CONT. from Part One
It is a not well understood fact that the Japanese and Soviets maintained an uneasy peace for the duration of World War 2. The Japanese aggression in China had spooked the Soviet Union and its thrashing of the Russian fleet in the Tsushima Straits in 1905, with the subsequent occupation of Port Arthur, meant the Soviets had good reason to be wary about any further Japanese military activity in northeast Asia. When Japan joined the Rome Berlin Axis in September 1940, it was signing an agreement with two nations that a few months later would start the bloodiest and most destructive phase of World War 2 by invading the U.S.S.R. Despite two of its allies attacking the U.S.S.R., Japan did not join in, which freed up innumerable Russian military formations to fight the Germans.
When the Yalta Conference of February 1945 with Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt all in attendance, convened, the Allies the U.S.S.R. were looking toward a post war Europe. The ideological birth pangs of the Cold War were just starting to be felt with a distinct chill in the air. Stalin was trying to shore up Soviet interests and establish itself as the dominant power in the east. The Americans and the British were looking forward to a post-war Europe rid of extremism.
At Yalta, knowing an attack on Japan was going to cost a huge number of lives, the western leaders asked Stalin if he would consider joining the war against Japan. Stalin agreed to declare war three months after Germany surrendered. In April 1945, the non aggression pact between Moscow and Tokyo was scrapped. Fearing an invasion Japan began to move more forces into Manchuria.
On 8 May 1945 Germany signed the instrument of unconditional surrender. The war in Europe was over. Suddenly hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers, airmen and marines who had been engaged in fighting the German military were disengaged. Thousands of tanks, tens of thousands of artillery pieces, rocket launchers and an unknown number of other vehicles were no longer needed in Europe. The war in the Pacific was still in progress. If Stalin was to make good his promise, he needed Russian forces ready to move when the three month grace period was up. Thus a massive migration of Russian forces to the east began.
It is well documented what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What is not so well known – and sometimes outright ignored – is what happened in Manchuria, starting a few hours before Nagasaki was bombed. The bombs caused consternation without doubt. The Emperor realized the end game was upon Japan – it could either surrender, or it could be bombed into the Stone Age. Still the military hardliners did not want a bar of surrender, and plans were made for an coup at the Palace to stop him surrendering the nation.
Finally on 09 August 1945, in the pre-dawn darkness, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. Simultaneously, the last big military offensive of the war began in Manchuria. It had the objectives of driving Japan out of China and taking control of as much of its former possessions as possible. The bigger the successful grab, the better the bargaining chip that would be had by the U.S.S.R. in dealing with the Americans. The Soviets moved fast, despite some initial difficulties. Much of Manchuria was under Soviet occupation within four days. Japan had no answer to the well oiled military machine that poured through the gaps in their lines. 40 years of occupation of northeastern China and the Korean peninsula was virtually erased in a week. Suddenly all Ketsu-Go looked woefully inadequate. Suddenly the prospect of Japan being invaded before Ketsu-Go could even be implemented was a very real prospect. And worst of all, it would be by a foreign power with their own territorial ambitions. Perhaps surrendering before this could happen would be not such a bad idea after all.
In one week the Soviets brought forward the end to a war that might have dragged on into 1946 and have cost over a million American lives, countless Japanese lives and brought untold suffering to millions of Japanese civilians on top of what they had already endured. So, really, the Americans have the Soviets to thank for saving them lives in a way that bludgeoning Japan with bombs could not. But how many people will acknowledge this?