the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in July 1937 its forces participated in Battle of Beiping-Tianjin and Operation Chahar. Later forces were taken from Kwantung Army to support the war in China from time to time.

However, the much vaunted reputation of the Kwantung Army was severely challenged in battle against the Soviet Union's Red Army at the Battle of Lake Khasan in 1938[citation needed] and subsequent Battle of Nomonhan in 1939, during which time it sustained heavy casualties. After the Nomonhan incident, the Kwantung Army was purged of its more insubordinate elements, as well as proponents of the Hokushin-ron doctrine who urged that Japan concentrate its expansionist efforts on Siberia rather southward towards China and Southeast Asia.[4]

Although a source of constant unrest during the 1930s, the Kwantung Army remained remarkably obedient during the 1940s. As combat spread south into central China and southern China in the Second Sino-Japanese War, and with the outbreak of the Pacific War, Manchukuo was largely a backwater to the conflict.

However, as the war situation began to deteriorate for the Imperial Japanese Army on all fronts, the huge, well-trained and well-equipped Kwantung Army could no longer be held in strategic reserve. Many of its front line units were systematically stripped of their best units and equipment, which were sent south against the forces of the United States in the Pacific Islands or the Philippines. Other units were sent south into China for Operation Ichi-Go.

At the time of the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation, when the Soviet Red Army invaded Manchukuo, Inner Mongolia, Korea and Japanese-held islands in August 1945, the Kwantung Army's strength was at around 1,320,000 men, with one armored division, 32 infantry divisions, six independent brigades, and up to 25 security battalions. However, the men remaining were largely semi-trained conscripts or raw recruits, equipped primarily as a counterinsurgency and border security force and able to use the massive fortifications to withstand the Soviet armored and mechanized infantry invasion.

Surrender of the Kwantung Army

The final commander in chief of the Kwantung Army, General Otozō Yamada, ordered a surrender on August 16, 1945, one day after Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan in a radio announcement. Some Japanese divisions refused to surrender, and combat continued for the next few days. Marshal Hata received the "Ultimatum to surrender" from Soviet General Georgii Shelakhov[5][6] in Harbin on August 18, 1945.[5] He was one of the senior generals who agreed with the decision to surrender, and on August 19, 1945, Hata met with Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky,[7] but asked that he be stripped of his rank of Field Marshal in atonement for the Army's failures in the war.[8]

The remnants of the Kwantung Army either lay dead on the battlefield or were on their way to Soviet prisoner-of-war camps. Over five hundred thousand Japanese prisoners of war were sent to work in Soviet labor camps in Siberia, Russian Far East and Mongolia. They were largely repatriated, in stages, over the next five years, though some continued to be held well into the 1950s.

War crimes and trials

After the surrender of Japan, the Soviet Red Army discovered secret installations for experimenting with and producing chemical weapons and biological weapons of mass destruction centered around secret Army Unit 731 and its subsidiaries.[9] At these locations, the Kwantung Army was also responsible for some of the most infamous Japanese war crimes, including the operation of several human experimentation programs using live Chinese, American and Russian[10] civilians and POWs,[11] directed by Dr. Shiro Ishii.

Arrested by the American occupation authorities, Ishii and the 20,000 members of Unit 731 received immunity from prosecution of war-crimes before the Tokyo tribunal of 1948, in exchange for germ warfare data based on human experimentation. On May 6, 1947, General Douglas MacArthur wrote to Washington that "additional data, possibly some statements from Ishii probably can be obtained by informing Japanese involved that information will be retained in intelligence channels and will not be employed as 'War Crimes' evidence."[12] The deal was concluded in 1948.[citation needed] However, twelve members of Unit 731 and some members of the World War II leadership of the Kwantung Army were sentenced as war criminals by the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials, while others were taken into custody by the United States, and sentenced at the 1948 International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo. Among those sentenced to death were former generals Seishirō Itagaki, Iwane Matsui, Kenji Doihara, Hideki Tōjō and Akira Mutō.

List of commanders

Kwantung Army

Commanding officer

Name From To
2 General Misao Kawai 6 January 1921 10 May 1922
3 General Shinobu Ono 10 May 1922 10 October 1923
4 General Yoshinori Shirakawa 10 October 1923 28 July 1926
5 Field Marshal Baron Nobuyoshi Mutō 28 July 1926 26 August 1927
6 General Chotaro Muraoka 26 August 1927 1 July 1929
7 General Eitaro Hata 1 July 1929 31 May 1930
8 General Takashi Hishikari 3 June 1930 1 August 1931
9 General Shigeru Honjō 1 August 1931 8 August 1932
10 Field Marshal Baron Nobuyoshi Mutō 8 August 1932 27 July 1933
11 General Takashi Hishikari 29 July 1933 10 December 1934
12 General Jirō Minami 10 December 1934 6 March 1936
13 General Kenkichi Ueda 6 March 1936 7 September 1939
14 General Yoshijirō Umezu 7 September 1939 18 July 1944
14 General Otozō Yamada 18 July 1944 11 August 1945

Chief of Staff

Name From To
1 Major General Matasuke Hamamo 12 April 1919 11 March 1921
2 Major General Kaya Fukuhara 11 March 1921 6 August 1923
3 Major General Kawada Akiji 6 August 1923 2 December 1925
4 Major General Tsune Saito 2 December 1925 10 August 1928
5 Lieutenant General Koji Miyake 10 August 1928 8 August 1932
6 General Kuniaki Koiso 8 August 1932 5 March 1934
7 General Toshizo Nishio 5 March 1934 23 March 1936
8 General Seishirō Itagaki 23 March 1936 1 March 1937
9 General Hideki Tōjō 1 March 1937 30 May 1938
10 Lieutenant General Rensuke Isogai 18 June 1938 7 September 1939
11 Lieutenant General Jo Iimura 7 September 1939 22 October 1940
12 General Heitarō Kimura 22 October 1940 10 April 1941
13 General Teiichi Yoshimoto 10 April 1941 1 August 1942
14 Lieutenant General Yukio Kasahara 1 August 1942 7 April 1945
15 Lieutenant General Hikosaburo Hata 7 April 1945 11 August 1945

See also


  1. Harries, Soldiers of the Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Army
  2. Young, Japan's Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism.
  3. Yamamuro, Manchuria Under Japanese Domination.
  4. Coox, Nomonhan: Japan Against Russia, 1939
  5. 5.0 5.1 Surrender of the Kwantung Army. Military Memoirs
  6. Thunder in the East. Vladimir Karpov. 2005
  7. The Soviet Strategic Offensive in Manchuria, 1945: August Storm By David M. Glantz. [1]
  8. Budge, Pacific War Online Encyclopedia
  9. A Russian military publication on Kwantung Army
  10. Unit 731
  11. Unit 731. Japanese Experimentation Camp (1937-1945)
  12. Hal Gold, Unit 731 Testimony, 2003, p. 109


  • Coox, Alvin (1990). Nomonhan: Japan Against Russia, 1939. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-1835-0. 
  • Coox, Alvin (1977). The Anatomy of a Small War: The Soviet-Japanese Struggle for Changkufeng/Khasan, 1938. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-8371-9479-2. 
  • Dorn, Frank (1974). The Sino-Japanese War, 1937-41: From Marco Polo Bridge to Pearl Harbor. MacMillan.. ISBN 0-02-532200-1. 
  • Glantz, David (2003). The Soviet Strategic Offensive in Manchuria, 1945 (Cass Series on Soviet (Russian) Military Experience, 7). Routledge. ISBN 0-7146-5279-2. 
  • Harries, Meirion (1994). Soldiers of the Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Army. Random House; Reprint edition. ISBN 0-679-75303-6. 
  • Yamamuro, Shinichi (2005). Manchuria Under Japanese Domination. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-3912-1. 
  • Young, Louise (1999). Japan's Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21934-1. 
  • Jowett, Bernard (1999). The Japanese Army 1931-45 (Volume 2, 1942-45). Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-354-3. 
  • Madej, Victor (1981). Japanese Armed Forces Order of Battle, 1937-1945. Game Publishing Company. ASIN: B000L4CYWW. 
  • Marston, Daniel (2005). The Pacific War Companion: From Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-882-0. 

External links

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