Kwantung Army

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Kwantung Army
Kwantung Army Headquarters.JPG
Kwantung Army headquarters in Hsinking, Manchukuo
ActiveApril 1906 – August 1945
CountryMerchant flag of Japan (1870).svg  Empire of Japan
Allegiance Emperor of Japan
BranchWar flag of the Imperial Japanese Army (1868-1945).svg  Imperial Japanese Army
Type Infantry
Role Army group
Garrison/HQ Hsinking, Manchukuo (1932–1945)
Ryojun, Kwantung Leased Territory (1906–1932)
Nickname(s)Toku(德兵團,Toku heidan), Special
Engagements Second Sino-Japanese War

Soviet–Japanese border conflicts

World War II

Kwantung Army
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 關東軍
Simplified Chinese 关东军
Korean name
Hangul 관동군
Hanja 關東軍
Japanese name
Kanji 関東軍

The Kwantung Army (Japanese : 関東軍, Kantogun) was an army group of the Imperial Japanese Army from 1906 to 1945.

Japanese is an East Asian language spoken by about 128 million people, primarily in Japan, where it is the national language. It is a member of the Japonic language family, and its relation to other languages, such as Korean, is debated. Japanese has been grouped with language families such as Ainu, Austroasiatic, and the now-discredited Altaic, but none of these proposals has gained widespread acceptance.

Army group military organization consisting of several field armies, which is self-sufficient for indefinite periods

An army group is a military organization consisting of several field armies, which is self-sufficient for indefinite periods. It is usually responsible for a particular geographic area. An army group is the largest field organization handled by a single commander—usually a full general or field marshal—and it generally includes between 400,000 and 1,000,000 soldiers.

Imperial Japanese Army Official ground-based armed force of the Empire of Japan, from 1868 to 1945

The Imperial Japanese Army was the official ground-based armed force of the Empire of Japan from 1868 to 1945. It was controlled by the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office and the Ministry of the Army, both of which were nominally subordinate to the Emperor of Japan as supreme commander of the army and the navy. Later an Inspectorate General of Aviation became the third agency with oversight of the army. During wartime or national emergencies, the nominal command functions of the emperor would be centralized in an Imperial General Headquarters (IGHQ), an ad-hoc body consisting of the chief and vice chief of the Army General Staff, the Minister of the Army, the chief and vice chief of the Naval General Staff, the Inspector General of Aviation, and the Inspector General of Military Training.


The Kwantung Army was formed as a security force for the Kwantung Leased Territory and South Manchurian Railway Zone after the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, and was expanded during the Interwar period to support Japanese interests in China, Manchuria, and Mongolia. The Kwantung Army became the largest and most prestigious command in the Imperial Japanese Army, and many of its personnel were promoted to high positions in the Japanese military and civil government, including Hideki Tōjō and Seishirō Itagaki. The Kwantung Army was largely responsible for the creation of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo and was one of the main Japanese fighting forces during the Second Sino-Japanese War from 1937.

Kwantung Leased Territory Japanese possession in Northeastern China until the end of World War II

The Kwantung Leased Territory was a Russian-leased territory (1898–1905), then a Japanese-leased territory (1905–1945) in the southern part of the Liaodong Peninsula in the Qing Empire and later the Republic of China which existed from 1898 to 1945. It was one of the territorial concessions that the Chinese government under the Qing Dynasty was compelled to award to foreign countries during the second half of the 19th century. The territory included the militarily and economically significant ports of Lüshunkou and Dalian.

Russo-Japanese War 20th-century war between the Russian Empire and the Empire of Japan

The Russo-Japanese War was fought during 1904–1905 between the Russian Empire and the Empire of Japan over rival imperial ambitions in Manchuria and Korea. The major theatres of operations were the Liaodong Peninsula and Mukden in Southern Manchuria and the seas around Korea, Japan and the Yellow Sea.

Interwar period Period between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II

In the context of the history of the 20th century, the interwar period was the period between the end of the First World War in November 1918 and the beginning of the Second World War in September 1939. This period is also colloquially referred to as Between the Wars.

In August 1945, the Kwantung Army had declined to around 713,000 men (from a previous total of 1,320,000) and was defeated by Soviet troops during the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation. The Kwantung Army surrendered to the Soviets the day after the Surrender of Japan and was subsequently dissolved. The Kwantung Army was responsible for many of the worst Japanese war crimes during World War II, including the sponsorship of Unit 731 which participated in biological warfare and human experimentation against civilians and prisoners of war.

Surrender of Japan surrender of the Empire of Japan during the World War II

The surrender of Imperial Japan was announced by Hirohito on August 15 and formally signed on September 2, 1945, bringing the hostilities of World War II to a close. By the end of July 1945, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) was incapable of conducting major operations and an Allied invasion of Japan was imminent. Together with the British Empire and China, the United States called for the unconditional surrender of the Japanese armed forces in the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945—the alternative being "prompt and utter destruction". While publicly stating their intent to fight on to the bitter end, Japan's leaders were privately making entreaties to the publicly neutral Soviet Union to mediate peace on terms more favorable to the Japanese. While maintaining a sufficient level of diplomatic engagement with the Japanese to give them the impression they might be willing to mediate, the Soviets were covertly preparing to attack Japanese forces in Manchuria and Korea in fulfillment of promises they had secretly made to the United States and the United Kingdom at the Tehran and Yalta Conferences.

War crimes were committed by the Empire of Japan in many Asia-Pacific countries during the period of Japanese imperialism, primarily during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. These incidents have been described as an "Asian Holocaust". Some war crimes were committed by Japanese military personnel during the late 19th century, but most Japanese war crimes were committed during the first part of the Shōwa Era, the name given to the reign of Emperor Hirohito, until the surrender of the Empire of Japan in 1945.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.



Kwantung Army on maneuvers in 1941. Kwantung Army Special Maneuvers2.JPG
Kwantung Army on maneuvers in 1941.

In 1895, Qing China had granted the Kwantung Leased Territory, a valuable concession territory on the Liaodong Peninsula, to the Empire of Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki after their victory in the First Sino-Japanese War. The term "Kwantung" (traditional Chinese :關東; simplified Chinese :关东; pinyin :Guāndōng; Wade–Giles :Kwan1-tung1) means "east of Shanhaiguan", a guarded pass west of Manchuria, which was rendered in Japanese as "Kanto". The Russian Empire had particular interest in Kwantung, being one of the few areas in the region with potential to develop ice-free ports for its own expansion in the Far East, and Qing authorities withdrew the lease from the Japanese following the Triple Intervention, only weeks after it had been granted. Kwantung was leased to Russia in 1898, becoming Russian Dalian (Дальний) and developing the territory into a thriving trade port. The Russo-Japanese War was fought between Russia and Japan from 1905 to 1906 over their rival imperial ambitions in Manchuria and Korea. Japanese victory led to the Republic of China returning the lease of Russian Dalian (re-establishing the Kwantung Leased Territory) and Japan gaining influence in the areas adjacent to the South Manchurian Railway.

Liaodong Peninsula peninsula

The Liaodong Peninsula is a peninsula in Liaoning Province of Northeast China, historically known in the West as Southeastern Manchuria. Liaodong means "East of the Liao River"; referring to the Liao River which divided the Yan commanderies of Liaoxi and Liaodong during time of the Warring States period.

Empire of Japan Empire in the Asia-Pacific region between 1868–1947

The Empire of Japan was the historical nation-state and great power that existed from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 to the enactment of the 1947 constitution of modern Japan.

Treaty of Shimonoseki treaty signed at the Shunpanrō hall, Shimonoseki, Japan on April 17, 1895, between the Empire of Japan and the Qing Empire, ending the First Sino-Japanese War.

The Treaty of Shimonoseki, also known as Treaty of Bakan in China, was a treaty signed at the Shunpanrō hotel, Shimonoseki, Japan on 17 April 1895, between the Empire of Japan and the Qing dynasty, ending the First Sino-Japanese War. The peace conference took place from March 20 to 17 April 1895. This treaty followed and superseded the Sino-Japanese Friendship and Trade Treaty of 1871.

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 100,000 men. The Kwantung Garrison was headquartered in Port Arthur (known as Ryojun in Japanese) and after a reorganization in 1919, the Kwantung Garrison was renamed the Kwantung Army (Kantogun).

Artillery class of weapons which fires munitions beyond the range and power of personal weapons

Artillery is a class of heavy military ranged weapons built to launch munitions far beyond the range and power of infantry's small arms. Early artillery development focused on the ability to breach defensive walls and fortifications during sieges, and led to heavy, fairly immobile siege engines. As technology improved, lighter, more mobile field artillery cannons developed for battlefield use. This development continues today; modern self-propelled artillery vehicles are highly mobile weapons of great versatility providing the large share of an army's total firepower.

Battalion military unit size

A battalion is a military unit. The use of the term "battalion" varies by nationality and branch of service. Typically a battalion consists of 300 to 800 soldiers and is divided into a number of companies. A battalion is typically commanded by a lieutenant colonel. In some countries, the word "battalion" is associated with the infantry.

Garrison military base; collective term for a body of troops stationed in a particular location

Garrison is the collective term for any body of troops stationed in a particular location, originally to guard it, but now often simply using it as a home base. The garrison is usually in a city, town, fort, castle, ship or similar. "Garrison town" is a common expression for any town that has a military base nearby.

In the highly politicized Imperial Japanese Army of the 1920s and 1930s, the Kwantung Army was a stronghold of the radical "Imperial Way Faction" (Kōdōha), 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, where the Kōdōha faction was de facto dissolved. [1]

Imperial Way Faction

The Kōdōha or Imperial Way Faction (皇道派) was a political faction in the Imperial Japanese Army active in the 1920s and 1930s. The Kōdōha sought to establish a military government that promoted totalitarian, militarist, and aggressive expansionist ideals, and was largely supported by junior officers. The radical Kōdōha rivaled the moderate Tōseiha for influence in the army until the February 26 Incident in 1936, when it was de facto dissolved and many supporters were disciplined or executed.

The Shōwa Restoration was promoted by Japanese author Kita Ikki, with the goal of restoring power to the newly enthroned Japanese Emperor Hirohito and abolishing the liberal Taishō democracy. The aims of the "Showa Restoration" were similar to the Meiji Restoration as the groups who envisioned it imagined a small group of qualified people backing up a strong Emperor. The Cherry Blossom Society envisioned such a restoration.

Totalitarianism political system in which the state holds total authority

Totalitarianism is a political concept of a mode of government that prohibits opposition parties, restricts individual opposition to the state and its claims, and exercises an extremely high degree of control over public and private life. It is regarded as the most extreme and complete form of authoritarianism. Political power in totalitarian states has often been held by rule by one leader which employ all-encompassing propaganda campaigns broadcast by state-controlled mass media. Totalitarian regimes are often marked by political repression, personality cultism, control over the economy, restriction of speech, mass surveillance and widespread use of state terrorism. Historian Robert Conquest describes a "totalitarian" state as one recognizing no limits to its authority in any sphere of public or private life and which extends that authority to whatever length feasible.

Independent actions

Although the Kwantung Army was nominally subordinate to the Imperial General Headquarters and the senior staff at the Army General Staff located in Tokyo, 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 insubordination (gekokujo) 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. In 1932, the Kwantung Army was the main force responsible for the foundation of Manchukuo, the puppet state of Japan located in Northeast China and Inner Mongolia. The Kwantung Army played a controlling role in the political administration of the new state as well as in its defense. With the Kwantung Army, administering all aspects of the politics and economic development of the new state, this made the Kwantung Army's commanding officer equivalent to a Governor-General with the authority to approve or countermand any command from Puyi, the nominal Emperor of Manchukuo. [2]

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 Operation Nekka during the preceding phase of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and various actions in Inner Mongolia to extend Japanese domination over portions of northern China and Inner Mongolia. When full-scale war broke out in the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in July 1937, its forces participated in Battle of Beiping-Tianjin and Operation Chahar. Later, Kwantung forces supported the war in China from time to time.

However, by the late 1930s the Kwantung Army's much vaunted reputation was severely challenged during the Soviet–Japanese border conflicts that Japan had fought against the Soviet Union in northern Manchukuo since 1932. The Japanese force stalemated with the Soviet Union's Red Army in the Battle of Lake Khasan in 1938[ citation needed ], and lost the decisive 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 ("Northward Advance") doctrine who urged that Japan concentrate its expansionist efforts on Siberia rather southward towards China and Southeast Asia. [3] The signing of the

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. [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 large, 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 to fight in the Pacific War 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.

Surrender of the Kwantung Army

By 1945, the Kwantung Army consisted of 713,000 personnel, divided into 31 infantry divisions, nine infantry brigades, two tank brigades, and one special purpose brigade. It also possessed 1,155 light tanks, 5,360 guns, and 1,800 aircraft. The quality of troops had fallen drastically, as all the best men and materiel were siphoned off for use in other theaters. These forces were replaced by militia, draft levies, reservists, and cannibalized smaller units, all equipped with woefully outdated equipment. [5] The Kwantung Army had also bacteriological weapons, prepared for use against Soviet troops (see Unit 731). The bulk of military equipment (artillery, tanks, aircraft) was developed in the 1930s, and very few of the soldiers had sufficient training or any real experience.

The final commanding officer 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 [6] [7] in Harbin on August 18, 1945. [6] 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, [8] but asked that he be stripped of his rank of Field Marshal in atonement for the Army's failures in the war. [9]

The remnants of the Kwantung Army were either dead or on their way to Soviet prisoner-of-war camps. Over 500,000 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. [10] 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 [11] civilians, and POWs, [12] 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". [13] 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

1- General Tachibana Kōichirō 19196 January 1921
2 General Misao Kawai 6 January 192110 May 1922
3General Shinobu Ono 10 May 192210 October 1923
4General Yoshinori Shirakawa 10 October 192328 July 1926
5 Field Marshal Baron Nobuyoshi Mutō 28 July 192626 August 1927
6General Chotaro Muraoka 26 August 19271 July 1929
7General Eitaro Hata 1 July 192931 May 1930
8General Takashi Hishikari 3 June 19301 August 1931
9General Shigeru Honjō 1 August 19318 August 1932
10Field Marshal Baron Nobuyoshi Mutō 8 August 193227 July 1933
11General Takashi Hishikari 29 July 193310 December 1934
12General Jirō Minami 10 December 19346 March 1936
13General Kenkichi Ueda 6 March 19367 September 1939
14General Yoshijirō Umezu 7 September 193918 July 1944
14General Otozō Yamada 18 July 194411 August 1945

Chief of Staff

1 Major General Matasuke Hamamo 12 April 191911 March 1921
2Major General Kaya Fukuhara 11 March 19216 August 1923
3Major General Kawada Akiji 6 August 19232 December 1925
4Major General Tsune Saito 2 December 192510 August 1928
5 Lieutenant General Koji Miyake 10 August 19288 August 1932
6 General Kuniaki Koiso 8 August 19325 March 1934
7General Toshizo Nishio 5 March 193423 March 1936
8General Seishirō Itagaki 23 March 19361 March 1937
9General Hideki Tōjō 1 March 193730 May 1938
10 Lieutenant General Rensuke Isogai 18 June 19387 September 1939
11Lieutenant General Jo Iimura 7 September 193922 October 1940
12General Heitarō Kimura 22 October 194010 April 1941
13General Teiichi Yoshimoto 10 April 19411 August 1942
14Lieutenant General Yukio Kasahara 1 August 19427 April 1945
15Lieutenant General Hikosaburo Hata 7 April 194511 August 1945

See also

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  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. Coox, Nomonhan: Japan Against Russia, 1939
  4. Yamamuro, Manchuria Under Japanese Domination.
  5. Glantz, p. 28
  6. 1 2 Surrender of the Kwantung Army. Military Memoirs
  7. Thunder in the East. Vladimir Karpov. 2005
  8. The Soviet Strategic Offensive in Manchuria, 1945: August Storm By David M. Glantz.
  9. Budge, Pacific War Online Encyclopedia
  10. A Russian military publication on Kwantung Army
  11. Unit 731 Archived 2009-04-30 at the Wayback Machine
  12. Unit 731. Japanese Experimentation Camp (1937-1945)
  13. Hal Gold, Unit 731 Testimony, 2003, p. 109