Japanese attack Russia in 1941,What if?

Just before the end of WW2 the Russians attacked the Japanese and routed them.
But basically the German forces were already out of the war,the Japanese knew that the war was virtually over so that undermined their will to fight.

Admittedly in previous confrontations the Russians with their heavy tanks had also had spectacular successes against the Japanese.

In our universe after the Russians discovered that the Japanese had no intention of attacking the Soviets, Stalin moved a large amount of Siberian forces westwards to fight the Germans and that had a dramatic effect on the Russo German fighting.
The Japanese forces did not take advantage of this situation and attack the Russian eastern borders.
But what if they’d waited until the redeployed Soviet forces were fully committed to the fighting against the Axis forces?
And then attacked?

It would have been difficult to disengage from the fighting and then there would be the logistics and time taken to move them back to the Manchurian border.

Until the Siberian reinforcements had moved west the Russians were close to being on their last legs.
Personally I think that there would have been a good chance of the Red Army collapsing with drastic consequences for the outcome of the war in the west.

But thats just my opinion…

This would have been too much for the Japanese to cope with.

There was little for them to gain, and for an uncertain outcome where they had already met with defeat, even success would have been problematic.

They were already heavily committed in mainland China, Korea etc and this would have probably stretched resources too thin.

They would have had the logistical problems in trying to move outwards in so many directions at once, and its unlikely they would have reached as far into Burma as they did - in fact a major factor in their being held in Burma was their overstretched supply lines, I can’t imagine that another diversion would have helped.

It would possibly have shortened the war in the Pacific.

The IJA staff wrote an attack plan for war with Russia (“North Wind Rain”). However, these plans were dropped, because Japan needed petroleum (they had a 6 week supply at the beginning of WWII). Also, the clash between the IJA and the Russians (under General Zhukov)in 1939 (Khalkin Gol) was a disaster for the Japanese forces-they took over 30% casualties. Wisely, the Japanese decided against taking on Russia. It is well that they did, because the IJA was not well equipped to deal with Russian tanks-they had no antitank weapons, and no heavy tanks of their own.

Best case? The Japanese take the Vladivostok area and then stare at the strategic vacuum of Siberia. Within a year Japan runs out of oil and its economy and ability to wage war come to a grinding halt. The reason Japan went to war in the first place was to secure a source of oil from the Dutch East Indies by force after the US oil embargo. Without that oil, Japan wasn’t going to be able to continue the war in China for much longer, much less a war against the USSR as well.

Just to note, there were no heavy tanks at Lake Khasan or Khalkhyn Gol where Japan had been badly defeated by the Soviets in 1938 and 1939.

Not even close to true. The Siberian divisions being critical to the Soviet winter counter-offensive is pretty much a myth. While handy, they formed a small fraction of the Soviet forces. Including all Eastern military districts, they only constituted ~400,000 men, while over 3 million men were formed into newly raised units from military districts west of the Urals by the winter of '41, about 2.6 million were sent as replacements to existing formations by the end of '41, and the pre-war forces in western districts when the war began was about 3.3 million. So they were only 400,000 out of 6 million reinforcements, or 400,000 out of 9.3 million total men committed against Germany by the end of 1941. Germany had simply grossly underestimated the Soviet resolve to fight and their ability to raise massive numbers of fresh divisions.

Little to gain? How about a chance to win the war? By not acting as “allies” the Axis lost the war. Stalingrad was on a knifes edge, and although Dissonance is correct in that the numbers were small they were critical- they were fresh, well-equipped and their officer corps had been largely spared the purgef that more than decimated the veteran officers on the Eastern Front. In other words, they were decisive.

Every wargame I have seen or played in has Germany failing to take Russia out without just a little help from the Japanese. It needs only a handful of divisions, just some forces taken out of the war in China- and air support, of course.

Could Japan have spared even a single division of its China contingent, though ? IIRC, the Chinese resistance was pretty hardcore on its own, even factoring out the help it received from the Allies (e.g. the Flying Tigers). And since they’d been anticipating the US attacking them sooner or later, they probably didn’t wish to spend any of their forces on a dicey venture.

I also wonder about the level of trust between Japan and Germany. Two would-be master races doesn’t strike me as a good basis for co-operation.

The what-if in question would have had to been decided much earlier than 1941. They would have to eschew China, for starters, and develop significant mechanized forces (some German visionary going over to Japan pre-war, like Guderian, and enlightening them with his ideas may have paid some fruit-German blitzkrieg in principle matched up very well with the offensive-oriented Japanese military philosophy). But all that is a stretch at best.

Japan attacking the USSR wasn’t going to win the war for Germany and would have resulted in Japan being knocked out of the war much earlier than it was historically. Aside from preventing the transfer of forces westwards, there was very little of strategic value that Japan could conquer before facing the logistical impossibility of Siberia. The Eastern divisions were no better equipped than those in the West, and had been hit just as badly by the officer purge which happened in 1936. The entirety of forces transferred from the east of the Urals, including areas such as the Central Asian military district which weren’t even facing the Japanese to the west to fight Germany from June 22-December 31 1941 amounted to 4% of the forces committed against Germany by the end of 1941. It was hardly a decisive force. The fighting around Stalingrad in 1942/43 is pretty out of place in a discussion of Japan attacking the USSR in the summer of 1941, but Stalingrad was hardly on a knives edge. Germany was scraping the bottom of the barrel to come up with troops to send against Stalingrad to the point that both flanks were left in the hands of badly equipped and unreliable Hungarian and Rumanian forces. The Soviets committed the bare minimum directly to Stalingrad while building up huge forces on both flanks to roll over the overstretched Axis line and encircle 6th Army.

Wargames aren’t historical reality and reveal their flaws when they allow such unrealistic outcomes. Turning north to the USSR had very little to gain for Japan and was signing its own death warrant by 1943 or so when it had no oil left. It also had very little to gain for Germany aside from distracting 4% of its forces. It’s hardly surprising that Germany and Japan didn’t act in any sort of coordinated manner; they were on opposite sides of the planet, didn’t really have any shared strategic goals and couldn’t do much to support each other outside of both of them being at war with the UK and the USA.

Not to be snarky…but don’t rely on wargames for history :slight_smile:

Germany was screwed even if they had won Stalingrad. It was also stupid for Germany to even fight Stalingrad…they should have kept doing what they excelled at…war of maneuver.

China was to Japan what Soviet Union was to Germany. IIRC, well over half of all Japanese ground forces throughout the entire war were engaged in China. To think they could have just invaded Russia without oil/rubber/resources and have much of an effect on the Soviet Union is…silly.

As another poster said…even if…best case scenario they won handily…then what? They could have had no effect on the war in Europe and when the Soviet Union pushed Germany back then Japan would have had even more hell to pay.

While I agree with you generally, Dissonance, you may be underestimating the importance of the Siberian troops. They were fresh, coming into play at a decisive time (preventing the fall of Moscow). Unlike the western Russian troops, they were still organized and intact as units. Newly-raised troops are almost useless, which is a major part of the reason it took until 1943 for the Sovs to go on the offensive.

I just want to say War Games are not entirely flawed for use IRL situations,I know that the Institute for Strategic Studies (London) were still using them for scenario simulations until recently and for all I know probably still are.

The Wermacht used Kriegspiel as I recall to try out strategic plans and while they ultimately lost the war due to Hitlers megalomaniac ideas, the German Generals were no slouches at their proffession.

I would suspect that most major military powers still use wargames for officer corp training and for other reasons but thats only a guess.

I’ll make my declarations I am not a wargamer myself.

As for the Japanese actually launching an attack on the Soviets from the East I admit that it would be a very tough logistical problem(but by no means insurmountable) with the added disadvantage that compared to the Japanese light tanks(Tankettes would be a better description)all Russian Tanks were heavy tanks.

Stalin himself did not regard the Japanese as a negligible threat, which is why IRL the Siberian troops were left in the east until a Soviet spy in the German embassy to Japan discovered that the Js were not going to declare war on Russia.

It is reported that on hearing of the German invasion of Russia Stalin vanished from sight and it is generally believed that he suffered some sort of breakdown and left the Red Army effectively leaderless for that time.

The effect on him on learning that having withdrawn his forces from the east and having them heavily engaged for the defence of Moscow can only be guessed at.
Having an enemy at your back with no real forces between them and you would not be easy on Stalins nerves,would be pretty devestating for the Red Armys and the civilian populations morale.

As we all know even powerful countrys can lose wars when the majority lose the will to fight.

Several factors to consider,if the Js had invaded in that scenario they would have been advancing against little or no resistance.
It is unlikely that there would have been a noticeable “Scorched Earth” policy against them due to a lack of Russian enforcement of such policy as a result of force reduction in the East.
The Js were famous for their ability to live off of and even fight with resources captured along the way,which would have eased their logistical problem.

The Russian tactic of trading space for time would have been negated if you know that every time you fall back from the Germans you are getting closer to the Js.

The defence of Moscow was greatly enhanced by the arrival of the well trained,winter warfare expert Siberians and it is probably what made the Russian winter counterattacks possible.
Could you imagine the chaos and tactical disruption that would have been caused if forces already embroiled in the battle tried to disengage to travel all the way back east?

And would the forces left behind wonder if their redeployment was actually a retreat?
The Russians evacuated much of their war industries eastward to escape the Gs but now their war machine capability would be threatened by the Js.

I’m not saying that the Js would necessarily prevail in full scale combat against the Red Army in that situation but in that situation they wouldn’t actually be fighting them.
The Js would have been advancing into a vacuum as far as opposition is concerned.
But what I AM saying is that even a fairly ineffective invasion of Russia from the east could have as a knock on effect caused the Soviet leadership AND the Red Army to collapse.

I am not saying it would have been easy for the Js but it would have been do able.

Although the Russians retreated eastwards with their industry, the scale of the place is what is the killer.

As far as Japan goes, they could have advanced 500 miles or more, but they would not have gained much except for territory, and a nasty winter for which they too would not have been prepared.

The further they go on poor roads and few resources, when they already had severe committments would have probably made their other more succesful incursions less so.This would in turn have wound up the pressure still further.

The Japanese advance across the Pacific would probably not have been possible to maintain either, which means that they would not have been able to hold the Phillipines, within just one year of Pearl Harbour the Japanese had pretty much been held, and from then on it was retreat all the way, this would have ocurred even sooner.

They overextended themselves, they did not have the armour plus they also had the psychological burden of having been kicked good and proper.

OK, suppose the Japanese attack Russia. And suppose they are wildly successful, and chase the Russkis out of the Russian Far East.

And then what? Stalin could easily have abandoned the Russian Far East, and it would have made no difference. What could Japan do with their conquests? They’d have Vladivostok. And then what? There were no strategic resources in Siberia. No oil, no rubber, no steel, no population for slave labor.

The only advantage to Japan would be not having to worry about the Russians declaring war at an inconvenient time, and causing trouble on the Northern frontier. But by attacking Russia, all they do is guarantee that at some point Stalin is going to hit back. The manpower needed to take the Far East would be much greater than the manpower actually used in real life to guard against a possible Soviet DoW.

The thing about War Games is that they hardly ever take into account the cost of logistics. So in something like Hearts of Iron, you wipe out the Soviet Far East forces, then reposition most troops to head south, and send a few divisions west, taking over territory slowly. But that couldn’t happen in real life, because the logistical tail needed to support troops marching across Siberia would be immense.

The classic “Siberia” where the Tsars banished dissidents wasn’t the Far East, but Central Siberia. Thousands of miles west. That’s where the Siberian troops came from, not Chukotia and Kamchatka. Take a look at where Novosibirsk is on the map: Novosibirsk - Wikipedia. You might march some Japanese divisions into Novosibirsk in a war game, but it ain’t gonna happen in real life. And at least Hearts of Iron recognizes that almost all the Siberian provinces have zero economic value. So while you can march across Siberia you get nothing for your troubles.

As to why the Japanese would want to invade Russia,why did they invade equally inhospitable Manchuria.

I agree that the logistics would be a nightmare.

They wouldn’t have had to march across Siberia - remember, the Russians looooved their trains. The Japanese could just have captured the railway lines, and used those to speed westwards. However, they’d have had to spend an innordinate amount of men just to keep the railways secure from air attacks and saboteurs.
And frankly, that part always baffled me. In 1939, Japan’s total population was roughly 70 million. By comparison, China alone housed 500 million people. Add another, few mil. (?) for the populations of all the islands from Japan to the Dutch Indies. How the hell did they expect to hold their conquests in the first place, even without adding Siberia to the mix ?

Same reason why the Russians tried to take it in the 30s and in 45 : Manchuria is mineral rich, and its soil is good too. Eastern Siberia ? Not so much.

That’s like saying “aside from that Mrs Lincoln, how did you like the play?”. The entire idea is to prevent the transfer of forces, thus Germany succeeds, thus Japan can *also win.

If Germany loses, Japan loses, which is exactly what happened.

No, Germany wins (in this unlikely scenario) but what has Japan won? A safe supply of permafrost? The Japanese sacrifice their own need for oil so the Germans can do better? Hardly in their self-interest, was it.

The Axis was a marriage - no, an affair of convenience, they weren’t allies in the same way the UK and USA were. There is no way the Japanese are going for a Europe-first strategy, the militarists wanted war with China and they wanted materials to support that war, and that was it. Their only hope - slim and misguided though it was - was to more successfully do what they did historically; strike the Allies so hard and fast that they gave up thought of recapturing the lost assets (at least until Germany was dealt with).

Note that when Japan attacked the US, we weren’t at war with Germany, and the Japanese certainly weren’t counting on us getting bogged down fighting Germany. They figured they’d kick us in the teeth, and we’d back down. Not that we’d attack Germany, and crush Germany with help from the Russians, and then come hunt them down.

The Japanese war aims did not depend on a German victory in Europe. Declaring war on Russia might help the Germans against Russia, but how does that help the Japanese? They’d get Vladivostok, and that would be about it. Well, once Russia was good and crushed, they wouldn’t have to worry about fighting Russia. Except by not attacking Russia they didn’t have to worry about fighting Russia. And it turns out that Stalin had absolutely no interest in fighting Japan and didn’t attack the Japanese in Manchuria until after the Hiroshima bombing, long after Germany had been occupied completely.

So the Japanese were justified in thinking that they had nothing to fear from the Russians, and nothing to gain by attacking them.

No, if the Japanese allow the Germans to succeed, then the Allies as a whole can’t succeed against the Japanese. If the Germans lose, the Japanese *must *follow. It’s their only chance of success.

And, they only need a small % of their military might- it’s not a campaign of conquest, it’s a diversion. They can go ahead and take Indochina, the East Indies and every other piece of real estate down there.

In fact, the Germans and the Japanese did not act as allies, and thus they lost.