In 1945, the Navy Secretly Handed Over 150 Warships to Russia for an Invasion of Japan

September 8, 2018 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: MilitaryTechnologyWeaponswarRussia

In 1945, the Navy Secretly Handed Over 150 Warships to Russia for an Invasion of Japan

A bit of history you may have not heard about.

Eight days later, on August 8—three months to the day after the surrender of Nazi Germany—the Red Army’s mechanized juggernaut rolled into action against the hopelessly outgunned Japanese Kwangtung Army in Manchuria.

Even as Project Hula continued, the Soviet Navy put its newly acquired vessels to use in the waters adjacent Japan and Russia. Their targets were two parallel island chains that led like stepping stone to the Japanese home island of Hokkaido: the huge Sakhalin island, which ran parallel to the Russian coastline and was split between Japanese and Soviet control, and the Kuril island chain running from the Russian Kamchatka peninsula to the Japanese home island of Hokkaido.

Soviet ground forces in North Sakhalin began their invasion of the southern half of the island on August 11. On August 15, Japanese forces were ordered to cease resistance and the Soviet Navy began a series of amphibious landings starting on the 16. However, the Japanese garrison continued to fight back, and so the landing sustained casualties seizing the coastal ports of Toro and Maoka after the official surrender.

The assault on the Kuril Islands, begun at dawn on September 18, proved even messier . Sixteen Project Hula LCIs were deployed to land Soviet marines on Takeda Beach of Shumshu island. However, coastal batteries on Cape Kokutan sank five of the LCIs, leaving the marines stranded without their radios or heavy weapons. The beachhead was nearly overrun by counter-attacking Japanese armor, though Soviet air support, anti-tank rifles and naval gunfire ultimately defeated the lightly armored Type 94 and 97 tanks. After several days, the Japanese garrison finally adhered the surrender order, and Soviet naval forces began securing the remainder of the Kurils.

Project Hula was only terminated on September 4, two days after the official Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri, having trained 12,000 Soviet sailors and transferred 149 ships into Soviet hands. Four months later, the U.S. Navy began demanding the return of the ships.


However, a little thing called the Cold War had by then begun to gum up U.S.-Soviet cooperation. Twenty-seven of the patrol frigates were finally returned in October 1949, minus one which had run aground. Fifteen of the twenty-five surviving Landing Craft wouldn’t follow until 1955. By then the vessels were in such poor condition the U.S. Navy didn’t even wish to incur the expense of scrapping them, so the remaining ninety vessels were scuttled or sold for scrap back to the Soviets.

Though Soviet military leaders briefly considered landing troops on the home island of Hokkaido, thirty LCIs would have proven inadequate for all but a token Soviet presence. Besides, some considered that a Soviet presence on the home islands had by then been ruled out at the Yalta Conference. However, the amphibious craft did enable the landing on the Kuril Islands, reshaping international boundaries. Japan still maintains the Kurils are part of its northern territories in a dispute with Russia that continues to this day.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

Image: Wikimedia Commons