The Damascus Conflict of 1969

It's been 45 years since the spring of 1969, when an armed conflict broke out in one of the Far Eastern sections of the Soviet-Chinese border. It is about the island of Damansky, located on the Ussuri River. The history of the USSR testifies that these were the first military operations for the entire post-war period, in which army forces and KGB border troops took part. And even more so, it was unexpected that the aggressor was not just a neighboring state, but a fraternal, as everyone thought, China.


Damansky Island on the map looks like a rather insignificant scrap of land, which is stretched by about 1500-1800 m in length and about 700 m in width. Its exact parameters can not be established, since they depend on the specific time of the year. For example, during spring and summer floods, it can be completely flooded with the waters of the Ussuri River, and in the winter months the island rises in the midst of the freezing river. That is why it does not represent any military-strategic or economic value.

In 1969, Damansky Island, a photo of which has survived since that time, with an area of just over 0.7 square meters. Km, was located on the territory of the USSR and belonged to Pozharsky district of Primorsky Krai. These lands bordered one of the provinces of China - Heilongjiang. The distance from the Damansky Island to the city of Khabarovsk is only 230 km. From the Chinese shore, it was removed to a distance of about 300 m, and from the Soviet - at 500 m.

History of the island

The border between China and tsarist Russia in the Far East was tried from the XVII century. It is from these times that the history of the Damansky Island begins. Then the Russian possessions spread throughout the Amur River, from the source to the mouth, and were located both on the left and partly on the right side of it. Several centuries passed before precise border lines were established. This event was preceded by numerous legal acts. Finally, in 1860 almost the entire Ussuri region was given to Russia.

As you know, the Communists, led by Mao Zedong, came to power in China in 1949. At that time, they did not particularly mention that the main role in this was played by the Soviet Union. Two years after the end of the Civil War, in which the Chinese Communists emerged victorious, Beijing and Moscow signed an agreement. It said that China recognizes the current border with the USSR, and agrees that the Amur and Ussuri rivers are under the control of the Soviet border troops.

Earlier in the world, laws were already enacted and acted upon, according to which the borders running along rivers are conducted just along the main fairway. But the government of Tsarist Russia took advantage of the weakness and compliance of the Chinese state and conducted a line of demarcation on the Ussuri River not on the water, but right along the opposite shore. As a result, all the water and islands on it were on Russian territory. Therefore, the Chinese could fish and swim along the Ussuri River only with the permission of the neighboring authorities.

The political situation on the eve of the conflict

The events on the Damansky Island became a kind of culmination of ideological differences that arose between the two largest socialist states, the USSR and China. They began as early as the 1950s when the PRC decided to raise its international influence in the world and in 1958 entered an armed conflict with Taiwan. Four years later, China took part in a border war against India. If in the first case the Soviet Union expressed its support for such actions, in the second case, on the contrary, it condemned it.

In addition, disagreements were further aggravated by the fact that after the so-called Caribbean crisis that broke out in 1962, Moscow sought to somehow normalize relations with a number of capitalist countries. But the Chinese leader Mao Zedong took these actions as a betrayal of the ideological teachings of Lenin and Stalin. There was also a factor of rivalry for the supremacy over the countries that were part of the socialist camp.

For the first time a serious crisis in Soviet-Chinese relations took shape in 1956, when the USSR participated in the suppression of popular unrest in Hungary and Poland. Then Mao condemned these actions of Moscow. The deterioration of the situation between the two countries was influenced by the withdrawal of Soviet specialists who were in China and helped him successfully develop both the economy and the armed forces. This was done because of numerous provocations by the PRC.

To all other things, Mao Zedong was very concerned that in the territory of Western China, and specifically in Xinjiang, there were still Soviet troops remaining there since 1934. The fact is that the soldiers of the Red Army took part in suppressing the Muslim uprising on these lands. The great helmsman, as Mao was called, feared that these territories would go to the USSR.

By the second half of the 60s, when Khrushchev was removed from his post, the situation became critical. This is evidenced by the fact that before the conflict on the Damansky Island began, diplomatic relations between the two countries existed only on the level of temporary agents.

Border provocations

It was after Khrushchev's removal from power that the situation on the island began to heat up. The Chinese began sending their so-called agricultural divisions to the borderless sparsely populated territories. They resembled the Arakcheyev military settlements that operated under Nicholas I, who were able not only to fully meet their food needs, but also with the arisen need to protect themselves and their land with weapons in their hands.

In the early 60's events on the island of Damansky began to develop rapidly. For the first time reports were sent to Moscow that numerous groups of Chinese military and civilians are constantly violating the established border regime and entering Soviet territory, where they are expelled without using weapons. Most often these were peasants who demonstratively engaged in grazing or mowing grass. At the same time, they claimed that they were allegedly located on the territory of China.

Every year the number of such provocations increased, and they began to acquire a more threatening character. There were facts of attacks by the Red Guards (activists of the cultural revolution) on Soviet border patrols. Such aggressive actions on the part of the Chinese were already counted in the thousands, and several hundred people were involved in them. An example of this is the following event. Only 4 days have passed since 1969. Then on the island of Kirkin, and now Tsilincindao, the Chinese staged a provocation, in which about 500 people took part.

Group fights

While the Soviet government said that the Chinese are a fraternal people, more and more developing events on Damansky proved otherwise. Whenever border guards of two states accidentally crossed into a disputed territory, verbal skirmishes began, which then developed into hand-to-hand skirmishes. Usually they ended with the victory of stronger and larger Soviet soldiers and the displacement of the Chinese on their side.

Each time the PRC border guards tried to film these group fights and subsequently use them for propaganda purposes. Such attempts have always been neutralized by Soviet border guards who, without hesitation, beat pseudo-journalists and confiscated their captured films. Despite this, the Chinese soldiers, fanatically devoted to their "god" Mao Tse-tung, again returned to the Damansky Island, where they could be beaten again or even killed in the name of their great leader. But it's worth noting that such group fights never went beyond hand-to-hand combat.

Preparing China for war

Each border conflict, even insignificant at first sight, heated the situation between the PRC and the USSR. The Chinese leadership constantly increased its military units at the bordering territories, as well as special units that formed the so-called Labor Army. At the same time, extensive paramilitary state farms were built, which were unique military settlements.

In addition, from the number of active citizens were formed detachments of the people's militia. They were used not only to protect the border, but also to restore order in all settlements near it. The detachments consisted of groups of local residents, led by representatives of public security.

1969 The bordering Chinese territory with a width of about 200 km was given the status of a forbidden one and was henceforth regarded as an advanced defensive line. All citizens who have any family ties on the side of the Soviet Union or sympathize with it, were relocated to more remote areas of China.

How to prepare for the war of the USSR

It can not be said that the Damansk conflict caught the Soviet Union by surprise. In response to the buildup of Chinese troops in the border zone, the USSR also began to strengthen its borders. First of all, they redeployed some parts and formations from the central and western parts of the country both in Transbaikalia and the Far East. Also, the border strip was improved in terms of engineering facilities, which were equipped with an improved system of technical protection. In addition, the soldiers were intensively trained.

Most importantly, on the eve of the outbreak of the Soviet-Chinese conflict, all border outposts and detachments were provided with a large number of heavy machine guns, as well as anti-tank hand grenade launchers and other weapons. There were also armored personnel carriers BTR-60 PB and BTR-60 PA. Maneuver groups were created in the border detachments themselves.

Despite all the improvements, the means of protection was not enough. The fact is that the maturing war with China required not only good equipment, but also certain skills and some experience in mastering this new technology, as well as the ability to apply it directly in the course of military operations.

Now, after so many years after the Damascus conflict, it can be concluded that the leadership of the country underestimated the seriousness of the situation at the border, as a result of which its defenders were completely unprepared to repel aggression on the part of the enemy. Also, despite the sharp deterioration in relations with the Chinese side and the significantly increased number of provocations that arise at the outposts, the command was given a strict order: "Do not use weapons, under any pretext!"

The beginning of hostilities

The Soviet-Chinese conflict of 1969 began with the fact that about 300 Chinese soldiers, dressed in winter camouflage uniforms, crossed the border of the USSR. It happened on the night of March 2. The Chinese crossed over to Damansky Island. The conflict was brewing.

I must say that the enemy's soldiers were well equipped. The clothes were very comfortable and warm, in addition, they were in white camouflage gowns. The same cloth was wrapped and their weapons. So that it does not rattled, the ramrod was filled with paraffin. All the weapons that were attached to them were made in China, but only under Soviet licenses. Chinese soldiers armed with SCS carbines, AK-47 assault rifles and TT pistols.

Having crossed to the island, they lay down on its western shore and took a position on the hill. Immediately after this, the telephone connection with the shore was established. At night there was a snowfall, which concealed all their tracks. And they lay until the morning on the mats and from time to time basked up drinking vodka.

Before the Damascus conflict had not yet developed into an armed clash, the Chinese prepared a line of support for their soldiers from the shore. There were pre-equipped areas for recoilless guns, mortars, as well as large-caliber machine guns. In addition, there was also an infantry of about 300 people.

The reconnaissance of the Soviet border detachment had no instruments for night observation of the adjacent territories, so they completely failed to notice any preparations for hostilities by the enemy. In addition, from the nearest post to Damansky was 800 m, and visibility at this time was very bad. Even at 9 o'clock in the morning, when a border patrol consisting of three people patrolled the island, the Chinese were not found. Violators of the border did not betray themselves.

It is believed that the conflict on the Damansky Island began from the moment when, at about 10.40, a report was received from the servicemen at the observation post at the Nizhny-Mikhailovka border post, 12 km to the south. It said that a group of armed people, numbering up to 30 people, was found. It moved from the border with China in the direction of Damansky. The commander of the outpost was Senior Lieutenant Ivan Strelnikov. He gave the order for nomination, and the personnel sat down in combat vehicles. Strelnikov and seven soldiers went to GAZ-69, Sergeant V. Rabovich and 13 people to him - to BTR-60 PB and Yu. Babansky's group, consisting of 12 border guards, to GAZ-63. The last car lagged behind the other two for 15 minutes, as it turned out that it had problems with the engine.

First victims

Upon arrival at the site, the group headed by Strelnikov, which included the photographer Nikolai Petrov, approached the Chinese. They expressed their protest about the illegal crossing of the border, as well as the demand to immediately leave the territory of the Soviet Union. After that, one of the Chinese shouted loudly and the first of their lines parted. Soldiers of the People's Republic of China opened automatic fire on Strelnikov and his group. Soviet border guards died on the spot. Immediately from the hands of the dead Petrov was taken to the camera, which he shot everything that was happening, but the camera did not notice - the soldier, falling, covered it with himself. These were the first victims, from which the Damascus conflict was just beginning.

The second group under the command of Rabović assumed an unequal battle. She shot back to the last. Soon arrived and the other fighters, headed by Yu. Babansky. They occupied the defense behind their comrades and poured fire on the enemy. As a result, the entire Rabović group was killed. Only ordinary survivor Gennady Serebrov remained alive. It was he who told everything that happened to his comrades-in-arms.

The Babansky group continued the battle, but the ammunition quickly ended. Therefore, it was decided to depart. The remaining border guards on the surviving BTR took refuge in Soviet territory. At that time, 20 fighters from the nearby "Kulebyakiny Hills" outpost led by Vitaliy Bubenin rushed to their rescue. It was north of the island of Damansky at a distance of 18 km. Therefore, the assistance arrived only by 11.30. The border guards also entered the battle, but the forces were unequal. Therefore, their commander decided to bypass the Chinese ambush from the rear.

Bubenin and 4 more soldiers, immersed in an armored vehicle, drove around the enemy and began to fire at him from behind, and the remaining border guards fired from the island. Despite the fact that the Chinese were several times more, they were in an extremely unfavorable situation. As a result, Bubenin succeeded in destroying the Chinese command post. After that the soldiers of the enemy began to leave positions, taking with them the dead and the wounded.

About 12.00 on the Damansky Island, the conflict on which was still going on, Colonel D. Leonov arrived. He with the main military personnel of the border guards was at the exercises in 100 km from the place of military operations. They also entered the battle, and by the evening of the same day the Soviet soldiers managed to repulse the island.

In this battle, 32 border guards were killed, and 14 servicemen were wounded. How many people lost the Chinese side, is still unknown, since such information is classified. According to the estimates of the Soviet border guards, the PRC missed about 100-150 of its soldiers and officers.

Continuation of the conflict

And what about Moscow? On this day, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev called General V. Matrosov, head of the USSR border troops, and asked what was it: a simple conflict or a war with China? A high-ranking military official was supposed to know the situation on the border, but, as it turned out, he was not aware of. Therefore, he called the events that happened the mere conflict. He did not know that the border guards had been keeping their defenses for several hours with the multiple superiority of the enemy not only in manpower, but also in armament.

After the collision on March 2, Damansky was constantly patrolled by reinforced dresses, and in the rear a whole motorized rifle division was deployed a few kilometers from the island, where in addition to the artillery there were also Grad rockets. China was also preparing for another offensive. A significant number of servicemen were brought to the border - about 5,000 people.

I must say, the Soviet border guards had no instructions about what to do next. There were no corresponding orders from either the General Staff or the Minister of Defense. In critical situations, the silence of the country's leadership was a common thing. The history of the USSR is full of such facts. For example, let's take the brightest of them: in the first days of the Great Patriotic War, Stalin was never able to address the Soviet people. It is the inaction of the leadership of the USSR that can explain the complete confusion in the actions of the servicemen of the frontier post on March 14, 1969, when the second stage of the Soviet-Chinese confrontation began.

At 15.00 the border guards received an order: "To leave Damansky" (it is still unknown who gave this order). As soon as the Soviet military withdrew from the island, the Chinese immediately began to move to small groups in small groups and consolidate their fighting positions. And approximately at 20.00 the opposite order arrived: "Take Damansky".

Unpreparedness and confusion reigned in everything. Contradictory orders came constantly, the most ridiculous of them the border guards refused to comply with. In this battle Colonel Demokrat Leonov was killed, trying to get around the enemy from the rear on the new secret tank T-62. The car was damaged and lost. They tried to destroy it from mortars, but these actions were not crowned with success - it fell through the ice. After some time, the Chinese raised the tank to the surface, and now it is in the military museum of Beijing. All this was due to the fact that the colonel did not know the island, so the Soviet tanks so indiscreetly approached the positions of the enemy.

The battle ended with the Soviet side having to use the Grad missile system against the superior enemy forces. This is the first time that such weapons were used in real combat. It was the Grad installation that decided the outcome of the battle. After that, there was silence.


Despite the fact that the Soviet-Chinese conflict ended in complete victory for the USSR, the negotiations on Damansky's allegiance lasted almost 20 years. Only in 1991 this island officially became Chinese. Now it is called Zhenbao, which in translation means "Precious".

During the military conflict, the Soviet Union lost 58 people, 4 of whom were officers. According to various sources, the PRC has lost from 500 to 3,000 of its servicemen.

For the bravery shown, five border guards were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, three of which were posthumous. Another 148 servicemen were awarded other orders and medals.

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