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Nomonhan, 1939: The Red Army's Victory That Shaped World War II

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  • Posted February 6, 2013

    An editorial in the 20 July 1939 New York Times described the co

    An editorial in the 20 July 1939 New York Times described the conflict between the Soviet Union and Japan on the border of Outer Mongolia and the puppet state of Manchukuo as, “A strange war raging in a thoroughly out-of-the-way corner of the world where it cannot attract attention.” Indeed, geography, the compulsive secrecy second nature to both combatants and the subsequent outbreak of World War II in Europe combined to overshadow this little known but nonetheless critical, battle. Boasting the most extensive use of tanks and aircraft since World War I, Nomonhan, or Khalkin Gol as it was called by the Soviets, impacted World War II in areas far beyond the immediate scope of the battlefield.
    Nomonhan was the culmination of nearly fifty years of Russo – Japanese rivalry in the Far East. The Russo – Japanese War of 1905 followed Japan’s occupation of Korea. Japan then antagonized the new Soviet state when she intervened in Siberia during the Russian Civil War. Japan’s seizure of Manchuria, renamed Manchukuo, in 1931 created a 3000-mile border between two suspicious, hostile, diametrically opposed ideologies. The Changkufeng / Lake Khasan incident of 1938 was but a dress rehearsal for further hostilities. Consequently, what began as a minor clash between Soviet sponsored Mongolian cavalry and Japanese supported Manchukuoan cavalry on the Halha River rapidly escalated into a major campaign with far reaching consequences.
    In this extremely well researched and very readable book Stuart Goldman thoroughly analyzes the far reaching military and political consequences of this little known, yet critical campaign and how it factored into the concurrent diplomatic negotiations not only between Russia and Japan but also between the Soviet Union, NAZI Germany, Great Britain and France as those nations positioned themselves for war in 1939.
    At the battles' peak the Japanese fielded approximately 75,000 men, the Soviets perhaps 100,000. While the Russians claimed 50,000 enemy casualties the Japanese acknowledged losses of 8,400 killed and 8,766 wounded. The Soviets conceded 9,284 casualties. A relatively minor engagement by World War II standards, why is Nomonhan significant? As the author ably demonstrates Nomonhan influenced Stalin to enter into a Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler with dire consequences for Europe while Japan, based on her experience at Nomonhan, adopted a Southern or Navy strategy rather than the Northern or Army strategy previously favored with equally disastrous results for Asia. Nomonhan also launched the career of General Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov, future Marshal of the Soviet Union, savior of Moscow, Stalingrad and architect of the crushing Soviet counteroffensive that began at Kursk and ended in Berlin.
    Nomonhan, 1939 is a must read for any serious student of World War II. Highly recommend for its depth of research, breadth of scope and wealth of information.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 8, 2012

    In the summer of 1939 there was a limited border war between the

    In the summer of 1939 there was a limited border war between the USSR and Japan. It was short but fierce. The book describes the combat itself, which resulted in a defeat for the Japanese army of Manchukuo. This is a very rare example of a limited war between two major powers, each with imperial ambitions.

    The war influenced Stalin in the complex negotiations his government was conducting with the fascists and with the democracies before World War II. It also influenced the Japanese as they contemplated going to full scale war against either the USSR or the United States and its allies. Perhaps because this battle with tens of thousands of casualties was fought in the far east, its importance in the run up to World War II has not been widely recognized.

    The book is deeply researched by a historian deeply knowledgeable about the Soviet Union and Japan, informed by both Japanese and Russian archives. However, it is that rare thing -- a well documented historical text that is also a real page turner. It achieves readability by very careful selection of the background facts the reader needs, clear exposition of the military events, and explicit attention to the implications of the events in the evolution of larger strategic concerns.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted October 11, 2014



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