Shimushu Cease Fire Negotiations, August 18-20, 1945

The last major battle of the World War Two took place on Shimushu, the northermost island of Kurile chain. My grandfather, who I was named after, participated in the landing as part of the 82-mm mortar crew. He was 33 at that time, and had four kids, including my then-5-year-old dad. Back in the 1980's, my grandpa's account of the events was strikingly different from the official Soviet version of "Kuril'skaya Desantnaya Operaciya" (Kurile's Landng Operation). Later on it prompted me to look for more materials on the subject. 

On the evening of August 17, just few hours before the Soviet assault, the 91st Division Commander Lt. General Fusaki Tsutsumi changed his orders from "self-defense only" to counterattack in case of invasion. There is no documents or written records to support that it was done by the order of the 5th Army Commander Lt. General Kiichiro Higuchi. Nonetheless, there are speculations without clear evidence, that General Higuchi might have suggested or ordered such a counterattack. Since Japanese soldiers and officers from the Kurils were detained and taken to Siberia, there was no official battle report for the period from August 17 to 20, 1945. Thus, the existing records were made based on the memories of survived soldiers and officers.

The reason why the order was changed is unclear. There is a chance that Japanese military could have been tipped about upcoming assault operation by their intel source in Petropavlovsk. They also could have intercepted some Soviet radio communication. Artillery Captain Mutsuo Kagaya said later that he could not understand why the 91st Division suddenly changed the order.

Cease-fire negotiations at Shimushu (summary of translation of an article by Prof. Hiroshi Itani)

As the cease fire time (16:00 on August 18, 1945) set by the Japanese forces, was approaching, the 91st Division Commander Lt. Gen. Fusaki Tsutsumi sent a truce convoy to the Soviet lines. Lead by Division Staff Officer, Captain Atsushi Nagashima, the convoy could not reach the Soviet military headquarters since sporadic fighting was going on. Captain Nagashima later wrote in his memoirs:

 I was ordered to lead the truce envoy at 13:00 on August 18 but was captured by Soviet soldiers and my military equipment, watch and belt were taken by them; however, I could hand Commander Tsutsumi’s document for truce negotiation to Colonel Petr Alekseevich Artiushin,  the commander of the Soviet 2nd Landing Echelon. 

(Note: There is no Soviet record on Captain Nagashima’s testimony.)

The Japanese Headquarters sent the second truce envoy led by Captain Hideo Yamada in the morning of August 19 because the first truce envoy had not returned. They were able to reach the Soviet Operations Headquarters by 07:00 on August 19, and scheduled to have a negotiation meeting from 15:00.

In the Japanese records「戦史叢書」, it is written as follows: 

The negotiation did not go through smoothly because Soviet demanded disarmament as soon as cease fire becomes effective.  Chief of Staff Yanagioka accepted the demand to avoid unnecessary bloodshed and returned to Taikandai (大観台) around 20:00 on August 19.

The truce agreement was, however, not accepted by the 91 Division Commander Lt. Gen.Tsutsumi and, then,  Chief of Staff Yanagioka was sent back to bring the Commander Tsutsumi’s manifesto in which he accepted cease fire but could not accept disarmament. (ref 103 and 104)

 

It is, however, not recorded in the Soviet documents. (ref. 30)

In spite that the cease fire agreement was apparently made on August 19, the incident occurred in the morning of August 20 when three Soviet warships were attacked in Second Kuril Strait. Professor Itani states that this was Japanese military demonstration of their refusal to the negotiation outcome. There is no description of miscommunication between Japanese Army and Navy. The Soviets considered that Japanese ignored the truce agreement and initiated counterattack. (ref 106)

 

It is, however, described in the Japanese record that the incident took place on August 19. (ref 14「戦史叢書」)

In this reference, Japanese Navy coast guard started warning shots to stop approaching 3 Soviet war vessels. Immediately, Soviet ships returned fire. The two Japanese aircraft from Kataoka Airfield attacked the vessels 10 minutes later and dismissed. 

Response of Imperial Headquarters and 5th Army Headquarters

The Imperial HQ received the first report on the Soviet’s surprise attack at the northern Shumshu from the 5th Army HQ around 06:00 on August 18. In the report, they wrote:

In spite of the announcement of cease fire between Japan and the Allies, the Soviets made surprise attack and the 91st Division has been carrying out defensive fights. Thus, we request the Imperial HQ  to negotiate with them. (ref 111) 

The 5th Army had  apparently perceived mistakenly that the cease fire had been established. (ref 112)

Once the Imperial HQ received the news from the 5th Army, they sent a telegram to the MacArthur’s HQ in Manila: “Some of your forces landed on Shimushu Island....Our forces are obliged to resort to arms for self-defense. Now that hostilities between both parties have been prohibited, it is earnestly desired that the hostile actions will be ceased.” (ref 113). The request was, however, not successfully followed up.

MacArthur’s headquarters immediately transmitted this telegram to Moscow. Stavka was alarmed by this information, thinking that the Americans had landed on Shimushu in violation of the agreed-upon demarcation line. General Slavin asked Deane if this Allied landing reported by the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters was carried out by American troops. Moscow was relieved only when it received MacArthur’s assurance that no Americans had landed on Shimushu. The MacArthur’s HQ had already sent an instruction of cease fire; however, the Soviets had objected against cease fire and the MacArthur’s HQ responded by conveying that it was not an order but was an information, since they wanted to avoid a conflict with the Soviets. (ref 114) 

  

The Imperial HQ sent the 5th Army and the Kwantung Army (Japanese armed forces in Manchuko) an order to carry out the cease fire negotiation on local war fares and disarmament on August 19. They also instructed the 5th Army to maintain a close contact with the Kwantung Army HQ. (ref 115). This order issued by the Imperial HQ caused a misunderstanding to the 5th Army. The word used in the order, i. e., the cease fire negotiation of local war fares, was interpreted as the cease fire negotiation had already been accomplished between the Soviet Union and Japan at the high levels. 

The author surmises based on the Imperial HQ’s record on the negotiation process with Allied Forces, that the Imperial HQ had been preoccupied with the negotiation with the Allies (i. e., USA) on the post war status of Japan, Japanese military, major military forces of southern fronts and Taiwan, and was not directly involving in the cease fire negotiation in Manchuria and Kuril Islands.

The 5th Army Commander Lt. General Kiichiro Higuchi had been assessing that the attack at Shumshu was an out-of-control rampage by the local Soviet forces. Thus, he had ordered the Japanese forces to refuse disarmament in order to defend.

At the same time when the cease fire negotiation was about to start on Shumshu, Lieutenant General Hata, the Chief of Staff of the Kwantung Army, was finally able to meet and negotiate directly with Marshal Aleksandr Mikhaylovich Vasilevsky. At the meeting, Marshal Vasilevsky requested Lieutenant General Hata to cease fire at Shumshu. He sent Stalin a report in which he wrote that the request to cease fire at Kuril Islands was given to Lieutenant General Hata who promised to immediately send the request to the 5th Army HQ. (ref 118)

 

The request from Marshal Vasilevsky was immediately sent to the 5th Army HQ. The message Lieutenant General Hata sent to the 5th Army was 

I met with  Marshal Vasilevsky , Commander-in-Chief of Soviet forces in the  Far East on August 19. He was worrying about the continuing battles in Shumshu and asked me to mediate to stop fighting. Thus I request you to take an immediate measure. (ref 119) 

The 5th Army, however, interpreted the message incorrectly; namely, they thought that Marshal Vasilevsky was also worrying about the out-of-control rampage of Soviet forces in Shumshu. The 5th Army replied and asked Lieutenant General Hata to request Marshal Vasilevsky to order to stop Soviet forces’ attacks. (ref 120) Thus, because of their misinterpretation, the 5th Army sent the 91st Division an order which did not comply with Lieutenant General Hata’s message. Staff Officer Asaeda, who had been sent to the Kwantung Army HQ from the Imperial HQ, sent the 5th Army an order on August 21 that they must immediately make cease fire, conduct negotiation to carry out disarmament. Indeed, the cease fire notice was given to the Soviet forces in the evening of August 21. 

 

 Japanese version of Shimushu battle's timeline from the following book:
「北海道を守った占守島の戦い / 上原卓著」(ISBN: 9784396113322)

 

 Note: Japan time is used throughout the following excerpt; Kamchtka time is Japan time plus 3 hours

     08/15 15:00 Stalin gave a command of North Kurile Islands capture
     08/16           Stalin announced to President Truman his plans of occupation of Kurile Islands and a north part of Hokkaido. 

     08/16           Commander of Japan's 5th Area Army (a.k.a. Northern District Army) Lieutenant-General Higuchi Kiichiro ordered:
                          "Stop active fighting. When unavoidable, a self-defensive war is not barred."

     08/18 01:30  The Soviet Union started bombardment of Shimushu from Cape Lopatka 

     08/18 02:00  (about): The Soviet army launched a surprise attack with landing to Takeda beach

     08/18 02:30  Japanese Army started the counter attack.
     08/18 05:00  The counterattack failed to advance, the Murakami battalion continued a heavy battle with the Soviet army at the                                               north side of Sirei Mountain (Hill 165 in Russian literature).
     08/18 05:30  Japanese army launched a counterattack with 40 tanks.
     08/18 12:00 (about): The Japanese retreated after losing 21 tanks
     08/18 12:00 (past): Japanese Major General Fusaki Tsutsumi was ordered by the 5th Area Army command: "Stop further fighting, except                            for self- defense".
     08/18 15:00 Japanese Army 73rd Brigade commander Sugino sends his representatives to Soviet army Command to                                   start cease-fire negotiations. (Capt. Nagashima's group)
     08/20, AM   The Soviet side is not answering about negotiations 

     08/21 12:00 (about): Major General Tsutsumi announced the cease-fire order to armed forces.

     08/22 13:00 The agreement on disarmament was signed on the patrol ship Kirov by Major General Tsutsumi
     08/22 12:00 (past): Disarmament of North Kurile Islands's Japanese army. 

 

 

August 18, 1945
Kuril island cease fire negotiation (translation)
By Captain (Rikugun Taii) Atsushi Nagashima 

 

August 18


Captain Nagashima, Staff Officer of the 91st Division (Headquarters in Kashiwabara of Paramushiro Island) was sent to the headquarters of the 73rd Infantry Brigade to Shimushu. His mission was to assist Major General Sugino, Commander of 73d Infantry Brigade. Lt. General Yanagioka, Chief of Staff of the 91st Infantry Division, was hoping that Captain Nagashima would become a helpful frontline aid to Brigade Commander Sugino in coordinating the strategy of the island defense. In addition, Captain Nagashima was expected to establish a good line of communication with tank regiment commanders. About one year prior to these events, Captain Nagashima along with 嶌則 tank regiment commander, a predecessor of Colonel Ikeda, performed the site survey of Shimushu Island.

After 1200 noon (Japan time), Japanese troops received initial cease-fire instruction to discontinue active attacks toward advancing Soviet units by 16:00 on August 18.


13:00 the decision to initiate negotiations with the Soviet side was made by the Japanese 91st Division Command. 


14:00 the first team was sent to meet with the Soviets. It was lead by 2nd Lieutenant Kinoshita. This coincided with the time of Soviet attack. As the group approached closer, the Russians fired upon them, and Japanese returned fire. As a result, several soldiers were killed, and initial talk attempt failed.

 

16:30 Captain Nagashima and Captain Ito's team advanced from the 73d Brigade Headquarters to rescue Kinoshita's group. Sporadic artillery duel continued during that time. They met 6 remaining team members, and sent them back to Japanese side. 

 

Between 18:00 and 19:00, Nagashima's group reached the Soviet lines at very close range, and shouted via interpreter "we want to see the commander". The Russians shoot at them initially, but Nagashima kept demanding to talk with commander. Soviet troops eventually escorted them to the location of Russian command post. 

 

(It appears that Capt. Nagashima was in charge of the negotiation process while Capt. Ito lead the cover group during that encounter- BI.)


24:00, midnight: the group was interrogated by Colonel Artyushin, the operative commander of the 2nd wave of Soviet landing troops. The first round of negotiations started, and continued till the morning of 19 August. Nagashima comments, that Artyushin was very reasonable officer to deal with, but was never seen again during subsequent negotiations.

 

August 19

~ 04:00 another Japanese negotiation group, lead by Captain Hideo Yamada, arrived to the Soviet front lines. They delivered a message from Lieutenant- General Fusaki Tsutsumi, that he received an order from Japanese Head Command to cease all fire, except for self- defense, by 16:00 of 19 August.

 

~06:30: initial cease- fire agreement was made. (Between Nagashima-Yamada"s group and Artyushin or ???)

 

Translation from the Soviet book "Vstrechaite nas, Kurily!" by V.Strelcov

In the morning of the 19 August the Soviet team of negotiators, lead by Senior Lieutenant I. N. Sabishvili with Senior Lieutenant V. V. Strelcov, Lieutenant Ivashkin (Japanese translator), and three sailors, along with Japanese negotiation team (Nagashima-Yamada?-BI), headed across the lines in the Japanese truck to the command post of the 73d Brigade. They confirmed the ceasefire and offered to deliver the plenipotentiary Japanese representatives to the Gnechko's headquarters for negotiations.

19 August: around 14:00 (Kamchatka time) Senior Lieutenant V. V. Strelcov, Lieutenant Ivashkin, and 2 Soviet Sailors returned to the Soviet Command post with Japanese representatives, while Senior Lieutenant I. N. Sabishvil and one of the sailors remained at the commanding post of the 73d Brigade. The plenipotentiary Japanese representatives were the Commander of 73d Brigade/ Commander of Shimushu Garrison Major- General Iwai Sugino, 91st Division Chief-of-Staff Lieutenant Colonel Takeshi Yanagioka, and 73d Brigade Chief-of-Staff Lieutenant-Colonel Konchitani Muonoro. They met with Soviet Operative Commander Major-General A. R. Gnechko, and Chief of Operative Staff Lieutenant-Colonel R. B. Voronov.  After following negotiations, the agreement of unconditional surrender was signed by both sides.


19 August: at 17:00 (Kamchatka time) negotiations continued. Russian side was represented by Lieutenant-Colonel R. B. Voronov, Japanese- by the CO of 73rd Infantry Brigade Major-General Sugino Iwai and Chief-of-Staff of 91st Infantry Divisiion Lieutenant-Colonel Takeshi Yanagioka. Final agreement was signed at 20:00 on the 19th by Major-General A. R. Gnechko and Lieutenant-Colonel Takeshi Yanagioka.

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