What if Hitler enlisted Japan's help against the USSR?

I’ve long wondered how the Axis would have fared if Hitler had secured a promise from Japan to assist him in defeating the USSR prior to bombing Pearl Harbor. In his diplomatic dealings with Japan, Hitler basically promised that he would declare war on the US after Pearl Harbor with nothing required of Japan in return. Hitler clearly would have had leverage to demand that Japan at least make some effort against Russia in the fall of 1941 prior to starting war against the US. He could have promised Japan a share of Russia’s massive oil reserves in exchange for their help, and Japan was fighting largely because of oil so this offer would have been attractive to them. Hitler wouldn’t have needed a full Japanese commitment- just enough Japanese troops to keep the USSR’s tough Siberian troops penned up in eastern Russia.

It was those Siberian troops that saved Moscow in December, 1941, and it seems a foregone conclusion that Germany would have taken Moscow if Stalin had to defend eastern Siberia at the same time he was fighting in the west. In fact, Hitler almost captured it anyway and likely would if he had made a straight drive to Moscow. I really think that the USSR would have fallen if the Axis had concentrated on defeating it first, and that would have likely resulted in a stalemate between Germany and the Allies. Japan would have been defeated regardless, but I fully expect that Hitler could have successfully repelled any amphibious landing in western Europe if he had been able to withdraw his hundreds of divisions fighting in Russia to defend France.

He tried. I doubt there was much he could have offered the Japanese to have them open up another front with the Russian’s. The Japanese had made tentative probes against the Russian’s prior to general hostilities and did not find the experience pleasant.

Assuming he DID find a way to entice them into sustaining an attack against the Russian’s far east possessions though it certainly would have changed the early phases of the war. Much of the Russian counter attack in '41 came from Siberian reserves…especially their heavy armor…which were freed up by the non-aggression pact between Japan and Russia. It helped the Russian’s concentrate and fight on a single front instead of having to divert resources away. Also, it would have been more difficult for Russia to support it’s far eastern armies from a logistical perspective than it was to support the logistics to the front it had with Germany…which would have further strained their resources.

If you have ever played Allies and Axis this is exactly the strategy I take when I play Japan. :wink:


I swear Axis and Allies was designed by a descendant of Tojo. All Japan has to do is attack the eastern USSR and half the board falls to it, almost without a shot fired.

My WAG: the logistics of an assault on Siberia were just too difficult for the Japanese army to face. Keeping the supply lines up, even during the summer, would have been very tough.

I don’t think it was so much logistics (though I concede it was certainly a factor) as the fact that, bad as the Russian army was (mostly at the officer level) it totally out classed the Japanese, especially in that environment. The Japanese never did field even a marginal tank and their heavy guns were more designed for mobility than fire power. They were very good at lightning shock attacks…not so good at the grinding type battles the Euro’s were used too. Their fleet was top notch (at the time) and their fighters were great (at the time)…but neither of those elements could the really use effectively against the Russian’s in Siberia.

I think the Japanese realized that it was a losing proposition for them to try and take on the Russian’s on their own ground, especially when they had just tweaked the nose of the US.


It might have seemed that way at first, but it certainly shouldn’t have by the fall of 1941 when the Germans were completely routing the Soviets.

Let’s put it this way- if Japan was confident enough in their warmaking abilities to invite war with the US, the world’s largest industrial power by far, then they certainly should not have feared war with a USSR teetering on the brink of collapse.

In 1939, the Japanese attacked the Soviet Union, suffered 150,000 plus casualties and went back to Manchuria. One of the main reasons they decided to head south, and attack the westren allies instead.

If by “tried” you mean asked, then he may have done that, but he ended up assuring Japan’s ambassador that Germany would declare war on the USA after Pearl Harbor with nothing required of Japan in return. That was very un Hitler-like of him to give something for nothing in diplomacy- he had gotten cocky. If Hitler had said “give me just a small part of the Japanese army attacking Siberia or you are alone against the US and by the way you get the Crimean oil if you help us” then I expect that offer would have been very attractive to Japan. It certainly should have been. Once again, Hitler would not have been making this pitch before he invaded Russia, but after he was already routing them.

Simultaneous fronts against both the US and the Soviets were never in the cards. While the Japanese army had been pushing hard for a push north in the prewar years (as opposed to the navy’s desire for a push south), the two advances were considered mutually exclusive. After war with China broke out again in 1937 and the army didn’t perform well in the NE border skirmishes, it became clear that south was the way to go.

Japan signed it’s non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union prior too Germany’s invasion. And they signed it in part because they planned on attacking the US fairly soon (they had been training and planning for it). They had already clashed with the Soviets and they came out second best. It’s pretty clear they had no desire at all the further engage the Russian’s until America, who they saw as a primary threat and block to their expansion, was out of the way.

In hindsight it makes sense for the Japanese to have held off their attack on the US and instead concentrated on taking the Russian’s off the board. But the Japanese at the time simply didn’t see things in those terms. The war between Germany and Russia was none of THEIR concern, after all…they had bigger fish to fry.


Of course he asked them…repeatedly. What else COULD he do? Hitler wanted the Japanese to engage the Russian’s but they weren’t having any of it. By that time they were neck deep in their war with us, and there was no way they were going to divert forces from THAT fight…since it was a fight to the death and one they ended up losing even without attacking Russia.


There weren’t even 150k Japanese troops total involved in those border skirmishes.

He could have made it clear that he would not declare war agaisnt the US if Japan didn’t help Germany against Russia first. If that didn’t work, he should have threatened to dissolve the Axis. He wasn’t getting anything out of it at that point.

Sure, he could have done that. But the most likely outcome would have been the Japanese would have shrugged and done what they were going to do anyway. You are right…neither side got much out of the alliance in material terms. They were simply too far away to even share much information or technical material, let alone help in the actual fighting.

Hitler declared war on the US for his own reasons and just used the Japanese attack on the US as an excuse. He didn’t really think (at that time) that his armies would lose in Russia, and he didn’t really need the Japanese help (or them snapping up Russia’s far eastern territories). By the time he DID need the Japanese to help out it was too late for both of them. Japan had attacked the US and was in a long drawn out retreat as we smashed their fleets and took back their island fortresses. Japan was committed at that point and they didn’t have anything to spare for an attack against what was to them a neutral power. Hitler TRIED to get them to engage, but he really didn’t have anything he could use to MAKE them do so. Threatening to dissolve the alliance wasn’t a big enough hammer.


But the question then arises: would that threat have made any difference? Would the U.S. not have declared war on Germany anyway?

FDR certainly wanted to go to war against Germany. Germany and Japan were allies, and both were at war with Great Britain, the U.S.’ paramount ally. Hitler’s declaration of war on the U.S. probably, at most, saved FDR from having to browbeat a few senators and congressmen. Hitler may well have seen that coming and decided that, by declaring war on the U.S. first, it would go down better on the German domestic front.


The Southern strategy had a strong thing in favor of it: The Dutch East Indies, Malaya, and the Phillipines were defended by far fewer troops than the Soviet Far East was, and the Japanese probably felt that the supply lines from the UK > Malaya (or the US > P.I.) were long and vulnerable, as compared to the Soviet Far East (which was long, but not quite as vulnerable to Japanese interdiction).

I forget when the decision to head north or south ultimately was made, but it may have been before June '41 (Barbarossa).

Churchill thought that war was inevitable between the US and Germany after Pearl Harbor. He writes in his memoir how he “slept the sleep of the grateful and the saved” on the night of Pearl Harbor. Britain declared war against Japan right after Pearl Harbor, so it would have been awkward for the US to let Britain go it alone against Germany. Roosevelt certainly wanted war against Germany. So I tend to think that war between Germany and the US was inevitable after Pearl Harbor- Hitler would have almost had to do something like dissolve the Axis and condemn the unprovoked aggression against the US to avoid it and that would have been completely absurd and out of character.

But the point I’m making is that, if Hitler had gotten Japan’s help against Russia then German troops would have been wintering in Moscow at the time that war between the US and Germany broke out in December 1941. With Moscow captured, Hitler would have likely captured both Stalingrad and the Caucuses region in the summer of 1942, effectively ending the war (except for harassing Soviet troops operating out of the Urals). Hitler could have brought most of his divisions home to defend western Europe, and it’s very likely that a stalemate would have ensued.

Sure, it could have played out that way. The thing is though, without prior knowledge the various players would NEVER have gone along with this. By the time Japan attacked the US they were committed…they weren’t going to divert resources to attacking neutral Russia when they had pissed off America hammering at them in the south pacific. The only point of decision was just after Barbarossa kicked off but before Japan fully committed to it’s southern strategy and it’s attack on the US. If Japan had gone with it’s northern strategy at that point (something unlikely but possible) THEN things might have worked out differently.

The problem was that Hitler and the Germans didn’t really think they needed the Japanese then, so weren’t all that keen to get them involved at that point. And the Japanese saw the US as a major threat and the southern pacific Euro territories as a treasure trove that would be fairly easy for them to grab. Hindsight and all that.


It definitely had been. Japan grabbed French Indochina in 1940.

Hitler’s support of Japan wasn’t “something for nothing”. His interest in Japan in the first place was primarily in their potential for distracting the US from interfering in the war in Europe as it had in WWI. By December 1941 this had obviously failed, as Lend Lease was well underway, and the US Navy was already effectively at war with the Kriegsmarine. Hitler declared war not out of a sense of loyalty or obligation, but because he felt that taking the war to the US was the only course remaining that could stem the flow of supplies to Britain.

While Hitler might have applied leverage to encourage Japan to strike the Soviets, it’s unlikely that Japan would have obliged. Not only had they gotten their nose bloodied in the Manchurian clashes of '39, but the chief impetus for going to war with the US was the oil embargo. Until Japan could sieze and secure the oil fields of the Dutch East Indies, they would probably have found it logistically impractical to open up another major land front. While the Japanese army wasn’t highly mechanized, such armor and motor transport as it had was concentrated on in Manchuria, and its one area of operational advantage over the Soviets was probably in air power. I doubt the Japanese could have been convinced to attack the Soviets before the spring of 1942, by which point their involvement would have been much less crucial to Germany.

Hence the need for the U.K. to build an IC in India.