Hitler never articulated just why he wanted ana lliance with Jpan. He appears to have conceived an alliance with the Japanese as a way of dividing the world in what he called Operation Orient. While the Japanese ageeed to the Anti-Comitern Pact (1936) and the Axis (1940). Japan after signing the Axis agreement did not join the war with Britain in Europe. There is no doubt what the Japanese goal was--to deter the Unites States and in increasing pressure on Japan to stop its aggression in China and by 1940 the South Pacific. Hitler never suceeded in convincing the Japanese in commiting to his campaign against the Soviet Union, even after he declared war on the United States when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor (1941). Japan did seize the French colony of Indo-China (Vietnam) which brought about American sanctions. Japan had been at war with China since 1937. Japanese planners in 1941 pondered their course of action, especially after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Some expected them to attack north at Soviet Siberia. Had they done so, almost surely the Soviet Union reeling unde German attack, would have been defeated. Instead they attacked south at American Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Influential German geographer Prof. Karl Ernst Nikolas Haushofer was deeply impressed with Japan. He directed the Institute of Geopolitics at the University of Munich. One of his students was Rudolf Heß, who introduced Haushofer to Adolf Hitler. Haushofer's influenced both Heß and Hitler and this influence can be seen in Mein Kampf. He was a strong proponent of militay cooperation with Japan, but argued against invading the Soviet Union and thus lost influence with Hitler.
Race was of course all important to the NAZIs. NAZI prpaganda often referred to in horror Mongoloid Soviet sildiers. Of course the view changed when discussuing the Japananse. A good example of the nonsenceon race was a German scholar that claimed common origins for the Germans and Japanese. A , professor in the department of social anthropology at the University of Jena and was a NAZI racial theorists. He claimed that the Japanese were "Aryans" fully equal to Germanic people. He maintained that the Germanic tribes originated in East Asia. He also contended that the Japanese had the same common roots but that time and environment changed physicalappearance after thr Germanic tribes moved west and the Japanese moved east. [Günther]
The Axis set us technical commissions to implement the Tripartite Pact by creating a forum for strategic planning. In reality they were mostly used for propaganda. No real strategic planning occurred. [Presseisen, p. 321.] The technical commissions had no real influence. The Axis alliance was essentially in the hands of German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and the Japanese Ambassador to Berlin, General Hiroshi Oshima. German military planners in 1941 were fully occupied with the Soviet Union. [Boyd] The dominance of Von Ribentrop and Oshima in reality doomed the Axis as an effective alliance to coordinate strategy. The fact that these two differed on strategy and neither held the confidence of their superiors rendered the Alliance of little value in coordinating strategy. Von Ribentrop did not share Hitler's enthusuam for attacking the Soviet Union. Oshima advocated a joint the attack on the Soviet Union, but his views were rejected by the Imperial Navy and officers of the Imperial Court. [Martin, pp. 243-244.]
Not only was there no joint Axis planning of the war effort. The Axis partners did not even keep each other informed. The NAZIs did not inform the Japanes of their plans to invade the Soviet Union. [Mueller-Hillebrand.28, 277-278.] The Japanese did learn, but only because of Oshima's personal relationship with Hitler. [Boyd] Similarly the Japanese did not inform the NAZIs of the plans for the attack on Pear Harbor. The NAZis learned of the attack through the BBC. [Martin, p. 259.]
Hitler appears to have conceived an alliance with the Japanese as a way of dividing the world in what he called Operation Orient. Prime Minister Ribentrop became a major propnent of Operation Orient, predictable as it was conceived by Hitler. Japan's Ambassador General Oshima Hiroshi was another proponent, he was, however, unable to convince his Government. In fact, one reason the Japanese agreed to join the Axis was that they hoped the NAZIs (at the time allied with the Soiets, would interven to help end Soviet aid to China. [Meskill, p. 8.] As the War on the Eastern Front was the central struggle in World War II, this lack of agreement meant that Operation Orient was largly a figment of Hitler's active imagination. Oshima was posted to Berlin as a military attaché (1934) He developed close relations with NAZI officials, including Von Ribentrop and Hitler. He helped bring about the Anti-Communist Treaty between Germany and Japan (1936). He was appointed Ambassador (1938) and worked to conclude the Axis Alliance (1940). Ierestingly, Oshima was an important source of information for America because his messages to the Hiroshi, "in effect, became one of the greatest assets of
the American government because the traffic to and from the Japanese Foreign Office were read using the American Purple machine. One of the events Oshima reported was the impending NAZI attack on the Soviet Union. [Boyd and McGinnis] Hitler had personally confided his plans for the attack.
While the Japanese ageeed to the Anti-Comitern Pact (1936) and the Axis (1940). Japan after signing the Axis agreement did not join the war with Britain in Europe. Japan did seize the French colony of Indo-China (Vietnam) which brought about American sanctions. Japan had been at war with China since 1937. Japanese planners in 1941 pondered their course of action, especially after Germany invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941). Poweful Japanese forces were in position along the Manchuruan border with the Soviet Union while the High Command debated Japan's next move.
The NaAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact was between Germany and the Soviet Union and concerned Europe. It had, however, a profoubnd impact on Japanese strategic planning. . Two competing parties developed within the Japanese military and during the 1930s they took opposing strategic views. The Strike North faction wanted to attack the Soviets and seize Siberia. The Strike South Faction wanted to attack Ameruica and Britain and seize the resources of Southeasdy Asia. As the struggle in China proved to be much more than a quick campaign, the cost and needed for resources to sustanin the war effort intensified the debate. At first the Strike North Faction was dominant. The NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact was negotiatyed ny the Germans without consulting the Japsnese. It undermined the Strike North Faction as it made the Soviets a virtual German ally and attacking the Soviet Union without German support was unthinkable. At vabout the same time, the Red Army smashed a Japanese Army on the Mongolian-Manchurian border (july 1939), giving the Japanese further pause about war with the Societ Union. Thus the Strike South Faction gradually became dominabnt within the Japanese military.
The Japanese Empire and the Soviet Union were bitter enemies as the Manchurian Border War (May-September 1939) had shown. Both countries had, however, strong reasons by 1941 to avoid war. Stalin in signing the Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler had anticipated a war in the West in which the Allies (Britain and France) and Germany would fight a long debilitating war as in World War I. He thought that with these countries weakened that he would be able to expand west. The unexpected collpase of the French Army meant that instead he know faced a triumphannt NAZI Germany without allies or buffer states. Thus defusing the situation along the Siberian-Manchurian border with Japan was very important. The Japanse having decided on the Strike South option also wanted a quiet northern border so they could move south. Thus both countries had strong reason for a diplomatic accomodation. The Neutrality Pact (also called the Non-Aggression Pact) was was signed in Moscow by Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka and Ambassador Yoshitsugu Tatekawa for Japan and Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov for the Soviet Union (April 13, 1941), Foreign Minister Matsuoka was returning from an Axis conference in Berlin. The Soviet Union committed to respecting Japanese control of Manchukuo (Manchuria). Japan made the same commitment to the Soviet dominated Mongolian People's Republic. The NAZIs did not inform the Japanese of their plan to invade the Soviet Union. And the Japanese did not inform the NAZIs of their plan to sign the Neutrality Pact with the Soviets. This was one of many instances showing the weakness of the Axis Pact. It is difficult to comprehend how Germany and Japan at this crucial moment could have failed to coordinate policy concerning the Soviet Union. The Neutrality Pact remained in force throughout most of the War. The Soviets after the NAZI surrendr in Europe (May 1945) did not automatically renew the Neutrality Pact as the Japanese wanted. The Soviets did not abrogate the Pact, but they did not renew as renewal came due. The pact still had 12 months to run, and the Soviets were not making their policies clear to the Japanese. The commitments made to the llies to join the war against Japan were secret. Soviet diplomats assured the Japanese that they would honor the pact for the next 12 months.
The Battle of Britain in many ways changed the course of the War. An invasion of Britain was impossible without air superiority. Hitler, fearing a cross-Channel invasion, decided that the only way to force the British to seek terms was to destroy the Soviet Union. He began shifting the Wehrmacht eastward to face the enemy that he had longed to fight from the onset--Soviet Russia. The nature of the War changed decisevely in the second half of 1941. The Germans invaded Russia in June 1941, launching the most sweeping military campaign in history. It is estimated that on the eve of battle, 6.25 million men faced each other in the East. The Soviets were surprised and devestated. Stalin ignored warnings from the British who as a result of Ultra had details on the German preparations. Stalin was convinced that they were trying to draw him into the War and until the actual attack could not believe that Hitle would attack him. The attack was an enormous tactical success. The Soviets were surprised and devestated. The Soviet Air Force was destoyed, largely on the ground. The Germans captured 3.8 million Soviet soldiers in the first few months of the campaign. No not knowing the true size of the Red Army, they thought they had essentally won the War. German columns seized the major cities of western Russia and drove toward Leningrad and Moscow. But here the Soviets held. The Japanese decission to strike America, allowed the Sovierts to shift Siberian reserves and in December 1941 launch a winter offensive stopping the Whermacht at the gates of Moscow--inflicting irreplaceable losses. The army that invaded the Soviet Union had by January 1942 lost a quarter of its strength. Hitler on December 11 declared war on America--the only country he ever formally declared war on. In an impassioned speech, he complained of a long list of violations of neutality and actual acts of war. [Domarus, pp. 1804-08.] The list was actually fairly accurate. His conclusion, however, that actual American entry into the War would make little difference proved to a diasterous miscalculation. The Germans who months before had faced only a battered, but unbowed Britain now was locked into mortal combat with the two most powerful nations of the world. The British now had the allies that made a German and Japanese victory virtually impossible. After the Russian offensive of December 1941 and apauling German losses--skeptics began to appear and were give the derisory term " Gröfaz ".
Some expected the Japanese to attack north at Soviet Siberia. Had they done so, almost surely the Soviet Union reeling under German attack, would have been defeated. Instead they attacked south at American Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor on December 7, Hitler never suceeded in convincing the Japanese in commiting to his campaign against the Soviet Union, even after he declared war on the United States when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor (1941). Historians wonder why Hitler declared war on the United States. The Axis Pact did not require him to do so. It may well be that he hoped that this would enduce the Japanese to declare war on the Soviets.
It seems almost imcomprehensible that Hitler would invade the Soviet Union without consultations with Japan. Roosevelt and Churchill even before the United States entered the War decided at the Atlantic Conference that they would concentrate on defeating NAZI Germany first (August 1941). And this decesion held even after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. There was no similar coordination withon the Axis. Even though all logic demanbded that the Axis first attack and defeat the Soviet Union before attacking America, instead on separate actions without coordination, Germany attacked the Soviet Union and Japan attacked America and Britain. This stunning development approaches lunacy in strategic terms. (And the Japanese did not coordinate their attack on Pearl Harbopr with the Germans.) A readwr asks, "I gather that Hitler wanted the Japanese to attack Russian from the east. But this is not proven and one is left wondering whether he actually did entertain this possibility or not. It does seem that he (and Mussolini of course) declared war on the the United States from some sort of solidarity with Japan but did they hoping for some quid pro quo in return ie eastern front, or from any other angle? Did the Japanese show any appreciation of this gesture of solidarity in written form?" We know that before Barbarossa that Hitler did not attempt to coordinate with the Japanese. He did not even inform them of his plans. We do not know just why Hitler declined to coordinate with the Japanese. The most likely reason was simple avarice. He had convinced himself that the Soviet Union and red army would collapse in a short summer campaign. If this was the case, why would he want to share the spoils with the Japanese? As for the Japanese. The shock of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact had undermined the position of the Strike North Faction. Thus the Strike South Faction now controlling Japanese policy were focused on South East Asia. And when President Roosevelt implemented the oil embargo, this cemented Japanese policy. They needed the oil available in the Dutch East Indies and Borneo. Thus by the time Hitler realized that he needed the Japanese, they had already made their decesion to attack America and Britain. Japanese diplomats in Berlin assured Hitler and other top NAZIs that Japan would join his Anti-Bolshevick crusade. And Hitler expected them to do when he c\declared war on the United States. As far as I know, however, there was no official Japanese Government document making any such commitment. And at the same time that the Japanese carrier strike hit Pearl Harbor, the Red Army launched a massive offensive before Miscow that rocked the Wgermacht to its core (December 1941). The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was largely premised on the German victory in the East. For the Japanese attacking America and Britain was a huge gamble. The Japanese militarists concluded that a war with the Soviet Union ws beyond their capacity until America and Britain were defeated. And of course after Midway (June 1942), it was out of the question.
The Allies in an uncharistic instance of unilateral decessions, committed themselves to the unconditional surrender of the Axis countries. (Roosevelyt made the announcement at Casablanca without getting Churchill's approval.) The Axis on the other hand had no common war goals. What they did have was meglomaniac territorial aims. Mussolini in a meeting with Hitler managed to inject a comment in a long monologue by Hitler as to how when they were done with the partioning, "nothing would be left but the moon". [Fest, p. 656.] Hitler launched his war of anialation against the Soviet Union. Hitler did not even want to fight the British, conceiving a kind of British Vichy after the fall of France which would allow the British to retain the Empire. It was just this Empire that Japan coveted. The Japanese did not want to fight the Soviet Union in 1941vand had no plans to destroy America, They wanted to seize their Asian empire and with needed resources then set up defenses that would be to costly for America to attack. [Morton, p. 125.] The success of their initial offensive, however, led them to consider the conquest of Australia and India.
Immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Ambassador Oshima requested that Germany declare war on the United States. Ribbetrop reminded Hitler that the Axis Pact did not rquire Germany to do so as the United States had not attacked Japan. Even more importantly, the Japanese had rejected repeated German requests to declare war on the Soviet Union. Hitler decided, however, to dclare war. The announcement was made in a special 3:00 am address (December 11). It was timed so that it could be brodcast live at a reasonable hour in Japan. Historians still debate why Hitler took this act. The United States was in fact the only country on whichb Hitler formally declared war. No one knows why as Hitler reached this decession with little or no consultation with his advisers. There were a few advantages. The Kriegsmarine could launch an immediate U-boat offensive along the U.S. coast. The dramatic announcement help to divert the world's attention away from the dereriorating situation in Russia and the failure of his war strategy. It also appealed to his flare for action and the dramatic. It was, however, the last major Axis inititive of the War. [Feis, p. 655.] We suspect that he thought that the Japanese would reciprocate by declaring war on the Soviets, perhaps explaining the 3:00 am timing of his speech. A more calculating leader like Stalin would have demanded the Japanese reciprocate by attacking the Soviets. In the end by declaring war on America and the Soviets 6 months earlier, Hitler had turned a commanding position into a fight for NAZI Germany's survival.
Boyd, Carl. Hitler's Japanese Confidant: General Oshima Hiroshi and MAGIC Intelligence, 1941–1945 (University Press of Kansas, 1993).
Feis, Joachim C. Hitler (Vintage, 1974), 844p.
Günther, Hans Friedrich Karl. Die Nordische Rasse bei den Indogermanen Asiens (1934).
Haushofer, Karl Ernst Nikolas. Dai Nihon/Great Japan (1918)
Haushofer, Karl Ernst Nikolas. GeoPolitik des Paziffischen Ozeans/Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean) (1925).
Martin. Bernd. Japan and Germany in the Modern World (Providence, 1995).
Meskill, Johanna Menzel. Hitler & Japan: The Hollow Alliance (New York, 1966).
Morton, Louis. Morton, The War in the Pacfic-Strategy and Command: The First Two Years (Washington, 1962).
Mueller-Hillebrand, Burkhart. Germany and Its Allies in World War II: A Record of Axis Collaboration Problems, (Frederick, 1980).
Presseisen, Ernst L. Germany and Japan: A Study in Totalitarian Diplomacy 1933-1941 (New York, 1969).
Navigate the CIH World War II :
[Return to Main Axis coordination page]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]