Strike-North Faction

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In planning for World War Two in the Pacific, the Strike-North Faction wanted to invade the Soviet Union in the search for resources beyond Mongolia and China. Its supporters included the Imperial Way Faction and Kwangtung Army, but not Emperor Hirohito and the bulk of the high command. Some of its advocates targeted the Soviet Union due to especially strong concerns about Communism. Others simply saw it as a continuation of Japanese destiny from the Russo-Japanese War.

When their planning became specific, war had been targeted for 1936. The position lost all credibility in 1939, after Japanese reverses both militarily and diplomatically. Japan had had border clashes with Russia since 1932, but, in 1938 and 1939, these escalated significantly — and the Kwangtung Army did not do well. Japan had been counting on German aid and distraction of the Soviet Union as a result of the Tripartite Pact, but was shocked, and set back, by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, just before the Soviets unleashed their strongest attacks. [1]

Preparation

Kanji Ishiwara took over the "total war lobby" in the Army command after the assassination of Tetsuzan Nagata. His preference was neither Strike-North nor Strike-South, sending a 1935 memo to Hirohito and the General Staff,
There is only one course for us: to consolidate and perfect our gains. If we do a fine job of reconstruction even only in Manchukuo, the rest of China will follow us as a matter of course. [2]

In particular, he worked out the consequences of promises by Sadao Araki, who, as war minister, wanted support for the Army buildup for an expected 1936 war against Russia. The Navy abrogated the Washington and London Naval Treaties in 1934, committing to an open-ended building program in 1937. On August 7, the inner five ministers issued broad policies to "ensure naval supremacy in the Western Pacific against the United States", while the Army would prepare to resist the power that Russia could use, especially increasing our armed strength in Manchukuo and Korea in order to launch a major attack at the outbreak of war...by gradual peaceful means" expanding into Southeast Asia. To support these, Ishiwara developed a five-year plan for expanding industrial infrastructure, which was expected to be voted on by the Diet on 24 July 1937. Before that vote, however, the full Second Sino-Japanese War broke out.[3]

Operational experience

Part of the reason it lost support was based on operational experience, in which the Imperial Japanese Army had fared poorly against the Soviets in skirmishes between 1932 and 1938. Japan was still preparing in 1936, and then was distracted by the 1937 outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

A clash, in 1938, at Lake Khasan, 70 miles southwest of Vladivostok at the intersection of the Manchukuoan, Korean and Soviet borders, left the Soviets controlling a strategic area. In May 1939, what Soviets would term the Khalkhin Gol and the Japanese would call the Nomonhan Incident was triggered by Japanese probes. The Japanese, 100 miles from their railroad in Mongolia, thought they had a logistical advantage. They fought to a draw in late May, but Soviet Gen. Georgi Zhukov launched a major counteroffensive on June 2. [4] This inflicted a thorough defeat on the Japanese. Precise casualty numbers are not known; estimates range up to 45,000.

Japanese command issues

The high command increasingly regarded the operation as out of its control, and diverting resources needed against China. On July 13, 1938, the Korean headquarters and Tokyo did not want a response to a Soviet troop movement on the Korean-Russian-Chinese border, but the 19th Division commander was disturbed at the restraint, and counterattacked against another Russian movement two weeks later, while negotiations were ongoing in Moscow. "Only concern for national honor and the potential threat to moral prevented the High Command from ordering immediate withdrawal and persuaded it to hold out for a negotiated solution."[5]

During the June fighting, the Kwangtung Army, which had initiated the original Manchurian Incident, launched bombing raids, on June 27 against Tamsag and Bain Tumen air bases, deep in the Soviet rear. These may[6] or may not[4] have been authorized by the Imperial Army.

The Kwantung Army commander, General Kenkichi Ueda, was relieved. He had overridden a detail in the plan prepared by Col. Masanobu Tsuji, over a point relating to military honor. [7]

References

  1. David Bergamini (1971), Japan's Imperial Conspiracy, Morrow, pp. 707-708
  2. Bergamini, p. 602
  3. Merion and Susie Harris (1991), Soldiers of the Sun: the Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Army, Random House, pp. 197-198
  4. 4.0 4.1 Sherwood S. Cordier (July 2003), "World War II: Soviet and Japanese Forces Battle at Khalkhin Gol", World War II Magazine
  5. Merion and Susie Harris (1991), Soldiers of the Sun: the Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Army, Random House, pp. 263-264
  6. Japan v. Russia, 1939 (part 1), Warbird Forum
  7. Stuart D. Goldman, Mongolia 1939 - Stalin's Shrewd Opening Act, History Net, p. 3