Battles of Khalkhin Gol
|Battles of Khalkhyn Gol (Battles of Nomonhan)|
|Part of the Soviet–Japanese Border Wars|
Khalkhyn Gol, August 1939. Offensive of Soviet BT-7 tanks
| Soviet Union
Mongolian People's Republic
|Commanders and leaders|
| Grigoriy Shtern
| Michitarō Komatsubara
|Casualties and losses|
|: 7,974 killed,
|Japanese military record:
60,000 killed and wounded,
Modern western estimate:
45,000 killed and wounded,
Coordinates: The Battles of Khalkhyn Gol (Mongolian: Халхын голын дайн; Japanese: ノモンハン事件; Japanese Romaji Nomon-Han Jiken; Russian: бои на реке Халхин-Гол; Chinese: 诺门坎事件; pinyin: Nuò mén kǎn shìjiàn) constituted the decisive engagement of the undeclared Soviet–Japanese border conflicts fought among the Soviet Union, Mongolia and the Empire of Japan in 1939. The conflict was named after the river Khalkhyn Gol, which passes through the battlefield. In Japan, the decisive battle of the conflict is known as the Nomonhan Incident (ノモンハン事件 Nomonhan jiken?) after a nearby village on the border between Mongolia and Manchuria. The battles resulted in the defeat of the Japanese Sixth Army.
- 1 Background
- 2 May, June, and July actions
- 3 August: Zhukov's strike
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 Air combat
- 6 Summary
- 7 In popular culture
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 External links
After the occupation of Manchuria in 1931, Japan turned its military interests to Soviet territories that bordered those areas. The first major Soviet-Japanese border incident, the Battle of Lake Khasan, happened in 1938 in Primorye. Clashes between Japanese and Soviet forces frequently occurred on the border of Manchuria.
In 1939, Manchuria was a puppet state of Japan known as Manchukuo, and Mongolia was a communist state allied with the Soviet Union, known as the Mongolian People's Republic. The Japanese maintained that the border between Manchukuo and Mongolia was the Khalkhyn Gol (English "Khalkha River") which flows into Lake Buir. In contrast, the Mongolians and their Soviet allies maintained that the border ran some 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) east of the river, just east of Nomonhan village.
The principal occupying army of Manchukuo was the Kwantung Army of Japan, consisting of some of the best Japanese units in 1939. However, the western region of Manchukuo was garrisoned by the relatively newly formed 23rd Infantry Division at Hailar under General Michitarō Komatsubara and included several Manchukuoan army and border guard units all under the direct command of Sixth Army.
The Soviet forces consisted of the 57th Special Corps, deployed from the Trans-Baikal Military District. They were responsible for defending the border between Siberia and Manchuria. The Mongolian troops mainly consisted of cavalry brigades and light artillery units, and proved to be effective and agile, but lacked armour and manpower in sufficient numbers.
In 1939, the Japanese Cabinet sent instructions to the Kwantung Army to strengthen and fortify Manchukuo's borders with Mongolia and the Soviet Union. Additionally, the Kwantung Army, which had long been stationed in Manchuria far from the Japanese home islands, had become largely autonomous and tended to act without approval from, or even against the direction of, the Japanese government.
May, June, and July actions
The incident began on 11 May 1939. A Mongolian cavalry unit of some 70–90 men had entered the disputed area in search of grazing for their horses. On that day, Manchukuoan cavalry attacked the Mongolians and drove them back across the river Khalkhin Gol. On 13 May, the Mongolian force returned in greater numbers and the Manchukoans were unable to dislodge them.
On 14 May, Lt. Col. Yaozo Azuma led the reconnaissance regiment of 23rd Infantry Division, supported by the 64th Infantry Regiment of the same division, under Colonel Takemitsu Yamagata, into the territory and the Mongolians withdrew. Soviet and Mongolian troops returned to the disputed region, however, and Azuma's force again moved to evict them. This time things turned out differently, as the Soviet-Mongolian forces surrounded Azuma's force on 28 May and destroyed it. The Azuma force suffered eight officers and 97 men killed and one officer and 33 men wounded, for 63% total casualties. The commander of the Soviet forces and the Far East Front was Comandarm Grigori Shtern from May 1938.
Both sides began building up their forces in the area: soon Japan had 30,000 men in the theater. The Soviets dispatched a new Corps commander, Comcor Georgy Zhukov, who arrived on 5 June and brought more motorized and armored forces (I Army Group) to the combat zone. Accompanying Zhukov was Comcor Yakov Smushkevich with his aviation unit. J. Lkhagvasuren, Corps Commissar of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Army, was appointed Zhukov's deputy.
On 27 June, Imperial Japanese Army Air Force's 2nd Air Brigade struck the Soviet air base at Tamsak-Bulak in Mongolia. The Japanese won this engagement, but the strike had been ordered by the Kwangtung Army without getting permission from Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) headquarters in Tokyo. In an effort to prevent the incident from escalating, Tokyo promptly ordered the Japanese Army Air Force not to conduct any more air strikes against Soviet airbases.
Throughout June, there were continuing reports of Soviet and Mongolian activity on both sides of the river near Nomonhan, and small-scale attacks on isolated Manchukoan units. At the end of the month, the commander of the Japanese 23rd Infantry Division, Lt. Gen. Michitarō Komatsubara, was given permission to "expel the invaders". The Japanese plan was for a two-pronged assault. Three regiments plus part of a fourth, including three from the 23rd Division—the 71st and the 72nd Infantry Regiments, plus a battalion of the 64th Infantry Regiment—and the 26th Infantry Regiment under Colonel Shinichiro Sumi, borrowed from the 7th Infantry Division, would advance across the Khalkin Gol, destroy Soviet forces on Baintsagan Hill on the west bank, then make a left turn and advance south to the Kawatama Bridge. The second prong of the attack would be the task of the IJA 1st Tank Corps (1st TC) (Yasuoka Detachment), consisting of the 3rd and 4th Tank Regiments, plus a part of the 64th Infantry Regiment, a battalion from the 28th Infantry Regiment, detached from the 7th Infantry, 24th Engineer Regiment, and a battalion from the 13th Field Artillery Regiment, all under the overall command of Lieutenant General Yasuoka Masaomi. This force would attack Soviet troops on the east bank of the Khalkhyn Gol and north of the Holsten River. The two Japanese thrusts were intending to join together on the wings.
- Lt. Gen. Yasuoka Masaomi, IJA, Commanding Officer, 1st Tank Corps
The northern task force succeeded in crossing the Khalkhyn Gol, driving the Soviets from Baintsagan Hill, and advancing south along the west bank. However, Zhukov, perceiving the threat, launched a counterattack with 450 tanks and armored cars. The Soviet armored force, despite being unsupported by infantry, attacked the Japanese on three sides and nearly encircled them. The Japanese force, further handicapped by having only one pontoon bridge across the river for supplies, was forced to withdraw, recrossing the river on 5 July. Meanwhile, the 1st Tank Corps of the Yasuoka Detachment (the southern task force) attacked on the night of 2 July, moving in the darkness to avoid the Soviet artillery on the high ground of the river's west bank. A pitched battle ensued in which the Yasuoka Detachment lost over half its armor, but still could not break through the Soviet forces on the east bank and reach the Kawatama Bridge. After a Soviet counterattack on 9 July threw the battered, depleted Yasuoka Detachment back, it was dissolved and Yasuoka was relieved.
The two armies continued to spar with each other over the next two weeks along a 4-kilometre (2.5 mi) front running along the east bank of the Khalkhyn Gol to its junction with the Holsten River. Zhukov, whose army was 748 km (465 mi) away from its base of supply, assembled a fleet of 2600 trucks to supply his troops, while the Japanese suffered severe supply problems due to a lack of similar motor transport. On 23 July, the Japanese launched another large-scale assault, sending the 64th and 72nd Infantry Regiments against Soviet forces defending the Kawatama Bridge. Japanese artillery supported the attack with a massive barrage that consumed more than half of their ammunition stores over a period of two days. The attack made some progress but failed to break through Soviet lines and reach the bridge. The Japanese disengaged from the attack on 25 July due to mounting casualties and depleted artillery stores. They had suffered over five thousand casualties to this point but still had 75,000 men and some hundred planes facing the Soviet forces. The battle drifted into a stalemate.
August: Zhukov's strike
The Japanese regrouped and planned a third major offensive against the Soviets for 24 August. However, with war apparently imminent in Europe, Zhukov planned a major offensive on 20 August, to clear the Japanese from the Khalkhin Gol region and end the fighting. Zhukov assembled a powerful armored force of three tank brigades (the 4th, 6th and 11th), and two mechanized brigades (the 7th and 8th, which were armored car units with attached infantry support). This force was allocated to the Soviet left and right wings. The entire Soviet force consisted of three rifle divisions, two tank divisions and two more tank brigades (in all, some 498 BT-5 and BT-7 tanks), two motorized infantry divisions, and over 550 fighters and bombers. The Mongolians committed two cavalry divisions.
By contrast, at the point of contact, the Kwantung Army had only Lieutenant General Michitarō Komatsubara's 23rd Infantry Division, which with various attached forces was equivalent to two light infantry divisions. Its headquarters had been at Hailar, over 150 km (93 mi) from the fighting. Japanese intelligence had also failed to detect the scale of the Soviet buildup or the scope of the imminent offensive.
Zhukov decided it was time to break the stalemate. At 05:45 on 20 August 1939, Soviet artillery and 557 fighters and bombers attacked Japanese positions, the first fighter–bomber offensive in Soviet Air Force history. Approximately 50,000 Soviet and Mongolian soldiers of the 57th Special Corps defended the east bank of the Khalkhyn Gol. Three infantry divisions and a tank brigade crossed the river, supported by massed artillery and the Soviet Air Force. Once the Japanese were pinned down by the attack of Soviet center units, Soviet armored units swept around the flanks and attacked the Japanese in the rear, achieving a classic double envelopment. When the Soviet wings linked up at Nomonhan village on 25 August, the Japanese 23rd Infantry Division was trapped. On 26 August, a Japanese counterattack to relieve the 23rd Division failed. On 27 August, the 23rd Division attempted to break out of the encirclement, but also failed. When the surrounded forces refused to surrender, they were again hit with artillery and air attacks. By 31 August, Japanese forces on the Mongolian side of the border were destroyed, leaving remnants of the 23rd Division on the Manchurian side. The Soviets had achieved their objective.
Komatsubara refused to accept the outcome and prepared a counteroffensive. This was canceled when a cease-fire was signed in Moscow. While Zhukov defeated the Japanese forces from Soviet territory, Joseph Stalin had made a deal with Nazi Germany. After the Soviet success at Nomonhan, Stalin decided to proceed with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was announced on 24 August.
With no further threat of a second front from Japan, Stalin was free to concentrate on war in Europe and the Soviet Union and Japan agreed to a cease-fire on 15 September, which took effect the following day. Free from a threat in the Far East, Stalin proceeded with the Soviet invasion of Poland on 17 September.
Casualty estimates vary widely: The Japanese officially reported 8,440 killed and 8,766 wounded, while the Soviets initially claimed 9,284 total casualties. Some sources, however, put the Japanese casualties at 45,000 or more soldiers killed, with Soviet casualties of at least 17,000. It is likely figures published at the time were reduced for propaganda purposes. In recent years, with the opening of the Soviet archives, a more accurate assessment of Soviet casualties has emerged from the work of Grigoriy Krivosheev, citing 7,974 killed and 15,251 wounded. In the newer, 2001 edition, the Soviet losses are given as 9703 killed and missing (6472 killed and died of wounds during evacuation, 1152 died of wounds in hospitals, 8 died of disease, 2028 missing, 43 non-combat dead), the number of wounded is unchanged; there were a further 2225 hospitalizations due to sickness.
|I-16 fighter||I-152 biplane fighter||I-153 biplane fighter||SB high-speed bomber||TB-3 heavy bomber||R-5 reconnaissance aircraft||Total:|
|Ki-4 reconnaissance aircraft||Ki-10 biplane fighter||Ki-15 reconnaissance||Ki-21 high speed bomber||Ki-27 fighter||Ki-30 light bomber||Ki-36 utility aircraft||Fiat BR.20 medium bomber||Transport aircraft||Total|
|Aerial combat losses||1||1||7||3||62||11||3||0||0||88|
|Write-offs due to combat damage||14||0||6||3||34||7||3||1||6||74|
|Total combat losses||15||1||13||6||96||18||6||1||6||162|
Aircraft losses summary and notes
Combat losses include aircraft shot down during aerial combat, written off due to combat damage or destroyed on the ground.
Non-combat losses include aircraft that were lost due to accidents, as well as write-offs of warplanes due to the end of their service life. Thus Soviet combat losses amount to 163 fighters, 44 bombers and a reconnaissance aircraft, with further 385 fighters and 51 bombers requiring repairs due to combat damage. VVS personnel losses were 88 killed in aerial combat, 11 killed by anti-aircraft artillery, 65 missing, six killed in airstrikes and four dead of wounds (174 total) and 113 wounded. The Japanese combat losses were 97 fighters, 25 bombers and 41 other (mostly reconnaissance), while 128 fighters, 54 bombers and 38 other required repairs due to combat damage. The Japanese airforce suffered 152 dead and 66 seriously wounded.
Aircraft ordnance expenditures
USSR (Russia): Bomber sorties 2,015, Fighter sorties 18,509; 7.62mm machine gun rounds fired 1,065,323; 20mm cannon rounds expended 57,979; bombs dropped 78,360 (1200 tons).
Japan: Fighter/bomber sorties 10,000 (estimated); 7.7mm machine gun rounds fired 1,600,000; bombs dropped 970 tons.
While this engagement is little-known in the West, it played an important part in subsequent Japanese conduct in World War II. This defeat, together with other factors, moved the Imperial General Staff in Tokyo away from the policy of the North Strike Group favored by the Army, which wanted to seize Siberia as far as Lake Baikal for its resources. (See illustration.)
Other factors included the signing of the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact, which deprived the Army of the basis of its war policy against the USSR. Nomonhan earned the Kwantung Army the displeasure of officials in Tokyo, not so much due to its defeat, but because it was initiated and escalated without direct authorization from the Japanese government. Politically, the defeat also shifted support to the South Strike Group, favored by the Navy, which wanted to seize the resources of Southeast Asia, especially the petroleum and mineral-rich Dutch East Indies. Two days after the Eastern Front of World War II broke out, the Japanese army and navy leaders adopted on 24 June 1941 a resolution "not intervening in German Soviet war for the time being". In August 1941, Japan and the Soviet Union reaffirmed their neutrality pact. Since the European colonial powers were weakening and suffering early defeats in the war with Germany, coupled with their embargoes on Japan (especially of vital oil) in the second half of 1941, Japan's focus was ultimately focused on the south, and led to its decision to launch the attack on Pearl Harbor, on 7 December that year. Despite plans being carried out for a potential war against the USSR (particularly contingent on German advances towards Moscow), the Japanese would never launch an offensive against the Soviet Union. In 1941, the two countries signed agreements respecting the borders of Mongolia and Manchukuo and pledging neutrality towards each other. In the closing months of World War II, the Soviet Union would quit the Neutrality Pact and invade the Japanese territories in Manchuria, Korea, and the southern part of Sakhalin island.
The battle was the first victory for the soon-to-be-famous Soviet general Georgy Zhukov, earning him the first of his four Hero of the Soviet Union awards. The two other generals, Grigoriy Shtern and Yakov Smushkevich had important roles and were also awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union. They would however both be executed in the 1941 Purges. Zhukov himself was promoted and transferred west to the Kiev district. The battle experience gained by Zhukov was put to good use in December 1941 at the Battle of Moscow. Zhukov was able to use this experience to launch the first successful Soviet counteroffensive against the German invasion of 1941. Many units of the Siberian and other trans-Ural armies were part of this attack, and the decision to move the divisions from Siberia was aided by the Soviet spy Richard Sorge in Tokyo, who was able to alert the Soviet government that the Japanese were looking south and were unlikely to launch another attack against Siberia in the immediate future. A year after defending Moscow against the advancing Germans, Zhukov planned and executed the Red Army's offensive at the Battle of Stalingrad, using a technique very similar to Khalkhin Gol, in which the Soviet forces held the enemy fixed in the center, built up a mass of force in the area undetected, and launched a pincer attack on the wings to trap the enemy army.
The Japanese, however, made no major strategic changes. They continued to underestimate their adversaries, deploying piecemeal units instead of mass units, emphasizing the courage and determination of the individual soldier to make up for the lack of firepower, protection, or overwhelming numbers. The problems that faced them at Khalkhin Gol, most importantly their deployment of only two light infantry divisions, and two tank regiments, would plague them again when the Americans and British recovered from their defeats of late 1941 and early 1942 and turned to the conquest of the Japanese Empire.
After the war, at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, fourteen Japanese were charged by delegates of the conquering Soviet Union, with having "initiated a war of aggression ... against the Mongolian People's Republic in the area of the Khalkhin-Gol River" and also with having waged a war "in violation of international law" against the USSR. Kenji Doihara, Hiranuma Kiichirō, and Seishirō Itagaki were convicted on these charges.
The Mongolian town of Choibalsan, in the Dornod Province where the battle was fought, is the location of the "G.K. Zhukov Museum", dedicated to Zhukov and the 1939 battle. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia also has a "G.K. Zhukov Museum" with information about the battle.
In popular culture
The Battles of Khalkhin Gol were depicted in the 2011 South Korean war film My Way. The film was inspired by the true tale of a Korean named Yang Kyoungjong who was captured by the Americans on D-Day. Yang Kyoungjong was conscripted in the Japanese Imperial Army, fought in the Battles of Khalkhin Gol against the Red Army, then was enlisted to the Red Army, fought against the Germans and after being taken prisoner he joined the Wehrmacht.
The Nomonhan Incident casts a shadow over the whole of Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, although there is little detail about the main battle itself. Two characters who were in the Japanese Army during the war, relate their experiences in the Mongolian border area at a much later date to the hero, which seems to profoundly affect his later adventures.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of Khalkhin Gol.|
- "LIFE" magazine article on combat at Khalkhin Gol, 7 August 1939
- Topographic Map of the Khalkhin Gol battle area
- Videos of the Nomonhan War Museum
- Warbird Forum – Japan vs. Russia, 1939
- "On the Road to Khalkhin Gol", Part 1 and Part 2, by Henry Sakaida