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70-year anniversary since the end of the 2-nd World War: the USSR and DEFEAT of JAPAN in 1945

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Japan signed the Act of Capitulation on September 2 1945. WW II came to the end. The war itself and its consequences are still a subject of sharp discussions. But for all that big efforts are being made in the West to distort and depreciate a role of the USSR in this global confrontation.

If we take the final cord of the war - a final defeat of Japan, the following thesis are more often put forward:

1.     Japan kept fairly to the nonaggression pact signed with the USSR but it was Stalin who violated in treacherously.

2.     The Soviet government imposed by itself its intervention in the war against Japan. Our western Allies did not need it, but based on friendly relationship they gave in to a wish of Moscow.

3.     Japan was finally defeated not by the USSR coming in the war, but by the USA use of nuclear bomb. Thus the Soviet Union waged war against a practically defeated and surrendered army.

It is worth considering these issues in details. First: the relationship between Japan and the USSR.

Actually Japan had posed the main threat to our country up to the middle of the 30-s. Japan took part in the antisoviet intervention during a civil war in Russia. Japan occupied North Sakhalin at that period and refused to return it up to 1925. In the course of those and following  years  Japanese militarists had been making plans of the war against the Soviet Union. The only impediment to it was a lack of common land boarder.

After Japan had occupied Manchuria, north-eastern province of China in 1931, such a boarder appeared and very soon the Kwantung Army was formed on its territory. By the middle of the 30-s the strength of that army was 300 thousand people (it should be remembered that total  manpower  of the Red Army did not exceed 700 thousand ). The Soviet government had to make a counterbalance to Japanese threat by forming special army units and building the Soviet Pacific Fleet and industrial base in the Far East.

In July 1937 Japan opened the war against China at the same time keeping tension in relation with the Soviet Union. The Soviet boarder was constantly broken by the Japanese military forces, and there were many armed provocations there; they took place 69 times in 1937 only. They were not only provocations. In summer 1938 a big armed conflict occurred at the Lake of Khasan between the Red Army and the Japanese armed forces. One of its aims was to try the strength of the Soviet troops and make Moscow deny any help to China. This attempt of provocation was not any success. After they were defeated in the east of Manchuria, the Japanese made another sortie in the west of the Soviet-Japanese boarder.  In spring and summer of 1939 there were some fights at the river of Khalkhin-Gol in Mongolian territory. The conflict ended with a shattering defeat of the Japanese army. Besides, signing by the USSR and Germany a bilateral pact on neutrality became an unpleasant surprise for Tokyo (Japan and Germany were considered as allies by that time, and  as Japan believed it could rely on its western partner’s support in confrontation with the USSR).

Since that time the Japanese stopped relying on their ally and decided to proceed from own interests alone. Indeed at first sight nothing changed in Japan’s relationship with Germany and Italy. In September 1940 these three countries signed a Triple treaty, which was first of all oriented against the USSR.

However in April 1941 Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Matsuoka signed a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union in Moscow though he was aware of a forthcoming German attack on the USSR.  Did Japan really mean to stand apart of German-Soviet conflict?  By no means, it was not so. As it is proved authentically,  at that stage the Japanese government strived for keeping free hand and wage the war against the USSR when it would be to advantage of Japan. Japanese War Minister Todzio avowed: “In spite of the pact we will make active military arrangement against the USSR … Now we have such a situation that no country stops itself from breaking treaties”.

After the beginning  of German-Soviet war military activity of Japan had increased. Detailed elaboration of aggressive plans against the USSR was in progress, the strength of Kwantung Army was increasing. By July 1941it numbered  up to 850 thousand men,   military dispositions of 6 armies and a separate army group were deployed in Manchuria. Still the Japanese did not dare to wage a war against the Soviet Union. They remembered Khalkhin Gol too well and considered  the Soviet troops remaining  in the Far East to be a very formidable adversary.  What is more, an immediate crash of the USSR they expected so much did not happen. That is why on August 9 1945 the Supreme command of the Japanese army made a decision to concentrate its efforts on actions in China , and prepare for offensive in the southern sector while maintaining readiness for aggression against the Soviet Union in case of its possible crash. The failure of European adversaries of Germany in war made their inheritance in Asia alluring and easy prize for Japan. And it happened so in future. On December 7 1941 the Japanese forces carried out attacks on American and British military bases, moved to the South and soon occupied Indo-China, Burma, Malaya, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, coming to boarders of India and Australia and even they landed troops on the Aleutian Islands.

Still the Soviet government could not be calm. The Japanese did everything to keep the tension at our borders.  The situation in the Far East is well characterized by the formula “home front - front”. Officially there were no actions, but the Japanese violated the Soviet land boarder 779 times during the Great Patriotic war and Japanese aircraft broke into the air space of the USSR 433 times. In all way Japan hampered shipping in the Soviet territorial and neutral waters. From December 1 1941 till  April 120 1945 Japanese naval ships stopped  (sometimes using weapons) Soviet merchant and fishing vessels for boarding  and search approximately 200 times. Some of the vessels were detained for a long period and 18 vessels were sunken.  The total damage to the Soviet shipping during that time made up about 700 million rubles.  As a result, Japan helped Germany as it could do, holding considerable  forces of the Red Army in the Far East while the Soviet command was in bad need of them in Soviet-German front.  Doesn’t it justify the decision of the Soviet government to declare a war to its old and guileful eastern neighbour in this case?

To determine when and how this decision was made let us move to the second problem: what made the USSR go into the war against Japan and what was the role our allies played at that.

Next day after a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, that is on December 8 1941 US President Franklin Roosevelt made a request to Stalin for help in the war against Japan.  If we take into account the fact that at those days the Red Army made a difficult counteroffensive in sub-Moscow area, to put it mildly this request was somehow a bit untimely. At last having taken into account Stalin’s statement that at the present moment the USSR was not able to afford opening of a second front in the Far East, in succeeding years many times Roosevelt tried to drive the USSR into the war against Japan either pressing upon Stalin or persuading  him to do it.  For example they requested Stalin if he could not wage a full-scale war, then he should give the USA some territories in the Soviet Far East to set USAF bases there, from which American bombers  would be able to carry out raids into Japan. As though neither the US President nor his advisers understood that such a move would mean de facto the Soviet Union’s participation in the war against Japan provoking far-reaching consequences.

For the first time Stalin declared officially a possible participation of the USSR in the war against Japan at Teheran conference in the end of 1943 when the end of the war against Germany was predetermined per se.  He promised then that the USSR would come into the war after final defeat of Germany.  Stalin’s promise was apprehended enthusiastically by the western partners of the Soviet Union. Later on Stalin used skillfully every desire of the Americans and British for driving the USSR into the war against Japan.  The war in the Pacific was not easy for our allies after all. In spite of more increasing military and technical supremacy of the USA the Americans suffered great losses in close engagements with the Japans.

A takeover of some islands with isolated Japanese garrisons cost the Americans a   great number of killed and wounded, these losses were almost equal in number to the losses in the amphibious operation in Normandy.  At takeover of Iwo Jima, an island (the length of which is 7 km) with a garrison of 21 thousand officers and soldiers the Americans lost 7 thousand killed and more than 19 thousand wounded.  In Okinawa the US army losses comprised 7.600 killed, 32 thousand wounded and 26 thousand soldiers got “other injuries”, mostly psychological disorder.  Also the US Navy suffered losses – more than 3 thousand killed, 6 thousand wounded, 29 ships were sunken, 120 damaged. At that the Japanese started to use their new secret weapon – kamikazes.  There were Japanese islands with fanatically set population and a large in number army waiting for the Americans ahead. By the beginning of 1945 Japan had an army of 7 million people, 10 thousand airplanes and about 500 naval ships.  The USA and Great Britain had 1.8 million people and 5 thousand airplanes at that seat of war. The Japanese forces were spread over different countries but Japan had sufficient troops to defend the country. The American command was   anxious about a possible lift of the Japanese troops from Manchuria and China to mother country.   The Soviet Union’s entry into the war was vital for the USA under those conditions.

Otherwise by American experts’ opinion the war might last at least 1.5 – 2years more after the end of the war in Europe, that is till the end of 1946 or maybe till 1948. And it might have cost the USA and Great Britain at least 1.5 million human lives.

The issue on the USSR’s entering the war against Japan was finally settled at the conference of “the Great Three” leaders in Yalta on February 4 – 12 1945.   It was the most important and vital issue for President Roosevelt, he was ready to do everything to solve it. At the eve of the conference Stalin put forward his main demands: South Sakhalin should be returned to the Soviet Union, the USSR should get the Kuril Islands, the Soviet Union’s rights to the KVZhD, Port Arthur and sea port of Dalnyi should be restored, the independent status of Outer Mongolia (People’s Republic of Mongolia), the independence of which was not recognized by China should be confirmed. Roosevelt and Churchill agreed with these demands of the USSR.

An Agreement between the three great powers on problems of the Far East, which fixed conditions put forward by the Soviet Union, was signed in Livadia Palace on the 11th of February. In his turn Stalin gave an obligation to start war operations in Manchuria in 3 – 4 months after the capitulation of Germany. 

Sometimes it is said that the USSR entered the war against Japan only because of striving for acquisition of new territories.  But the Soviet Union could get the territories it wanted without participation in the war.  In September 1944 the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Japan developed a project on some concessions,   which might have been offered to the Soviet government under the condition of the USSR’s neutrality in the war against Japan and its acting as an intermediary in the talks between Japan on the one hand and the USA and Great Britain on the other hand. This list comprised 11 items including a cession of rights to South Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands, the KVZhD and recognition of a Soviet area of interests in Manchuria. What can explain Stalin’s decision to reject the Japanese lavish offer but enter the war? Firstly, Moscow understood well that consent with Tokyo could be interpreted by our allies as breeching the existing agreements and that could seriously influence upon our future relationship with the USA and Great Britain. The USSR bloodless after the war was in need of normal connections with its allies in post-war period. Secondly, such a decision would lead to a complete removal of the USSR from post-war political process in East Asia, first of all in China. But taking part in the defeat of Kwantung Army would make for the USSR real favourable opportunities in this region. Thirdly, Japan should suffer punishment for its action in the past years: for Port Arthur and Tsushima, for the intervention, for Khasan and Khalkhin Gol.

The Soviet Union’s entering the war against Japan was not a treacherous aggression. The Soviet government notified the Japanese side honestly in advance about its plans.  On April 5 1945 the Soviet government declared officially the denouncement of the Pact on neutrality signed in 1941.  Henceforward the Soviet Union fulfilled its allied obligations. The Red Army started operation in Manchuria on August 9 1945 exactly three months later after the capitulation of Germany.

And third issue: what made Jahan surrender- an American nuclear bomb or the USSR’s entering the war?

One of favourite thesis of American historiography is that nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved lives of millions of the Americans and in the possible shortest  time let them to make Japan capitulate. Indeed successful trial of a nuclear bomb has marked entry of the world into a new quality epoch, provided the USA with a powerful instrument of influence on either the allies or the enemies, caused President Harry Truman’s euphoria. It is known that Truman changed sharply his attitude to Stalin at Potsdam conference, when he received a report on the first nuclear bomb explosion from Washington. After all, this new super-weapon according to his own words provided him with “a club to rule those guys” (he meant a possibility of more decisive actions with respect to Stalin and the Soviet Union). Still we consider, that it was not worth overrating the meaning of this event in that time. By August 1945 the two nuclear bombs, which were   exploded over Japanese cities made up the entire nuclear potential of the USA, and evidently it was not sufficient for complete victory over Japan. Just that was the reason why the USA were interested in the Soviet Union‘s participation in the against Japan. No wonder, Stalin could practically gain all his aims at Potsdam conference. 

Truman’s reaction to the news of the beginning of the Soviet advance in Manchuria is well known. In was his the shortest press conference during all his stay in White House. He appeared before the reporters and said: “I have only one statement. Today I am not able to give a full scale press conference; but my statement is so important, that I think that I am just obliged to tell it to you / Russia has declared a war to Japan. That is all.” After that he made a bow and the reporters rushed to the phones.

Indeed these two nuclear bombs appeared a monstrous weapon. The use of them caused tremendous human losses.  Two Japanese cities were annihilated at one moment. But was such annihilation somehow strange to Japan?  Not at all. By the summer of 1945 the American air raids had already destroyed a great number of the Japanese cities and towns. More than one fourth of million buildings were destroyed as a result of carpet bombing of Tokyo in March 1945.  Totally 83 thousand people were killed and 41thousand people were severely wounded.  This amount is not less than the total amount of victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Still the Japanese were not frightened.  So the destruction of these two cities unknown to the population of the country did not impress Japan much at that time. The ruling circles of Japan did not react to the news of these event.

But the Soviet Union’s entry into the war was a shock for them. Just now it got evident finally that continuation of the war was impossible. In his famous statement made at an emergency meeting of the Japanese leadership Supreme Council on August 9, K. Sudzuky who was a Prime Minister of Japan at that time, said: “The Soviet Union’s entry into the war drives us in a corner and makes further continuation of the war impossible”. Of course, to think that only the USSR entry into the war became a decisive factor.  At first there were some illusions on a possibility of further resistance. But a swift progress of events, a magnificent advance of the Soviet troops, a failure of Kwantung Army defense witnessed the inevitability of a downfall.

The war was lost once and for all. On the14th of August  Emperor Hirohito signed a rescript on the capitulation, which was promulgated over the Japanese radio next day. The 2nd World War ended.

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  6. Тегеран – Ялта – Потсдам. Сборник документов. М., Международные отношения, 1970.
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  8. Я дрался с самураями. От Халхин-Гола до Порт-Артура. М., Яуза, Эксмо, 2005.
  9. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States. Harry S. Truman. 1945. Washington, 1961.
  10. Truman Harry S. Memoirs by Harry S. Truman. Vol. 1. Year of Decisions. N.Y., 1951.
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