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

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

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by Stuart D. Goldman

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Stuart Goldman convincingly argues that a little-known, but intense Soviet-Japanese conflict along the Manchurian-Mongolian frontier at Nomonhan influenced the outbreak of World War II and shaped the course of the war. The author draws on Japanese, Soviet, and western sources to put the seemingly obscure conflict--actually a small undeclared war-- into its proper…  See more details below


Stuart Goldman convincingly argues that a little-known, but intense Soviet-Japanese conflict along the Manchurian-Mongolian frontier at Nomonhan influenced the outbreak of World War II and shaped the course of the war. The author draws on Japanese, Soviet, and western sources to put the seemingly obscure conflict--actually a small undeclared war-- into its proper global geo-strategic perspective.

The book describes how the Soviets, in response to a border conflict provoked by Japan, launched an offensive in August 1939 that wiped out the Japanese forces at Nomonhan. At the same time, Stalin signed the German- Soviet Nonaggression Pact, allowing Hitler to invade Poland. The timing of these military and diplomatic strikes was not coincidental, according to the author. In forming an alliance with Hitler that left Tokyo diplomatically isolated, Stalin succeeded in avoiding a two-front war. He saw the pact with the Nazis as a way to pit Germany against Britain and France, leaving the Soviet Union on the sidelines to eventually pick up the spoils from the European conflict, while at the same time giving him a free hand to smash the Japanese at Nomonhan.

Goldman not only demonstrates the linkage between the Nomonhan conflict, the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, and the outbreak of World War II , but also shows how Nomonhan influenced Japan's decision to go to war with the United States and thus change the course of history. The book details Gen. Georgy Zhukov's brilliant victory at Nomonhan that led to his command of the Red Army in 1941 and his success in stopping the Germans at Moscow with reinforcements from the Soviet Far East. Such a strategy was possible, the author contends, only because of Japan's decision not to attack the Soviet Far East but to seize the oil-rich Dutch East Indies and attack Pearl Harbor instead. Goldman credits Tsuji Masanobu, an influential Japanese officer who instigated the Nomonhan conflict and survived the debacle, with urging his superiors not to take on the Soviets again in 1941, but instead to go to war with the United States.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Nomonhan, 1939 is a particularly noteworthy book on this four-month battle. Goldman's writing style is en¬gaging and absorbing. As a historian, he brings a unique ability to inform and entertain; his topic is complex and vast but he deftly navigates the reader in a clear and logical way. The book has extensive endnotes and a comprehen¬sive bibliography. This reviewer would recommend the book very strongly to anyone, historians and casual readers alike, who wish to comprehend the intricacies of the Far East in the months prior to Japan's entry into World War II."--Michigan War Studies Review

"Goldman provides a very thorough account from the side of Japan and the Soviet Union."

-- Choice

"Although extensively researched and heavily footnoted, this is not a book merely or even primarily for scholars. Goldman writes very well indeed. The historical arguments are clearly presented, the battles described brilliantly and the personalities evoked through use of primary sources. Nomonhan, 1939 is, unexpectedly, something of a page-turner."

-- Asian Review of Books

"Goldman masterfully untangles the complicated diplomatic context and battlefield maneuverings in a tour de force that shows how global diplomacy and WWII were affected by the outcome of hostilities in an obscure backwater of little strategic importance."

-- The Japan Times

"Goldman's book provides food for thought while directing attention to an aspect of prewar diplomacy that is too often left out of the analysis of decision making by the many parties involved in shaping the coming war."

-- H-Diplo, part of H-Net

"Goldman's book is for those with an interest in armor tactics, and World War II campaigns tactically and geo-strategically. A refreshing read."


"Goldman should be commended for producing a well-written and well-balanced book. Nomonhan, 1939 not only depicts this Russo-Japanese conflict in a lucid and vivid manner, but also offers a greater contextualization of it than has any previous account. For these merits, it is highly recommended reading for anyone who is interested in the prewar Russo-Japanese rivalry and its global impact, and most notably for students and scholars who are looking for a succinct and reliable account of the dramatic events in Nomonhan."

-- Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs

"All in all, this volume has the potential to become the book of the year in history/military science. It is very well researched, logically argued and presents the topic in an organic way, looking at Soviet foreign and military policies' western and eastern components not as disjoined parts but as the two sides of the same coin…A tour de force that should be a compulsory reading for historians, military leaders and that part of the general public that is interested in understanding the deeper undercurrents of the big global conflict that we call by the name World War II."

-- Journal of Eurasian Studies

"For anyone interested in the military history of the last century, in general, or the background to the beginning of World War II, in particular, Goldman has produced a work which should be required reading. Based on a wide range of English, Russian and Japanese language primary and secondary source materials, the book is a very interesting and thought-provoking analysis of, as Goldman puts it, 'the most important World War II battle most people have never heard of' (p. 5). Rightly or wrongly, most people in the West, if they know the battle at all, identify it through the Russian or Mongolian version of its name--Khalkin Gol--rather than the Japanese version used in the title of the work--Nomonhan. Divided into seven chapters--and a number of sub-sections within each chapter--Goldman's book not only demonstrates his mastery of the material to hand, but also great thought in what is an admirably balanced and even-handed account of a much too-long neglected battle in the history of events leading to the outbreak of World War II in 1939."

-- Europe-Asia Studies

"This book is well researched, using both Japanese and Russian sources. Goldman does an excellent job tying together the various events such as the Nomonhan battle, the Soviet Nonaggression Pact with Germany and the start of World War II...This is a must read for all those with an interest in World War II and subsequent events."

-- The Past in Review

"Stuart D. Goldman has not only written a powerful account of the Red Army's lopsided victory over Imperial Japan but also included the impact the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact had on the war, paving the way for Hitler to invade Poland a few days after hostilities at Nomonhan had ended."

-- WWII History


-- Publishers Weekly online review

"Knowing what the "little war" triggered -- and Dr. Goldman justifies his claims -- makes reading the detail of his beautifully-crafted book even more compelling. And he gives context which is important to us today in understanding Asia. Great book!"

-- Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis

"This is a brilliant battle study highlighting the military blunders and political decisions, actions, and blunders."

-- Military Officer Magazine, December 2012

"Nomonhan, 1939 is Stuart Goldman's brilliant military and political history of 'the first instance in the modern age of limited war between great powers.'Students of military and political history will find this book to be a valuable resource for their understanding of the dynamics of military and political decisions that directly impacted World War II. And it makes for exciting reading."

-- New Maine Times Book Review

Publishers Weekly
An overlooked border conflict in Asia on the eve of WWII served as a turning point in 20th century history according to this unconventional analysis from military scholar Goldman. Western-centric textbooks, however, make little mention of "the most important World War II battle that most people have never heard of." Here Goldman chronicles the four-month long battle between Japanese and Soviet forces that took place near the village of Nomonhan (aka Khalkhin Gol, according to the Soviet Union) in the late summer of 1939. At issue was the borderlands of Mongolia and Manchuria, dubbed Manchukuo and used as a puppet state by the Japanese after their seizure of the area in 1931. Reduced to a historical footnote, Goldman argues that the Nomonhan battle was crucial in diverting Soviet forces away from Europe at the tail end of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, leaving Poland vulnerable to invasion by Hitler's forces, and delaying Japan's alliance with Germany. The story of the conflict is gripping thanks to its surprisingly large scale (nearly 100,000 combatants) and its two dynamic leaders: the Soviet Union's Georgy Zhukov, and the leader of the Kwantung elite force, Tsuji Masanobu. Though Goldman wisely avoids overestimating the impact of what the Japanese diminutively call the "Nomonhan incident," he nevertheless makes a compelling case for its fortuitous timing and strategic implications. Maps & photos. (Apr.)

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Naval Institute Press
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5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

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Nomonhan, 1939: The Red Army's Victory That Shaped World War II 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
seadogLP More than 1 year ago
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.
stconsultant More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago