Helion's Sino-Soviet Border War of 1969

Author/Artists: Dmitrry Ryabushkin & Harold Orenstein


Helion  Publishing


$29.95 MSRP from Casemate


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 76 pages, softcover, photos and maps
ISBN 978-1-914059-23-0

One of the major sources of conflict are borders. Sometimes they are difficult to determine due to where they are located. Other times they are the result of wars where the loser forfeits land and following rulers feel it was unfairly taken. In the mid 1800s, China and Russia had several small conflicts over border areas. At the time, China was, unlike today, not in any sort of position to do a land grab. Several treaties were signed with the Russians and borders delineated. Oddly, the borders that ran where there were rivers, all ran on the Chinese shoreline, rather than the deepest part of the river as is usually the case.

What this did was put all of the islands in these rivers under Russian control. Most of the areas where this occurred were sparsely populated and both Russian and Chinese used these generally uninhabited islands as places to serve as places to dry fish they had caught in the rivers. There were no border guards and no fences.

Move forward to the beginning of the PRC and Mao's iron grip on China. Initially, most of the efforts of the Chinese were for the leaders to solidify power and ensure that Chinese communism became the law of the land. This eventually morped into the excesses of the Cultural Revolution which started in 1966. It then became important to have the border irregularities taken care of.

Move to 1969 and a spot along the Ussuri River in northeastern China and Damansky Island. This was typical of the islands in the area. However, it also happened to be only a few hundred yards from the Chinese shore. While the Soviets had some border outposts in the area, there were none on the island. The Ussuri froze solid during the winter, making it easy to cross over on the ice. The Chinese massed troops on their shore. They then sent these troops over to the western side of the island and hid in the trees and brush. The Soviets, alarmed by the movement of troops, sent a patrol over to the island where it was ambushed by the Chinese and most of the Soviets were killed. Additional troops were sent and fierce battles took place before the Chinese finally withdrew. Loss of life was fairly heavy, though the totals are quite different depending on whose side you tend to believe. The Soviets claim to have lost 32 border guards while the Chinese numbers are unknown as they removed all but one of their dead during their retreat.

Now to be honest, the Soviets had been sending patrols over to the island to forcibly remove Chinese fishermen from the island and had also used boats with water hoses to discourage them from fishing in the river for a few years. While the Chinese may have seen this as a reason for the ambush, they were very much the aggressors in the coming events.

This was just the first of many other skirmishes during 1969 and almost led to a nuclear exchange between the Soviets and the Chinese.

As noted, this is the first volume covering this conflict. The authors have done an incredible amount of research on the subject and not only provide a ton of detail about the event and its aftermath, but also provide a great historical background of what led up to these events. The book provides a number of excellent photos and maps to help you with the sequence of events.

July 2021

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