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Nomonhan, 1939: The Red Army's Victory That Shaped World War II

Nomonhan, 1939: The Red Army's Victory That Shaped World War II
by Stuart D. Goldman

List Price: $31.95 
Hardcover: 288 pages
ISBN: 1591143292
Publisher: Naval Institute Press
Publish Date: April 16, 2012

Reviewed by Larry Parker

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 battle's 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.  I highly recommend it for its depth of research, breadth of scope and wealth of information.

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