Battle of Khalkhin Gol-Nomonhan

  • Read a great book on the Battle of Khalkhin Gol-Nomonhan. The book posed a interesting question. Had this battle not been in one of the most remote places on earth; where the Soviet Union’s impressive victory over the Japanese was largely unnoticed would Hitler reframed from invading the USSR in 1941?

    The Soviet victory was impressive, combining infantry, armor and air power in crushing an enemy with some combat experience.

    Would this have offset the highly public poor performance of the Soviet Union’s Winter War with Finland?

    Your thoughts?

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    I don’t know how much familiarity Hitler had with the good Soviet performance in the border wars with Japan in 1938 and 1939.  Perhaps he didn’t know much about it.  Perhaps he was well-informed about it, but brushed it off as inconclusive for some reason or another (for instance, because the Russian had been fighting Asians rather than Nordic Europeans – an argument that a racist like him might plausibly have made – or simply because those border wars were far away and (as I recall) smaller in scale than the Winter War.)  But either way, in terms of the strategic history of WWII the important point is this: the Russo-Japanese border wars may not have made much of an impression on Hitler, but they made enough of an impression on Japan that Japan turned its expansionist ambitions away from Russia towards the Pacific and Southeast Asia.  And that shift in focus, in turn, is what ultimately enabled Stalin to shift his crack Siberian troops from the Soviet far east to the European front in the fall of 1941, just in time to save Moscow.  Ironically, another reason for Japan’s shift in focus away from Russia was Hitler himself: Japan was infuriated by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was signed (I think) in the same month that Zhukov was drubbing the Japanese in Mongolia; Japan’s leaders responded by laying the foundation for a ceasefire and (eventually) a non-aggression pact with the Russians.

  • ABWorsham wrote:

    Had this battle not been in one of the most remote places on earth; where the Soviet Union’s impressive victory over
    the Japanese was largely unnoticed would Hitler have refrained from invading the USSR in 1941?

    As you pointed out, the Japanese took it on the chin in that war. It was very one-sided!

    The Japanese were of course hardly eager to publish news of their own defeat. They were very quiet about it. That makes sense on two levels. First, Japan’s culture places a strong sense of stigma on military defeat. In ancient Japan, a defeated general might be expected to commit ritual suicide. Apart from the shame of having lost, Japan had another reason to keep quiet. If the weakness of Japan’s army was advertised to the world at large, Japan’s neighbors might conclude they could take advantage of Japan’s weakness. To give a specific example, in 1941 the Dutch East Indies agreed to join America’s oil embargo against Japan. It would not have made sense for them to provoke Japan in this way, unless they believed that in the long run America could exert much more military strength in the Pacific than could Japan. To advertise weakness was to invite more behavior of that type.

    Stalin prevented his own press from making any mention whatsoever of the Soviet Union’s impressive victory over Japan. There was total Soviet media silence. As Suvorov pointed out, that silence in a case of military triumph was out of character. In the Soviet Union, even very small accomplishments were celebrated with plenty of hoopla and fanfare. The Red Army’s accomplishments at Khalkhin Gol were by no means small, so why keep silent about them?

    With both Japan and the Soviet Union remaining silent about Khalkhin Gol, it makes sense that the battles made little impression on Hitler. Those battles seem to have made little impression on anyone outside the Soviet Union or Japan!

    Finnish military planners knew that if Stalin invaded, he would have to invade through the Karelian isthmus. They therefore turned that isthmus into the most heavily fortified place on Earth. Their defenses were better (and more intelligently planned) than the French Maginot Line. Breaching the Finnish defenses was considered a military impossibility. The Red Army achieved that impossible task in only a few months. While Soviet losses were high, the Winter War was in many ways every bit as impressive an accomplishment as the battles of Khalkhin Gol. However, Stalin ensured that the Soviet propaganda machine reported poor performance by the Red Army. Anyone reading Soviet descriptions of their invasion of Finland would conclude the Red Army was nowhere near ready for war. While Hitler was not normally one to swallow Soviet propaganda wholesale, in this case he believed it. Perhaps he remembered Russia’s poor performance in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, or its unimpressive showing in WWI; or the Red Army’s unsuccessful attempt to invade and annex Poland back in 1920. The idea that Russians fight poorly was consistent not just with Nazi ideology, but with his own prior experience.

    Each Soviet officer stationed near the German border was given a sealed packet of orders. That packet was to be opened only upon commencement of hostilities between Germany and the Soviet Union. In June of '41 those packets were opened. The officers found plenty of information about what they should do if the Soviet Union attacked Germany. And nothing at all about how to respond if Germany invaded the Soviet Union!

    Suvorov presents a considerable body of evidence that the Soviet Union was planning to invade Germany during the summer or early fall of 1941. The exact month of the invasion is unclear, but August 1941 seems as likely as any. After invading Germany, the Red Army would “liberate” France; thereby establishing Soviet hegemony over nearly all of mainland Europe. According to Suvorov, Hitler got wind of this planned Soviet invasion; which is why he launched his own invasion several weeks before the Soviet preparations were complete. Assuming Suvorov’s theory is correct, knowledge of strong Soviet performance at Khalkhin Gol would not have deterred Hitler from invading. On the contrary: it would have lent added urgency to the need to attack the Soviet Union before the Soviets attacked Germany.

  • @ABWorsham:

    ……would Hitler reframed from invading the USSR in 1941?

    No, I am pretty sure Adolf would have attacked Russia at some point no matter what. Living space in the East was the main objective of Hitlers master plan. He wrote about it in his book Mein Kampf as far back as the 1920 ies.  There are no way Hitler would have reframed from attacking USSR as soon as possible, and the reason he had to wait until 1941 was because France and UK messed up his plans.

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