20th August 1939
Joseph Stalin’s decision to send in his best commander, Lieutenant General Georgi Zhukov, to stabilise the Soviet defensive positions at Khalkin Gol, Mongolia appears to be paying dividends. Concerned about the safety of the Trans Siberian Railway, Stalin sent in Zhukov to sort it out in early June.
Zhukov today launched a surprise attack using combined ground and air forces. The battle is the largest seen since the Great War ended 2 decades ago. It will rage for 11 days and claim 45,000 Japanese casualties for the loss of 17,000 Soviets in a decisive blow to Japan.
Skirmishes began on 11th May, with minor clashes between Mongolian Cavalry and Japanese forces when the Mongolians were driven back across the river. These escalated throughout May and the Japanese intially tried to disengage and prevent further aggravation to the Soviets. The Soviets however were having none of it and commenced offensive operations against the Japanese. Eventually the Japanese received permission to “throw out the invaders” and launched across the river to destroy the Soviet Forces. Both armies sparred intermittently in between major battles with neither gaining the upper hand.
Two major attacks failed to break the Soviets and a third attack was planned for 24th August. Zhukov however struck first. Thinking that war was imminent in Europe, he attacked on 20th August in an effort to route the Japanese and get back to the West. Aided by two Mongolian Cavalry Regiments and 557 Aircraft, the Soviet force was far superior. In the first ever Soviet Fighter-Bomber attack, with combined artillery and significant tank forces, the opening battle was overwhelming. The weakened and outnumbered Japanese were quickly encircled.