Since I’m being slightly off-topic this evening, here’s an interesting article that was passed to me from Andy at Siberian Light about a little bit of history that perhaps not many Westerners are familiar with (it was news to me), but which holds a pivotal role in shaping both the war in the Pacific and the Eastern Front.
The battle is of Khalkhin-Gol, or the Nomonhan Incident as it is known in Japan, which took place in 1939, just a few weeks before Hitler invaded Poland, and was sparked off by an incident along a disputed portion of the border of the Japanese and Soviet puppet states, Manchuria and Mongolia, near the town of Nomonhan, close to the Khalkhin-Gol river, thus the two names for the battle.
After much skirmishing and even aerial attacks by the Japanese, Tokyo eventually issued an order to expel the invaders and reclaim the ground lost to the Mongol and Soviet forces. On July 1st 1939, Japan attacked and drove back the opposing forces, but a counter-attack by the Soviets with a force of 450 tanks soon saw off the thrust, and on July 5th the Japanese withdrew. Another assault by the Japanese was also repelled, but before the Japanese could regroup for a third try, the Soviets counter-attacked on the 20th of August with 50,000 men, 498 tanks, and 250 planes. By the 31st the Japanese were encircled, and bar a few units who managed to break out, they refused to surrender and chose instead to fight to the death, and the Soviets duly obliged, with the battle finishing on the 1nd of September 1939.
As we all know, just a day later Hitler invaded Poland.
Official statistics report just over 17,000 Japanese total casualties, compared with around 9,000 Soviets, but some historians claim that Japan lost more than 45,000 men, versus Soviet losses of 17,000 men.
How Khalkhin-Gol changed Japanese military thinking
Realising that the Soviets were tactically superior, one reason being that the Japanese forces valued samurai-like ethics (for want of a better word) on the battlefield, Japan decided to curb its desire for expansion into Soviet territory, so even when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 the Japanese chose not to open a second front, enabling the Soviets to concentrate on the threat from the West.
Thus, to satisfy its expansionist desires, the far-flung (from the European perspective) colonial outposts in South-East Asia were richer pickings. Thus, thanks to that defeat in Mongolia, perhaps Pearl Harbour became to be seen as a softer target, and the rest is, as they say, history.
If you enjoyed this short history lesson, please don’t forget to read the full story at Siberian Light.
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