Battle of Lake Khasan

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Battle of Lake Khasan
Part of the Soviet–Japanese border conflicts
Battle of Lake Khasan-Red Army soldiers setting the flag on the Zaozernaya Hill.jpg
Lieutenant I. N. Moshlyak and two Soviet soldiers on Zaozernaya Hill after the battle. [1] [2]
Date29 July–11 August 1938
Result Ceasefire [3]

Soviets reoccupy Changkufeng after the Japanese withdrawal following a peaceful diplomatic settlement. [4]

Soviet-Japanese border set at the


Tumen River [5]
Flag of the Soviet Union (1936-1955).svg  Soviet Union

Merchant flag of Japan (1870).svg  Japan

Commanders and leaders
22,950 [6] [7]
354 tanks
13 self-propelled guns
237 artillery pieces
70 fighters
180 bombers [8]
7,000–7,300 [9] [7]
37 artillery pieces [8]
Casualties and losses
792 killed & missing
3,279 wounded [10]
46+ tanks destroyed
(Soviet sources) [11]
96 tanks destroyed or crippled
(Japanese sources) [12]
526 killed [13]
913 wounded [14]

The Battle of Lake Khasan (29 July – 11 August 1938), 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, a Japanese puppet state, into the territory claimed and controlled by the Soviet Union. That incursion was founded in the Japanese belief that the Soviet Union had misinterpreted the demarcation of the boundary based on the Treaty of Peking between Imperial Russia and Qing China (and subsequent supplementary agreements on demarcation) and that the demarcation markers were tampered with. Japanese forces occupied the disputed area but withdrew after heavy fighting and a diplomatic settlement. [15] [7]


For most of the first half of the twentieth century, there was considerable tension among the Russian (later Soviet), Chinese and Japanese governments, along their common borders in what became North East China. The Chinese Eastern Railway (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 Soviet-Japanese border conflicts. 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.

Starting in the lead up to the battle a wave of purges in the far eastern front had caused many officers in the Soviet army to be new inexperienced officers who feared to take the initiative, in July alone four and a half times as many people were purged from the front as in the previous twelve months. [7] This in combination with a lack of infrastructure, the overburdening of the front's commander, Marshal Vasily Blyukher (or Blücher), a shortage of equipment, and poor organization led to the front being in poor shape. [7]

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 defection one month before, of Soviet General G. S. Lyushkov, in charge of all NKVD forces in the Soviet Far East at Hunchun, in the Tumen River Area. He provided the Japanese with intelligence on the poor state of Soviet Far Eastern forces and the purge of army officers. [16]


Camouflaged Soviet tanks Battle of Lake Khasan-Camouflaged soviet tanks.jpg
Camouflaged Soviet tanks

On 6 July 1938, the Japanese Kwantung Army decoded a message sent by the Soviet commander in the Posyet region to Soviet headquarters in Khabarovsk. The message recommended that Soviet soldiers be allowed to secure 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. [17] In the next two weeks, small groups of Soviet border troops moved into the area and began fortifying the mountain with emplacements, observation trenches, entanglements and communication 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 Soviet Union.

The conflict started on 15 July, 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, the 2nd Mechanised Brigade and two tank battalions). [18] 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. [19]

On 31 July, 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, with casualties of 34 killed and 99 wounded. In the Shachofeng sector, 379 Japanese surprised and routed another 300 Soviet troops, while knocking out 7 tanks, for 11 killed and 34 wounded. [20] 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 assault vulnerable Soviet positions, escalating the incident. Japanese troops defended the disputed area. [21] In 1933, the Japanese had 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 implement western ideas and doctrine concerning rapid infantry deployment and transport.[ citation needed ]

On 31 July, People's Commissar for Defence Kliment Voroshilov ordered combat readiness for 1st Coastal Army and the Pacific Fleet. The Soviets gathered 354 tanks and assault guns at Lake Khasan, 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. [22] The chief of the Far East Front, Vasily Blücher, arrived at the front line on 2 August 1938. Under his command, additional forces were moved up and from August 2–9, the Japanese forces at Changkufeng were attacked. 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 two-week affair. [9] Despite this, the Japanese defenders organized an anti-tank defense, with disastrous results for the poorly coordinated Soviets, whose attacks were defeated with many casualties. Thousands of Soviet troops were killed or wounded and at least 46 (or 45 unoperational because of gun fire and getting stuck in the marshes or damaged or 80 of which 24 completely destroyed [7] ) tanks were knocked out, with another 39 damaged to varying degrees. [23]

After the Japanese pushed the Soviet border security unit, later reinforced by the 40th rifle division, from the hill and other positions the Japanese dug in while the Soviets reinforced their troops. [7] Unlike the Japanese the Soviets didn't have a railway close to the battlefield but instead a single unpaved road so when Soviet reinforcements got to the battlefield the Japanese were already well entrenched. [7] The Soviets had attacked Japanese positions by air during the preparations for a ground attack. [7] On the morning before the Soviet attack, thirteen Soviet aircraft attacked the hill and twelve the rear of the Japanese forces, even though this isn't documented by all sources. [7] This was followed by an attack of three Soviet infantry regiments however this attack didn't have artillery or air support, either because of poor preparations or in the case of air support possibly fog. [7] Some sources however do claim that two artillery batteries supported the attack. [7] The attack was supported by a tank regiment but regardless it soon stalled. [7] This was largely due to the low preparedness of the Soviet troops. [7] Some of the artillery was not ready, little was known of the Japanese dispositions, communications had not fully been set up and the left wing was not ready to start the attack at the appointed time. [7] Despite the poor state of the Soviet force and the knowledge that the enemy was well entrenched the attack was ordered to go ahead. [7] The tank crews had not been prepared for the hostile terrain so they weren't able to keep up the momentum. [7] During the attack a number of commanders including the commander of the 40th rifle division's tank battalion abandoned their troops. [7]

On August 6 the Soviets renewed their attack. [7] First multiple waves of bombers attacked the Japanese positions. [7] This attack was delayed either because of fog or poor preparations. [7] After the bombers an assault by tanks and infantry, including mechanized troops, supported by artillery was made. [7] In the difficult terrain the tanks suffered heavy losses, only individual tanks made it to their objectives, all of which were destroyed or retreated later. [7] During the attack an outflanking movement was made. [7] The Soviets pushed back the Japanese after heavy fighting, the subsequent days the Japanese counterattacked but were unable to recapture their positions. [7]

The Japanese were pushed back by the Soviet attacks but were still on the battlefield. [7] Despite not being forced off the battlefield, it was clear that the local Japanese units would not be able to keep Changkufeng without widening the conflict. [15] [7] On 10 August, Japanese ambassador Mamoru Shigemitsu asked for peace. [24] [25] Satisfied that the incident had been brought to an "honourable" conclusion, on 11 August 1938, at 13 hours 30 minutes local time the Japanese stopped fighting and Soviet forces reoccupied the heights. [26] [27]


Red Army soldiers celebrate after the Battle of Lake Khasan. Soviet soldiers celebrate after the Battle of Lake Khasan.jpg
Red Army soldiers celebrate after the Battle of Lake Khasan.

More than 6,500 Soviet officers and soldiers were awarded the orders, decorations, and medals of the Soviet Union; [28] 26 of them were awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, [24] and 95 were awarded the Order of Lenin. [29]

Soviet losses totalled 792 killed or missing and 3,279 wounded, according to their records and the Japanese claimed to have destroyed or immobilized 96 enemy tanks and 30 guns. Soviet armoured losses were significant, with dozens of tanks being knocked out or destroyed and hundreds of "tank troops" becoming casualties. Japanese casualties, as revealed by secret Army General Staff statistics, were 1,439 casualties (526 killed or missing, 913 wounded); the Soviets claimed Japanese losses of 3,100, with 600 killed and 2,500 wounded. [30] The Soviets concluded that this was because of poor communications infrastructure and roads as well as the loss of unit conference due to poor organization, headquarters and commanders and a lack of combat supply units. [7] The faults in the Soviet army and leadership at Khasan were blamed on the incompetence of Marshal Blyukher. [7] Vasily Blyukher, apart from leading the troops into action at Khasan, was also supposed to oversee the trans-Baikal military district's and the far eastern fronts move to combat readiness using an administrative apparatus that delivered army group, army and corps level instructions to the 40th rifle division by accident. [7] On 22 October, he was arrested by the NKVD [7] and is thought to have been tortured to death. [31]

The Japanese military, while seriously analyzing the results of the battle, engaged with the Soviets once more, with disastrous results, in the more extensive Battle of Khalkhin Gol (Nomonhan) in the Soviet-Japanese border conflict of 1939. This second engagement resulted in the defeat of the Japanese Sixth Army. After 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. [32]

See also

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Further reading

Coordinates: 42°26′09.26″N130°36′39.62″E / 42.4359056°N 130.6110056°E / 42.4359056; 130.6110056