I had an impression that each soldier of the Soviet army was mostly good natured. They were young and innocent, and could be even silly. Some older ones seemed to have become gentle as they had exhausted all of their energy in the battle fields.
They were not as fully equipped as the Japanese, but only had small arms the clothes they were wearing. Their long coats were not of great quality either and made with a rough-textured yarn just like the one used for a rough straw mat. I never saw the soldiers change underwear and they actually did not wear underpants.
On the other hand, they had strength like animals as they were spending their days eating only black bread which was hard, as it was made of straw, and water. They were also familiar with the cold and dressed so lightly while we equipped ourselves heavily to survive a Siberian winter.
In the concentration camp, I became acquainted with one of the chief commissioned officers of the military cargo factory department. He regretfully said, “As we left Mukden, we set fire to the warehouse and burned everything. We had a huge stack of Scotch whisky left and it was thrilling to see how it got ignited and went bang, bang like fireworks. But now I think we should have had it rather than wasting it.” In terms of supplies, the Japanese army tended to focus more on tires and equipment rather than weapons and ammunition. It could have been, however, that weapons and ammunition were simply the first items to become scarce during the war time.
Even as late as in 1945 (Showa 20), more and more soldiers came to the continent from mainland Japan. They all had brand new clothes and hats on, and even wore leather shoes with puttees. When it comes to weapons, however, only one out of ten owned a rifle. Furthermore, that rifle was actually an old Type 38 rifle that we used to use for a military training at junior high school. While these rifles had an imperial chrysanthemum emblem, they had crushed the mark with a chisel once they handed these down to be used for a military training at school. These new soldiers came equipped with such inferior arms.
All of this was hard evidence of how combat materials from mainland had become scarce to this critical condition. Even a mess tin, a soldier’s typical gear, was not made of aluminum, supposedly because it was all consumed for manufacturing planes. They carried Warigo, a traditional Japanese lunch box made of bamboos or rattan instead, which was just like the one travelers used back in Tokugawa period. As a water bottle, they carried one made out of a cut green bamboo and hanged it on a waist. A bayonet which they also wore on their waist was made of iron and had a blade. Its sheath, on the other hand, was fairly coarse and made with two pieces of bamboo that was dyed black, and they simply wired 3 or 4 spots to put the pieces together. When I realized how poorly these soldiers were armed to fight in modern warfare, I almost shed a tear feeling miserable rather than merely shocked.
Consequently, these poor soldiers, not equipped properly for the battles, could only run about under the blast, having no power of resistance against the enemy’s air raid. You were lucky if you could stay away and most of the time they were not even trained to escape properly and looked up at the sky still in line even when they spotted an enemy aircraft. It was no wonder why the damage was huge.
It is easy to imagine how these soldiers would fight on the front line. They were worse than being useless and were even pitiful like a flock of sheep that was sent merely to be killed. I wonder if the army intended these soldiers to seize a rifle from the enemy or to use one that belonged to the killed soldiers. They seriously had no plan, after all.
Let me go back to the subject. One of the things that was hard for me to understand was the relationship between the Soviet army and MVD, a Soviet government agency which used to be called NKVD. When we were first interned, we were totally unfamiliar with them and had the wrong idea that all the Soviets belonged to the Communist Party. This turned out to be a huge misunderstanding and the actual members of the party were very few and seemed to be distinctive people. They also tended to be arrogant.
MVD belonged to the military and acted like the military police of the Japanese army as they dealt with misconduct and troubles among soldiers.
For any army, abnormal mental state and behavior dominate the front line and we encounter various forms of misconduct such as theft, robbery, rape and murder. What matters is how these incidents are treated when they actually happen.
The Japanese army owned a special judicial system called a court-martial which was applied specifically for soldiers and criminal cases related to the military and was separate from the judicial system for the general public. In this system, a legal officer of the military acted as a prosecutor or a judge and a trial was held to deal with the case.
In the case of the Soviet army, however, I have witnessed a couple of incidents that a commission officer of MVD shot a soldier on site who was revealed to have committed misconduct. It was not really clear whether or not the MVD officer was authorized for this kind of act. This incident still revealed how the principle of reward and punishment of the Soviet army was strictly rigid and how MVD supported this system. Although it was rather violent, I thought the Soviet soldiers were not to be trifled with as long as such rigid military discipline existed.
Supposedly because they took part in fierce battles, these Soviet soldiers sometimes used Mandolin guns to shoot each other when they had a fight among themselves. I witnessed up close when a soldier was actually killed in these fights and was scared to death wondering if by any chance we could be hit by a stray bullet.