Khalkin-Gol Air Battles:

Ivan Krasnoyurchenko vs Taro Kobayashi

By Henry Sakaida

What I am about to reveal will interest those of you who are into the Khalkin-Gol air battles. This was a story that I researched from both sides (Russian and Japanese) and has never been told before. You are seeing it here for the first time.

It involved a face-to-face battle to the death between a Soviet and a Japanese fighter ace!


Hero of the Soviet Union Lt. Ivan Krasnoyourchenko

Ivan Ivanovich Krasnoyurcheko was born in 1910 in the Volgograd region of Russia in a peasant family. He completed his first year at the Leningrad Institute of Agriculture. In 1932, he joined the Communist Party, and in 1934, he was drafted into the Red Army. He was interested in a flying career, so he elected to attend flight school. When the Soviets entered the Khalkin-Gol fighting, Lt Krasnoyurchenko was transferred there and became the deputy commander of the 22nd Fighter Regiment.

Taro Kobayashi was born in the Tokyo area in 1915. He joined the army and was attached to a cavalry unit and fought against Chinese guerillas in Manchuria. He entered flight training and graduated in 1938.  Kobayashi went to Nomonhan (Khalkin-Gol) with the 2nd Chutai of the 11th Sentai (fighter regiment). His first combat occurred on 22 June 1939.

On 5 August 1939, Lt Ivan Krasnoyurchenko and his group of I-16s were attacked by Japanese Type 97 Nates over the Great Khingan Mountains. The Japanese pilots were from the 11th Sentai. One particular Nate latched onto Krasnoyurchenko, but his comrades came to his rescue and shot it down. Sgt/Maj Taro Kobayashi parachuted from the flaming aircraft.


Polikarpov I-16 in flight

Krasnoyurchenko wasn’t about to let his victim escape! He landed his plane to capture him! Landing a plane was very easy because of the flat features of the plains. There simply was no place to hide. After a marathon chase, the exhausted Japanese pilot stopped and fired three shots at his pursuer, but missed. He threw down his pistol and raised his arms in surrender. When the Soviet pilot was about 25 meters away, Kobayashi drew another pistol and fired two shots. Krasnoyurchenko returned fire and killed him; he took Kobayashi’s identity papers and pistol as proof of his encounter.


Nakajima Ki-27 fighter.

Krasnoyurchenko flew 111 missions at Khalkin-Gol, entered into 33 dogfights, made 45 ground assaults, and claimed 5 Japanese planes shot down. For his achievements in the campaign, Lt Krasnoyurchenko became a Hero of the Soviet Union on 17 November 1939.  He was active in the Great Patriotic War and added 3 German planes to his victory tally.  He retired as a major general and died in Kiev (Ukraine) in 1970.


11th Sentai at Harbin, Manchuria in early 1939. Sgt/Maj Taro Kobayashi, standing, 2nd from left.

As for Taro Kobayashi, he was written off as killed in action when he failed to return from his mission. According to Japanese records, “he was seen to shoot down two and then ram a third.” This was most likely an outright exaggeration; it was typical of unit commanders to attribute heroic deeds to those who died in combat, for the sake of the family. Kobayashi’s remains are still out there.

Henry Sakaida is a well respected historian and author. Some of his books can be found here:


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4 thoughts on “Khalkin-Gol Air Battles: Ivan Krasnoyurchenko vs Taro Kobayashi

  • Bill Getz says:

    What is particularly interesting to a former combat pilot is why the Russian would land to try and capture the Japanese pilot. What was he going to do with him after he captured him or was his objective to kill him? Probably but not very smart. He could have lost his plane and his life. I would have disciplined him had I been his commanding officer. But times were different and we are dealing with a whole different mindset from a very different culture.

  • Henry Sakaida says:

    Soviet pilots were given awards for the number of enemy aircraft shot down. Every Luftwaffe pilot wanted the Knight’s Cross. Every Soviet soldier wanted to become a Hero of the Soviet Union, which had tremendous and unique privileges in civilian life. On 20 August 1939, Japanese pilot, WO Bunji Yoshiyama, landed his plane when his opponent made a forced landing, shot him dead, and took the guy’s parachute, watch, identity papers, and his pistol as proof of his daring!

  • Richard Uno says:

    Thanks for that excellent article.
    I could not help but notice that several details described here differ from those provided by Krasnoyurchenko in a 1963 interview. First off, he identified his adversary as a squadron leader (which Kobayashi was not). According to K., the battle took place while he was intercepting Japanese bombers (no such raid on Aug 5th). Finally, he suggested that he only wounded his adversary who was then taken PoW by Tsirk horsemen.
    What is the source for the above account? Can we unambiguously identify Kobayashi as Krasnoyurchenko’s victim?

  • Henry Sakaida says:

    Thanks Richard for your input! I got the information from a Russian source other than, which says that he shot down a squadron leader which is in error. Izawa lists Kobayashi as the only JAAF loss that day, and Krasnoyerchenko shot down a Japanese plane that day, and reportedly landed and killed the pilot. If you find anything more, please feel free to publish your findings or leave a reply. A few years ago, my friend and I visited Kiev, and visited Krasnoyerchenko’s grave.

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