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Nomonhan, 1939: the Red Army’s Victory that Shaped World War II

22 July 2016

Nomonhan, 1939: the Red Army’s Victory that Shaped World War II, Stuart D. Goldman, 2012, ISBN 978-1-61251-098-9, 226 pp.

Nomonhan, 1939: the Red Army's Victory that Shaped World War II by Stuart D Goldman with cover design by Jen Mabe

Nomonhan, 1939: the Red Army’s Victory that Shaped World War II by Stuart D. Goldman with cover design by Jen Mabe

The Nomonhan Incident, as known in Japan, also know as the Battles of Khalkhyn Gol (Khalkyn River) is prologue to General Zhukov’s great successes at the Battle of Moscow as well as the Battle of Stalingrad with double envelopment as well as greatly massed air, artillery and armor units.

But this is the sterile version of the skirmished leading up to the ultimate battle which crushed Imperial Japan’s Kwantung Army (the very same which precipitated Japan’s all out war in China) in what, even today, is a remote area of eastern Asia.

How did Imperial Japan and Stalinist Russia come to blows in Mongolia and how this first of “limited wars” shape Japan’s tactics as well as Russia’s in the coming World War?

The story is as complicated as any that might be imagined and Goldman describes the persons and events boldly, precisely–with fullest understanding of context of the times as well as its energy:

  • Russia playing Europe against Germany, and vice versa, while enhancing the communist side of the Chinese Civil War to keep Japan’s war efforts tied up as much as possible in China to protect the weak Mongolian-Chinese border.
  • Japan eying Germany as an ally, with the Kwangtung Army venturing into battles which determined Japan’s diplomatic policy instead of the accepted order of things. Goldman, again, brilliantly explains the thinking of persons involved as he does the aftermath of events.
  • Great Britain and the United States arriving at the party too late and trying to hard to late to avoid war.

Goldman lays history out like a family photo album with the unseemly family secrets as well. We are glad for it as he can only do so after decades of research and skill acquisition to author a superlative as well as concise summary. A summary which illustrates the aftermath of events as well as the cultural interpretations of each of the countrymen leading to the next event.

Along the way we learn:

  • How savagely Stalin purged his armed forces, leading to a major defection of a decorated NKVD officer to Japan.
  • We learn of the great differences between the powers regarding armor as well as artillery.
  • Goldman explains how Japan developed night tactics as well as why.
  • Goldman also explains how Stalin played powers off one another (Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan and Russia) due to strategic exposures—all the while plotting to take Finland as well as portions of Czechoslovakia and Poland by force in conspiracy with Germany.
  • What a limited war really is and the disparate diplomatic complications which require deft handling

Nomonhan, 1939 gives a deep understanding of the context of this history as the battle was resolved just prior to Germany invading Poland ans Russia’s desperate need to have a deterrence to Japan in place to free forces to be recalled from Siberia to west of the Ural Mountains.

These battles are insights into the way Japan as well as Russia expected their armed forces to act upon their respective diplomatic initiatives—showing what worked and what failed with not much in between the two. This history, and Goldman’s writing, is as utterly fascinating and required to best understand how World War II proper came to be as well as a more insightful way of how it was fought.

 

 

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