Battle of Lake Khasan

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Battle of Lake Khasan
Part of the Soviet–Japanese border conflicts
Lieutenant I.N. Moshlyak and two Soviet soldiers on Zaozyornaya Hill after the battle[1][2]
Date July 29 – August 11, 1938
Location Lake Khasan, Soviet Union
Result Military stalemate, ceasefire,[3] USSR reoccupies Changkufeng[4]
USSR-Korean border set at Tumen River[5]
 Soviet Union

 Empire of Japan

Commanders and leaders
Soviet Union Vasily Blyukher
Soviet Union Nikolai Berzarin
Soviet Union Grigori Shtern
Empire of Japan Suetaka Kamezo
Empire of Japan Kotoku Sato
22,950 troops[6]
345 tanks
13 self-propelled guns
237 artillery pieces
250 aircraft (including 180 bombers)[7]
7,000–7,300 troops[8]
37 artillery pieces[7]
Casualties and losses
792 killed and missing
3,279 wounded and sick[9]
46+ tanks destroyed or crippled
526 killed
916 wounded[10]

The Battle of Lake Khasan (July 29, 1938 – August 11, 1938) and also known as the Changkufeng Incident (Russian: Хасанские бои, Chinese and Japanese: 張鼓峰事件; Chinese Pinyin: Zhānggǔfēng Shìjiàn; Japanese Romaji: Chōkohō Jiken) in China and Japan, was an attempted military incursion by Manchukuo (Japanese) into the territory claimed by the Soviet Union. This incursion was founded in the belief of the Japanese side that the Soviet Union misinterpreted the demarcation of the boundary based on the Treaty of Peking between Imperial Russia and the Qing Dynasty China (and subsequent supplementary agreements on demarcation), and furthermore, that the demarcation markers were tampered with.


For most of the first half of the twentieth century there was considerable tension between the Russian (later Soviet), Chinese and Japanese governments along their common borders in what is now North East China. The Chinese Eastern Railway or (CER) was a railway in northeastern China (Manchuria). It connected China and the Russian Far East. The southern branch of the CER, known in the West as the South Manchuria Railway, became the locus and partial casus belli for the Russo-Japanese War and subsequent incidents leading to the Second Sino-Japanese War, and a series of Soviet-Japanese Border Wars. Larger incidents included the Sino-Soviet conflict of 1929 and the Mukden Incident between Japan and China in 1931. The battle of Lake Khasan was fought between two powers which had long mistrusted each other.

The confrontation was triggered when the Soviet Far East Army and Soviet State Security (NKVD) Border Guard reinforced its Khasan border with Manchuria. This was prompted in part by the famous defection one month before of Soviet General G.S. Lyushkov, in charge of all NKVD forces in the Soviet Far East at Hunchun, located in the heart of the Tumen River Area. He provided the Japanese with critical intelligence on the poor state of Soviet Far Eastern forces and the wholesale purge of army officers.[11]


On July 6, 1938 the Japanese Kwantung Army intercepted and decoded a message sent by the Russian commander in the Posyet region to Soviet headquarters in Khabarovsk. The message recommended that Russian soldiers be allowed to secure previously unoccupied high ground west of Lake Khasan, most notably the disputed Changkufeng Heights, because it would be advantageous for the Soviets to occupy terrain which overlooked the Korean port-city of Rajin, as well as strategic railways linking Korea to Manchuria.[12] Within the next two weeks, small groups of Soviet border troops then moved into the area and began fortifying the mountain, constructing emplacements, observation trenches, entanglements, and communications facilities.

At first, the Japanese Korean Army, which had been assigned to defend the area, disregarded the Soviet advance. However, the Kwantung Army, whose administrative jurisdiction overlapped Changkufeng, pushed the Korean Army to take more action because it was suspicious of Soviet intentions. Following this, the Korean Army took the matter to Tokyo, recommending that a formal protest be sent to the USSR.

The conflict started on July 15, when the Japanese attaché in Moscow demanded the removal of Soviet border troops from the Bezymyannaya (сопка Безымянная, Chinese name: Shachaofeng) and Zaozyornaya (сопка Заозёрная, Chinese name: Changkufeng) Hills to the west of Lake Khasan in the south of Primorye, not far from Vladivostok, claiming this territory by the Soviet–Korea border. The demand was rejected.


The Japanese 19th Division along with some Manchukuo units took on the Soviet 39th Rifle Corps under Grigori Shtern (eventually consisting of the 32nd, 39th, and 40th Rifle Divisions, as well as the 2nd Mechanised Brigade and two separate take battalions).[13] One of the Japanese Army Commanders at the battle was Colonel Kotoku Sato, the commander of the 75th Infantry Regiment. Lieutenant General Suetaka Kamezo gave Sato an order: "You are to mete out a firm and thorough counterattack without fail, once you gather that the enemy is advancing even in the slightest". The hidden meaning of this was that Sato had been ordered to expel the Soviets from Changkufeng.[14]

On Jul 31, Sato's regiment launched a night sortie on the fortified hill. In the Changkufeng sector, 1,114 Japanese engaged a Soviet garrison of 300, eliminating them and knocking out 10 tanks, while taking casualties of 34 killed and 99 wounded themselves. In the Shachofeng sector, 379 Japanese surprised and routed another 300 Soviet troops, while knocking out 7 tanks, and suffering 11 killed and 34 wounded in the process.[15] After this, thousands more Japanese soldiers from the 19th division arrived, dug in, and requested reinforcements. High Command rejected the request, as they knew General Suetaka would use these forces to aggressively assault vulnerable Soviet positions, thus causing an unwanted escalation. The Japanese troops instead settled for defending the disputed area.[16]

The Soviets gathered 354 tanks and assault guns at Lake Khasan by this time, including 257 T-26 tanks (with 10 KhT-26 flame-throwing tanks), 3 ST-26 bridge-laying tanks, 81 BT-7 light tanks, and 13 SU-5-2 self-propelled guns.[17] In 1933, the Japanese designed and built a "Rinji Soko Ressha" (Special Armoured Train). The train was deployed at "2nd Armoured Train Unit" in Manchuria and participated in the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Changkufeng conflict against the Soviets transporting thousands of Japanese troops to and from the battlefield, displaying to the West the capability of an Asian nation to adopt and implement Western ideas and doctrine concerning rapid infantry deployment and transportation.[citation needed] On 31 July, People's Commissar for Defence Kliment Voroshilov ordered combat readiness for 1st Coastal Army; Pacific Fleet was mobilized as well.

The chief of the Far East Front, Vasily Blücher, arrived at the front line on August 2, 1938. Under his command additional forces were moved to the zone of conflict and from August 2–9 the Japanese forces at Changkufeng were subjected to very heavy attacks. Such was the disparity of forces that one Japanese artillery commander observed that the Soviets fired more shells in one day than the Japanese did in the entire two-week affair.[18] Despite this, the Japanese defenders organized an effective anti-tank defense, with disastrous results for the poorly coordinated Soviets; the Soviet assaults were repeatedly beaten back with heavy casualties. Thousands of Soviet troops were killed or wounded, and at least 9 tanks were destroyed and 76 damaged to varying degrees.[19]

Despite repelling the Soviet thrusts, it was clear that the local Japanese units would not be able to keep Changkufeng without widening the conflict.[20] On August 10, Japanese ambassador Mamoru Shigemitsu asked for peace.[21][22] Satisfied that the incident had been brought to an "honorable" conclusion[23] on August 11, 1938, in 13 hours 30 minutes of local time the Japanese stopped fighting and Soviet forces reoccupied the heights.[24]


More than 6500 Soviet officers and soldiers were awarded the orders, decorations, and medals of the Soviet Union[25] (26 of them were awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union,[21] and 95 were awarded the Order of Lenin[26]).

Soviet losses totaled 792 killed/missing and 3,279 wounded, according to their own records, and the Japanese claimed to have destroyed or immobilized 96 enemy tanks, and destroyed 30 artillery pieces. Regardless of whether or not these claims were true, Soviet armored losses were significant, with dozens of tanks being crippled or destroyed, and hundreds of "tank troops" becoming casualties. Japanese casualties, as revealed by secret Army General Staff statistics, totaled 1,439 casualties (526 killed/missing, 913 wounded); the Soviets however claimed Japanese losses of 3,100 (600 killed, 2,500 wounded).[27] The Soviet losses were blamed on the incompetence of Vasily Blücher. On October 22 he was arrested by the NKVD and later thought to have been tortured to death.[28]

The Japanese military, while seriously analyzing the results of the battle, would later engage with the Soviets once more, with disastrous results, in the more extensive Battle of Khalkhin Gol (Nomonhan) in the Soviet-Japanese Border War of 1939. This second engagement resulted in the defeat of the Japanese Sixth Army.

Following the end of World War II, at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in 1946, thirteen high-ranking Japanese officials were charged with crimes against peace for their roles in initiating hostilities at Lake Khasan.[29]

See also


  1. Хасанский конфликт // "Военно-исторический журнал", № 7, 2013 (последняя страница обложки)
  2. "Над Заозёрной - красный флаг Советского Союза... Этот флаг водрузил наш земляк, уроженец Алтайского края И.Н. Мошляк. Вскоре его грудь украсила Золотая Звезда Героя Советского Союза"
    В пламени и славе. Очерки истории Краснознамённого Сибирского военного округа. / редколл., предс. Б. Е. Пьянков. 2-е изд., испр. и доп. Новосибирск, Новосибирское кн. изд-во, 1988. стр.61
  3. Military History Online Retrieved Sept. 14, 2015
  4. История Китая с древнейших времён до начала XXI века (в 10 томах). Том VII. Китайская республика (1912 - 1949). колл. авт., гл. ред. С. Л. Тихвинский. М., «Наука - Восточная литература». 2013. стр.395-399
  5. Goldman, Stuart (2012). Nomonhan, 1939: The Red Army's Victory that Shaped World War II. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-61-251098-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. General-Lieutenant G.F.KRIVOSHEYEV (1993). "SOVIET ARMED FORCES LOSSES IN WARS,COMBAT OPERATIONS MILITARY CONFLICTS" (PDF). MOSCOW MILITARY PUBLISHING HOUSE. p. 65. Retrieved 2015-06-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 Millet and Murray (2010). Military Effectiveness. Cambridge University Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-52-142589-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Alvin Coox, Nomonhan (Stanford University Press, 2003), p. 135
  9. General-Lieutenant G.F.KRIVOSHEYEV (1993). "SOVIET ARMED FORCES LOSSES IN WARS,COMBAT OPERATIONS MILITARY CONFLICTS" (PDF). MOSCOW MILITARY PUBLISHING HOUSE. p. 65. Retrieved 2015-06-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Battle of Lake Khasan" Retrieved 15 Sept. 2015.
  11. Regional CO-Operation in Northeast Asia The Tumen River Area Development Program, 1990-2000: In Search of a model for regional economic co-operation in Northeast Asia
  12. Alvin Coox, Nomonhan (Stanford University Press, 2003), p. 124
  13. John Erickson (historian), The Soviet High Command, MacMillan & Co. Ltd, 1962, p.497–8
  14. Alvin Coox, Nomonhan (Stanford University Press, 2003), p. 133
  15. Alvin Coox, Nomonhan (Stanford University Press, 2003), p. 133-134
  16. Alvin Coox, Nomonhan (Stanford University Press, 2003), p. 137
  17. Baryatinsky, Mikhail. Legkiy tank T-26 (Light Tank T-26). Modelist-Konstruktor. Special Issue No. 2 (2003), pp. 45–46
  18. Alvin Coox, Nomonhan (Stanford University Press, 2003), p. 135
  19. Baryatinsky, Mikhail. Legkiy tank T-26 (Light Tank T-26). Modelist-Konstruktor. Special Issue No. 2 (2003), pp. 45–46. These tanks were all T-26s; casualties to other Soviet tank types are unknown. Of the 76 damaged tanks, 39 were restored in tank units. The other 37 were knocked out and repaired in workshop conditions.
  20. Military History Online Retrieved Sept. 14, 2015
  21. 21.0 21.1 Хасан // Советская военная энциклопедия (в 8 томах) / под ред. А. А. Гречко. том 8. М.: Воениздат, 1976. стр.366—367
  22. А. А. Кошкин. «Кантокуэн» — «Барбаросса» по-японски. Почему Япония не напала на СССР. М., «Вече», 2011. стр.51-57
  23. Goldman, Stuart (2012). Nomonhan, 1939: The Red Army's Victory that Shaped World War II. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-61-251098-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. О событиях в районе озера Хасан // "Известия", № 187 (6654) от 12 августа 1938. стр.1
  25. Хасан // Советская историческая энциклопедия / редколл., гл. ред. Е.М. Жуков. том 15. М., государственное научное издательство "Советская энциклопедия", 1974. стр.543
  26. 50 лет Вооружённым силам СССР, 1918 — 1968. / редколл., отв. ред. М. В. Захаров. М., Воениздат, 1968. стр.219-220
  27. Alvin Coox, Nomonhan (Stanford University Press, 2003), p. 136
  28. Great Russian Encyclopedia (2005), Moscow: Bol'shaya Rossiyskaya enciklopediya Publisher, vol. 3, p. 618.
  29. See count 25 of the IMTFE indictment, available at


  • Coox, Alvin D. The Anatomy of a Small War: The Soviet-Japanese Struggle for Changkufeng/Khasan, 1938. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977. ISBN 0-8371-9479-2

External links

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