We left the Ioki Detachment as the Soviet bombardment lifted on the 20th of August 1939. As the men of the lead platoon raised their heads they could see Soviet troops moving to their front, these were the lead elements of the 601st Rifle Regiment who had been pushed dangerously close to the bombardment. As the enemy movement was only about 30 meters away the Japanese opened up by throwing a number of hand grenades. These caused about fifty Soviet soldiers to break cover and retreat. However they were soon back with reinforcements in the shape of T-26 tanks, including at least one flamethrower armed tank.
The night also brought about a temporary answer to the lack of water. The soldiers mopped up dew with rags, then chewed on them.
For the next five days the Soviets threw in attack after attack, fresh reinforcements were thrown at Fui Heights supported by bombardments. Zhukov himself said the defenders were “more a obstinate resistance than we thought it could provide”. Zhukov was critical of the way the commander on that front was acting and replaced him on the 21st, insisting that he should have bypassed the battle. However now that battle was joined the Soviets had to commit more reserves. Eventually most of the Russian reserves for the entire operation were committed. By the end of the battle the Soviets had committed a rifle division, at least three tank brigades, two cavalry regiments and an airborne brigade, the latter was the last reserve the Soviets had.
The Japanese armed with only bayonets, rifles and grenades, and with no heavy weapons fought the Soviets to a stand still.
The men too wounded to move were given grenades to prevent capture. The walking wounded were to be escorted out. The Japanese forces huddled near their jumping off point with each man clutching the belt of the man in front and slept. If they had let go then they would have missed the signal to move out. The only thing to wake them was the last of the rations being handed out. A bag of rice was passed down the lines, each soldier would nibble a few dry grains then collapse back into a fatigued sleep.
Originally the retreat was scheduled to start at 2200, but due to the moon being too bright the movement didn't start until 0230. At 0330 they ran into some sentries that tried to resist and were quickly dispatched. However tanks were seen nearby moving about looking for the escapee's with searchlights. Despite being in the open as dawn broke the Japanese force managed to escape. Upon reaching safety the soldiers collapsed with exhaustion, many were too fatigued to eat from the rice balls or drink from the canteens given to them.
But the tragedy didn't end there. The next bit is hard to explain, and really needs a lot more space than this paragraph. Article 43 of the Imperial Japanese Army Penal Code gave the punishment for “Quitting a position without cause” as death. However the “without cause” part was ignored within the IJA's culture. To any western observer losing 73% of your core force, being surrounded without food, water or ammo resupply for five days is cause to retreat. The Japanese of the time saw it differently.
Michitaro Komatsubara, the officer commanding the front, blamed Ioki's failure to hold the Fui Heights as the reason that his entire front unravelled. Despite the fact that the position ceased to be an anchor to the line a few hours after the general Soviet offensive, or the fact that the Japanese troops were outnumbered, had no armour of their own and lacked logistical support. No, according to Komatsubara it was all Lt Col Ioki's fault for retreating. The senior officer declared that if the Detachment had dug trenches along its flanks it could have held, despite the Detachment doing just this. Komatsubara also claimed that Lt Col Ioki had behaved badly for not apologising for his retreat, despite there being some evidence he did (manners were of critical importance in the Japanese officer corps). To that end, Komatsubara began to bully Lt Col Ioki. First of all he sent a staff officer with orders to convince Ioki to commit suicide. The staff officer was sympathetic to Ioki's plight but was under orders. So for an hour each day he “advised” Ioki. Then Komatsubara sent his Chief Medical Officer. Who also “advised” Ioki, stating that he was soon to die from his advanced diabetes, or the wound in his leg.
On the night of the 16th/17th of September Ioki Eiichi shot himself in the temple. This was a major scandal throughout the IJA, but only two high ranking officers openly came out on the side of Lt Col Ioki. In the end Komatsubara failed to live up to his own ideals, treating Ioki's widow with contempt in their correspondence.
After his death a sympathetic officer tried to submit an amended after action report stating that Lt Col Ioki was killed in action. Amending reports often happened to hide a disgrace from a family such as someone being taken prisoner, such losses were often marked as KIA to spare the families shame. The amended report was rejected by Komatsubara.
One other officer came under similar pressure, and in the end also committed suicide. This officer was Captain Tsuji Kiyoshi, whose only crime was to prevent Lt Col Ioki from shooting himself in a shell hole on Fui Heights.
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