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Naval battles of Sino-Soviet conflict (1929)

Soviet cogitations: 312
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. Even western sources stress how the Chinese forces looted and robbed the civilians during the retreat, by contrast the Red Army opened up local reserves of rice gathered by landowners and spread it to the population.
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


22 July 1929
Official beginning of the War.

In 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.
Modern research by Alexey Pastukhov (2019) identify the Soviet steamer Chita as responsible for the seizure of Haicheng, alongside the towed barge Huake (256 passengers and crew arrested but later released) (cargo: 20pounds of gold on steamer, rifles and machineguns on the barge). There is discrepancy on date, because seizure of Haicheng and Huake mentioned both on 22 July but also on same day of August.

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 reportedly seized Soviet rafts carrying woods (intended to build barracks for the Red Army). These seizures (albeit quite insignificant) appears to be the only Chinese “successes” of the riverine conflict. According the modern author Alexey Pastukhov (2019), the incident did not occur at all and it was entirely a claim by Soviet press.

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.

Photo of Orochanin (sister-ship of Buryat). Differently from Tayfun-class, these old gunboats had classic "colonial" design (large superstructure, less weapons).

The seaplane-carrier Amur launched her aircrafts, but with poor effects: two bombs fall close the gunboat Li Chieh, and a third one fall nearby the floating battery Tung-I (well-armed, with two 120mm guns and two 76mm guns).
Chinese ships engage the Soviet fleet to stop the landing of troops.
The gunboat Li Chieh 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.

Photo of Zyryanin (sister-ship of Proletariy) in 1909. The Soviet gunboat (like Bednota) received upgrades and new weapons before the war: two 102mm guns and one 76mm.

The monitor Krasnyi Vostok quickly aimed at the gunboat and hit the Li Chieh that was grounded and lost (sometimes this victory was wrongly claimed by Sverdlov). Li Chieh was former German gunboat Otter, of widespread “colonial” design (high superstructure) armed with only two 52mm guns.
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: Li 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 Li Chieh, and then switched target, shelled and sunk the third gunboat: Zhang Ping.

Photo of Lenin

Li Sui was former German gunboat Varteland, better armed than Li Chieh, with a 88mm gun, two 76mm guns an two 47mm guns. Zhang Ping armed with four 76mm guns. Li Sui become the main survivor of this Chinese riverine flotilla: later served in the Manchukuo Navy

Soviet seaplanes attacked without success the Li Sui that was retreating alongside the flagship (gunboat Kiang Heng) and the transport ship Li Chuan.
Soviet monitors Sun Yat Sen and Sverdlov chased the Chinese ships and could reach the retreating auxiliary gunboats: Sun Yat Sen was particularly effective, first damaged Kiang Tai (that still managed to escape) and then hit and sunk both Kiang Pai and Kiang 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 sister-ship Kiang An (name used in '30, originally one of the ships engaged in 1929). Kiang Tai, Kiang Pai and Kiang Un (all armed with 2 guns of 47mm) and Kiang Nai and Kiang Tun (both armed just with a gun of 52mm) were no match for the Soviet monitors.
The three survived units later scuttled toward the end of the war: their name and data are not fully certain. Eventually the Manchukuo Navy recovered at least four vessels (known as Kiang Ping, Kiang Chin, Kiang An and Ly Tsy.).

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. She was the most powerful Chinese ship during the conflict, because armed with a single gun of 120mm (in addition to a gun of 88mm and 4 of 52mm).

On unclear date, the seaplanes also bombed and sunk the armed transport Li Chuan (250 tons, armed with a 76mm gun).
Between 30 and 31 October, Chinese also scuttled the survived ships: auxiliary gunboats Kiang Tai, Kiang Un and Kiang Tun, possibly earlier damaged by Soviet 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. She was a former Tayfun-class monitor, converted as seaplane carrier capable to deploy four MR-1 seaplanes. Soviet Navy already started experimenting seaplane-carrier barges during the Civil War, but the actions of the Amur were the first and only event of the Soviet Navy history with an effective use of carrier-style military ships!

22 December 1929
Republic of China signed Khabarovsk protocol, ending the war.
Soviet cogitations: 312
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
Soviet cogitations: 312
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 20 Feb 2010, 11:57
Resident Admiral
Post 17 Mar 2019, 10:50
Note: even if this page received a recent update, this was much needed after direct talk with Russian author Alexey Pastukhov, so-far the most active researcher interested in the subject
1) Chinese names changed: while the Chinese text can be transliterate in different ways, now is closer to other ones (navypedia etc.)
2) Intro split: amount of text was too much for a intro, now details of warships inserted after images and photos
3) Known info for Soviet ship responsible for seizing Haicheng; additional victory with seizure of barge Huake
4) incident of 10/October (only reported Soviet losses by enemy seizure) apparently was just a Soviet press claim over never happened attack.
5) Added extra photos and info (all photos from (c) Navypedia).
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