Where is Nomonhan in the list of vital battles we teach our high school and college students about WWII? Pretty much nowhere. And yet it decided the course of the war:
“I remember well how, in the spring and summer of 1939, my curiosity was gripped by short newspaper accounts of an undeclared war that was raging between the Japanese and Soviet armies on a desolate stretch of disputed frontier lying between the client states of Manchukuo and Outer Mongolia.”
– Alvin D. Coox, Nomonhan
“It is generally agreed that, despite IJA silence on the subject, the Japanese decision in 1941 to transfer strategic emphasis to the south, involving war with the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands, stemmed in part from the Kwantung Army’s failure against the Russians in 1939.”
In large part. Had the Japanese succeeded agaisnt Zhukov and joined the Nazis in a two front war against the Russians, the Second Front would have been a disaster for Stalin. Had the Japanese not moved against Pearl Harbor in 1941, war with the US would have been at least delayed, and Roosevelt would have needed some other pretext to come to beleaguered Britain’s aid in its darkest and finest hour.
Failure to understand that conflict and the lessons it taught about the IJA by people who should have taken a much more professional interest led to much needless bloodshed on the part of the British and American military in the Pacific War. The defeat of the Kwantung army by Zhukov (a name that should have been well noted by Americans and Germans alike in 1939), was the primary event that turned the Japanese on a collision course with the US.
Yet where is Nomonhan in the list of vital battles we teach our high school and college students about WWII? Pretty much nowhere. Apropos another conversation on this blog, it seems that the professional military historians outside academia take the study of this battle a little more seriously.
(I’ve mentioned Khalkhin Gol before.)