From 11 May to 16 September 1939 Japanese and Manchurian forces clashed with Mongolian and Soviet forces on the border of Mongolia and Manchuria (at that time called Manchukuo by many nations) around the village of Nomonhan near the Khalkhin gol (Khalkhin River). Having spent time in Mongolia my office at the bank used to look out on Jukov Square, next to the Jukov Museum. Jukov is the Mongolian spelling of Zhukov, as in Georgy Zhukov (well, it’s the Mongolian spelling when it’s Latinised). Zhukov, having given the combined Mongolian Soviet Army a victory over the Japanese is a hero in Mongolia. For the record, the Mongolians fought with the Russians during the Second World War with Mongolian troops marching into Berlin as part of the Red Army forces in that campaign.
It all started when a Mongolian cavalry unit of about 90 men went searching for grazing in the area between Nomonhan an the river. Manchukuo cavalry attacked the Mongolians and then forced them back over the Khalkhin gol. Two days later the Mongolians returned in greater numbers and the Manchukuans were not able to force them back this time.
The next day elements of two Japanese army arrived and forced the Mongolians out. Then a combined force of Mongolian and Soviet forces surrounded the Japanese causing many casualties. It all escalated. The 2nd Japanese Air Brigade then launched an unauthorised air attack on the Soviet air base at Tamsak-Bulak in Mongolia losing some aircraft but destroying more Soviet aircraft.
Lt. Gen. Georgy Zhukov then arrived to take control of the Soviet-Mongolian forces and so began a battle that lasted until 31 August with the defeat of the Japanese in the area. I’ll provide more detail about individual engagements at a later time. The battle though was significant as it was the first reverse the Japanese Army took in World War 2. At the same time, the result of this battle was that Japan looked southwards for the future which released valuable Soviet (and Mongolian) divisions to the fighting in the West.
Some selections from the Canberra Times about the fighting in Manchukuo and Mongolia.
The Canberra Times Tuesday 4 July 1939
JAPANESE DEMANDS ON BRITAIN AND FRANCE
Threat of Force to Achieve Objectives
A message from Peking declares that the Japanese controlled Chinese Government dispatched to the English and French Embassies a list of demands for a basis of settlement at Tientsin, and said that the Japanese army in North China supported them.
The Japanese spokesman declares that no compromise regarding the demands would be accepted and force may be used to obtain the objectives.
They include demands that the English and French Concessions support the new Japanese currency; secondly, that the Peking Government be allowed to inspect banks and business houses in the Concession; thirdly, that a rigorous control be exercised over publications and organisations acting contrary to the policy of Peking, and fourthly, that, a Chinese – speaking Government be appointed to control the Concession.
The army spokesman announced that gendarmes are holding in custody Mr. E. T. Griffiths, a British engineer from a British steamer, allegedly for insulting the Japanese army.
He added that the reported stripping of John Anderson at the Concession barricades yesterday was being investigated.
Renewed Fighting in Manchukuo
It is officially announced that the Japanese army launched an offensive against the Soviet-Mongolian forces with the object of expelling them from Manchukuan territory.
The British United Press reports heavy fighting on the western border of Manchukuo and Outer Mongolia. Tanks, machine guns, cavalry and planes are engaged.
The Canberra Times Tuesday 18 July 1939
RUSSIAN AIR RAIDS IN MANCHUKUO
Eight Russian planes dropped bombs in the vicinity of Nalunarshan railway station, 30 miles inside the Manchukuan frontier, and injured four Manchukuans, as well as destroying four carriages and setting fire to a number of buildings.
The Japanese have protested to Moscow.
In an earlier raid on Sularki station, 180 miles north-west of Harbin, seven were injured.
The Canberra Times Thursday 27 July 1939
JAPAN CALLS UP TROOPS CONTINUED TROUBLE ON BORDER
In “view of continued trouble on the Manchukuan border, the Government has announced the reinforcing of forces throughout the Japanese Empire.
An army communiqué claims that 59 Soviet war planes were brought down on the Manchukuan frontier on Tuesday.
Japanese artillery heavily bombarded the Soviet position on the west bank of the Khalha River throughout the day.
and lest we forget that the Japanese were fighting the Chinese at the same time, this piece followed in the same issue of the Canberra times the following article was found:
Japanese Claim Major Victory
The Japanese north of Hankow claim lo have trapped 30,000 Chinese as a result of a fierce offensive launched on Tuesday.
Supported by aircraft, the Japanese are advancing to the north along he Pekin-Hankow railway.
A second force is manoeuvring in order to cut off the Chinese retreat.
From the Canberra Times Thursday 31 August 1939
Effect of Russo-German Pact
Large forces are being sent lo Manchukuo as the result of the Russo-German pact
The Premier (General Abe), in a nation-wide broadcast viewed with delicacy the international situation, and stated that the Government was establishing independent diplomacy, and also taking measures at home and abroad with the Chinese incident
as a focal point.
General Abe appealed to the nation for co-operation.
The four Chinese, who were arrested at Tientsin, are to be handed over to the Japanese on August 31.
From the Canberra Times of Tuesday 11 June 1940
SOVIET AND JAPAN AGREE ON FRONTIERS
The Foreign Office issued a communiqué that Mr. Toga and M. Molotov, Ambassadors for Japan and Russia, reached an agreement yesterday on the precise demarcation of the frontier of Nomonhan area with mutual recognition of interests.
by special arrangement: Reuter’s World Service in addition to other special sources of information is used in the compilation of the overseas intelligence published in this issue and all rights therein in Australia and New Zealand are reserved.
I’ll give more detail on the battle and the Orders of Battle of both sides of the conflict in a later post.