Book review: In the Skies of Nomonhan
Japan Versus Russia, May-September 1939
By Dimitar Nedialkov
215 pgs. 8 pgs of color illustrations
ISBN:9 780859 791526
The clash between Mongolia and the Soviet Union on one side and Japan and Manchukuo on the other is a little covered precursory to the Second World War. However, it was to have profound consequences for both major combatants. Japanese senses were heightened to the Russian threat and thus the Japanese kept many aircraft and ground units in northern China to counter this possible threat. The sting of the loss at Nomonhan (also called Khalkhin Gol) may have contributed to the Japanese reluctance to join Germany in the attack on the Soviet Union in 1941. The Soviet Union got a chance to test massed tank combat and out of the battle rose the Soviet Union’s greatest general, Georgy Zhukov.
The war in the remote area of the China-Mongolia border was used as a testing ground by both major combatants, though the prize itself, 80 square kilometers of barren steppe was of no real value to either party. The war was brought on by the Kwantung Army, the Japanese army in Manchuria that the central government in Tokyo had only limited control over. This army pushed its units forward to try and define the border between Mongolia and Manchukuo as the Khalkhin River.
The book tells the story of the air war during the six month undeclared war between the parties. The Japanese started with both a qualitative and a quantitative superiority over their opponents. This led to early dominance over the battlefield by the IJAF. However, in a pattern that was to be repeated in WWII, the Soviets quickly built up a quantitative superiority that allowed them to wrest control of the air from the Japanese. Even though the Japanese aircraft remained technologically superior over the course of the war, the weight of the Soviet forces was eventually too much for the IJAF to effectively counter.
The war had some effects that were not apparent until after WWII. Not the least among these was the loss of more than 100 experienced Japanese pilots, at a time when the Japanese training system simply could not replace them. Each one of these pilots killed was an experienced pilot that the allies didn’t have to face in the Pacific or in southern China during WWII.
The author is apparently a Bulgarian Air Force Colonel and PhD. While you can tell from the text he relied more on Russian rather than Japanese sources, the overall presentation is even-handed. The author points out that both sides wildly over-claimed during air combat for propaganda purposes. The author generally acknowledges the combat superiority of the Ki-27 fighter and the Ki-15 recon aircraft over all of their Soviet counterparts, the I-15, I-16 and I-153.
The book contains many black and white photos, mostly from Soviet sources. Most of the photos of Japanese aircraft as stock photos that most readers will have seen before. The color side-view illustrations are nice and interesting, though 3-view illustrations would have been better.
The text is readable, but you can tell the author’s first language is not English as some of the sentences don’t flow naturally. It isn’t enough to make the book difficult or unpleasant to read, but it is noticeable. The book would have benefited from a better English language editor.
I found the book a quick, easy and pleasant read. It is on a subject that I didn’t have much knowledge about. I can recommend this book to both the casual reader and the enthusiast looking to gain deeper insight into this little known brush war.