Japan launches Kantokuen - British DoW?

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Japan launches Kantokuen - British DoW?

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 18 May 2020 22:54

Not sure if this is a What If but I'll put it here first.

Suppose Japan launches Kantokuen, the attack on the Soviet Far East for which it built up extensively during summer/fall '41. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kantokuen [the wiki article has great cites from Coox's authoritative work on the subject].

This eventuality must have been discussed in the war cabinet at some point.

What was the British position in this event? Would they have declared war on Japan as they did on Finnland, Romania, and Hungary? Concededly there was some lag between Finnland's attack and British DoW, but Britain had a lot more sympathy for the Finns and little for the Japanese Empire. I'm guessing Romania and Hungary benefited from the Finnish case as to declare war on them and not Finnland would be baldly hypocritical.

Depending on what the primary docs tell us, I could see a British DoW on Japan in Fall '41 having salutary effects on the Pacific war. With active hostilities at sea, Japan probably can't/won't do Pearl Harbor. That probably postpones American entry and recasts its entry as aggressive, leading to lower public support and probably lower levels of mobilization.

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Re: Japan launches Kantokuen - British DoW?

Post by T. A. Gardner » 20 May 2020 02:12

The best move the British could make is simply end all exports to Japan and get the US and DEI to do likewise. Suddenly Japan's economy has like six months to a year before it collapses and the Japanese are embroiled in a war with the Soviet Union they have zero chance of winning. The British can sit back laughing and pointing at the stupidity of the Japanese leadership.

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Re: Japan launches Kantokuen - British DoW?

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 20 May 2020 03:27

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
18 May 2020 22:54
Not sure if this is a What If but I'll put it here first.

Suppose Japan launches Kantokuen, the attack on the Soviet Far East for which it built up extensively during summer/fall '41. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kantokuen [the wiki article has great cites from Coox's authoritative work on the subject].
T. A. Gardner wrote:
20 May 2020 02:12
The best move the British could make is simply end all exports to Japan and get the US and DEI to do likewise. Suddenly Japan's economy has like six months to a year before it collapses and the Japanese are embroiled in a war with the Soviet Union they have zero chance of winning. The British can sit back laughing and pointing at the stupidity of the Japanese leadership.
Since the Brits were already getting in synch with the US Embargo planning & execution its not much of a change. Beyond that the Brits were using available military material for their own war & had little interest in selling much to Japan. Neither did they have much in the way of credit to extend to cash strapped Japan. The impending US asset freeze threatened to leave Japan with negligible ability to pay for anything.

This OP leaves out any change in the Japanese occupation of French Indo China. Japanese pressure on the French government started 19 June 1940 with demands for cessation of arms shipments to the hostile Chinese government via FIA, and the entry of a Japanese army inspection team. Japanese demands accelerated thru Octoberber 1940 when a agreements allowed the entry and passage through the Red River region of 40,000+ Japanese soldiers. Eventually a complete occupation of FIC with 140,000 soldiers& naval personnel in the summer of 1941 resulted in the US Freezing of Japanese assets in the US (shutting Japan off from the US/British banking system & thus from global trade).

The preparations and decision for execution of operation Kantokuen ran parallel to the FIC occupation & US decision for the asset freeze & embargos. So unless the FIC occupation is scaled back the embargo are going to occur anyway.

Even if there is no FIC occupation and no Southern strategy for Japan the US is very likely to try a embargo or similar in response to a Japanese attack on the USSR. Too often the politics of that era are colored by the Cold War lens. In 1941 the USSR was not the uber enemy of the US and the Bolshevik bogeyman was the concern of the DuPonts, Rockafellers & the remaining middle-class in the US. That the US Isolationist movement lost a significant part of its political component on or about 22 June 1941 suggests a greater sympathy for the USSR than many folks consider. There was also the matter of Roosevelts government jumping on selling arms to the USSR in the summer of 1941 & underwriting loans to the Soviet Union to help pay for that. Despite opposition from the anti Communist faction Congress did extend Lend Lease to the USSR in November 1941. Consider: The US was willing to risk destruction of the economy of its largest Asian trading partner over 140,000 soldiers in FIC. Would it really be uninterested in taking similar action over 1,400,000 soldiers invading a important opponent of Germany?

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Re: Japan launches Kantokuen - British DoW?

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 20 May 2020 08:04

Carl Schwamberger wrote:Eventually a complete occupation of FIC with 140,000 soldiers& naval personnel in the summer of 1941 resulted in the US Freezing of Japanese assets in the US (shutting Japan off from the US/British banking system & thus from global trade).
Right. My thought was that the trade repercussions of Kantokuen would be about the same as the FIC move, which was undertaken pursuant to the decision for the Southern Strategy instead of Northern. Kantokuen would launch at about the same time as the OTL FIC full invasion, which is what spurred the final round of trade moves that forced Japan into a decision of surrender or attack.

I don't see Kantokuen happening except in conjunction with something like my Eastern Front ATL's wherein the SU is clearly on the road to collapse: the Japanese leadership viewed the Soviet Far East as a "Persimmon" that had to "ripen" before they could take it. I.e. they waited to see whether the SU was likely on the road to imminent defeat. When the Ostheer looked stalled at Smolensk and Kiev in July/August, it sealed the decision not to launch Kantokuen.

--------------------------------

More serious than the trade implications would be the delay in Japan's move on the DEI. They didn't use a ton of soldiers in that move OTL but Kantokuen will still at least delay it, if only for shipping reasons.

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Re: Japan launches Kantokuen - British DoW?

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 20 May 2020 20:17

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
18 May 2020 22:54
Not sure if this is a What If but I'll put it here first.

Suppose Japan launches Kantokuen, the attack on the Soviet Far East for which it built up extensively during summer/fall '41. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kantokuen [the wiki article has great cites from Coox's authoritative work on the subject].

This eventuality must have been discussed in the war cabinet at some point.

What was the British position in this event?
TMP,

Excellent question, and not one I've seen much discussion about anywhere before.

I've had a quick look in Martin Gilbert's Winston S. Churchill: Finest Hour: 1939-1941 and it does appear that on 15 October 1941, Roosevelt warned Churchill that:
'The Jap situation is definitely worse & I think they are headed North...you & I have two months of respite in the Far East'
There was discussion at the Defence Committee on 17 October 1941 and, after a lot of debate, this resulted in the sending to the Far East of the Prince of Wales and Repulse as a "deterrent". On 20 October 1941, Churchill sent a message to Roosevelt promising that if Japan attacked the US 'you may be sure that a British declaration of war upon Japan will follow within the hour'. I'll have a look in the 1941 Churchill war papers to see if a similar message was sent to Stalin.

Edited to add: I'll also look at the COS Committee meeting of 29 November 1941 at which they were discussing the latest analysis of Japanese intentions and at which the Chiefs of Staff agreed that:
unless our vital interests were directly affected we should avoid taking any action which would involve us in war with Japan unless we were certain the Americans would join us.
The reference given by Gilbert is: CAB79/16 - COS Committee No. 402 of 1941, 29 November 1941.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
18 May 2020 22:54
Depending on what the primary docs tell us, I could see a British DoW on Japan in Fall '41 having salutary effects on the Pacific war.
Do you mean "salutary"? Certainly not from a British perspective. A naval war with Japan without US support could well have spelled even more disaster for the British than that which flowed from a war with Japan with US support! 8O

Regards

Tom

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Re: Japan launches Kantokuen - British DoW?

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 20 May 2020 21:33

CAB65/19
War Cabinet Minutes - 16 October 1941

[...]

‘The Prime Minister said that if Japan declared war on Russia, the latter would certainly press us to declare war on Japan. We were, of course, already committed to go to war with Japan if Japan was at war with the United States. But we ought not to commit ourselves to any action which would involve us in a war with Japan unless the United States were also at war with that country.’

[...]

‘We ought to regard the United States as having taken charge in the Far East. It was for them to take the lead in this area, and we would support them.’

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Re: Japan launches Kantokuen - British DoW?

Post by T. A. Gardner » 20 May 2020 21:38

I certainly don't think the British would back away from Japan one bit. The Asawa Maru incident is an example of how aggressive the British were even before war with Japan was declared.

https://britishinterest.org/the-asama-m ... for-today/

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Re: Japan launches Kantokuen - British DoW?

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 20 May 2020 22:54

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
20 May 2020 21:33
CAB65/19
War Cabinet Minutes - 16 October 1941

[...]

‘The Prime Minister said that if Japan declared war on Russia, the latter would certainly press us to declare war on Japan. We were, of course, already committed to go to war with Japan if Japan was at war with the United States. But we ought not to commit ourselves to any action which would involve us in a war with Japan unless the United States were also at war with that country.’

[...]

‘We ought to regard the United States as having taken charge in the Far East. It was for them to take the lead in this area, and we would support them.’
Thank you!

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Re: Japan launches Kantokuen - British DoW?

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 21 May 2020 19:56

A little bit more on the British strategic debate - moved on now to 1 December 1941:
CAB65/24
War Cabinet: Confidential Annex
1 December 1941
6 p.m.

The Prime Minister said that, as the result of a report that Japanese forces were moving southwards, possibly with the intention of committing an act of aggression against Siam, there had been an exchange of telegrams with the Dominion Governments. The Australian Government thought that if Japan committed an aggression against Siam, we should at once take warlike measures.

[...]

The Chiefs of Staff, having considered the telegrams from the four Dominions, had not departed from the view that they had previously expressed, that -

(a) Until we were assured of American military support, we should take no action, save in defence of our vital interests, which was likely to precipitate war with Japan.
(b) An occupation by Japan of the Kra Isthmus could only be with the object of attacking Singapore. Nevertheless, it would not by itself by an attack on our vital interests.

The Prime Minister said that he was still of the opinion that we ought not to assume that the outbreak of war between England and Japan would necessarily precipitate the entry of the United States into the war. There was a strong party in the United States who would work up prejudice against being drawn into Britain's war.

[…]

He (the Prime Minister) had explained that, in his view, we should resist or attempt to forestall a Japanese attack on the Kra Isthmus unless we had a satisfactory assurance from the United States that they would join us should our action cause us to become involved in war with Japan. The same would apply, with even more force, in the event of a Japanese attack on Russia, or aggression in the Netherlands East Indies.

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Re: Japan launches Kantokuen - British DoW?

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 22 May 2020 02:21

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
21 May 2020 19:56
A little bit more on the British strategic debate - moved on now to 1 December 1941:
CAB65/24
War Cabinet: Confidential Annex
1 December 1941
6 p.m.


He (the Prime Minister) had explained that, in his view, we should resist or attempt to forestall a Japanese attack on the Kra Isthmus unless we had a satisfactory assurance from the United States that they would join us should our action cause us to become involved in war with Japan. The same would apply, with even more force, in the event of a Japanese attack on Russia, or aggression in the Netherlands East Indies.
Thanks again. Are you getting the notes here?: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/cabinetpapers/
I haven't figured the site out yet, even whether it allows online access or only references library holdings.

---------------------------------------

From the evidence you provided it seems all but certain the British would not have declared war on Japan due to Kantokuen without America.
American entry seems far-fetched, especially if Kantokuen comes as part of a Northern move that precludes full-scale FIC occupation. It's possible even that the American reaction to Kantokuen would be less strong than to FIC occupation, as Roosevelt might have found it politically harder to take steps down the war path for the SU than for France.

I wonder what effect in this ATL on the December 5, 1941 DoW's (D'soW) on Finnland, Hungaria, and Romania? Declaring war on those three but not Japan would look hypocritical. Maybe because those three DoW's had little practical meaning, Britain would stay mum until war with Japan was active.

But there's another knock-on effect: With Japan in the war against Russia and Britain not retaliating, does Turkey enter as well? Russia is really on the ropes here, especially if the ATL is part of better German performance in Barbarossa (as it would need to be, IMO). Turkey was probably willing to pick some of the Caucasus off the Soviet carcass if things looked to be going that way. British retaliation would have been - and surely was - a deterrent but not so much here.

----------------------

Re your earlier question about "salutary." I meant salutary for the Japanese - I was adopting their frame of reference for the post. As someone whose grandmother barely survived Japanese occupation (much of her family did not), it's not my preferred frame of reference. Nonetheless, the intellectual question of how close the world was to a grave disaster in WW2 is compelling. Even more so for my personal attachment to the stakes.

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Re: Japan launches Kantokuen - British DoW?

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 22 May 2020 13:06

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
22 May 2020 02:21
Thanks again. Are you getting the notes here?: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/cabinetpapers/
I haven't figured the site out yet, even whether it allows online access or only references library holdings.
I had a quick look and they don't seem to be on-line yet. I've been copying it from the Winston S. Churchill War Documents volume for 1941. It's a monster of a book and a real challenge to read through - both to brain and arms! But doing so gives a valuable perspective on the sheer range of Churchill's concerns and the fact that the war was essentially already world-wide, even before the Japanese struck on 7/8 Dec 41.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
22 May 2020 02:21
Re your earlier question about "salutary." I meant salutary for the Japanese - I was adopting their frame of reference for the post. As someone whose grandmother barely survived Japanese occupation (much of her family did not), it's not my preferred frame of reference. Nonetheless, the intellectual question of how close the world was to a grave disaster in WW2 is compelling. Even more so for my personal attachment to the stakes.
Agreed, although I guess what actually happened was already a "grave disaster" but it could certainly have been much, much worse.

Regards

Tom

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Re: Japan launches Kantokuen - British DoW?

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 22 May 2020 17:07

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
22 May 2020 13:06
I had a quick look and they don't seem to be on-line yet. I
I was wrong! Some of the Cabinet Papers are on-line and available including CAB65/24/9 which contains both the minutes of the War Cabinet discussion of 1 December 1941 from which I quoted and the telegrams from the Dominion governments:
CAB65-24-9 - p.GIF
At the moment, they can be downloaded for free. :thumbsup:

Regards

Tom
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Re: Japan launches Kantokuen - British DoW?

Post by History Learner » 26 May 2020 04:05

T. A. Gardner wrote:
20 May 2020 02:12
The best move the British could make is simply end all exports to Japan and get the US and DEI to do likewise. Suddenly Japan's economy has like six months to a year before it collapses and the Japanese are embroiled in a war with the Soviet Union they have zero chance of winning. The British can sit back laughing and pointing at the stupidity of the Japanese leadership.
"If the Japanese enter the war on Hitler's side...our cause is hopeless."

Major General A. K. Kazakovtsev, Operations Chief of the Far Eastern Front in 1941

"We dreaded and we feared the specter of the Kwantung Army. We pleaded with the Russians, since the very day of Pearl Harbor, to pin down the Kwantung Army, relieve pressure upon our hardpressed forces in the Philippines, and thereby “save the Pacific” from the Japanese, as General MacArthur put it. At the same time we (and the Soviets) worried lest the Japanese assault the USSR first, like the jackal Mussolini had jumped the reeling French in 1940. . . . When, for example, the American Military Mission proposed to the Russians, in December 1943, that a U. S.-supplied logistical base be set up east of Lake Baikal in Siberia, the Soviet Army authorities were shocked by the idea and “literally turned white.”

ALVIN D. COOX, “The Myth of the Kwantung Army,” 1958

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Re: Japan launches Kantokuen - British DoW?

Post by T. A. Gardner » 26 May 2020 19:16

History Learner wrote:
26 May 2020 04:05
"If the Japanese enter the war on Hitler's side...our cause is hopeless."

Major General A. K. Kazakovtsev, Operations Chief of the Far Eastern Front in 1941

"We dreaded and we feared the specter of the Kwantung Army. We pleaded with the Russians, since the very day of Pearl Harbor, to pin down the Kwantung Army, relieve pressure upon our hardpressed forces in the Philippines, and thereby “save the Pacific” from the Japanese, as General MacArthur put it. At the same time we (and the Soviets) worried lest the Japanese assault the USSR first, like the jackal Mussolini had jumped the reeling French in 1940. . . . When, for example, the American Military Mission proposed to the Russians, in December 1943, that a U. S.-supplied logistical base be set up east of Lake Baikal in Siberia, the Soviet Army authorities were shocked by the idea and “literally turned white.”

ALVIN D. COOX, “The Myth of the Kwantung Army,” 1958
With hindsight we can easily see this would have been grossly wrong in favor of the Soviets.

First, the Soviets never let their forces in Siberia or the Pacific fronts along the Manchukuo border drop to anything close to parity with the Japanese. They always had far more troops stationed there than Japan. What they did was ship trained units to European Russia as reinforcements without their equipment and then stood up a new draft of men to replace them with the same equipment in the Far East. The Soviets always had gross advantages in the number of tanks--not to mention better ones--, artillery, aircraft, etc., in the Far East compared to Japan.

As the Nomohan incident proves rather conclusively, Japan could barely keep one infantry division supplied and supported for offensive operations along most of the Manchurian border as well as into Mongolia. The Japanese simply don't have the logistics infrastructure to support a large offensive into Russia with any real hope of success.

Then there's China to consider. Even if Japan doesn't strike South and against the US, the IJA will be forced to keep considerable troops in China to face off against the various Chinese factions. Even if no offensive operations occur, they will have to keep a dozen plus divisions there just to occupy ground and prevent a Chinese offensive from success.

Then there's the US, British, and DEI response to this offensive. If the three just place a total embargo on trade with Japan, the Japanese have something like six months and they're out of oil, rubber, aluminum, etc. Their economy collapses and that ends the story right there--no war in the Pacific needed.

So, how does Japan win such a scenario? The answer is, they don't. They lose and lose big. Even if the Soviet defense is incompetent the Japanese lose. They can't support a broad defense in China and an offensive into the Soviet Union while not having the imports to maintain their economy. Top that off with the offensive being just the IJA as the IJN really wouldn't have much use or input into such a campaign while the IJN would continue to build and maintain a large navy as a rival service who really doesn't care too much what the IJA is doing.

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Re: Japan launches Kantokuen - British DoW?

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 27 May 2020 07:50

T.A. Gardner wrote:As the Nomohan incident proves rather conclusively, Japan could barely keep one infantry division supplied and supported for offensive operations along most of the Manchurian border as well as into Mongolia.
Irrelevant. Kantokuen was to center on Primorskiy Krai, to which Japan had far better logistics.

Image

Except for a limited offensive toward Blagoveschensk in the north, Kwantung Army would have been on the defensive everywhere else. There was nothing of strategic value until the Red Army reaches Harbin. Manchukuo's industry and population were concentrated further south.

As the Red Army would have been dependent on a single rail line to Primory for all its supplies, and as Stalin was committed to holding Vladivostok (a la Kiev etc.), the likely outcome would have been isolation and destruction of Far Eastern Front in Primory. Maybe Trans-Baikal Front has some local successes around the old Nomonhan battlefield and elsewhere but, again, that's strategically insignificant.
Then there's China to consider. Even if Japan doesn't strike South and against the US, the IJA will be forced to keep considerable troops in China to face off against the various Chinese factions.
As discussed by Glantz, Coox, etc. (all cited in the wikipedia article), Japan had already assembled much of the Kantokuen forces in Manchuria during Summer '41. There were no disastrous consequences in China for this buildup. As the Japanese knew, defeating Russia would enable them to unleash Kwantung Army into China, vastly increasing their strength in the long term even if local retrenchments were temporarily necessary.
If the three just place a total embargo on trade with Japan, the Japanese have something like six months and they're out of oil, rubber, aluminum, etc. Their economy collapses and that ends the story right there--no war in the Pacific needed.
This is a more serious objection.

It is not the case, however, that Kantokuen implies no move on the DEI. If the Japanese have destroyed Far Eastern Front by winter '41, they can go over to the defensive in Manchuria. That frees probably as many troops as OTL for early '42 moves southwards. You're forgetting that Japan maintained Kwantung Army as a powerful force during OTL '42.

The US probably declares war once the Japanese move south but, as in OTL, they have no plans to send the Pacific Fleet into Asian waters to defend Malaya/DEI. As in OTL, the RN isn't sufficiently strong to defend Southeast Asia. Unlike OTL, Japan probably can't do PH and Malaya simultaneously, meaning the US declaration comes by choice. That has implications for mobilization levels etc. With no possibility of the British stopping the IJN, and with the USN unwilling to try, I don't see how the Wallies hold Malaya and DEI. So Japan's oil imports from DEI are pushed back a couple months from OTL schedule. Not likely to be fatal. Could be very good if a slightly-worse oil position compels reining in IJN adventurism, thus a shorter defensive perimeter and no Midway.

For SU the implications are dire. LL is constricted, especially given that Germany now knows the White Sea route is nearly the whole ballgame (Persian Corridor is low capacity until later). Under that condition, shifting half the U-boats and more LW to northern Norway is strategically justified and would probably end Wallied shipments to an even greater extent than OTL.

Also consider: additional Soviet manpower and material losses in the East, diversion of ammo etc. to the East, and the additional strain on an overtaxed transport system (Soviet factories and power plants suffered from lack of rail transport throughout 41/42). Soviet morale takes a huge blow.

The greatest scholar on Nomonhan/Kantokuen, Alvin Coox, was convinced that Kantokuen would mean the SU's fall. I see a lot of merit to that position.

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