Book Review: Nomonhan, 1939: The Red Army's Victory That Shaped World War II


by Stuart D. Goldman

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2013. Pp. xiv, 226. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 159114339X

A new comprehensive account of what was arguably the most important battle of the Pacific War, the Soviet victory over the Japanese at Nomonhan (May-September 1939).

Nomonhan took place in an ill-defined stretch of borderland between Mongolia and Manchuria.  After months of offensive movements and skirmishing by the Japanese, on August 20, 1939, Georgy Zhukov unleashed a massive Red Army, which gave the Imperial Army a salutary lesson in Soviet military power.  Despite the fact that it culminated in one of the largest and most decisive battles between the world wars, the campaign went almost unnoticed at the time and was largely forgotten afterwards, due in equal measure to paranoid Soviet censorship and deep Japanese embarrassment. 

Building on Alvin Coox’s pioneering work on the subject more than three decades ago, and with far greater access to Soviet documents, Dr. Goldman (National Council for Eurasian and East European Research) opens by fitting the culminating battle , the final and largest phase of a protracted Japanese-Soviet border war, into its political and strategic framework.  He then discusses the physical setting and military preparations.  A detailed account of the campaign follows, in which Goldman looks at the personalities involved, most notably the brilliant young Red Army general Zhukov.  Goldman then looks at how the operation, known to the Russians as “Khalkhin Gol,” affected global political and strategic affairs.  The most notable result of Nomonhan was that the crushing defeat convinced the Japanese to give up, at least for the time being, the idea of going to war with the Soviets, leading them into the Pacific War.  In addition, Nomonhan helped pave the way for the Nazi-Soviet pact.  Militarily, the battle proved the effectiveness of  Soviet operational art, though not until Moscow in December of 1941 did the Germans begin to notice. 

A very valuable read for anyone with an interest in the Second World War.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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