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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This is the story of a little-known Soviet-Japanese conflict that influenced the outbreak and shaped the course of the Second World War. In the summers of 1937, 1938, and 1939, Japan and the Soviet Union fought a series of border conflicts. The first was on the Amur River days before the outbreak of the 2nd Sino-Japanese War. In 1938, division-strength units fought a

Overview

This is the story of a little-known Soviet-Japanese conflict that influenced the outbreak and shaped the course of the Second World War. In the summers of 1937, 1938, and 1939, Japan and the Soviet Union fought a series of border conflicts. The first was on the Amur River days before the outbreak of the 2nd Sino-Japanese War. In 1938, division-strength units fought a bloody 2-week battle at Changkufeng near the Korea-Manchuria-Soviet border. The Nomonhan conflict (May-September 1939) on the Manchurian-Mongolian frontier, was a small undeclared war, with over 100,000 troops, 500 tanks and aircraft, and 30,000-50,000 killed and wounded. In the climactic battle, August 20-31, the Japanese were annihilated. This coincided precisely with the conclusion of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact (August 23, 1939) – the green light to Hitler's invasion of Poland and the outbreak of WW II one week later. These events are connected. This book relates these developments and weaves them together.

From May through July 1939, the conflict was provoked and escalated by the Japanese, whose assaults were repulsed by the Red Army. In August, Stalin unleashed a simultaneous military and diplomatic counter strike. Zhukov, the Soviet commander, launched an offensive that crushed the Japanese. At the same time, Stalin concluded an alliance with Hitler, Japan's nominal ally, leaving Tokyo diplomatically isolated and militarily humiliated.

The fact that these events coincided was no “coincidence.” Europe was sliding toward war as Hitler prepared to attack Poland. Stalin sought to avoid a two-front war against Germany and Japan. His ideal outcome would be for the fascist/militarist capitalists (Germany, Italy, and Japan) to fight the bourgeois/democratic capitalists (Britain, France, and perhaps the United States), leaving the Soviet Union on the sidelines while the capitalists exhausted themselves. The Nazi-Soviet Pact pitted Germany against Britain and France and allowed Stalin to deal decisively with an isolated Japan, which he did at Nomonhan.

Zhukov won his spurs at Nomonhan and won Stalin’s confidence to entrust him with the high command in 1941, when he halted the Germans at the gates of Moscow with reinforcements from the Soviet Far East. The Far Eastern reserves were deployed westward in the autumn of 1941 when Moscow learned that Japan would not attack the Soviet Far East, because it decided to expand southward to seize the oil-rich Dutch East Indies, which led them to attack Pearl Harbor.

The notorious Japanese officer, TSUJI Masanobu, who played a central role at Nomonhan, was an important figure in the decision to attack Pearl Harbor. In 1941, Col. Tsuji was a staff officer at Imperial General HQ. Because of the U.S. oil embargo on Japan, the Imperial Navy wanted to seize the Dutch East Indies. Only the U.S. Pacific Fleet stood in the way. Some army leaders, however, wanted to attack the U.S.S.R., avenging the defeat at Nomonhan while the Red Army was being smashed by the German blitzkreig. Tsuji, an influencial leader, backed the Navy position that led to Pearl Harbor. According to senior Japanese officials, Tsuji was the most influential Army advocate of war with the United States. Tsuji later wrote that his experience of Soviet fire-power at Nomonhan convinced him not to take on the Russians in 1941

Editorial Reviews

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.)
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 comprehensive 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.”

DCMilitary.com

“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

“Compelling.”

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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781612510989
Publisher:
Naval Institute Press
Publication date:
04/15/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
178,128
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Stuart D. Goldman: is the Scholar in Residence, National Council for Eurasian and East European Research. He is formerly the senior specialist in Russian and Eurasian political and military affairs at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. He holds a Ph.D. from Georgetown University.

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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
Hi