Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Museum of the Battle of Khalkin Gol...

Khalkin Gol is the name of an area in Dornod, the easternmost province of Mongolia. From May to September 1939 it was the venue for a series of battles between, nominally the Mongolian Peoples' Republic, and Manchuoko (Japanese occupied Manchuria), in practice the conflict was a clash between the USSR and Imperial Japan. These actions drew in well over 100,000 combatants, with probably some 40,000 fatalities (the Japanese certainly lost over 23,000; the Soviets admitted to approximately 8,500, but modern sources suggest 20,000 is a more realistic figure!). The outcome is also credited with affecting Japanese foreign policy leading to the attack on Pearl Harbour.

Hostilities broke out, in May, as a series of expanding actions based on a dispute over the ill defined boundary between the two nominal combatants. June was a period of preparation as both sides drew in resources for the “main event”. This was a Japanese offensive using a reinforced infantry division and their only Tank Brigade in a pincer manoeuvre, starting on 2 July. By the 5 July the Japanese had been fought to a halt, and on the western flank driven back to their start positions. The Soviets achieved this with a preponderance of Armoured Fighting Vehicles as they then lacked major infantry units. The Japanese had largely held their positions on the eastern flank and used these to initiate a series of offensives, infantry night attacks and artillery, the Tank Brigade having been withdrawn after suffering prohibitive casualties in only three days of action. None of the Japanese offensives achieved any lasting success, and they were effectively forced onto the defensive. During this period the Soviets, under Georgiy Zhukov, were building up their forces significantly with a view to a crushing counteroffensive.

This offensive commenced in the early morning of 20 August, with holding attacks in the centre of the front, whilst mobile forces attacked on the flanks, within the context of “Deep War”, but constrained by the Soviet view of the frontier. In six days the two flanking forces had linked up, cutting off the greater part of the Japanese 23 Infantry Division, who held their positions tenaciously, as was their custom. The Soviets then set about reducing these positions, whilst holding the frontier line, with occasional forays to crush Japanese attempts to relieve their trapped forces. The Japanese had recognized that they simply could not defeat the Soviet forces and had commenced talks leading to a formal truce, effective from 15 September, recognizing the Soviet defined border.

I am uncertain who built the Museum, but it is within what was undoubtedly a Soviet base from the 1950s, so I suspect that they did. It is now run by a Mongolian staff. The building 2 storey, and is perhaps 40m square. The ground floor is administration, probably living quarters, with the collection on the first floor. There is an outer ring, which contains hardware, photographs and maps: the inner room displays the banners of the units engaged.

You pay the director an entry fee, and a photography fee (probably doubling his monthly salary) and he then gives you the “Tour”. My guide told him that I knew the history so we would ask questions. This worked for everybody! There is a display of Anti Tank and Field Artillery to the front of the Museum, and to the side a BT7 Model 1935 Radio, in modest condition.

There are no facilities in this Museum – not even running water! I did manage to purchase half a dozen unique keyrings in the local shop!

One point to remember in Mongolia – they are very proud of their “8000 heroes”! Although in fairness in a country with a population of under 2 million, largely on subsistence herding, mobilizing 8000 is a bit of a feat.

If you are in Sumber, this is a must see facility!

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