TRADITION AND CIRCUMSTANCES
The Imperial Japanese Army's Tactical Response to Khalkhin-Gol, 1939
This chapter emphasizes the tactical realm and examines in detail the impact of military defeat on small unit organization, equipment, and doctrine: in short, it looks in microcosm at the reaction to defeat.
Such an approach is illuminating provided one has access to military documents that candidly acknowledge the deficiencies responsible for defeat and prescribe the remedies for future victory. My method is to describe a single example of how a large and modern army tactically analyzed a grave military defeat. I also discuss what that army did to implement tactical reform based on the lessons of defeat. I have selected the Imperial Japanese Army's reaction to its disastrous defeat by the Soviet Red Army at Khalkhin-Gol (Japanese name, Nomonhan) in the summer of 1939.
The IJA regarded Khalkhin-Gol as their first exposure to modern, combined arms warfare. 1 Khalkhin-Gol was the culmination of almost two decades of Japanese tactical innovation, alterations in force structure, and doctrinal development designed specifically to fight the Soviets. When applied, however, these improvements were deficient. As a consequence, Japanese staff officers carefully and meticulously studied the tactics of their battlefield operations in search of lessons applicable to future combined arms warfare. Before discussing their findings, however, a brief review of the military operations around Khalkhin-Gol is needed to convey the magnitude of the disaster that befell the IJA.