When speaking of the Anti-Japanese Amalgam- ated Army of the Northeast （AJAAN） “fighting to death for freedom，” it’s hard not to mention the 88th Far East Reconnaissance Brigade active between 1940 and 1945. In the 1930s and 40s， an anti-Japanese amalgamated army consisting of multiple forces was active in the mountains of northeastern China， dealing a series of hammer-like blows to the Japanese Kwantung Army. After the outbreak of nationwide anti-Japanese war， the Japanese army pushed all out to suppress the amalgamated army to reinforce its strategic base in northeastern China.
By early 1940， the amalgamated army’s situation was extremely dire due to a shrinking action zone. To preserve its power， most of the army gradually transferred to the Soviet Union for rehabilitation and training.
With the approval of Joseph Stalin， 1，600 soldiers from 11 branches of the AJAAN were enrolled in the Soviet army in July 1942， known as the 88th Special Brigade of the Soviet Red Army.
In August 1945， the Soviet Union launched a major counterattack on the Japanese army. Its 36th Group Army of the Elite Squad crossed the Great Hinggan Mountains after capturing Hailar. Prior to the counterattack， the 88th Special Brigade， which was familiar with the topography of northeastern China， infiltrated Japanese military bases and acquired military intelligence particularly valuable to the final victory of the anti-fascist war.
To honor their excellent performance in collaboration with the Soviet Red Army， after victory in 1945， Stalin granted the Red Flag Medal to four commanders of the AJAAN： Zhou Baozhong， Li Zhaolin， Wang Minggui， and Kim Il-sung， who would become the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea （DPRK）.
Zhang Zheng’en， born in 1925， was a member of the AJAAN.
In 1943， he followed Li Zhaolin’s army to the northern camp， where he witnessed the Soviet Red Army’s defeat of Germans. He then returned to the northeast as part of the vanguard prior to the counterattack.
Soon after the end of World War II， Zhang joined the Fourth Field Army and fought all the way from northern to southern China in the liberation war. In 1955 he was honored in DPRK and promoted to senior captain， and he retired after returning to China.
Zhang was severely injured during a battle in Guangxi and lost sight in his right eye. A piece of shrapnel remains in his brain. “I’m lucky to be alive，” he sighs. “Most of my men didn’t make it.” During his stay in the North Camp， Zhang was named “Missa” in Russian. “We all got a Russian name，” he explains. “If you asked around for Zhang Zheng’en， no one would know who you were looking for. I was named by my senior officer.”
On the wall by his bed are photos of his “good old days，” two of which he cherishes most， taken in 1995 and 2005 respectively.
At the time， Russia was celebrating the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union as well as global victory in the anti-fascist war. The Russian consul-general in Shenyang granted him and other AJAAN veterans medals signed by the Russian president. In 2010， the Russian consul-general in Shenyang invited him to the celebration of the 65th anniversary， but he couldn’t make it due to his health.
Vanguard of the Soviet Union’s Combat against Japan Oral Account： Zhang Zheng’en
May 1945 brought a critical moment in the battle between the Soviet Union and Germany. Under the command of Stalin and Marshal Georgi Zhukov， we collaborated with the Soviet Red Army to hit German troops from the periphery during their attack on the Soviet Union.
At the time， the war between the Soviet Union and Germany was already over. The Soviet army completely withdrew from Berlin and returned to Moscow， preparing for the counterattack in northeastern China against the Japanese army. We were born there， so we knew everything about the region. Therefore， we became the vanguard and major guide for the counterattack.
After special training under the command of both the Far East army and AJAAN， I served as a bodyguard for Li Mingshun in the 32nd Regiment of the 3rd Troop of the AJAAN and returned to the northeast several times scouting.
To support its military efforts on China’s mainland， the Japanese army constructed industrial facilities for many years in northeastern China and Korea. Except for heavy artillery and bombers， almost any military weapon could be produced in the northeast.
By the summer of 1945， the Japanese army had built 20 air force bases， 133 airports， and over 400 airstrips in northeastern China and Korea， capable of handling at least 6，000 combat aircraft.
In July 1945， I followed Li Mingshun to scout an area around Ning’an and Muling in the northeast and returned on August 15 to make final preparations alongside the Soviet Red Army to battle the Japanese troops. Our main task was to learn about Japanese army’s strategic deployment and military action in northeastern China. After flying low to the northeast， I was assigned to sniff out information about facilities capable of handling large aircraft for the Kwantung Army in Muling. It was tough to get inside heavily guarded bases.
One day as I was hanging around the mountainous area， I came across a local resident. I decided to stay the night at his place. Knowing I was from the AJAAN， he shared his secret of getting close to the enemy. “They granted me this to hunt，” he revealed， showing a card. “You can use it. If they ask， tell them you are picking mushrooms.”
“That might work，” I thought， lacking any other feasible plan.
The next day， I headed to the mountains with his pass and was soon stopped by a Japanese soldier. He cursed me before asking to check my credentials. Extremely nervous， I explained that I was a local resident picking mushrooms in the mountain. He let me go after checking the pass.
Card in hand， I trekked two days and nights， passing 30 check points， but still never saw a shadow of an airport. I then ran into several groups of hunters， who were willing to guide me. They dared not continue along with me when we reached the enemy’s camp. “This is all we can do，” they said. “You are on your own. The airport should be there. Be careful！” And they were gone.
I walked around several layers of the wire netting shining under searchlights.
I reached the point of no return. I lurked near the netting， digging under it bit-by-bit in the still of night， and crept inside.
I didn’t know when I fell asleep during my creeping： I was too exhausted over the previous few days， but most of all， I was extremely nervous. Without knowing how long I slept， I was awoken by a searchlight. I quickly rolled and crept towards the second layer of the wire netting.
I saw something resembling a shovel and grabbed it， lifting the net with the wooden handle for a space to crawl in. Not far away， I saw bombers and cargo planes parked at the airport.
I crawled back and forth， counting and memorizing the number of the aircraft as well as details about the buildings and infrastructure for underground defense. After absorbing the situation， I slipped out of the camp the way I came in.
I met my colleagues at the designated rendezvous point and returned to our army. I didn’t waste a minute to report the information I acquired， telegramming it to the general headquarters of the Soviet army. On August 8， 1945， the Soviet army bombed the entire airport on which I spied. The AJAAN spared no efforts assisting the Soviet Red Army in defeating the Japanese troops in northeastern China in the final stages of the war. I was thus awarded the First Class Order of Merit by the Soviet Red Army.
I returned from Moscow to Changchun in northeastern China on a plane with my senior officer on August 8， 1945. Li Zhaolin and Kim Il-sung took other planes to Harbin and Dandong， respectively.
The 88th Far East Reconnaissance Brigade was primarily composed of Chinese soldiers， alongside Koreans， other nationals of Chinese origin， Russian Koreans， and Russians. Koreans made up a tenth of the brigade and many such as Kim Il-sung and Choe Yong Gon became leaders of the DPRK.
Kim Jong Il， the son of Kim Il-sung， was born in the Soviet Union. I had a chance to embrace him and take a photo with his mother.
I was overjoyed upon hearing the news of the Japanese surrender. During their invasion， the Chinese people could hardly lead normal lives. They couldn’t even serve rice or flour because anyone found eating such food would be shot or hung.
Days like those were gone forever after August 1945.