|Jap infantry take out a Russian T26 during the Nomanhan incident.|
Next Sunday I plan to put on a Japanese v Soviet divisional level battle set in 1939. Featuring armour and aircraft this will be a representation of several weeks fighting on the Manchurian/Russian border before WW2.
Not an awful lot is written in English about Khalkin Gol (Soviet reference) or Nomanhan (Japanese reference) but it was a major clash that heavily influenced WW2. The Japanese were strongly committed in China and Stalin was preoccupied with the rise of Nazi Germany, but neither side could ignore their border with each other.
At this time, the Soviet Union had only existed for less than 20 years and Stalin could not forget that Japanese forces had occupied Vladivostock during the Russian Civil War. Mongolia was a Russian satellite that bordered Manchuria and the only other country in the world at this point that had a communist government. Stalin also saw an opportunity to influence the future direction of China with his support of Mao Tse Tung. From the Japanese point of view, they could not forget that it was Czarist Russia that had been the first opponent of their rise to power and they had to fight the Russians before WW1 in order to take Manchuria and Korea. The Japanese believed that in order to be a great power they had to have a large resource based Empire to defend their interests and China was the hinterland they sought to dominate; Russia was the only land based threat to this dream.
Therefore, both were committed to different theatres but could not ignore the threat from each other. During the 1930's Japan consistently met any Soviet transgression of their borders with prompt military counter measures and the Soviets seemed to back down each time. By 1939 the Japanese government was effectively run by the military and the Kwantung Army in Manchuria was a semi independent entity that made its own decisions about what was best for Japan. So when a Soviet scouting force was seen to set up an outpost in disputed territory the Kwantung Army sent an entire division to teach the Russians a lesson.
|Japanese troops cross the Khalkin Gol (or Nomanhan!).|
Stalin had had enough of Japanese aggression and he sent Zhukov to take command of Soviet Far East forces with orders to destroy this punitive division.
|Soviet armour and commanders. Note the camouflaged helmets and carefully dispersed tanks. This picture looks a lot later than 1939 and gives an indication of the sophistication of Soviet technology and techniques.|
Zhukov organised the counter stroke in the typical manner in which he won all his battles against the Germans. He contained the initial Japanese attacks whilst building up the necessary material and men. Then using combined arms and operational surprise he overwhelmed the Kwantung Army.
|Japanese prisoners following Zhukov's brilliant counter stroke.|
Zhukov was also instrumental in the German defeat of 1941/42 but it is interesting that his operational view of war was fully developed before the Nazi invasion and it is a distinct possibility that the Soviet Union already had the capability to beat the Germans at the start of the war but that Stalin's purges and faulty political outlook led to the disasters of 1941.