Choibalsan is the capital of Dornod province. (Mongolian: Чойбалсан) and the fourth-largest city in Mongolia. The name of the city was Bayan Tu'men (Баян Түмэн) until 1941, when it was renamed after the communist leader Khorloogiin Choibalsan. The city administrative unit's official name is Kherlen sum, with area of 281 km2. It is situated at the Kherlen River, at an elevation of 747 m above sea level.
The location has been a post on a trading route for centuries. In the 19th century it grew into a city, and became the economic hub of eastern Mongolia in the twentieth century. After democratization in 1992, when the Russian workers left, large parts of the economy collapsed. Since then, the city has suffered from one of the highest unemployment rates in Mongolia.
The battle of Khalkhin Gol
An important battle was fought near the city in 1939, and the G.K. Zhukov Museum, in the town, is named for the Russian General who won it. Georgy Zhukov is famous mainly for actions during the Second World War, first commanding the defense of Stalingrad and then commanding part of the Red Army as it rolled west. However his first great victory, the one that put him on the road to senior command, was here. There is another Zhukov museum in Ulaanbaatar, commemorating the same victory, and a small one on the battlefield itself, but the one in Choibalsan is the main one.
In the late thirties, "Manchukuo" (Manchuria) was a Japanese puppet state and Mongolia was very much in the Soviet sphere of influence; there was a series of border clashes. These ended when Zhukov, commanding a mainly Soviet force with some Mongolian troops, inflicted a severe defeat on Japanese forces.
Fighting around the Khalkhin River (Khalkhin Gol in Mongolian) started in May 1939, the Japanese made a major push in July but it was beaten back, and the decisive Soviet counter attack began on August 20. This was not a small battle; each side had tens of thousands of troops involved. Nor were they lightly armed; both sides had tanks, aircraft and artillery in play. The Japanese government admitted losing over 17,000 killed or wounded; the Soviets initially claimed to have inflicted 29,085 casualties on the Japanese, but later increased this to 61,000 for the official histories. The Japanese 23rd Infantry Division (about 20,000 men) was surrounded and overwhelmed; all its men were either killed or captured.
This battle is not well-known in the West, but it was rather important since the crushing defeat greatly affected Japanese strategy. Khalkin Gol effectively settled a faction fight within the Japanese High Command over how best to expand their empire:
- "strike north" — expand into resource-rich Siberia and Mongolia, fighting only the Russians
- "strike south" — expand into South East Asia, fighting both the US and the British Empire
Before Khalkin Gol, the choice between those strategies was up in the air; afterward the idea of striking south dominated Japanese thinking. This made an enormous difference in the course of the war; arguably choosing to strike south was the High Command's greatest blunder. In particular, choosing that course made war with the US inevitable and led quite directly to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
It is of course impossible to tell, but it is at least conceivable that Japan might have done much better either by persisting with the strike north strategy or by avoiding war with either the Russians or the English-speaking powers, and just settling down to consolidate the enormous gains they had made in Korea and China in the 1930s.
The battle may also have affected events further west; Hitler and Stalin signed a non-aggression pact on 24 August 1939, just after Khalkin Gol, and Germany invaded Poland one week later starting World War II in Europe. Russia and Japan signed a ceasefire on 15 September, and two days later Russian troops moved into Poland.
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Like most of Mongolia, the region is hot in summer but very cold in winter.
The city is served by Choibalsan Airport, which has a concrete runway and a new passenger terminal built in 2001. There is international service to Hailar and Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia, China and domestic flights to Ulaanbaatar.
- Hunnu Air (Building of Golomt bank /service center/), ☎ (Ulaanbaatar), (Choibalsan). Recently changed its name from Mongolian Airlines. Flights to Ulaanbaatar on Mon, Wed, and Sat, and to Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia, China twice a week.
By Intercity Bus. Buses leave daily from the Eastern Bus Terminal in UB at 08:00 and arrive in Choilbalsan at 23:00. These are old Russian buses since part of the road is unmaintained dirt. Stops to eat twice on the way. Stops a few more times at small stores where you can buy drinks, candy etc. The Bus Terminal is about 10km east of the center of Ulaanbaatar. Return buses leave at 8pm from Choibalsan. You need to buy a ticket a day or two in advance. The ticket is for an exact seat by number.
- Buriad Hotel (Located on the square), ☎ . Chadanguud Restaurant is in the lobby, and free wifi in the rooms. Also has a sauna.