Khalkin-Gol, Battle of

views updated


In the late 1930s, as events pushed the world inexorably toward war, the Soviet Union and Japan clashed several times over the precise location of their borders. The most serious of these incidents, occurring from May to September of 1939, took place in Mongolia, by a river named Khalkhin-Gol. Soviet forces crossed the river to assert their sovereignty over a disputed tract of land and ran into serious resistance from the Japanese Sixth Army. The Japanese believed that the river marked the border and had just been ordered to treat any incursions with the utmost severity. They launched a series of attacks against the Mongolian and Soviet troops and eventually managed to push back the initial advance. Stalin and his advisors, already convinced that the Japanese army wanted to seize Siberia for its natural resources, decided that this was the great attack they feared. In response, they gave the commander on the scene, Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov, all the tanks, aircraft, and manpower he would need to deal with the threat.

Zhukov put together a major offensive that would not only drive the Japanese from Mongolia, but also take the disputed land irrevocably for the Soviet satellite. By the time he was ready for his attack, at the end of August, his forces outnumbered the Japanese two to one, and he had far more tanks and artillery than the Japanese could muster. His strategy, which called for the envelopment and destruction of the enemy, worked as planned, and the Japanese army suffered heavy casualties. The Japanese commander, Michitaro Komatsubara, refused to accept the outcome of the battle, however, and had prepared a counteroffensive. This was canceled when a cease-fire was signed in Moscow. War had broken out in Europe, and neither country could afford to be distracted by minor clashes on their borders. The battle at Khalkhin-Gol convinced the Japanese army that a fight with the Soviets would be a long, drawn-out affair, and helped the Japanese empire make the decision to turn southward in 1941, rather than attack Siberia.

See also: japan, relations with; zhukov, georgy konstantinovich


Coox, Alvin. (1985). Nomonhan. Japan against Russia, 1939. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Zhukov, Georgy. (1971). The Memoirs of Marshal Zhukov. New York: Delacorte Press.

Mary R. Habeck