In the fields of eastern Mongolia, eastern Asia, the Japanese army clashed with Soviet mechanized units and suffered devastating casualties. The conflict is called ‘Nomonhan Incident’.Some historians say this border conflict unintentionally links the eastern and western battle fronts of Eurasia and leads to the outbreak of the World War II, on Sept. 1, 1939.
The Nomonhan Incident is a little-known conflict fought in remote inner-Asia. But it paved the way for all the events which triggered the outbreak of the World War II in Europe. The Nomonhan Incident is one small piece in that jigsaw puzzle. But when you put that piece into place, then the whole puzzle makes more sense.Stuart Goldman, American Historian
As diplomatic machinations were unfolding in Europe in 1939. The tension was growing between Germany, which was demanding Danzig from Poland, and Britain and France. Both sides wanted an alliance with the Soviet Union.
Germany and the Soviet Union, which hated each other, surprisingly concluded a nonaggression pact. Germany invaded Poland 1 week after conclusion of the pact, because Germany didn’t have to worry about a pincer attack of Britain and France as well as the war with the Soviet Union. ‘Britain and France would just wait and see like what they did six months ago when Nazis invaded Czech lands and created the protectorate.’ Despite this Hitler’s thought, Britain and France declared a war with Germany. Thus, Europe goes to war. Why did Germany and the Soviet Union approach suddenly? One of the reasons is the border conflict in far east.
The Soviet Union was from the beginning the hypothetical enemy for Kwantung army which had control over the army of Manchukuo established in 1932 as a puppet state of Japan.Along the 4800-km long border, over 1000 clashes occurred between Japan and the Soviet Union 1932-1939. Having completed the first five-year plan in 1932, Soviet Union had doubled its army in far east.
In June 1937, conflict over Kanchatzu Island, northern border in the middle of Amur River, came to an end with diplomatic negotiation. But July to August 1938, Japan and the Soviet Union fought artillery battles at Changkufeng, a mountain border of Soviet Union, Manchukuo and Korea. A ceasefire was reached due to the strong will of Emperor and the General Army Staff in Tokyo, but the mainstream of Kwantung Army felt insulted.On 11th May 1939, the fuse was lit.
113days to German invasion to Poland
Little clashes develop toa critical level
‘I don’t want to pay even 5 dollars for this land.’Said a foreign correspondent who was visiting the battlefield of Nomonhan, a wasteland as large as the lake Biwa in Japan. The initial clash was fought between Manchukuo patrol troops and Mongolian cavalry force. A month before, ‘Principles for the Settlement of Soviet-Manchukuoan Border Disputes’ declared if the Manchukuoan frontiers are violated by troops, Kwantung Army will make surprise attacks and destroy them. The principles were drafted by Major Masanobu Tsuji, Operation Section of KwAHQ.Thus, the 23rd Division pushed out the Mongolian troops with armored cars and aircrafts. Soviet army in Mongolia fought back with artillery and armored cars. The reconnaissance group of the 23rd Division and 64th Infantry Regiment tried to make a pincer attack against the Soviet Army on 28th, but because of the poor communication, the reconnaissance group which first reached the battlefield found themselves isolated, encircled by Soviet Army and destroyed in the evening on 29th.
Tsuji Masanobu, Staff Officer, Operation Section, KwAHQ
Unity of the 23rd Division was weak and the ability to fight against the tanks was underdeveloped.
No reflection on his lack of plans to supply the antitank weapons.
At the same time, the negotiation to conclude German-Soviet Nonaggression pact was also under way.
Germany broke the nonaggression pact with Poland concluded in 1934, which led to growing tensions among countries over Poland.
Hitler hints German-Japan relation would be much closer, if the Soviet Union make a move against Germany.
92 days to German invasion of Poland
The Soviet Union begins to interfere in the conflicts at the Mongolian border. In the end of May, Georgy Zhukov receives an urgent phone call from Moscow. The next day, he is summoned by Stalin to see the People’s Commissar of Defense. He is ordered to go to Khankhin Gol and take command there. Commander Zhukov demands additional troops and Moscow decides to send much more than he expected.
Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov
The borders of the MPR will be defended by the USSR as vigorously as we shall defend our own borders.
Speech to the Soviet Supreme
Alvin Coox ‘Nomonhan: Japan Against Russia, 1939’
German Embassy in the Soviet Union conveys German intention to make a secret negotiation to conclude nonaggression pact via German ambassador in Bulgaria.
British Prime Minister Chamberlain is told about the secret negotiations, but he doesn’t believe German-Soviet rapprochement is possible
66 days to German invasion to Poland
Arbitrarydecision and executionby Masanobu Tsuji
Kwantung Army acts arbitrary without careful research on the enemy. In the middle of June, Soviet Army bombards storage tanks near border. Army General Staff, insisting on non-expansionary policy, intends to stop the Kwantung Army’s hidden bombardment plan to Mongolia. AGS sends the messenger to try to persuade, but Tsuji and other bombards Soviet bases in Mongolian territory, Tamusk and Ssanbeis.Infuriated by Kwantung army’s attack without permission, AGS sends telegram; ‘it is quite regrettable’. Kwantung Army replies; ‘it was a subtle event in the norther border’. The boss of Tsuji, Seishiro Itagaki, Minister of the Army, doesn’t act properly. Thus, the arbitrary decisions and executions continue.
Seishiro Itagaki, the Minister of the Army
Take good care of Tsuji.
To Masazumi Inada, Chief of the Operations Section of the Army General Staff, who decided of replace Tsuji. Post war testimony.
60 days to German invasion to Poland
Attackswith no supplies
Kwantung Army begins its attack on July 3 with 15,000 men. Divided in two groups, Kwantung Amy tries to capture the east and the west banks of Halha river. But there is just one bridge 2.5 meters wide and 60 meters long, to the west bank. After crossing the bridge, the troops, mainly infantry, encounter Soviet tanks. Japanese soldiers attack with anti-tank artillery and firebombs. With no ammunition supply plans, the troops are pushed back and withdraws in the early morning of July 5. Just after the withdrawal, they blow up the bridge to prevent the Soviet Army from crossing. Tank troops of Kwantung Army attacking the Soviet bases on the east bank, lose half of 67 main tanks. Kwantung Army Headquarters decides to conserve the remaining ‘precious’ tanks and the troops are ordered to retreat.
Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov demands U.K and France to sign the military alliance, assuming the war against Germany.
German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop suggest secretly the division of Poland via Soviet Embassy in Germany.
20 days to German invasion to Poland
Decisionmade by Stalin
Kwantung Army tries artillery duel. Gathering 86 heavy artilleries, attacks begins on 23rd July. With Soviet longer artillery range, the artillery duel is suspended in 3 days. Kwantung Army, assuming long-term battle, orders strengthening bases and preparation to pass the winter. On 11th August, Stalin decides to conclude a nonaggression treaty with Germany. At the same time, Stalin orders Zhukov the onslaught to smash Kwantung Army in the back. The Soviet Union gathers supply disguising with false telegrams and so forth.
Generals instructed by Stalin
Let the Samurais regret to have invaded our friend Mongolian people’s land.
Shishkin and others ‘The battle of Khalkhin Gol’
Stalin decides to discuss the German suggestion at the meeting of Politburo.
Hitler and Stalin reach a final agreement on the nonaggression treaty.
12 days to German invasion to Poland
The Soviet Union startedan all-out attack
Behind theall-out attack.
Zhukov gathered more than 50,000 soldiers and more than 800 tanks and armored cars. In the night on 19th August, Soviet Army crossed Halha river. Outsmarted by the sound played by the Soviet Army, as if it were making the bases, Japanese army didn’t notice Soviet moves.5:45 a.m., 20th August, Soviet Army started an all-out attack.Bombardment with hundreds of aircrafts and 500 artilleries continued. Surrounded by the Soviet, Japanese Army, which had already withdrawn the tanks around Halha river stubbornly fought back. Stalin was pushing the negotiations to conclude the nonagression pact with Germany, the enemy in the front, to make peace for the time being. One of the objectives was to isolate Japan, German partner of the anti-comintern pact, thus, to avoid the two-front war and a pincer attack.
Masanobu Tsuji, Chief of Operations Section, Kwantung Army
I’d never imagined such a huge force could have been deployed in the steppe in the outer Mongolia.
Masanobu Tsuji ‘Nomonhan’
The Soviet Union indeed desired an improvement in its relations with Japan, but that there were limits to its patience with regard to Japanese provocations.
Stuart D. Goldman ‘Nomonhan, 1939: The Red Army’s Victory That Shaped World War II’
Soviet representative proposed Anglo-French delegation to postpone the discussions.
9 days to German invasion to Poland
Devastated behindthe German-Sovietnonaggression pact.
On 23rd August, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the nonaggression pact, which contained a secret protocol to divide Poland. At the same time, units of the Kwantung Army were in danger of being devastated in Nomonhan. At 4 a.m., the base in the northernmost sector called Fui Heights was surrounded by 200 Soviet tanks and the radio was destroyed. Lieutenant colonel Eiichi Ioki who led the 23rd reconnaissance regiment was forced to fight for 4 days without water or food. He tried to commit suicide, but his men stopped him. He then tried to retreat. Only 269 out of 759 troops succeeded in escaping. Later, Ioki was held responsible for retreating without permission and forced to commit suicide.
On 11th September, WWII began
The trigger of theworld war
Having concluded the nonaggression pact, Germany, free from fear to fight a war with the Soviet Union, invaded Poland on 1st September. Despite Hitler’s assumption, Britain and France declared a war with Germany. This is the day when WWII began.Richard Sorge, the spy in Tokyo, provided Stalin with the information about Japan which had no intention to fight a war with the Soviet Union. On 17th September, the next day of the ceasefire at Nomonhan, Stalin sent soldiers to Poland as promised. We could say that the Kwantung Army which extended the fronts in eastern Mongolia without control, played the role as a trigger of the world war.Japanese Army irresponsibly promoted those in charge in the Kwantung Army such as Masanobu Tsuji after having once demoted them. And officers like Masanobu Tsuji were to make many starve to death in Guadalcanal in the Pacific war.By Yasuji Nagai, Senior Staff Writer
PREMIUM A : The Asahi Shimbun
Nomonhan, the beginning and the end of the World War II
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- InterviewsYasuji Nagai(Senior Staff Writer),Misuzu Amano
- PhotosYoshinori Mizuno,Mari Sakamoto,Suzuki Kaori
- English translationMisuzu Amano
- ProofreadingProofreading center, Osaka head office
- Movie editingKenichi Nishida
- Design and productionYoshiyuki Ogura,Yoshiharu Sato,Masayuki Shirai(Asahi shimbun Media Production)
- Cooperation for interviewsHisaya Okazaki,Kunihiro Suzuki,Tatsuya Yamamoto,
Fine Molds Co., Ltd.,
The Alvin Coox Collection, USC Libraries
- Cooperation for supervisionMasafumi Asada(Iwate University),
Tomoyuki Hanada(The National Institute for Defense Studies)
Halha river, 25th May 2019, in Mongolia. Photo by Yoshinori Mizuno.
Nazis Germanyinvaded Poland.This is the beginning ofthe World War II.
113 days to German invasion to Poland
At the disputed border of Manchukuo and Mongolian People’s Republic around Halha river, both troops clashed.
Japanese Army forced the soldiers to fight with spirit,making up for the scarcity of materials.‘Spirit to win all the battle’ caused a negative cycle.Chapter 2: Battlefields of Soldiers
Having smashed the Kwantung Army at Nomonhan, Zhukov contributes to the victory of his mother land, as the commander of the battles, turning point of the German-Soviet war. On the other hand, Stalin’s plan to prepare the war against Japan is about to move in eastern Mongolia.Chapter 3: Stalin’s plot