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Old 03-15-2010, 01:20 AM
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Default Operation Red Willow, Pt. 1

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Operation Red Willow, Pt. 1

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During the last few days of September 1995 a curious quiet settled over Manchuria. The Soviets, exhausted and short of men and materiel, paused to re-adjust their lines and resupply their forces. Eighth Tank Corps, which had literally dropped in its tracks in front of the Chinese defensive positions north of Siping, pulled back slightly and waited for Fifth Army to arrive and relieve it. At Changchun, Seventeenth Army was still blasting Thirty-Fifth Group Army out of its bunkers in the city, turning much of the city to rubble in the process. Nineteenth Army had cleared Harbin and was technically free to resume combat duties. However, the army was in terrible condition. In any event, much of its remaining combat power had been dispersed throughout the Soviet rear to assist MVD units in security missions. Ranged against Twenty-Third Group Army in the Tao’en area, Fifteenth Army was still waiting for fresh supplies. Everywhere the Soviets had ceased their offensive and were trying to consolidate their gains in anticipation of a renewed drive in October. Artillery duels continued, as did minor air operations. However, the Far East saw its first extended drop in operational tempo since the start of hostilities.

For their part, the Chinese were glad for the breather. Their surviving front-line forces badly needed the break. More importantly, they were bringing up reinforcements with which to launch a counter-stroke. Throughout September, active-duty divisions were moved from the interior of China to the northeast. Some of them relieved forces in place in the Beijing MR, which then shuffled northeast to the Shenyang MR. Other fresh divisions deployed straight to southern Manchuria.

The Chinese planned to launch their counterstroke on October 10. Though the local commanders wanted more time to prepare their forces, the national leadership was afraid that time would favor the Soviets by allowing them to ferry fresh troops and supplies into Manchuria. The Chinese would rather attack with their own preparations incomplete than give the enemy any more time to catch his breath.

By the eve of the Chinese counteroffensive, five fresh group armies disposing seventeen divisions between them had been brought into Manchuria. Eleventh Group Army [one tank, one mechanized, and two motorized divisions] had been shipped from western China after being replaced by other forces from the interior. Eighth Group Army [three infantry divisions] had been in Siping since September, but the group army had seen little action. Twenty-Seventh Group Army [three infantry divisions] had been in the Beijing MR at the start of the war but had been replaced by forces arriving from the southern part of China. Fifteenth Group Army [one tank and three infantry divisions] also had been in Beijing and had been reinforced with a tank division in preparation for the attack. Third Group Army [three infantry divisions] was from central China.

Additionally, the remaining original group armies of Shenyang MR had been reinforced. First Armored Group Army had received hundreds of tanks from the national stockpile and thousands of replacements. Most of the tanks were obsolescent Type 59s, but they restored a considerable portion of the combat power of the First Armored. Fifth (Mountain) Group Army received an infantry division, bringing its total up to four again. And Twenty-Third Group Army received copious replacements that made the group army capable of carrying out offensive operations.

The Chinese scheme, code-named Operation Red Willow, was simple and straightforward. Eighth Group Army still held Siping, where they faced Fifth Army. Fifteenth Group Army had been brought up to Liaoyuan on the east-west railroad running east out of Siping. Eighth Group Army would attack north, holding Fifth Army in place while Fifteenth Group Army attacked northwest into the rear of Fifth Army. The partially-rebuilt First Armored Group Army would attack through Siping to deliver the coup de grace to Fifth Army.

A second envelopment was planned for Changchun. Fifth (Mountain) Group Army still held the Jilin area. Eleventh Group Army was brought up to Jilin. During the days leading up to the offensive, the Fifth (Mountain) would move through the wooded high ground southeast of Changchun. On October 10, the Fifth would attack Changchun to pin Seventeenth Army while the highly mobile Eleventh Group Army attacked northwest from Jilin to take the Soviets from the rear.

A third attack was planned in the Tao’an area, where Fifteenth Army was defending. Twenty-Seventh Group Army would conduct a massive infiltration along the right flank of the Soviet army and begin an attack coordinated with a counterattack by the partially replenished Twenty-Third Group Army.

At the same time, attacks by guerillas, citizens’ militia, and commandoes in the Soviet rear would rise to a fever pitch. The PLAAF would assist by making an all-out effort to contest control of the air directly over the front lines.

The Chinese leadership recognized that despite the poor condition of the Soviet ground and air forces in and around Manchuria, the invaders still were capable of bringing sufficient combat power to bear to control the situation in any one area. By attacking on three axes and by sowing destruction and confusion throughout the rear area, the Chinese intended to give the Soviets more problems than they could handle. Victory on all three axes of attack would be ideal. Success on two or even one would be a huge boost for Chinese morale and would demonstrate to the Soviets that China was still in the fight.

In fact, Zhu and the Chinese Politburo were taking an enormous risk. The forces they were throwing into battle, amounting to twenty fresh divisions and tens of thousands of replacements for the formations already in Manchuria, represented nearly a quarter of the pre-war manpower pool of the PLA. The PLA already had lost twenty divisions, and several more had been rendered combat ineffective either through direct losses or by providing replacements for divisions at the front. Therefore, the thirty divisions being thrown into the October counteroffensive represented slightly less than half of the PLA. Counting the dozen divisions remaining in the Beijing MR in early October, more than sixty percent of the PLA’s available manpower was either in action against the Soviets or in operational reserve. Many of the divisions remaining throughout the country were either still mobilizing or guarding the borders with Vietnam, India, and the Central Asian republics of the Soviet Union. Much of this combat power simply could not be moved, further shrinking the forces available to the PLA for action in the northeastern quadrant of the country. Therefore, a defeat in the upcoming battle would spell almost certain doom for the Chinese Communists. Failure to counterattack would leave the initiative in the hands of the invaders, which would yield the same results. Success was the only option.


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