Mongolia in WW2: Battle of Khalkhin Gol

The Battle of Khalkhyn Gol (Mongolian: Халхын голын байлдаан; Japanese: ノモンハン事件 Nomonhan jiken), named after the river Khalkhyn Gol passing through the battlefield and known in Japan as the Nomonhan Incident (after a nearby village on the border between Mongolia and Manchuria), was the decisive engagement of the undeclared Soviet-Japanese Border War (1939), or Japanese-Soviet War. It should not be confused with the conflict in 1945 when the USSR declared war in support of the other Allies of World War II and launched Operation August Storm.



After the occupation of Manchukuo and Korea, Japan turned its military interests to Soviet territories. The first major Soviet-Japanese border incident, the Battle of Lake Khasan, happened in 1938 in Primorye. Clashes between the Japanese and Soviets frequently occurred on the border of Manchuria.

In 1939, Manchuria was a puppet state of Japan, known as Manchukuo. The Japanese maintained that the border between Manchukuo and Mongolia was the Khalkhyn Gol (English "Khalkha River") which flows into Lake Buir, while the Mongolians and their Soviet allies maintained that it ran some 16 kilometres (10 miles) 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 newly formed IJA 23d Division at Hailar, under General Michitaro Komatsubara and several Manchukuoan army and border guard units.

Red Army forces consisted of the 57th Special Corps, forward deployed from the Trans-Baikal Military District, responsible for the defense of the border between Siberia and Manchuria.

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 Khalkhin
Gol. On the 13th, the Mongolian force returned in greater numbers and
the Manchukoans were unable to dislodge them.

This region was the responsibility of the 23rd Division of the Kwantung Army. On the 14th, Lt. Col. Yaozo Azuma
led the 64th regiment of 23rd Division into the territory and the
Mongolians withdrew. However, Soviet and Mongolian troops returned to
the disputed region and Azuma's force again moved to evict them. This
time things turned out differently, as the Communist forces surrounded
Azuma's force on 28 May and destroyed it.[2] The Azuma force suffered eight officers and 97 men killed and one officer and 33 men wounded, for 63% total casualties.

On 27 June, the Japanese launched an air attack. The Japanese 2nd
Air Brigade struck the Soviet air base at Tamsak-Bulak in Mongolia. The
Japanese won this engagement, destroying half again as many Soviet
planes as they lost, but the strike had been ordered by the Kwangtung
Army without getting permission from Imperial Japanese Army headquarters in Tokyo. Tokyo promptly ordered the Japanese Army Air Force not to conduct any more strikes.

In June, a new Soviet commander arrived: Lt. Gen. Georgi Zhukov.
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
local Kwantung commander, Lt. Gen. Michitaro Komatsubara,
was given permission to "expel the invaders". The Japanese plan was for
a two-pronged assault. Four regiments of the 23rd Division would
advance across the Khalkin Gol, destroy Communist 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 Yasuoka Detachment, commanded by Major General Yasuoka Masaomi.
This force, consisting of four infantry and artillery regiments and two
armored (tank) regiments, would attack Soviet troops on the east bank
of the Khalkhyn Gol and north of the Holsten River. The two Japanese
thrusts would meet in the Soviet rear and encircle them.

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 Russian 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 (most of its bridging personnel had been sent south to assist
in the war in China), was forced to withdraw, recrossing the river on 5
July. Meanwhile, the Yasuoka Detachment (the southern task force)
attacked on the night of 2 July, moving at night 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 four-kilometer front running along the east bank of the
Khalkhyn Gol to its junction with the Holsten River.
Zhukov, whose army was 465 miles 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
On 23 July, the Japanese launched another large-scale assault, sending
the 64th and 72nd divisions against the Soviet forces defending the
Kawatama Bridge. Japanese artillery units 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 several hundred planes facing the Communist forces.[3] The battle drifted into stalemate.

August: Zhukov's strike

The Japanese regrouped, and planned a third major offensive against the Soviets for August 24.
They never got the chance. Zhukov had been massing a major armored
force in the form of three tank (4th, 6th and 11th), and two mechanized
(7th and 8th), brigades (mechanized brigades were armoured car units
with attached infantry support). This force was allocated to the Soviet
left and right wings. In total, Zhukov had three rifle divisions, two
tank divisions, two more tank brigades--in all, some 498 tanks--two
motorized infantry divisions and an air wing of some 250 fighters and
bombers to deploy against the Japanese. The Mongolians committed two
cavalry divisions.
The Kwantung Army, by contrast, mustered only two lightly armored
divisions at the point of attack, built around Lieutenant General Michitaro Komatsubara's 23d Division whose headquarters had been at Hailar, capital of Hsingan,
Manchu province, over 100 miles from the site of the fighting. Their
intelligence had also failed to detect the scale of the Soviet buildup
or the scope of the attack Zhukov was planning.

decided it was time to break the stalemate. He deployed approximately
50,000 Soviet and Mongolian troops of the 57th Special Corps to defend
the east bank of the Khalkhyn Gol, then crossed the river on 20 August
to attack the elite Japanese forces with three infantry divisions,
massed artillery, a tank brigade, and the best planes of the Soviet Air Force.
Once the Japanese were pinned down by the advance of the Soviet center
units, the armoured units swept around the flanks and attacked the
Japanese in the rear, cutting lines of communication, overcoming
desperate Japanese counterattacks (one Japanese officer drew his sword
and led an attack on foot against Soviet tanks), and achieving a classic double envelopment. When the two wings of Zhukov's attack linked up at Nomonhan village on the 25th, the Japanese 23rd division was trapped. On 26 August, an attack to relieve the 23rd division failed. On 27 August
the 23rd attempted to break out of the encirclement, but failed. When
the surrounded forces refused to surrender, Zhukov wiped them out with
artillery and air attacks. The battle ended 31 August with the complete destruction of the Japanese forces. Remaining Japanese units retreated to east of Nomonhan.

As Zhukov completed the annihilation of the 23rd division, great
events were taking place thousands of miles to the west. The very next
day, on September 1, 1939, Adolf Hitler launched his invasion of Poland and World War II broke out in Europe. The Soviets had already agreed to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which called for the Red Army to enter Poland, Latvia and Estonia.
Perhaps as a result of Stalin's new commitments in Eastern Europe, the
Soviets advanced no further than the border line they had claimed at
the start of battle. The Soviets and Japanese signed a cease-fire
agreement on 15 September, and it took effect the following day. Stalin, free of any worry from his eastern border, was free to give a green light to the Soviet invasion of Poland (1939) that begun on 17 September.


Estimates of casualties are uncertain. Some sources hold that the
Japanese suffered 45,000 or more soldiers killed with Russian
casualties extending upwards of 17,000 men, while the Japanese reported 8,440 killed and 8,766 wounded, and the Russians claimed 9,284 total casualties.

Although this engagement is little-known in the West, it had profound implications on the conduct of World War II. It may be said to be the first decisive battle of World War II, because it determined that the two principal Axis Powers,
Germany and Japan, would never geographically link up their areas of
control through Russia. The defeat convinced the Imperial General Staff
in Tokyo that the policy of the North Strike Group, favoured by the army, which wanted to seize Siberia as far as Lake Baikal for its resources, was untenable. Instead 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, gained the ascendancy, leading directly to the attack on Pearl Harbor
two and a half years later in December 1941. The Japanese would never
make an offensive movement towards Russia again. In 1941, the two
countries signed agreements respecting the borders of Mongolia and
Manchukuo and pledging neutrality towards each other. They remained at peace until Operation August Storm and the Soviet conquest of Manchuria in August 1945, in the final week of the war.

It 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. 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 masterspy 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 flinging the Germans back
from the capital, Zhukov planned and executed the Russian attack at the
Battle of Stalingrad,
using a technique very similar to Khalkin 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, while learning never to attack the USSR
again, made no major changes to their tactical doctrines. They
continued to emphasize the bravery and courage of the individual
soldier over massing force and armor. The problems that faced them at
Khalkin Gol, most importantly their lack of armor, 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

The Mongolian town of Choybalsan, in Dornod aimag (province) where the battle was fought, is the location of the "G.K. Zhukov Museum", dedicated to Zhukov and the 1939 battle.


  1. ^ Drea, Edward J. "Leavenworth Papers No. 2 Nomonhan: Japanese Soviet Tactical Combat, 1939 - MAPS" - Retrieved: May 13, 2007.
  2. ^ Drea, Edward J. "Leavenworth Papers No. 2 Nomonhan: Japanese Soviet Tactical Combat, 1939 - BIG MAPS - Map 3" - Retrieved: May 13, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Timothy Neeno, M.A. Nomonhan: The Second Russo-Japanese War, 2005. - Retrieved: May 12, 2007.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Drea, Edward J. http://www- "Leavenworth Papers No. 2 Nomonhan: Japanese Soviet Tactical Combat, 1939 - BIG MAPS - Map 4" - Retrieved: May 13, 2007.
  6. ^
  7. ^
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  10. ^ Drea, Edward J. http://www- "Leavenworth Papers No. 2 Nomonhan: Japanese Soviet Tactical Combat, 1939 - BIG MAPS - Map 6" - Retrieved: May 13, 2007.
  11. ^
  12. ^
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  14. ^
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  16. ^ Steven J. Zaloga, Howard Gerrard, The Poland 1939: the birth of Blitzkrieg, Osprey Publishing, 2002, ISBN 1841764086, Google Print, p.80
  17. ^ "Declaration Regarding Mongolia", April 14, 1941. - Retrieved: May 13, 2007.
  18. ^ "Pact of Neutrality between Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Japan," April 13, 1941. - Retrieved: May 13, 2007
  19. ^
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  • Coox, Alvin D., "Nomonhan: Japan Against Russia, 1939", ISBN 0-8047-1835-0
  • Drea, Edward. "Nomonhan: Japanese-Soviet Tactical Combat, 1939". Leavenworth Papers study for the Combat Studies Institute of the U.S. Army.
  • Erickson, John The Soviet High Command: A Military-Political History, 1918-1941, Routledge, 2001. ISBN 0-7146-5178-8
  • Neeno, Timothy, "Nomonhan: The Second Russo-Japanese War". essay. Uses the Coox book and Drea paper as sources.

External links

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2009-12-26 11:24:38