operation barbarossa the campaign eventually ended in a humiliating failure for germany but not before devastating both sides with startling numbers of casualties the russia-german war seemed at full capacity on its own but there was actually a point at which a third party may have joined japan entering the fight against the soviet union if they had chosen to do so japan would have invaded siberia and forced the russians to split their attention between the japanese and germans putting them into a two-front war.
the second world war japan’s military leadership seemed to be fairly divided about what to do with their own empire one faction supported by the navy believed that the best thing for japan would be to expand further south and take parts of southeast asia while the army preferred a strategy that focused on pushing north into siberia to seize the region and take down the soviet union the latter option was actually gaining some traction and it became a genuine possibility.
as imperial japan saw things the ussr was still industrializing and consolidating power and could potentially be an easy target if they acted fast on the flip side though under joseph stalin russia was becoming more robust and it may be too late to act alternatively the west who controlled parts of southeast asia that japan was eyeing didn’t seem to be all that strong in the region and may actually be an easier target by this point this made the decision of who to focus on first increasingly difficult but the answer may have presented itself clearly enough in 1939.
throughout the 1930s japan and the soviet union had come in dangerously close proximity of each other through their concurrent expansion policies this inevitably had caused some border skirmishes off and on beginning in 1932 and although war was never declared things did get pretty intense between 1932 through 1934 hundreds of border disputes were reported by both expansionist powers due to misunderstandings or attempted espionage from either side with the soviet satellite of mongolia butting right up to the japanese controlled manchuko and any form of diplomacy between japan and the ussr rapidly deteriorating.
it appeared to be impossible for peace to exist at the borders and the events of this rivalry would go to show the japanese exactly what it would be like to face off with the russians in 1935 a series of attacks by the mongolians and russians were carried out along the manchuko border against the local and japanese troops which left the latter fairly batter although they managed to remain strong and hold their ground to round out the year it became apparent to japan that the soviets were undeniably a potent adversary the next year the clashes began to grow in intensity.
as can be seen by the tauren incident during the spring where both sides utilized armored vehicles and military aircraft japan seemed to be gaining more traction against the soviets as they beat back against their opponents with more success than in the year prior almost halfway into 1937 the russians tried to cross the border into japanese territory and occupy the island of kanchazu the japanese hit back with stunning aggression and completely routed the invaders scaring the soviets into withdrawing the rest of the men from the island.
a month later japan invaded china and tensions between the ussr and japan caused the soviets to warn their americans that they feared an attack would be coming from the germans and japanese simultaneously ironically if japan had been really considering an attack on the ussr they were soon about to change their minds the next summer started off ok for the japanese with an invasion into soviet territory that was justified by confusion surrounding.
the previously agreed upon demarcation lines although both sides took heavy casualties the japanese had been much less damaged and eventually requested a ceasefire which the russians agreed to by mid-august possibly overconfident after their recent relative prosperity the japanese were in for a shock when they decided to go on the offensive in the summer of 1939 some damage was done but all in all the first attempts made.
in july of 1939 were generally a failure the soviets were no more successful in their counter-offensives at first either but that eventually changed by the end of this series of skirmishes known as the battles of khal kin gol the japanese were annihilated as peace talks ended after the devastating final stand japan realized that it was surely too late to take advantage of the weakened ussr industrially numerically and militarily.
the soviets were no longer a struggling power and had left the japanese behind if this was any sign of how an invasion of siberia would end there was no doubt that such an act would be utter foolishness and if there was anyone left in tokyo who still wanted to push north despite the risks germany would have unintentionally put an end to that during the last stretch of the kao kin goal conflicts the ussr signed a non-aggression pact with germany.
in hopes of avoiding an attack from both sides germany a formal ally of japan would have a considerable influence on whether the japanese would attack russia or not and when launching corresponding incursions on two fronts of the ussr could have split the soviet forces and greatly increased the likelihood of an axis victory which therefore would have made it more plausible for japan to side with their army’s cry to push into siberia but now with germany locked into a peace deal.
japan was left on its own and having just been crushed by the soviet forces outside of siberia it seemed pretty clear that any more invasions would end in disaster on april 13th 1941 japan and russia officially signed a neutrality pact the navy faction had won the argument of where to go next and japan was now fully focused on attacking the west both in southeast asia and abroad when operation barbarossa was launched a couple months later by the germans.
there may have been some whispers in tokyo about reversing course and joining their ally but there doesn’t appear to have been any serious consideration for this planning had already begun for the fight against the west and the japanese had realized that their chances of crippling the united states as opposed to the soviet union were much higher an incursion into russia would allow for the soviets to fight back by land and air but an attack.
on the us could be done by air and sea which would force the americans to fight back in the same circumstances which japan believed would give them the advantage after they could destroy the american pacific fleet by this point in time with kao kin gol still fresh in the minds of the japanese there was simply no reason to abandon the non-aggression agreement and join the germans doing so would have surely benefited their allies by distracting.
the russian defensive forces but it wouldn’t have done much at all for japan other than bringing in more casualties and other damage also the war with china consumed a lot of resources and manpower it would have been probably impossible for the japanese to attack the soviets and in the same time fighting the more numerous chinese and trying to invade resourceful islands.
in southeastern asia tokyo had already been divided on whether or not to invade siberia so there was always a possibility for the navy faction to win on its own hence even when germany broke its own pact with the ussr by the commencement of operation barbarossa japan decided to maintain its stance of non-aggression due to the other list of reasons that backed the expand south faction while it would not have been impossible to find at least minimal success had the expand north army faction won it surely would have been highly unlikely and ultimately japan made the decision that they saw to be the safest and most logical at the time.
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