World at War – Nomonhan

WW32M-2Readers of Thomo’s Hole will be well aware of my interest in things Mongolian and in part in my interest in the Mongolian involvement in World War 2. Whilst it is generally accepted that World War 2 started with the German invasion of Poland, I have contended that it really started with the Japanese invasion of China and the installation of the puppet regime in Manchuoko (Manchuria). Nomonhan, or as it is known in Mongolia, the Battle at Khalkin-gol, was a decisive in moment in Japanese/Russian relations. The effect of the battle was the Japanese no longer continuing to look northward for expansion but rather to concentrate more on the East-Asia sphere and to also free up Russian divisions that would later be needed in the West facing the Germans.

For those reasons I consider the Battle at Khalkin-gol as a key moment at the start of World War 2.

World at War this month looks at that battle (and in the full version has a game based on the events at the battle). I must admit being tempted to purchase the game issue this issue.

Other items in the magazine this issue include:

  • A look at Lend Lease between the US and Soviets in World War 2
  • Army Group Courland and the Breakwater Strategy
  • Auchinleck vs Montgomery – who really did save the 8th Army from Rommel’s efforts?
  • Brief notes, observations on:
  • Operation Whiteshot and the Churchill NA75 Tank
  • Black and female US wartime aviators
  • The story of Robert L Vannoy, USMC VMF-115
  • and the destruction of the French Fleet at Toulon in 1942

Overall, a great issue and one that has me putting aside the current issue of Strategy and Tactics until I can finish this.

Too Much Chinggis Khaan

In what can is the oddest thing I have seen the Mongol government do since renaming the Buyant-Ukhaa airport (Mongolian: Буянт-Ухаа нисэх онгоцны төв буудал) the Chinggis Khaan Airport is this. It was reported today that Сүхбаатарын талбайг Чингис хааны нэрэмжит талбай болголоо. Now I know not many of you read Mongol Cyrillic so I’ll roughly translate.

Sukhbaatar Square in central Ulaanbaatar has being renamed Chinggis Khaan Square. This has just ensured that there is only ever one Mongol – Chinggis Khaan. There are no other Mongols any more. Mongolia has become one-dimensional – coal and Chinggis Khaan.

So, now you land at the Chinggis Khaan International airport. You are picked up and travel along Chinggis Khaan Avenue into the city, sipping on a Chinggis Khaan vodka. When you drive past Chinggis Khaan Square on your way to the Chinggis Khaan  Hotel you stop and pick-up some Khuushuur ((a kind of Mongol takeaway schnitzel)) to munch on with your vodka. If the vodka and khuurshuur cause you stomach problems, you can probably also wipe your bottom on Chinggis Khaan toilet paper.

There was even talk a couple of years ago about renaming Ulaanbaatar Chinggis Khaan something or other.

Zaisan, the mountain to the south of Ulaanbaatar should beware, it is likely to be renamed Chinggis Khaan Hill at this rate. I believe the memorial there to Soviet and Mongol soldiers killed in the second World War and by the Kwantung Army at the Battle of Khalkin-gol ((Nomonhan to the Japanese)) has been removed or there is talk of removing it as well.

What of the other Mongols who have contributed to the Mongol present? What of:

  • Natsagdorj
  • Zanazabar
  • Zorig
  • Roy Chapman Andrews ((OK, so he is an honorary Mongolian))
  • Ungern von Sternberg ((Yeah, yeah, he was a White Russian but he was dictator of Mongolia for a period))
  • Sukhbaatar
  • Buyant Ukhaa ((so what if Buyant Ukhaa is a hill?))?

I guess the next step is to name the Oyu Tolgoi mine (Mongolian: Оюу Толгой) the Chinggis Khaan mine?

Khalkin-gol – Nomonhan 1939 – New Books

A nice parcel arrived from Amazon today with some books I’ve been waiting for. These are three works on the Battle of Khalkin-gol (Nomonhan in the Japanese) that occurred between Russia and Mongolia on one side and Japan and Manchuoko on the other side.

As readers here will know I have a particular fascination with things Mongolian as well as some of the more esoteric areas of the wars of the 20th century (and indeed, the 19th, 18th, 17th, 16th centuries).

The hard copy books go with the Kindle version of Leavenworth Papers – Nomonhan: Japanese-Soviet Tactical Combat 1939 by Edward Drea that I picked up a while ago.

The three books in today’s bundle were:

  • Nomonhan 1939 – The Red Army’s Victory that Shaped World War II by Stuart D Goldman (ISBN 978-1-59114-329-1)
  • In the Skies of Nomonhan – Japan versus Russia May-September 1939 by Col Prof Dimitar Nedialkov PhD (ISBN 978-0-85979-152-6)
  • Nomonhan: Japanese-Soviet Tactical Combat, 1939 by Edward Drea (ISBN 978-1-105-65014-7) – and yes, this is the same as the Kindle version but I wanted a hard copy of it as it is:
    • easier to read in hard copy
    • permanently with me, not at the whim of Amazon.

For those unfamiliar, the Battle at Khalkin-gol started as a border skirmish and escalated.

I have some serious reading to do now – then some research and maybe turn this into a couple of games.

Biggles over the Gobi

Page30 Whilst I was reading Beatrix Bulstrode’s A Tour in Mongolia I recalled that there was one of the Capt. W.E. Johns’ Biggles stories set in and around parts of the Gobi. I also have the vaguest memory of having seen that book, perhaps even reading it when I was a youngster. I will need to think more on it. The book was titled Biggles in the Gobi and was first Published on 8 October 1953. It was 160 pages long. Actually, most of the Biggles books were fairly short, there is, after all, only so much excitement a young reader can take 😆

The story basically goes something like this.

Biggles is asked by Air Commodore Raymond to travel to the middle of Asia to rescue some missionaries from the evil Communist China. Biggles takes Algy, Ginger and Bertie with him in his unmarked Halifax bomber. Also travelling with the tram is a Chinese man by the name of Feng-tao (who speaks virtually no English).

Biggles flies the Halifax from Pakistan to the Gobi desert. The missionaries are supposedly hidden in a cave but there is nowhere suitable to land within miles (well duh, it is the middle of the desert and as I recall, Halifax bombers were not really designed for off roading). Algy, Ginger and Feng-tao parachute down whilst Biggles flies back to Pakistan.

The plan is for Algy and Ginger to build a runway. However, they find that the missionaries have been attacked and that only four out of eleven remain. One had already died, two were killed in the raid and four have been captured and taken prisoner. Facing constant threat from Chinese soldiers, lead by the evil Ma Chang – known as ‘the tiger’, Algy and Ginger have to hold out. Ginger organises a rescue attempt using the fierce Kirghiz tribesmen and manages to free the four captured missionaries.

Biggles and Bertie have had problems of their own, however, having hit an eagle with the Halifax (see the illustration below – the dust jacket). This accident with the bird has forced them to land to repair the plane (and this is the plane they expected to land in rough desert, grounded by an eagle). Biggles is able to return, after shooting down a MiG jet (right – Halifax bomber versus MiG jet and MiG loses – yep, can see that). When he arrives back the final battle is in full swing at the caves. He is able to rescue everybody, get them away and save the day. Yay!

OK, I was young at the time and I enjoyed Biggles. Tempted to look for some of the tales again, if only for period feel.


A Tour in Mongolia

Beatrix_Bulstrode Reader’s will know I have a strong attachment to Mongolia so look for opportunities to promote the country and to dispel some of the false impressions we may have of Mongolia and the Mongols from our upbringing and reading such historical source material as W.E. Johns’ Biggles books. I do from time to time come across a gem and one of my contacts put me in touch with the following book:

A Tour in Mongolia
Beatrix Bulstrode
(Mrs. Edward Manico Gull)
with an introduction bearing on the political aspect of that country by
David Fraser
(“Times” Correspondent in Peking)
Illustrated by the Author’s Photographs and a Map
Methuen & Co. Ltd.
36 Essex Street W.C.

This book was first published in 1920. It was written at the time the Republic of China had invaded Mongolia to quash Mongolian independence, or at least, Mongolia’s autonomous position in the Qing Empire. In December 1911, Outer Mongolia took advantage of the Xinhai Revolution to declare independence from the Qing Dynasty. The Mongolians set up an absolute theocratic monarchy led by Bogd Khan. However, the newly-founded Republic of China considered Mongolia as part of its territory. In the 1915 tripartite Kyakhta agreement, Russia, which had strategic interests in Mongolian independence, but did not want to completely alienate China; the Republic of China and Mongolia agreed that Mongolia was to be autonomous under Chinese suzerainty.

However, Russia was focussed on the First World War and then the October Revolution. Mongolia was threatened by The Russian Civil War as it was drawn in by White and Red Russian forces in the area. In the summer of 1918 one of the factions in Mongolia asked for Chinese military assistance. The Chinese deployed a small force to Urga. Meanwhile, the Mongolian nobility had become more and more dissatisfied with their marginalization on the hands of the theocratic government, and, also provoked by the threat of the Outer Mongolia’s independence from the pan-Mongolist movement in Siberia, by 1919, were ready to accept a return to the old Qing system, i.e. to be governed by Beijing, if that meant the restoration of their old privileges.

Bogdos bodyguardThe Occupation of Mongolia by the Beiyang Government of the Republic of China began in October 1919 and lasted until early 1921, when Chinese troops in Urga were routed by Baron Ungern‘s ((I first came across the good Baron in 2007 when looking for something else – naturally – see Imperial Council of Princes and Counts of Germany and Europe ))  White Russian ((from a wargamers point of view, the good Baron is a most interesting character and one that would be perfect in a wargame set in Mongolia in the 1920s – perhaps using Pulp Figures for another Rough Adventure )) and Mongolian forces, who, in turn, were defeated by the Red Army and its Mongolian allies led by Sukhbaatar by June 1921. This bought an end to the Bogd Khanate government of Mongolia and led to the formation of the Mongolian Communist Government.

This then was the environment that Beatrix rode into on her camel and reflects the country she wrote about in her book.

A Tour of Mongolia is available online as a digital print, and the original illustrations from the book are included in the digital edition – a very worthy read.

As a taster, I have included the first chapter below:


Continue reading

Emery Rice’s Grave

DSC03830 Jessica wrote to me again recently. She’s been to Washington and whilst there, she went to the Arlington Cemetery where many of the USA’s war dead and ex-servicemen are buried. She was looking for the grave of Captain Emery Rice of the USS Mongolia fame.

I’ve written about the USS Mongolia before, in particular see USS Mongolia, More on the USS Mongolia and also about Capt Emery Rice, see for example USS Mongolia and Captain Emery Rice.

Anyway, Jessica went to Arlington and tracked down Emery’s grave. If anyone is passing and want to see it for themselves, to remember old sea captain and from what I can gather from what I have read so far, an interesting character as well, then his grave can be found in the cemetery section 3 and the grave number 4177.

It took a while for Jessica to find it so you might have to persist. The grave stone gives his rank as Lt Commander.

I am not an expert on US Navy rank, especially that during World War 1, but all references I have seen to Rice refer to him as Captain Rice, rather than Lt Commander Rice. Am I missing s0mething simple here?



scorpene One of the searches in Thomo’s Hole recently was “Scorpene”. My first thought for “scorpene” was the submarine class “Scorpène”. These are a class of diesel-electric attack submarines. These submarines are powered by diesel propulsion as well as an additional air-independent propulsion system ((Air-independent propulsion is a term that encompasses technologies which allow a submarine to operate without the need to surface or use a snorkel to access atmospheric oxygen. The term usually excludes the use of nuclear power, and describes augmenting or replacing the diesel-electric propulsion system of non-nuclear vessels))

The submarines have been jointly developed by the French company, DCNS ((head office at DCNS – Siège Social, 2, rue Sextius Michel, 75732 Paris Cedex 15, and the Spanish company Navantia ((head office at A-84076397 C/ Velázquez 132. 28006 Madrid, Spain

Fourteen Scorpène have been ordered so far – two for the Chilean Navy to replace the two Oberon class vessels that have been retired; two for the Royal Malaysian Navy; four for the Brazilian Navy; and six for the Indian Navy.

So far two have been completed and are in operation (coming into operation in 2005 and 2006). These are the Chilean Scorpène vessels, O’Higgins and Carrera.

The general characteristics of these vessels are:

Displacement: 1450 tonnes (compact)
1,700 tonnes (normal)
2,000 tones (AIP)
Length: 59.4 m (compact)
66.4 m (normal)
76.2 m (AIP)
Propulsion: Diesel-electric, batteries and AIP
Speed: 20 knots submerged
12 knots surfaced
Range: 6,500 nautical miles @ 8 knots (surfaced)
550 nautical miles at 5 knots (submerged)
Endurance: 40 days (compact)
50 days (normal and AIP)
Diving Depth: 350 metres
Complement: 32
Armament: Six 533 mm torpedo tubes with 18 torpedoes carried

There is a good write-up on these vessels at

As a final post script, there is also a link between the Scorpène class submarines and Mongolia, a land-locked country. That link is the murdered Mongolian model, Altantuya Shaariibuu. She was murdered in 2006 in Malaysia when she was shot twice in the head, stripped of her clothing and then blown-up with C4. Two Malaysian special police have been found guilty of the crime and sentenced to death – although they have appealed that sentence.

A well known analyst, Razak Baginda, was implicated in the crime as the police were his protection unit and Altantuya was his paramour. Baginda’s company also received a payout of over 500 million Ringgit for the award of the submarine contract. It has been alleged that Altantuya was murdered when she tried to claim her share of the commission. See the Wikipedia entries for Abdul Razak Baginda and Altantuya Shaaribuu for a general background on that.

Khalkhin Gol or Nomonhan

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


Threat of Force to Achieve Objectives

LONDON, Monday.

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

DARIEN, Monday.

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


TOKYO, Monday.

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



TOKYO, Wednesday.

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

TOKYO, Wednesday.

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

TOKYO, Wednesday

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


TOKYO, Monday.

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.

Bing vs Google – Maps

As Microsoft has taken a leaf from the Google book and released a product in Beta and as it was lunch time I thought I’d have a play with the two search engines. Rather than just leap out and search some obscure term (I’ll do that later) I thought I’d first compare the mapping side of the applications.

The first thing I noticed was that there are a number of common map scales between the two applications. For example, starting with a 2 kilometre scale and looking up, the scales up to 200 kilometres were:

Bing Google
3 km 2 km
7 km 5 km
10 km 10 km
25 km 20 km
50 km 50 km
100 km 100 km
200 km 200 km

It is therefore fairly easy to do a straightforward comparison between the two mapping applications – sort of a side by side comparison.

image I wanted to give both mapping servics a bit of a test so I selected a location I had been to before but that was a little out of the way. I selected Sukhbaater in Mongolia. I did that for a number of reasons, not least of which was that there are a number of locations with the same name in Mongolia. The one I was after was the town nearby to Altanbulag, the scene of Thomo’s detention at the hands of an overzealous customs officer who thought I looked like a terrorist. So, in Mongolia there are many Sukhbaatars – there is one Aimag (province) called Sukhbaatar whose capital is Baruun-urt and there is an Aimag called Selenge whose capital is Sukhbaatar. It was the latter one I was looking for. The image to the left is from Microsoft’s Bing and shows the pin located in the north of Mongolia, near the Russian border with the pin covering the town of Sukhbaatar.

image The image to the right is the Google Maps image of the same search. Clearly we are nowhere near the Russian border but rather south-east of Ulaanbaatar and near to the town of Baruun-urt which I also visited and had a wonderful shower in. Google has changed the original search term from just “Sukhbaatar, Mongolia” to “Sükhbaatar, Sukhbaatar, Mongolia” whilst Bing refers to the town it located as “Sühbaatar, Mongolia”. Both these spellings (with the umlauts) come from Anglicisation of Mongolian Cyrillic characters used for this name. Mongolians, when they Anglicise  the spelling, simply spell it as “Sukhbaatar” which is the way it is displayed on all the English language signs in the country.

I searched again. This time I used the term “sukhbaatar, selenge, mongolia” and selected the 200 km view. Now Bing, which remember had returned a good result in the first search, returned an error (shown below and to the left).image

Google maps, however, managed to find the correct location as shown in the map below and to the right.

However, one thing that is apparent from the displayed maps at the moment is the greater amount of detail available in the Bing map. There are just so many more towns shown on that map than the Google one. I found this when I tried other places I have been to in Mongolia as well.
For once I think Microsoft has it over Google. Whilst I still like using Google maps (integrates seamlessly with my Picasa photo albums as well as helps me to not get lost by running as an application on my mobile phone), I do think that the Microsoft map is a superior product. See particularly the last two maps on this post, they are both the same area set with a 50km scale – notice the difference in the number of towns displayed.

image imageI do wish, however, that both companies would start to use the Mongolian Anglicisation methods for writing Mongolian words in English – “sukhbaatar” is clearer these days than “sühbaatar” or “sükhbaatar”.

Mongolia’s Merchant Marine

Map from the CIA World Factbook
Map from the CIA World Factbook

Knowing how I enjoy the bizarre, I found some information about Mongolia’s Merchant Marine – go on … look at the map 🙂

The Mongolian Merchant Marine currently stands at 77 vessels. Mongolia does provide flags of convenience. The types of vessels are: bulk carrier – 20 vessels; cargo – 44; chemical tanker – 2; liquefied gas – 1; passenger/cargo – 1; petroleum tanker – 2; roll on/roll off – 6; and vehicle carrier – 1 ship.

53 of these vessels are owned by the following foreign countries – China 1, Germany 4, Indonesia 1, North Korea 1, South Korea 1, Lebanon 2, Russia 9, Singapore 9, Thailand 1, Ukraine 1, Vietnam 23.