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Naval battles of Sino-Soviet conflict (1929)

Soviet cogitations: 262
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 20 Feb 2010, 11:57
Resident Admiral
Post 07 Feb 2016, 21:18
The Sino-Soviet War of 1929 was a peculiar and poorly known (in the western world) conflict between the Soviet Union and Republic of China, originated after Chinese occupation of the Eastern Railways. At the time, the Republic of China was just came out of the ages of Warlords, and while officially reunified, the Manchuria and the Chinese forced engaging the Red Army were de facto the personal army of warlord Zhang Xueliang (previously part of the Fengtian clique).

During the War of 1929, the Red Army surprised observers because quickly overpowered the enemy thanks a merge of modernized military (coordinated air-naval-ground) tactics and policies of winning “heart and minds” of Chinese civilians. Heavy use of psychological warfare (leaflets, radio, propaganda spread by local agents) heavily contributed to downgrade the moral of enemy forces.
The outcome of the conflict was a quick and decisively one-sided victory for the Soviet Union, strengthening the Soviet commitment in Far East geo-politics.

As peculiar note, on the enemy side there were bands of White anti-communist Russians fled in exile after the end of the Russian Civil War: while their activity (including border skirmishes and attempted infiltration harassing civilians) is known, there is debate over the actual size and military power of such faction. Many of these White leaders operating in Manchuria lend their support to Japan and the Manchukuo during WW2, to meet their demise once captured by the Soviet military justice in 1945.

The Sino-Soviet War of 1929 was particular because the Soviet Navy employed its riverine force of monitors in a full-scale river’s battle with the enemy ships.
It was without doubt the larger scale naval conflict with gunnery fights of the history of the Soviet Navy, by sheer numbers and power of units involved. It was also the most decisive naval battle won by the Soviet Navy resulting in the almost complete destruction of an enemy fleet and insignificant losses for the Soviets, with a direct impact on the outcome of the conflict.
The conflict was also important for being one of the few wars of the 20th century centered about naval warfare in rivers, resulting into a large clash between the two fleets, and being with little doubt one of the last expressions of this kind of naval warfare.

At the beginning of the‘900, the Imperial Russian Navy decided to strength the riverine fleets, and such plans resulted in the creation of monitors of the Tayfun-class: on this field, the Russians proved advanced, and the class was for many years the most powerful kind of riverine ships in the Far East. Differently from most of the eastern riverine gunboats and monitors, that adopted a “colonial police” style (large superstructures, smaller guns), the Tayfun-class were designed for the most harsh combat situation: they had very little superstructures, and the most prominent features were the four large armored towers for guns.
(Eventually the Soviet navy further developed this style, creating the impressive Khasan-class that however saw no battles with the Japanese in 1945).
Design of Tayfun class

At the beginning of the war, the Soviet Navy sent in battle four of the Tayfun-class monitors: Sverdlov, Lenin, Krasnyi Vostok and Sun Yat Sen (this ship carried the name of the famous Chinese revolutionary).
They were supported by three smaller gunboats (Bednota, Krasnoye Znamya, Proletariy) and a forth gunboat that carried the old “colonial” design (Buryat).
Additionally there were also three patrol boats (Kopya, Pika, Bars), the minelayer Silnyi and a group of minesweeper.

Both Lenin and Sun Yat Sen had four towers with two guns of 120mm each (for an amount of 8x120mm)
Both Sverdlov and Krasnyi Vostok had four towers each armed with a single gun of 152mm
Krasnoye Znamya had two guns of 120mm and 1 gun of 76mm,
Bednota and Proletariy had both two guns of 102mm and 1 gun of 76mm.

A particular element of this fleet was also the presence of a seaplane-carrier: Amur.
This ship was actually a former Tayfun-class monitor, that has been stripped of all the guns and a hangar for seaplane was built on the ship: she could carry 4 seaplanes MR-1 (similar to the DH-9).
Even if the Soviet Navy already started experimenting seaplane-carrier barges during the Civil War, the actions of the Amur were the first and only event of the Soviet history with an effective use of carrier-style military ships, and despite the limited capacity of the small carrier, it was a very effective use.

Against such fleet, the Nationalist Chinese forces could send the following ships.
(Note: the names of the ships can receive different translations).
The most powerful Chinese ship was the nautical gunboat Kian Hyn because armed with a single gun of 120mm (in addition to a gun of 88mm and 4 of 52mm).
Other three riverine gunboats were all of “colonial” design (actually, the first two were the former German gunboats Otter and Vateland): Lee Ju (just two guns of 52mm), Lee Sui (1 gun of 88mm, 2 of 76mm, 2 of 47mm), and Zhang Ping (4 guns of 76mm).
Other less dangerous units were the armed ships Dyan Tai, Dyan Pai and Dyan Un (all armed with 2 guns of 47mm) and Dyan Nai and Dyan Tun (both armed just with a gun of 52mm).

The Chinese had also the armed transport ship Lee Chuan (250tons, with just a gun of 76mm), and the floating battery Tung-I that was well armed with two guns of 120mm and two of 76mm.


21 July 1929
On the Amur River, the Soviet Fleet captured two Chinese merchant ships: the Yilan and the Haicheng. The US Consul described the Soviet attacking ships with the old term “men-of war”: this could point to the largest Soviet available vessels, the famous riverine Tayfun class.

22 July 1929
Beginning of the War.

Early August 1929
Another Chinese steamer captured (crew suffered killed and wounded).

12 August 1929
Soviet monitor Lenin shelled Chinese positions and landed troop on the Chinese side of Amur to chase White Russian volunteers.

Mid-August 1929
Other two steamers captured by Soviets in Sungari River.

10 October 1929
Chinese seized Soviet rafts carrying woods (intended to build barracks for the Red Army). These seizures (albeit quite insignificant) appears to be the only confirmed Chinese “success” of the riverine conflict.

12 October 1929
Battle of Lahasusu (known in China as Battle of Sanjiangkou).
The first action was a patrol mission by Soviet minesweepers to be sure that the mouth of Sungari River was clean of mines.
Then the fleet could move on, led by Yakov Ivanovich Ozolin.
The Soviet Fleet begin the operation when the monitors Krasnyi Vostok and Lenin, followed by the older gunboat Buryat, shelled Chinese ground positions, while the patrol boat Pika and the minelayer Silnyi landed troops.
The seaplane-carrier Amur launched her aircrafts, but with poor effects: two bombs fall close the gunboat Lee Ju, and a third one fall nearby the floating battery Tung-I.
Chinese ships engage the Soviet fleet to stop the landing of troops.
The gunboat Lee Ju was at first effective: she scored a hit with her 52mm guns on the gunboat Proletaryi, and then three hits on the monitor Sun Yat Sen, but in both cases, there were no significant damages.
The monitor Krasnyi Vostok quickly aimed at the gunboat and hit the Lee Ju that was grounded and lost (sometimes this victory was wrongly claimed by Sverdlov).
Meanwhile the gunboat Bednota had troubles, because was accidentally grounded but Buriat and Krasnoye Znamya landed further troops.
Finally one of the seaplanes managed to score a direct hit with a bomb on the Tung-I causing an hole, but the ship still kept floating (but did not open fire on the Soviets: she was abandoned by the Chinese and then captured by the Soviet troops)).
The other Chinese gunboats attempted to press on their attacks, but with little results: Lee Sui suffered a hit from Lenin and retreated to repair the damage, while chased by Sverdlov that (despite claims) did not score further hits. Meanwhile Krasnyi Vostok shelled the wreck of the Lee Ju, and then switched target, shelled and sunk the third gunboat: Zhang Ping.
Photo of Lenin

Soviet seaplanes attempted to attack without success the Lee Sui that was retreating alongside the flagship (gunboat Kian Hyn) and the transport ship Lee Chuan.
The Soviet monitors Sun Yat Sen and Sverdlov started to chase the Chinese ships and could reach the retreating smaller armed boats: Sun Yat Sen was particularly effective, first damaged Dyan Tai (that still managed to escape) and then hit and sunk both Dyan Pai and Dyan Nai (the latter sunk in deep waters).
During this last clash, Sverdlov had a sudden fault at the electric system (with the turrets immobilized) and could have been an easy target, but the enemy did not notice these troubles.
Photo of Sun Yat Sen

Photo of Dyan Tung: sister-ship of the unit lots in action

Soviet troops quickly occupied the enemy fortress at Lahasusu, while most of the Chinese troops (2200 men) fled after having witnessed the defeat of their naval force.
In the end, the Chinese suffered roughly 200 killed (on both sea and land) and 98 prisoners. At the end of the battle, the Soviets had captured the Tung-I (damaged by seaplane), 4 barges, 2 motorboats, 12 guns, 13 mortars, 15 machineguns and 3000 guns.
On sea, the Soviet Navy suffered only 1 dead and 4 wounded (three of the wounded men were sailors of Sun Yat Sen, after an accidental explosion).

30 October 1929
The next target of the Soviet forces was conquering the city (and the fortress) of Fugdin. There were several landing from the Soviet ships and shelling of the enemy forces, but there was no clash with the survived enemy ships. The Chinese flagship Kiang Heng briefly opened fire at excessive distance against minor ships, without results and without reaction from the Soviets.

31 October 1929
Further Soviet operations against Fugdin. During the fight, Chinese ground artillery opened fire against the gunboats but without effect.
Seaplanes MR-1 made nine raids on the city.
Two of the seaplanes departed from the seaplane-carrier Amur spotted the Chinese flagship Kiang Heng and sunk her with bombs.
Photo of Kiang Yuan, sister-ship of Kiang Heng

On unclear date, the seaplanes also bombed and sunk the armed transport Lee Chuan.
Between 30 and 31 October, Chinese also scuttled the survived ships: Dyan Tai, Dyan Un and Dyan Tun, even if it appears possible they were also subjected to air raid. It is worth to remember that during the whole conflict the Soviets enjoyed absolute air-superiority: Chinese had only 5 Breguet aircrafts in the region but they never reached the front in time.
Photo of seaplane-carrier Amur

22 December 1929
Republic of China signed Khabarovsk protocol, ending the war.
Soviet cogitations: 262
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 20 Feb 2010, 11:57
Resident Admiral
Post 01 Jan 2019, 16:34
1) Added an extra intro. (The page featured already a big intro detailing the riverine fleets of both sides, but needed also a sall general one)
2) Added a neat amount of 5 full victories (seizures) occurred between July and August 1929 (before the main naval engagement). Sadly it is currently unknown the identity of Soviet units involved in seizures.
3) Added a single case of Soviet "loss" (even if extremely minor) on 10/Oct/29
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