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Book Review
Air War Over Khalkhin Gol
The Nomonhan Incident
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by: Rowan Baylis [ MERLIN ]

Among the recent releases from SAM Publications is a fascinating account of the pre-WW2 Nomonhan Incident in which The Soviet Union and Japan clashed in a border dispute that, in hindsight, offered many revealing insights into the future conduct of each major power in the looming global conflict.

The author Vladimir Kotelnikov has delved deep into the archives of both Russia and Japan to produce an account that is both very readable, yet painstaking in its quest to unravel myth from fact in this relatively undocumented battle, that actually came far closer to all out war than I'd previously realised.

The softbound A-4 book has 112 pages printed on high quality glossy stock, and is profusely illustrated with period photos, most of which are completely new to me. The bias in the photographic coverage is towards the Soviet side, and although there are a few clearly posed "propaganda" shots, the bulk of the pictures give a remarkably candid view of life in the VVS in the primitive conditions of Mongolia.

The book breaks down into three main sections:
An historical account of the battle
Colour profiles of the aircraft of both sides
Appendices, including description of the participating aircraft

Historical overview
Vladimir Kotelnikov provides a well balanced account of the conflict as viewed from each side analyzing in considerable detail the makeup of the opposing forces. In particular, the author has been able to compare the operational records of both the VVS and IJA to paint a vivid day by day picture of the unfolding battle.

Along the way, he uncovers some fascinating information. For instance, while both sides took great pains to avoid the situation escalating (to the point where one Japanese general was actually sanctioned by his own side when his success was deemed too excessive!), the Soviets assembled a strategic bomber force ready to strike Tokyo. The raid was never mounted, but one can't help but wonder how it would have effected the future of the region...

The Nomonhan Incident provided a foretaste in miniature of the experiences of both the USSR and Japan in WW2. The VVS at first suffered very serious casualties, then steadily stabilized the situation, and finally overwhelmed their enemy. For the Japanese, the opposite was true: initially staggering successes gave way to a steady decline as the reserves of both experienced pilots and aircraft dwindled. Crucially, many of the most experienced IJA fighter leaders were lost, leaving less capable pilots to face an ever strengthening adversary.

The author's research really pays off in exposing some of the wildly exaggerated victory claims. Both sides were guilty, but Japanese pilots particularly so, with what the author diplomatically calls "heroic" tallies which are patently absurd in the cold clear light of hindsight.

Catastrophically for the Japanese command, not only were such claims were believed, but the size and effectiveness of the Soviet forces was constantly underestimated. Conversely, the VVS overestimated the enemy strength and prepared accordingly, so that when they finally went on the offensive they hugely outnumbered their Japanese opponents and simply overwhelmed them.

The 18-page centre section of the book contains 53 excellent colour profiles by Andrey Yurgenson. On the Soviet side there are: TB-3, R-6, I-153, SM 2, DC-3, I-15bis, I-16 and R-5. For the Japanese, there are: Ki-30, BR.20, Ki-15-I, Ki-21 and Ki-27 (there's a misprint in that both the Ki-30 and Ki-15-1 are captioned as Ki-10s). There are some very interesting colour schemes shown, not least the field-applied VVS camouflage including mottle- and squiggle-patterns (even on the DC3s), some of which will present fantastic modelling challenges.

To be honest, it hardly does it justice to label the final section of the book as "appendices". Far from being merely supplementary, the major portion is a series of very useful individual descriptions of the aircraft used by each side during the conflict. Ranging between 1-3 pages, depending on the aircraft, there's a concise summary of the development and service history. Backing up the text are a useful selection of photos, plus useful technical data.

Finally, there's a page of tables covering combat strengths and losses.

I found SAM Publications' "Air War Over Khalkhin Gol" an enjoyable and very informative read that should hold equal appeal for aviation enthusiasts and modellers alike. I really look forward to seeing future titles in the series. Highly recommended.

Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE.
Highs: Highly informative and very accessible text. Wide selection of rare photos. Excellent colour profiles.
Verdict: I found Vladimir Kotelnikov's book very engrossing, covering the Nomonhan Incident in great detail which is presented in an easy to read style. It's a great source of inspiration for future modelling projects.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: Other
  Mfg. ID: 978-1-906959-23-4
  Suggested Retail: 19.99
  PUBLISHED: Jan 06, 2011

Our Thanks to SAM Publications!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Rowan Baylis (Merlin)

I've been modelling for about 40 years, on and off. While I'm happy to build anything, my interests lie primarily in 1/48 scale aircraft. I mostly concentrate on WW2 subjects, although I'm also interested in WW1, Golden Age aviation and the early Jet Age - and have even been known to build the occas...

Copyright 2021 text by Rowan Baylis [ MERLIN ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


Appears to be an exciting book for those of us interested in the wars in the Far East, and "the wars between the wars." I know little about the Nomonhan Incident other than it had some of my favorite aircraft, i.e., the Ki-27.
JAN 07, 2011 - 12:27 AM

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