Battles with equal numbers of troops are difficult to find historically, and the often cited Battle(s) of Khalkin Gol where Japan fought the Soviet Union included such examples of lopsided troops and armor. Roughly 500 Soviet tanks and 800 aircraft went up against Japan’s 135 tanks and 200 aircraft during the Battle of Khalkin Gol / the Nomohan Incident. If there was a lesson to be learned by the Japanese in the victory of the Soviets, it was that the “loose cannon” Japanese commanders in Manchukuo dramatically underestimated Soviet armor numbers. It is difficult measure the value of the deployed Imperial Japanese armor and armored tactics of that time (1939) with such imbalanced numbers, even if the Japanese were able to score some temporary gains.
Rather than limiting players to the already explored Battle(s) of Khalkin Gol, gamers and developers should consider a game depicting the Battle of Lake Khasan, another one of the Japan-Soviet Border wars in 1938. While it similarly had the Japanese outnumbered, this time with 22,000 Russian troops versus 7,000 Japanese, the Japanese were still able to make a stunning, if temporary, win that is suitable for a Japan-centric (Japanese player) ground forces campaign against Soviets, or perhaps more importantly, for a match where either side could conceivably “win.” This scenario can be an entry point in a campaign to precede a Khalkin Gol scenario, further allowing the re-use of already developed Soviet and Japanese game assets / units.
Noteworthy is the fact that the Soviets used their eventual win and lives of soldiers lost at Lake Khasan in propaganda of the time much more than the battle at Khalkin Gol, perhaps since Laka Khasan was within Soviet Territory (while Khalkin Gol was in Mongolia).
The totality of individual Soviet-Japanese border conflicts include the locations: Lake Khasan, Halhamiao, Orahodoga, Tauran, Kanchazu Island, and the decisive battle at Khalkhin Gol.
Battle of Lake Khasan History:
In the summer of 1938, a major battle erupted at Lake Khasan, 70 miles southwest of Vladivostok at the intersection of the Manchukuoan, Korean, and Soviet borders.
The conflict started on July 15, 1938 when the Japanese 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 first Japanese attack on July 29 was repelled, but on July 31 the Soviet troops had to retreat. 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).
One of the Japanese Army Commanders at the battle was Colonel Kotoku Sato, the commander of the 75th Infantry Regiment. Sato’s forces expelled Russian troops from the Changkufeng hill in a nighttime sortie, the execution of which became a Japanese model for assaults on fortified positions.
For game purposes, it is suggested that the Nighttime Attack on the Soviet-fortified Changkufeng Hill be the focus of this scenario on one side of the map, while Japanese under another commander orchestrate frontal assaults with light and medium tanks (units detailed below) along the rolling plains near the lake. These were met by a wave of Russian T-26 tanks and artillery counter-attacks. The Russians also had powerful (for their time) anti-tank guns at their disposal for defense, and the Japanese advancing armor was relatively thin, making it a tough battle for the Japanese to win there. The Japanese armor should serve as a delaying support move to prevent Soviet armor from rushing to the defense of the mostly infantry battle at Changkufeng Hill.
Colonel Kotoku Sato
Participating Armored Units:
Among other armored vehicles that supported the various , here are the tanks documented or though other evidence most likely involved with the Battle of Lake Khasan. Any of these could be used, but the Soviets should have multiple T-26 tanks and BA Armored cars at the bare minimum, with the rest being optional. The Japanese should have a few Type92 Heavy Armored Vehicles (Late) and Type89 I-Go Otsu Medium Tanks at a bare minimum.
Soviet Armored Vehicles:
T-26 Light Tanks Model 1931 with twin turrets armed with DT tank machine guns.
BT-7 Fast Tanks
T-26 Model 1933 Tanks, armed with a normal tank gun.
OT-26 Flame Tanks, flame tank versions of the T-26.
GAZ AAA 6×4 Trucks, three axle version of GAZ anti-air truck.
T-28A early model 1933 with short barreled, low velocity gun. Retrofitted with the 1934 turret basket, rear ball mount and AA mount. It also has the “horseshoe” radio type antenna on turret.
BA-6 Armored Cars
BA-10 Armored Cars
Japanese Armored Vehicles:
Type79 Ko Gata, French FT-17 equipped with Japanese MG and 37mm infantry gun.
Type89 I-Go Otsu, Possible presence of I-Go Kou models as well.
Type92 Heavy Armored Vehicle
Type97 Chi Ha (Early)
Type95 Ha-Go “Hokuman” ver.
Type92 Ni-Ku Primemover w/ Type89 15cm Cannon towed artillery.
Type92 Chiyoda Armored Car (would remain closer to roads due to poor-off road performance -reduced speed/mobility off road)
Type91 Broad Gauge Rail Tractor
*Some suggest that one of the Experimental Type 91-95 Heavy Tank prototypes was field tested in one of the Soviet-Japanese border wars, and a unit could be used to counter the T-28A in an “even” match. Fairy makes a 1/72 resin model of a Type95 Heavy Tank that could be used for 20mm tabletop wargaming.
Soviet T-26 miniatures from a Flames of War tabletop wargame simulation of the Battle of Lake Khasan
Japanese air support was primarily in the form of Ki-27 “Nate” fighters, Ki-32 and Ki-30 light bombers, Ki-21 medium bombers, and older Ki-10 fighters
Soviet air support included Polikarpov R-5 light bombers, TB-3 Heavy Bombers, plus I-153, I-16, and I-15 fighters.
It is noteworthy that the still relatively new Nakajima Ki-27 was proven superior during these battles including the Battles of Khalkin Gol, and nearly the entire production run from Nakajima was claimed for use at Nomohan at the time. The top-scoring pilot of the Nomohan incident and top-scoring IJAAF pilot on the Ki-27 and overall World War II IJAAF ace was Warrant Officer Hiromichi Shinohara, who claimed 58 Soviet planes (including an IJAAF record of 11 in one day) whilst flying Ki-27s, only to be shot down himself by a number of I-16s on 27 August 1939.
Rules, Figures, and Game Engines: The recent introduction of rules and figures from Flames of War and Bolt Action can accommodate the Battle of Lake Khasan with supplements such as Rising Sun. Kickstarter has even sponsored a project for “Tanks of Manchuria” to produce 28mm resin figures, and GHQ has “Bunker Boxes” it sells with full 6mm teams of armor and infantry for both Japan and the Soviet Union at cheap prices.
The free to play MMO game War Thunder currently offers a handful of Nomohan scenarios for play, but the proper ground and air units have yet to make it into the game, and games with historically incorrect units prevail. Still, the groundwork has been laid for introduction of proper units for both sides.
Why the Battle of Lake Khasan?
Air and armor battles between the Japanese and Soviet Union hold great appeal to wargamers (any tabletop wargamer would look with some interest at the idea of placing his set of painted Soviet troops and armor against a Japanese army), and available historical campaigns and scenarios with Japan and the Soviet union facing off against one another are limited.
Note: Some confusion may exist within casual gaming circles between the Battle at Nomohan and the Battle of Lake Khasan, with the taking of one specific fortified Changkufeng Hill (aka Zaozyornaya hills) attributed to the battle at Nomohan. This should be avoided. Confusion may come from a similar event where the Japanese succeeded in crossing the Khalkin Gol, driving the Soviets from Baintsagan Hill, and advancing south along the west bank. In that case, the Soviets launched a counterattack with 450 tanks and armored cars and forced the Japanese infantry to withdraw while their armor was occupied elsewhere.
Japanese tow a Soviet BT Armored Car captured during the Japanese-Soviet Border Wars