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346 CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Conclusion POSTSCRIPT: ENCORE PERFORMANCE IN MANCHURIA Although the defeat of Nazi Germany ended the Soviets’ self-proclaimed Great Patriotic War, it did not end Soviet participation in World War II. Just as the other Allied powers had to turn their attention to Germany’s undefeated Axis ally, Japan, the Soviet Union also looked east to eradicate a latent threat that had existed since 1939. Soviet motives for intervening in the Asian war were varied. First, Stalin was determined to play the full role of a world power and valuable ally to the West. Second, he wanted to signal the Soviet intention to fulfill its role in East Asia and, not coincidentally, to reap whatever spoils were possible from the ruins of the Japanese Empire. This included recovering the territories Russia had lost to Japan in 1905.1 Operations in Manchuria also offered the Red Army the opportunity to apply and perfect skills learned in four years of combat against the Germans to battle with the Japanese. After the undeclared war at Khalkhin-Gol in 1939, both the Soviet Union and the Japanese Empire had turned away from their confrontation on the Manchurian border. In April 1941, they reached a truce that gave some measure of reassurance against surprise attack. This truce permitted Stalin to focus his efforts against the Germans while the Japanese concentrated on conquests in China, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific. Nevertheless, throughout World War II trust never characterized Soviet-Japanese relations. Both countries maintained considerable forces facing each other in northeast Asia while drawing off their best troops to fight elsewhere. The Japanese Kwantung Army in Manchuria remained a formidable fighting force well into 1944. During the crisis periods in the fall of 1941 and 1942, the Stavka withdrew some of its most experienced and capable Far Eastern divisions for service in the West, as described in chapter 6.2 However, newer, less capable formations , especially fortified regions designed for defense, replaced the prewar divisions, so that on paper, the Soviet capability did not change significantly. Soviet intelligence probably knew that the Japanese Kwantung Army did not shift its planning from offensive to defensive orientation until the summer of 1944.3 Conclusion 347 By 1944–1945, Japan’s only hope of avoiding total defeat was to prolong the Pacific conflict while inflicting maximum American casualties, forcing Washington to settle for a compromise peace. Not only were such casualties politically unpopular in the United States, they also played on a particular vulnerability: the shortage of ground troops. In order to staff its armament factories and man the largest air force and navy in history, the Roosevelt administration had fielded only eighty-nine army and six marine divisions—a huge force by American standards but far short of the armies of the USSR, Germany, and (proportionally) Japan and Britain. By the end of 1944, American casualties had already exceeded available replacements, forcing the U.S. Army to cannibalize nonessential units to keep its rifle companies up to strength. As the United States closed in on the home islands, fanatical Japanese defenders inflicted a rising toll on their opponents. In conjunction with the conquest of Germany, the United States suffered nearly 1 million combat and combat-related casualties between June 1944 and June 1945. Increasingly concerned by these losses, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson commissioned a detailed study, which projected that the invasion of Japan would cost the United States at least 1.7 million casualties, including 400,000 to 800,000 dead, thus doubling or tripling the combat fatalities of the war. The conquest of the home islands would also kill 5 to 10 million Japanese civilians and soldiers.4 It was this dire prospect that drove the American decisions to seek Soviet support in the war and to employ the atomic bomb. On numerous occasions during the conflict, British, American, and Soviet leaders discussed Moscow’s involvement in the Pacific, subject always to first defeating Germany. In early October 1944, Winston Churchill visited Moscow and discussed postwar spheres of influence with Joseph Stalin. As part of that meeting, known as the Fourth Moscow Conference, Major General Deane, head of the U.S. military mission to the Soviets, briefed Stalin and his operations officer, General Antonov, on the American strategy for terminating the Pacific War. In return, on 18 October Antonov provided an outline of the Stavka plan to build up...


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