ANTI-SOVIET OPERATIONS OF KWANTUNG ARMY INTELLIGENCE, 1931-39

Created: 4/1/1960

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TITLE: Anti-Soviet Operations Of Kwantung Army

AUTHOR: Richard G. Brown

VOLUME:

STUDIES IN

INTELLIGENCE

A colleciion ol ailiclos on the historical, operational, doctrinal, 3nd theoretical aspects ot intelligence.

All siaiements of fact, opinion or analysis expressed in Studies in Intelligence are those of

ihe authors They do noi necessarily reflect official positions or views of the Central Intelligence Agency or any other US Government entity, past or present. Nothing in the contents should be consirued as asserting or implying US Government endorsement of an article's factual statements and interpretations.

A critical review of prewarmilitary intelligencein Manchuria.

ANTI-SOVIET OPERATIONS OFKWANTUNG ARMY' Richard G. Brown

Japanese military mtelligence operations against the Soviet Union In the Far East became of prime importance alter Japan look over Manchuriaefore that she hud no great need for Intelligence on the Soviet forces in the Far East, inasmuch as she bad no common tnternational bound-ary withJt. on tbe continent, the Chinese beingontrol of most of Manchuria. At the time of the Man-churian incident the Japanese nevertheless had potentially strong operational mteUigence assets in numerousof the Korean and Chinese border areas who were able to cross Into Soviet territory with relative ease so long assecurity remained generally lax. In addition, there were numerous anU-Cotrununixt White Russians in northernwilling and able to engage in intelligence activities for the Japanese.

The intelligence operations of the principal Japanese agency in Manchuria, the Ewantung Army, includedsabotage, counterintelligence, and what was toa major collection effort on the Soviet army and the geography of the area Tbe means it employed included the dispatch of secret ngents Into Soviet territory, the Intercep-tton of radio communications, the Interrogation of Sovietand defectors, and the establishment of borderunits.

'This article is baaed on historical data compiled, with Ihe aaautance ot personnel of Use Japanese Kwantang Army, by the Military HU-tory Section of Headquarters. Array Force* Far Bast, and distributed by the Office of Military History, Department of the Army, The principalisf Use Series Japanese Special Sfvdla on Manchuria, lataed in5 under the uue -Japanese Intel-UsenceAgainst tbe USSR."

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From the first the Kwantung Army and the'Army Geneq Stall to Tokyo were alert (or Indications ol Soviethe Manchurian Incident, and after Kwantung Army'i ments moved toto the Soviet sphere of influence the suneM lance of Soviet actions in the Far East, particularly any rail tary movements, was Intensified. Yet Japanese milit headquarters felt that the Soviet Union had no intention intervening in the situation, and so devoted its attention ml to immediate countermeasures but to consolidating the Jap nese position In Manchuria and developing an extensive ii telligence network as Kwantung Army units advanced towar the Soviet border. This toteUigence effort was intensified Soviet border defenses improved: aerial photography durinl the summer3 revealed extensive fortifications deslgne to check Japanese military operations against Soviet ten tory.

Agent Infiltration

The principal field intelligence units under the IntelLigeoci Section of the Kwantung Army staff were eight Army Spec la Services Agencies. Of these it was the unit in Harbin whic played the major role In the Manchurian operations. Tb Harbin ASSA used White Russians for espionage mission and these were the best of the agents available. The horde area ASSA's occasionally used White Russians, but relM mainly on local Chinese and Koreans. These agents were in filtrated into Soviet territory to carry out espionage. Occa sional deserters from the Soviet army were also exploited fo Information.

The Soviets commenced to bolster border securityhey Increased the number of border garrison units ordered the evacuation of border area inhabitants, and insti to ted constantoviet counterespionage networ In Manchurian territory, especially in the border area, regu laxly observed and reported on the movements of Japan es agents. The White Russians, while more reliable and compe tent than other agents, being most of them ardent anti-Corn munists, were more easily detected. Many were shot in at tempting to cross the border, and the majority did, not^re turn, thanks to effective Sovieteadlock In trans border operations resulted

Kwantung Army Intelligence

The standstill In Intelligence operations was quiteto tbe Kwantung Army's headquarters Intelligence Section, which therefore came increasingly to take over tbe active direction of the tateUigence services in Manchuria,ot the ASSA units. Efforts were made to improve techniques of agent infiltration, to take more pains in forging credentials, to pay more attention to dress, baggage, andto give better training for missions and reporting.was also given to other means of tateUigencepublications, and telescopic observa-tion

Communtcattons Intercepts

Soviet communications ta tbe Far East relied mainly on wireless; the wire network had failed to keep pace with the mushrooming military and Industrialerynumber of Soviet message circuits were thusto interception. In order to learn the techniques for breaking codes, the General Staff in Tokyo had sent several technical officers to Poland3he Polish Army General Staff's cryptanalytlc work was considered by theto be among the best ta the world. When the firstof these officers returned from PolandmaU unit for studies on radio interception and the breaking ofcodes was formed and assigned to the Kwantung Army. Eventually this unit was expanded and became known as the Communication Intelligence Oroup. operating directly under the supervision of the Kwantung Army tateUigence service.

The interception and analysis of Soviet plain-text messages was not undertakenhen the Soviet Union began to construct the Baikal-Amur Magistral to supplement the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Tbe BAM lineatter of grave concern to the Japanese Generalut the Kwantung Army Intelligence Section had no means of observing theof construction on it. The Operations Sectiontook the initiative and asked tbe Japanese-controlled South Manchurlan Railway Company toranch of Its Communications Research Department in Harbin This branch was charged with Intercepting plain-text wirelessconcerning construction on the BAM line and with

Kwantung Army Intelligence

analysis of the totercepted data with respect> selectedyt> M*>:

Jects. Although this Installation supplied data to thenetwork through the very active Harbin 'ASSA,act that it was conceived and supervised by the Operations Section became an Irritant in this Section's relations withntelligence Section. The success of the Railwaynit led the intelligence service to supplement its codewith clear text Intercepts, which wereorwarded on ticker tape to the Harbin ASSA for analysis by Its Document Intelligence Division.

Document Analysis

The importance of available Soviet publications, primarilyewspapers published in the Far East, had somewhatecome apparent to the Japanese, and the fewnalysts originally assigned to the Harbin ASSA had beenerited and formed into the Document Intelligencets staffarge number of White Russianuais, as well as Japanese competent to interpret and analyze Soviet documents, publications and messages. Periodicals, handbills, newspapers, magazines, books, booklets, pamphlets, and even personal notebooks collected by the variousence agencies were sent to the Harbin ASSA forater, when It became difficult to obtain documents,mportance was attached to Soviet radio broadcasts,ith the intercepted clear-text wireless messages. But there were still documents obtained by agents, papers carried byhe occasional defectors from Soviet territory, and in oneindfall of postal communicationsoviet mail plane whichorced landing to Manchuria

Border Observation

In the early thirties the military units of thermy manned posts for visual observation of Sovieteach front-line unitew lookout posts equippedpower battery telescopes. After the difficulties in -

intelligence collection became acutehe intelligence j. .

service undertook to improve and expand this system as an

intelligence activity. The, .observation,

as "Soviet Territory Observation Teams" who were to keep the Soviet side of the border under surveillance day and night, ;

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Army Intelligent

In detatl^the movement of,ingle soldlei home, or vehicle. The posts were each manned by approxi mately one squad -They used telescopes of various types! ranging up to oneower obtained from the Navy to night use The front-line Army commands were orderei to make use of any suitable points In their respective sector for this purpose, and to train and supervise tbe personnel to make the observations. Nevertheless, up8 these] teams were often composed of Inferior personnel and occal HonaUy even lacked telescopes. Some of their more Lmporl tant reports were on the arrival and departure of ships fa Vladivostok harbor, as observed from posts at Wangchaoshai and Tumentzu, and on the arrival and departure of aircraf at Vorosbilov, as seen by posts at Suifenho and Tungning

Achievements and Failures

Byhe Kwantung Army's intelligence agencies hai scored considerable progress in improving their operations5 the communications intelligence Research Unit hat succeeded in breaking the simple codes used by the Sovie border forces, and constant study brought later successej against Soviet army codes of three and four letters. Although these codes were not commonly used for important messages the Research Unit was nevertheless able to learn theand disposition of some border garrisons and the loca tion and movements of some air units. It also did traflk analysis, compiling statistics on the origin and volume of So viet radio messages.

The interception and study of plain-text messages byMunchurian Railway's Communications Researchyielded considerable information about theconstruction on the BAM line The Kwantung Army'sUnit was also able to obtain from plain-textvaluable indications about particular militaryAsiatic Russia. Analyzing this data, the DocumentBranch of Kwantung Army intelligence was ableconclusions about the disposition of units, changestheir commanders,

arrival of new personnel, andin, as 'fiSuT ated by messages of safe arrival sent home. Messages In the

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clear also supplied rnany fiugmentarydetails sbouygdustrial and economic conditions In Asiatic Russia, and these often contributed to important findings.

Tbe piecemeal data compiled by the Harbin DocumentDivision was on many occasions helpful to higher echelons in making estimates of the enemy's strength andompilation of file cards onoviet officers In the Far East, for example, contributed significantly to ascertaining the order of battle for Soviet army forces In eastern Asia. An unusual operationby the Division was the examination of postal matter in the Soviet mail plane whichorced landinghe mail had to be secretly opened, sorted, copied, and resealed while diplomatic negotiations for the return of the airplane and its crew were being carried on. The analysis of the material was completedonth.

The observation teams engaged in telescopic surveillance of Soviet territory produced some Information but on the whole were not notably successful. They provided details on Soviet fortification Improvements in parts of the border zone and on new military roads, barracks, and warehouses behind the fortifications, and they compiled statistical data on vehicle operations supporting the fortified zone. Efforts of the ASSA's to penetrate Soviet territory with spies were nearly all failures, but their interrogation of fugitives from Soviet territory often uncovered important information.

A test of the Kwantung Army's intelligence services was afforded9 by the development of the Nomonhanwhich began in Maycries of clashes between Soviet and Japanese forces guarding the border between Outerand Manchuria. By June it hadajorof divisional magnitude and Inailure for the Japanese. This operation disclosed several serious defects of organization and technique in Kwantung Army intelligence, In spite of its significant improvementnit showed itself still not sufficiently mo^ernizco^andto be effective It also showed marked differences of system and procedure among its several components.

Deficiencies at

The chief defects of the Kwantung Army's headquarter Intelligence Section arose from its having assumed over period of years complete control of all the ASSA's. Itsfunctioning had consequently become extremely complex an its real aims were often lost from sight. oliq planning staff, the Section had been transformed into an op crating agency, and the detail arising from Itshe ASSA's constantly obstructed it. As the discharge of it normal responsibilities became careless under these stresses tbe headquarters Operations Section lost confidence in it an* tended to make its own estimates, arbitrary and independent drawn from scanty information and often from untestet sources. The Intelligence Section was unable to halt tbi trend, and it became more pronounced with theime.

This headquarters involvement with the ASSA's was aggro vated by an organizational weakness In thehese units which prevented them from being utilized sys tematically. The ASSA's had failed to systematize liaison and cooperation among themselves. The Harbin ASSA, which had the greatest experience and capacity in Soviet mtelligencetaff more comprehensive and diversified than any of the others, was kept on an equal footing with the other seven so that the benefit of its knowledge and expert guidance was not imparted to them. With all eight operatingunder the direct control of the Intelligence Section, the administrative burden became too great during the Nomon-han incident

A serious procedural defect in the handling of information was illustrated by an incident whichinor crisis hi relations between the Intelligence and OperationsThe Harbin ASSA had obtainedontact In the office of the Soviet consul generalile purporting to be extracts from message traffic between Moscow and Khabarovsk, initially this correspondence seemedand important, but developments after the outbreak of the Nornonhan accident convinced^ Intelligence Sectonhat it was false and deceptive. The Operations Section,which hadopy of it from the Harbin ASSA,

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Kwanlung Army mfelligence

assumed that It had been pherment, and reproduced It under-

tkon. The Intelligence Section laUed to report the deceptive nature of this correspondence to the Operations Section, which therefore tended to be misled by it In some phases of the Nomonhan operations.

It was not until the last stages of this engagement, as the Kwantung Army was concentrating its strength for an attack, that the communications Intelligence Research Unit achieved some moderate success in learning the disposition of Soviet and Mongolian troops In the Far East; and even this limited accomplishment was made from the vantage pointiles from the scene of battle. The Kwantung Army's Inadequacies In the communications intelligence field were strikingly apparent in Its failure toignal detail In tbe front-line areas for the collection of battlefield information transmitted by wireless in either code or plain text, for the Soviet army often transmitted hi clear text in situations demanding speed, and the increase In the number of coded communications for combat purposes would have facilitated the solution of the Soviet code.facilities in the vastness of Outer Mongolia, the locale of this conflict, were so patently poorignificant Increase in radio traffic was to have been expected at the outbreak of hostilities. Japanese interception equipment waa not developed sufficiently, however, nor were operatorstrained to tap this source of intelligence. Another communications deficiency was the lacketwork for the exclusive use of the intelligence services; the secret missions that did get into Soviet territory were often therefore isolated.

A committee of officers from Kwantung Armyand the Oeneral Staff In Tokyo later reviewed theArmy's performance during tbe Nomonhan incident andumber of weaknesses. Chief among these was the fact that the operations staff officer bad insufficientin the estimates of the enemy situation made by the intelligence staff officer, and as result was Inclined to form his own estimates on an Inadequate intelligence foundation, sometimes even basing his decisions exclusively on tbe

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situation- Another was the preoccupation of tatelligend officers with peacetime intelligence problems to such an e. tent that the; failed toar mobilization plan an thus were unable to exploit enemy activity during the N< monhanhird was the fact that improvement in techniques were insufficiently taken advantage of, and tha therereat need for systematizing operations and pn cedures. The committee recommended that major lmprovi meats be made in the peacetime operation of tbe intelligenc services and in preparing them for wartime activity, so tha intelligence estimates, as well as other mtelligence product would enjoy the full confidence of operations officersccorded full weight.

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