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What if the Soviets had attacked Japanese-held Manchuria in the spring of 1940?

Discussion in 'What If - Pacific and CBI' started by JCFalkenbergIII, Jun 22, 2008.

  1. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    Or perhaps this one?

    1. What if the Soviets had attacked Japanese-held Manchuria in the spring of 1940? In some ways that would have been a logical move. The Soviets and Japanese had a major rivalry going and had fought a couple of medium-sized border wars in the area. The Soviet nightmare was a two-front war with the Germans on the west and the Japanese on the east. Why not try to neutralize the Japanese while the Germans were tied up against France and Germany? That wasn’t really an option after the Winter War with Finland exposed Soviet military deficiencies, but if the Soviets focused on building up to settle with the Japanese once and for all in the fall and winter of 1939/40 they might decide to take a rain-check on invading Finland, which would mean that they would not find out about those deficiencies until they actually went after the Japanese. The attack on the Japanese in Manchuria might actually go considerably better than the one on Finland did because Soviet officers in the Far East hadn’t been purged to the same extent that a lot of the rest of the army had. At the same time, the Soviets would not be able to beat the Japanese anywhere near as quickly as the Germans beat the French and English. They would have a major advantage in armor, but they would have a hard time gaining control of the air, given the quality or Japanese planes and pilots. Probable result: Japan loses territory and battles but is not out of the war when Germany finishes off France. What happens then?
    World War II Scenario Seeds
     
  2. Totenkopf

    Totenkopf אוּרִיאֵל

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    Errrrrrm.... The Soviets gain 50-60 million more men to send charging to their deaths?
     
  3. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    It would be a losing proposition for the Soviets.

    First, there is the logistics problems associated with such an offensive. In 1939 the Soviets were far worse off in this respect. The best they might do is advance 250 to 350 miles into Manchuria (Manchucho) gaining ground but little of any value in doing so. At that point, their advance would grind to a halt for lack of supplies and sit for the better part of a year or more building up for another advance.

    Against this, the Japanese would almost certainly take all of Sakalin Island and blow the Soviet Pacific Fleet, such as it is, out of the water. This would cost the Soviets about 20% of their oil production and be a windfall for the Japanese. It would also make Russia far more vulnerable to destruction of shipping in the Pacific.

    The other problem for the Soviets would be a weakening of their Western border in the face of an increasingly hostile Germany. Such an offensive would put a real strain on such ventures as the Winter War with Finland and advances into Romania and Poland when those occur. It would have also drawn off critical reserve units from the interior military districts putting them in a poor position to counter a German offensive when it came.

    On the whole, invading Manchuria is a loser for Russia just as invading Siberia is a loser for the Japanese.
     
  4. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    The Soviets were engaged in a major border war (Nomonhan War) with elements of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria as late as September, 1939. They not only soundly defeated the Japanese, but completely annihilated an entire Japanese division, inflicting possibly as many as 45,000 casualties on Japanese forces. The European war then broke out, and Soviet attention was diverted to the occupation of the eastern half of Poland. Japan was lucky to have escaped as lightly as it did. The war plans of the Japanese militarists were changed as a result of this encounter with Soviet military power and the "strike south" policy was adopted over the IJA-favored "strike north" strategy.

    Had the Soviets determined to punish Japan, it's likely they could have enveloped most of Manchuria, forcing the Japanese to abandon their "southward movement" and curtail their war against China, at least until they could stop the Red Army in Manchuria. This would have changed the whole dynamic of Soviet-Japanese-German relations and led to unpredictable results in the European war, as well as later in the Pacific.
     
  5. von Rundstedt

    von Rundstedt Dishonorably Discharged

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    The defeat would have to absolute, meaning that they (the Soviets) would have to remove Japan altogether out of that sphere of influence, the Soviets would have eventually invade Japan proper, can the Soviets lose an additinal 3 to 4 million troops killed to do this, then there is the problem of overcomming both the Army and Navy AF, and IJN.

    Also another issue is that of Stalin himself, lets face it he was not going to back down over Finland, his ego would not allow it.

    And something that hasn't been forseen, if the Soviets do indeed invade Manchuria and Northern China are they going to give it back to China or are they going to hold onto it, this could be seen as a seperate invasion, the Danger is of course to the Nationalist Government, what is to stop the occupying Soviets giving aid and equipment to the Communist Chinese to overthrow the Nationalist Government, nothing that's what.

    Plus another senario is that Japan and Nationalist China knowing the rammifications of a Communist heavyweight invading could make the Nationalist Chinese and Japanese allies.

    So in conclusion Soviet troops in the East are bogged down in a war against the Nationalist Chinese and Japanese with their Soviet Pacific Fleet sunk, the Soviet Red Air Force eliminated and now are facing 5 million Chinese and Japanese troops and is unable to divert troops westward when Germany and the Axis launch Operation Barbarossa.

    Soviets Surrender in 1943.
     
  6. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    At Nomohan the Japanese 28th division was badly mauled to the tune of about 7 to 8,000 casualties. The 7th was also hit fairly hard along with the IJAAF who lost the better part of an air division of planes and pilots.
    Against this the Soviets lost roughly three times the casualties and gained little ground. The Soviets were operating from near their peacetime bases and had a decent supply line forward to their initial positions. The Japanese were at the end of a nearly 300 mile supply line from the nearest railhead. Stretched as they were, the Japanese were barely able to keep the one division supplied let alone reinforced.
    The Soviets were in little better shape logistically. They would face the same problems in a major offensive that the Japanese faced; simply trying to keep their forces supplied.

    Now, this would have certainly stopped the Japanese advances elsewhere in China and likely caused them to massively reinforce Manchuria with new units but, it buys the Soviets little other than a protracted war far from their own bases of supply.
     
  7. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    Thanks to both of you for your thought out responses. :)
     
  8. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    "At the same time, the Soviets would not be able to beat the Japanese anywhere near as quickly as the Germans beat the French and English. They would have a major advantage in armor, but they would have a hard time gaining control of the air, given the quality or Japanese planes and pilots. Probable result: Japan loses territory and battles but is not out of the war when Germany finishes off France."

    This seems to be a resonable statement then.
     
  9. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    One might note that the performance of the Red Air Force was so bad during the Nomohan operations that Polikarpov, then the head of the premier fighter design bureau, himself was called on the carpet by Stalin to explain why his fighters did so miserably against the Japanese.
    Polikarpov arranged a mock dogfight between an I-16 and an obsolete Japanese biplane fighter to show his designs weren't at fault. Stalin bought none of it. The result was that the Polikarpov bureau was relegated to obscurity allowing other aircraft design teams a chance at the top spot.
    Just an interesting aside as to why you suddenly don't see any new Polikarpov designs in service after about 1940.
     
  10. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    No, not just to take Manchuria. The IJA was fully extended in China and could not afford to fight the Soviets in Manchuria. That's why the Japanese were more than happy to sign an armistice with the Soviet Union at the end of the Nomonhan war, and abandoned their "strike north" strategy.


    Stalin and Mao were on opposite sides in 1940 because of Mao's refusal to toe the Comintern line. Stalin would have been more than likely to have aided the nationalist Chinese instead of the Communist, and in fact, did supply some aid to the Nationalist cause against the Japanese. It really doesn't matter whether tthe Soviets give Manchuria to China or not because the Nationalists did not consider Manchuria to be a vital part of China, although their eventual intention was to incorporate the territory.


    This is a fanciful and entirely unwarranted conclusion. The Nationalist Chines were more likely to ally themselves with Soviet Russia than with Japan. And Japan, at the time would have had to make a choice between giving up their considerable gains in China in order to fight the Soviets in Manchuria or simply abandoning Manchuria. Moreover, they were worried about the possibility of the Soviets granting the US leases on air bases in Siberia which would have opened their cities and industrial centers to heavy bombing raids. It was Japan which would have suffered most in a war with the Soviet Union.


    The joker in the deck is, of course, Germany. Hitler wasn't ready to attack the Soviet Union until Poland was carved up in the fall of 1939 and that involved Germany in a war with Britain and France. So Germany wouldn't be able to do much about the Soviets until mid-1941, by which time, the Soviets would already have overrun most of Manchuria. But if Hitler had foregone the partition of Poland and simply attacked the Soviets outright while they were still involved in fighting the Japanese, things might have become dicey for the Soviets. There are so many historical changes though, that it's impossible to predict the results.
     
  11. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    So what? It took over a year after the fall of France for Germany to invade the Soviet Union. And with a year's worth of combat experience against the Japanese in Manchuria, the Red Army certainly wouldn't have been the push-over it was historically in 1941. As it was, the Japanese IJAAF wasn't able to gain air superiority over the Soviet Air Force in the Nomonhan war.
     
  12. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    The problem was that the Soviets didn't really get much experiance out of Nomohan. For the most part their losses were heavy enough that units did not gain "corporate" knowledge from their fighting.

    For example, in the air the Japanese put up about 100 aircraft total against about 600 for the Soviets. Soviet losses were on the order of 8 to 1 but, in the end the Japanese were attrited to nothing but so were the Soviets. Both sides were shocked by their losses. As I've pointed out Polikarpov was sacked by Stalin. The Japanese army was moved to massively expand their pilot training program that had been turning out a few dozen pilots per year to turning out a few hundred. The Japanese also suddenly were in a rush to modernize their aircraft because of the unprecedented losses they suffered.

    On the ground the results were largely the same. Several Soviet mechanized formations, particularly the armored car brigades that were engaged at Nomohan were virtually wiped out (albeit at very heavy cost in lives for the Japanese). Total AFV losses were somewhere between three and four hundred vehicles. Zhukov may have won but, he did so far more through brute force than great generalship.
    Both sides were again shocked by their losses. Neither would publically admit to being severly hammered but both were. The Soviets were as ready to sign a non-aggression pact as the Japanese were afterwards.

    If Nomohan proves anything, it was that neither the Japanese nor Soviets was prepared to fight an all out war with the other. The Japanese lacked the numbers and equipment, the Soviets the competence to pull it off. With little to gain from such a war for either side both decided the best course was an armed peace.
     
  13. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Aquila non capit muscas

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    In 1945 the Soviets did indeed wipe out Manchuria but this was as I said in 1945, after they had ammassed a large amount of troops and materiel, as well as acquired 4 years of command expertise, involving three Fronts. These were commanded by MSU Malinovsky (Carpathians), MSU Meretskov (Finalnd 1944, including Petsamo-Kirkenes) and Gen. Purkayev (Far Eastern Front). These men were specially selected due to their experience in the local conditions (Purk.) or experience in fighting in bad mountain terrain and difficult logistical conditions. Even so, with the awful terrain and lack of communication lines, it certainly wasn't a piece of cake by any means.

    None of this was available in 1940 much less the expertise, so I don't see any reason it might have worked beyond a probe or two to conquer barren border ground.
     
  14. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    But the Soviets did win at Nomonhan and certainly understood that material superiority is a prerequisite for winning in a modern mechanized war; the Japanese made a lot of noise over the need to modernize their forces but nothing happened. Moreover, the Soviet offensive part of the Nomonhan war lasted all of six weeks and had only limited objectives. If they had fought over Manchuria for more than a year, the Soviets would have gained much more valuable experience. There can be no question that Zhukov gained valuable experience in the short time he was in command of Soviet forces and, would have become well seasoned after a year of combat. And that would have been true of the survivors of all ranks who would have provided a core of seasoned combat soldiers that even the Wehrmacht couldn't have boasted in their walkover of France. Finally, an extended campaign in Manchuria would have afforded the Soviet military a chance to test their equipment and doctrine and make adjustments. None of this could have been beneficial to the Germans in the summer and fall of 1941.
     
  15. von Rundstedt

    von Rundstedt Dishonorably Discharged

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    Devilsadvocate

    You may be correct on this, but at what cost to the Soviets, just say the Soviets do indeed decide to go on the offensive as you suggest, and the Japanese although outclassed decides that they will make a fight of it and stand their ground, how long are you going to suggest the offensive would last, how many Soviet troops that otherwise would have been transferred to the West historically be laying dead or wounded beyond their capacity to fight, you failed to answer that.

    Also we would never have seen General Zhukov on the Soviet Westrn Front and many other fine outstanding Generals stuck in the east while those of lesser quality are in the west and that even if the lessons are learnt in the west, the Soviets still have to overcome the massive purges that ravaged it.

    Then you also fail to account for the IJN and IJA Air Forces and the IJN surface fleet, also you fail to account that with any withdrawal of Japanese troops they would scorch earth anything of value, destroy railways and bridges, the Soviet Army would eventually be fighting a war far away from its railheads and would have to divert mechanized vehicles from the battle to redeploy them in supply columns, that would come under more and more air strikes.

    The Soviets in 1940 were not as prepared like they were in 1945.

    v.R
     
  16. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    I don't think there's any doubt at all that the Japanese would decide to fight if the Soviets had attacked Manchuria in 1940, or kept going in September, 1939. And there's really no way of knowing how long such an offensive might last, nor how many casualties either they or the Japanese might have suffered. But then you miss the whole point of any what-if question; it changes the historical dynamic. The evidence suggests that the Soviets would have had far fewer casualties than the Japanese and certainly far fewer than any numbers which would have convinced them that Manchuria was not worth the cost.


    Certainly possible, but not a given. A Soviet attack on Manchuria in 1940, say in the spring, would have been more than a whole year before Germany was prepared to attack the Soviets in 1941. And again you completely miss the point of "what-if"". General Zhukov, if successful in the east for a year, would have immense influence with Stalin, and may have been able to protect the more able officers under him. There were no units, or officers, "stuck" in the east; it would have been quite possible for Stalin to transfer competent officers wherever he thought necessary, while purging the incompetents. In any case, Stalin's purges were political, because he thought the officers might be plotting against him. With an active war in the east, he can simply shuffle them around, and keep them busy; the political purges of the Red Army may not even take place given the active employment of military officers made possible by a war against Manchuria. Remember, a what-if doesn't change just one aspect of history, it would change everything from that point forward.


    No, the Soviet air force accounted for the very small IJAAF contingent in the Nomonhan war, and would have continued to do so in any general attack on Manchuria. You forget that the Japanese were fully involved in a war against China and had most of their planes deployed against the Chines in central China. Much has been made of the performance of Japanese planes in China against the Chinese, but in fact, the air war was a minor factor because neither the Chinese nor the Japanese had enough planes to play a decisive role. The same goes for the IJNAF; it simply could not deploy enough aircraft, nor did Japan have the industrial capacity to produce enough aircraft to have an appreciable effect on ground fighting in Asia.

    Perhaps you could explain how the IJN surface fleet would be able to affect ground fighting in Manchuria? There are, to my knowledge, no navigable rivers as there are in China. Even so, the IJN had a very minor role in China (the reason the IJN evolved the "strike south" strategy to justify more expenditure on naval equipment) and would have even less in Manchuria. True, as the front extended further and further into Manchuria, the Soviets would experience logistical problems, as did the Japanese, and would have to overcome these issues. But that would effect both sides an the Soviets had a better appreciation of logistical obstacles than the Japanese ever dreamed of. As for "scorched earth" tactics, that's certainly a prospect, but wouldn't come into play until the Soviets had advanced into eastern Manchuria since there's little in western Manchuria except wilderness.


    Excellent point, and one which applies equally to the Japanese and Germans. Germany still had not seized Poland until late 1939 and was far from being prepared to launch an attack on the Soviet Union. Besides, the partitioning of Poland led to war with France and Britain which preoccupied Germany for well over another year. Japan was not a member of the Axis until September, 1940. The IJF was involved in a grinding war in China which was devouring it's reserves and resources at an astounding rate. In addition, the Japanese economy was coming under increasing attack from the British Commonwealth and the US because of Japan's increasing aggression in Asia and the Pacific.

    The period 1938-1941 was a time of great turmoil in international relations when military/political alignments shifted and changed almost weekly, and seemingly isolated events caused great shifts in strategy among the great powers. There is no way of predicting what might have happened had the Soviets attacked Japan in Manchuria. Such a change in historical events might have so changed the course of history as to make it unrecognizable to modern eyes. A Soviet attack on Manchuria in 1940 might have caused changes to the international scene that resulted in a German-Soviet alliance that held at least until much later in WW II. Or it might have led to an American-Soviet alignment that prevented Hitler from attacking the Soviets in 1941. It might have prevented the Pacific war by so occupying the Japanese that their "strike south" strategy became impossible. Without the Pacific War to propel the US into WW II, what would the effect have been on German foreign policy? Germany surely would have had to think thrice about challenging the industrial might of the US without the braking effect of Japanese aggression in the Pacific.
     

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