*** war and social upheaval: World War II -- Japan and the Axis technical cooperation

World War II: The Axis--Technical Cooperation

Axis technical cooperastion
Figure 1.--German-Japanese cooperation begsn several years before the War, but little technical cooperation took place. The Germans had a vast array of technology that could have sigbnificantly upgraded Jaoanese military caoavilities. Exchanges were very limited. Once the war began, tecnical exchanges were largely limited to submsrines. But the Germans still provided very limited technology. Only when the War began yo go against Gemany did the Germans begin to offer advanced secret technology to the Japsnese. Here Adm. Dönitz greets a Japanese submarine hat made it go kne of the French Atlantic ports occupied by the Germns. We do not have details on this exchange, but it probably occurred in 1943. After the fall of France, tecnology exchanges continued, but were German U-bosts trying toi reach Japan.

The Axis in addition to strategic and diplomatic coordination also conducted technological and material exchanges. We do not yet have a full assessment of the level of cooperaion in scientific reserch in weapons development among the Axis. Such cooperation was clearly not as close as the very intense Anglo-American cooperation. The transfer of technology was a one way flow, from Germany to Japan. Here there were exchanges of some importance, however, geography and divergent strategic concepts and goals complicated sctual exchsnges. Here the historical record is somewhat complicated because the exchanges actually began before the Axis agreement was actually signed. And the relationship bretween the three countries developed somewhat differently and pte-dated the NAZI seizure of power in Germany (1933). While the Germans had technology that the Japanese needed, the Japanese after seizing Southeast Asia had a range of raw materials that the Germans needed, but fortunately for the Allies, no way of effectively transporting the material to Europe because of Allied naval control of the Atlantic. There were, however, efforts to do so including efforts to transfer nuckear technology at the end of the War.

German-Italian Exchanges

German and Italian press triumopantly reprorted the Rome-Berlin Axis abnd trghan the Japanese joining the Axis. The idea was the creation iof a powerful military alliance. It was all smole and mirrors. There was very little cooperatrion asmong the Axis psrtners or jont planning of any kind. Each of the three partners attemptedto wage entirely different wars. Taly waited for Germny to win the war before ebntering it. And Japan waited for Germany to defeat the siovier Union before taking on he Americans and British/ Altyhough Grrmany had not qwuite defeated either Britain ir the Siviet Union. The Itlian war effirt only fused with thev germn effort when it keot suffering battlefiekd losses, first at the hands of the French and than the Greeks and British (1940). One fasctir was that Italian military equipmebt was substandard. We are nt sure just when the Gernmans realized this, but was quite clear when the Gernan and Italian militaries began working together asfter the fasll of France to defeat the Brutish. Bioth the Luftwaffe nd KL=Krieggs marine reported this as the Italian Air Force anjioined in the Battle of Britain and the Bsttle of the Atlantic, both with very disappointing results. Te Italian submarines were not up to the German standards with slower diving times and poor submerged handling. One particularly poor feature was a large conning tower which made the the Italian boats more visible on the surface and a factor in the slow dive times. 【Bagnasco, p. 130.】 Equipment failure was another problem. 【D’Adamo】 Whatever the reason, the Italian results were only a small number of the German results. Even using Italian data, their result were appalling, 26,500 tons sunk compared to the 310,565 tons sunk by the Germans. 【D’Adamo】 And the German figures show an even greater Italian failure. Italian submarines had greater endurance than the Germsn U-boats. They were thus part of the Drumbeat offensive (1942). Here they operated on their own. Again results were disappointing, but they did better than under Dönitz's control. Reports of sinking American battleships led to discrediting the Italian submarine service. 【D’Adamo】 German Admiral Theodor Krancke described entry into the war by the Italians as a burden and described the Italian armed forces including the Navy as inferior despite the number of submarines. 【Bennett and Bennett, p.104.】 One inexplicable aspect of this whole sorry failure was the German unwillingness to share a wide range of technical advances with the Italians. Hitler himself was involved in these decisions. 【Führer Conferences】 It is almost as if Hitler did not want his allies to become too strong. We see the same attitude with the German Ostkrieg allies. Although here it is not clear if this was primarily German industrial production limitations or other issues. This unwillingness to share tecnnology with the Italisns never changed. This was because at the same time the War began to go bad for the Germans, the Italian cimmitment to the war after so mzany losses began to falter. And it did not make sebce to provide technology ton a partner that was increasinglyunlikely to continue the War. This was very duifferent than with Japab which was prepared to continuec the war to the bitter end.

German-Japanese Exchanges

There was a tradition of military cooperation between Gernany and Japan. The modern Japanesec Army was to substantial extent organized by German officers. Japanese school children still wear Prussian cadet uniforms, a legacy of that early cooperation. Even so, Japan joined the Allies during World War I and was rewarded with German concessions in China and island colonies in the Pacific. The Treaty of Versailles prohibited the Germans from building an airforce or U-boats. Even before the rise of the NAZIs, German companies operated in Japan, the Netherlands and other countries developing new techologies. Japanese submaries and air planes were thus developed with German technology. This cooperation intensified after the NAZIs seized power (1933). Heinkel played a major role in debeloping the Val dive bomber so effectively employed at Paerl Harbor. It was based on the Heinkel 70 bomber. The Germans help Kawasaki build submarines for the Imperial Navy. The Japane defeat by the Soviets in the Machrian border war (1939) should have convinced military planners that Japan was not in a position to wage a war with a modern European army. The Japanese do not appear to have drawn this conclusion. Japan joined the Axis (September 1940). At this time we do not have any details concerning immediate Japanese steps to obtain German technology. Most Japanese senior commanders were convinced that the country's warrior spirit and code of Bushido would bring victory. Some officers saw the need to acquire modern technology. One of these was Tomoyuki Yamashita. Yamashita was familiar with Germany having served as a military attach� there after World War I (1919-1922). Yamashita rose in the military hierarchy. He participated in the unsuccessful military coup (1936), but was not punished. He fought in the Manchrian border war against the Soviets (1939). After Primemister Fumimaro Kondoye appointed Hideki Tojo Minister of War, Yamashita was dipatched to Europe. He arrived in Germany with a shopping list for modern military technology. When he returned to Japan, he strongly advised against going to war with the United States or the Soviet Union until Japan had modernized its military. We have few details on German provision of military technology to Japan at this stahe of the War. We do know that the Germans helped the Japanese build the Hind fighter which was based on the ME-109. The Germans insisted on substantial payments on the basis of commercial exchanges. It is unclear to us how aggressively the Japanes pushed or the Germans offerred their technology. We do know that despite very effective German naval radar such as the equipment on the Bismarck, Japan entered the War in the Pcific without naval radar. We do not fully understand if this was because the Japanese did not appreciate the importance or the Germans were unwilling to share the technology. Radar was of course a critical technology for carrier warfare. This did not change until late in the War. Germany in 1945 began sending the Japanese information on some of their weapons such a jet aircraft. The full extent of the provision of high technology weapons to the Japanese is not known. The NAZIs insisted on lisensing agreements. The transfers were mostly made by made by U-boat. There were shipments of uranium, but the weapons blanned are not fully understood.

Italian-Japanese Exchanges

We know very little about Italo-Japnese technical cooperatiom during Word War II. We know of no significnt industrial cooperation. There was some limited military coopration. One reoort suggests that a Japanese naval commission was sent to Italy to study the British air attack on Tarento (November 1940). The Jaoanese were akready thinking about Pearl Harbor. The Japanese provided technical for the planning of Operazione C.3 (the invasion of Malta). They also provided technical details on the construction of aircraft carriers, badly needed by the Italian Navy. There are reports of ubmarines, blockade runners and an single flight in 1942. Some Italian submarines made it to Japan and a few Japanese sunmarines made the journey. Japan shipped rubber and quinine to Italy. Italy exported mercury and technologies duch as the Campini motorjet used for the Japanese Tsu-11 of the Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka Mod.22. The Italians also sent details anout their work on midget submarines. The trips became invreasingly dangeous as the War went on. It was easier to get to the German controlled Atlantic ports in occupoied France than Italy. The Italians continued working on midget subs in the upper Garda Lake (Riva and Torbole) during the RSI oeriod (1943-45). Details were reportedly guven to a Japanese mission (early 1945).

Other Axis Exchanges

The Germans provide military equipment to smaller Axis allies (Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungaria, Romania, and Slovakia). For political and strategic reasons as well as Germany's limited industrial capacity, however, Germany never fully equipped its Axis allies. The Romanians played an important role in Barbarossa. This was one reason that the battlefield performance of these countries, with the exception of the Finns, was no impressive. This was a fsctor in the disaster at Stalingtad. These exchanges were not one way. Germany's Axis allies shipped large quantities of food and raw materials to the Reich for which they were nit paid. Partivcularly important was the Romanian oil from Ploesti which was Germany;s only important source of natural petroleum.

German Exchanges Outside the Axis

Germany's primary allies were Italy and Japan and to a lesser extent other Axis countries duch as Hungary and Romania. There were two other countries outside the Axis. The first was the Soviet Union after the signing of the Non-Agression Pact (August 1939). Through this agreement, the Soviet Union delivered massive quany\tities of oil and other raw materials. The Germansx were slower in delibered the manufactured goods requested by the Soviets. This of course ended with Bsrbarossa (June 1941). The other important ally outside the Axis was Finland. The Germans began delivering military equipment before Bsrbarossa. Finland as a result of the Winter War when the Sivirts invaded them became a co-beligerant with Germany on the Eastern Front (1941-44). The Germans deliovered military equipment to Finland to support the Finnush war effort. The Finns were successful in pentraring Soviet codes, results they gave to the Germans and sold to the Japanese.

Reciprocal Links

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Bennett, G.H. and Roy Bennett. Hitler’s Admirals (2004).

Bagnasco, E. Submarines of World War Two (1977).

D’Adamo, Cristiano. Battle of the Atlantic

Deaken, Frederick William Dampier. The Brutal Friendship: Mussolini, Hitler and the Fall of Italian Fascism.

Dönitz, Karl. Memoirs.

Führer Conferences. Microfilm 1 (September 6, 1940)


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Created: May 3, 2004
Last updated: 4:10 AM 1/21/2023