The Battle of Khalkhin Gol (September 11 to May 15, 1939)
When the border clashes intensified along the Soviet border, both militaries paused to build up their forces. Equipment, aircraft, and infantry poured into the region. Each country sent one of their premier experts in armored warfare. Komkor Georgy Zhukov arrived in early June, assuming command for the Soviets, and Lt. General Masaomi Yasuoka led the Imperial Japanese Army’s 1st Tank Corps. Throughout June, the Japanese won several smaller engagements and prepared to launch a major attack at the Soviet forces concentrated on the opposing side of the Khalkin Gol River.
The two-pronged offensive attacked with three regiments of infantry toward the west, and Yasuoka’s 1st Tank Corps to the east and north on July 2. Though initially successful, Zhukov grasped the Japanese’s intention to encircle his army, and focused his counterattack on the enemy’s mobile units. Assembling a force of 450 tanks and armored cars, Zhukov outmaneuvered Yasuoka’s 1st Tank Corps and attacked three sides.
The Japanese tanks proved no match for the Soviets in the combat that followed, and after grueling week of brutal fighting, Yasuoka withdrew the shattered remnants of his corps across the Khalkin Gol. This shattered their infantry’s chances for success, and after another two weeks of stalemated fighting, the Japanese retreated.
Zhukov’s counterattack gutted the Imperial Japanese’s armor, but his enemy still had a large, entrenched, army on the other side of the river. Zhukov was determined to dislodge his opponent, and on August 20th, he launched one of the most devastating offensives in history. The Soviet General had built up his forces tremendously over the summer, and the Japanese were stunned when three infantry divisions supported by nearly 500 BT tanks swarmed across the river on the heels of crushing massed artillery salvos and airstrikes.
Numerous and entrenched though the Japanese were, Zhukov used his tanks ruthlessly; seizing control of the enemy’s flanks, destroying their remaining armor, and capturing their army in a classic double envelopment. On August 31st, no Imperial Japanese forces remained on the Mongolian side of the border, leaving the BT tanks, and Zhukov, the clear victor.