This section covers the war with Japan. In summary:
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East Asian Co-prosperity
Imperial Japan is going nowhere fast. On paper, the Empire and its puppets control a fifth of China, half her population and almost all her industry. In reality, occupied China teems with bandits and guerrillas, and one only has to travel twenty miles from a railroad or river to find territory beyond Imperial control. On paper, the Republic's troops outnumber those of the Empire and her allies by three-to-one; in reality, only half of these troops answer to the central government led by the Guomindang (aka the 'Kuomintang'), the Chinese Nationalists led by Jiang Jiesei (aka Chiang Kai-shek). Only a fifth of 'those' forces, moreover, can be relied upon to obey him or fight properly. The superiority of Japanese equipment, training, unit organisation and command structure - not to mention air-power, which is being used to level Chinese towns and cities more or less with impunity (typically by fire-bombing them) - has counted for nothing in the face of China's vast size and massive population. For instance, the Chinese have virtually no anti-tank weapons, but the Japanese have virtually no tanks in working order that they can bring to where they are needed, except in the on-and-off meat-grinder battles which rage through the hills of southern and central China. In a relatively unmolested, rural and mountainous province of north-central China, a young Communist official is slowly offing his rivals and building up a power base for himself. He eventually becomes the leader of the socialist commune there, the largest in the country, and uses his clout as a warlord to secure his appointment as chairman of the Chinese Communist Party. His name is Mao Zedong (aka Mao Tse-tung). Though the Guomindang has been working hard to promote the image of stalemate, Japan is winning. Even though the Guomindang managed to relocate all their factories to the mid-Yangtze around Changsha and upper-Yangtze basin around Chongqing, it just hasn't been enough. China is an overwhelmingly rural and agricultural economy, and the Guomindang has been trying to fight a modern war (against a modern, industrialised nation-state) for four years now while only holding onto a small part of it. Jiang's control, moreover, is slipping - with his most loyal forces decimated at Shanghai and in the battles for the lower Yangtze, the uneasy balance of power between him and his warlord 'allies' at the regional and local levels has changed decisively in their favour. What's more, for four years now Jiang's avowed strategy has been one of 'trading space for time' - but there are places that the Guomindang simply cannot afford to lose (like Chongqing, Jiang's wartime capital). Moreover, the Guomindang is still dependent upon certain supplies from within China (like grain) and the outside world (like artillery). Accordingly, the Imperial Army's strategy has had two aims - blockading the Guomindang and bleeding them dry. This means Japanese garrisons right across the occupied territories, and decisive battles for places like the central-Yangtze city of Changsha, eventually the site of four major battles in four separate campaigns over the course of six years. Though the Guomindang has held on so far, it's forces' combat efficiency deteriorates daily. Only a handful of grunts in Jiang's core armies from 1937 are still around, and the Guomindang has exhausted the supply of willing recruits and non-critical people who can be conscripted. The Japanese blockade, too, is almost complete; the 'Burma Road' between Yunnan province and British Myanmar is the Guomindang's only link with the outside world after the Japanese take the ports of south China in '38-40 and bully the Vichy regime into giving them French Indochina. The internal blockade of Free China from Occupied China has not been going well - Japan just doesn't have the manpower to enforce it outside the cities of the lower Yangtze and coastal China - but this is set to change, as the one-time Guomindang party leader Wang Jingwei (who had been overthrown by Jiang in a military coup) has defected to the Empire. With his help, they have been able to establish their own 'independent' Chinese national government based out of Nanjing. The burgeoning Japanese-trained forces of this new regime are freeing up more and more Japanese troops for service further into the interior. In a year, maybe two at the most, the Guomindang will fall. After the fall of France, Japan took the opportunity to effectively seize the French colony of Indochina - including modern-day Cambodia and Vietnam - as part of their blockade strategy, ostensibly at the "invitation" of the collaborationist Vichy government. Thailand, fully aware of which way the wind is blowing, voluntarily joins the "Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere and becomes a Japanese client state. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, worried about Japanese expansion in Asia, has been looking for an excuse to act against them for a while now. He manages to get the United States to restrict all steel and oil exports to Japan in an embargo in an attempt to bring them to the negotiating table concerning China. Since the US is Japan's #1 supplier of both essential commodities, the Japanese government is forced between a rock and a hard place; they cannot be seen as backing down to the US, but they don't have the strength to take them on and win. With Holland having fallen to the Germans and Britain preoccupied elsewhere, the Imperial Navy again proposes, for the umpteenth time, their plan to strike south to seize the oil supplies and rich natural resources of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and British Malaya. This time, however, the Cabinet is willing to listen; the fleet's oil supplies will be depleted within a matter of months and it's not like the Navy and its attached ground forces - the Special Naval Landing Forces - have been making a huge contribution to the China theatre anyway. Taking on the Dutch means taking on their ally Britain. However, Britain and the USA have numerous mutual business and territorial interests in China, such as the British-American Tobacco company and the (joint-sovereignty) International Settlement at Shanghai. The Navy and the Cabinet know all too well that an imperial(ist) power like the USA would never pass up the chance to use Japan's meddling with the USA's affairs, however indirectly, to declare war on them and make them a colony like the Philippines. However, if they strike first, they might still be able to salvage the China Incident. If they can just give johnny-foreigner a sufficiently impressive taste of cold steel, Japan's Junta convince themselves, then he'll see just how enormously bloody and costly an official War (with a capital W) with Japan would be. After all, to this day the Americans haven't shut up about how many people they lost in WWInote , or in their Civil War. Even if it weren't for their lack of 'stomach' for real fighting, it's clear that the USA is above all a sensible and opportunistic power - the USA always looks for the maximum effect for the least effort. A massive war with Japan would be of such limited benefit to them, and could only be won at such great cost, that they would rather back down than fight it. Even if they do declare war on Japan, they won't have the stomach to really stick it out to the end - Imperial Russia, which hadn't even been a 'mob-rule' democracy like the USA is, had been 'bested' like this in a short war they didn't have the stomach for.
A Way Out: Attack Plan South
After six months of planning and training under the supervision of Admiral Yamamoto, a task-force based around six aircraft carriers moves out under complete secrecy and on December 7, 1941, catches the US Navy's Pacific fleet completely off-guard and at anchor at the Pearl Harbour Naval Base in Hawaii. Johnny-foreigner is left reeling from his first taste of cold steel in decades as the Imperial Navy's Most Valiant Air Forces strike a devastating blow against the naval forces of The Most Glorious Empire's New Enemy. note That said, there isn't much permanent damage. Many of the ships can be - and are - repaired and returned to service within a year or so; only three ships are completely out of commission, and a lot of material is salvaged from them, the blessing 'in disguise' of being attacked at anchor in a shallow, friendly harbor. Ironically, with their battleships out of action, the US Navy is forced to adopt the very same carrier task-force concept that the Japanese had just demonstrated so effectively. Though not immediately evident to most, this move changes naval warfare forever. Though they will see further service in the current conflict, this incident and the later sinkings of the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse by purely air attack without the protection of aircraft carriers' fighters means that the era of the battleship is over. Though not quite as spectacular at first glance, the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor is not nearly as costly to the Americans as their invasion of the Philippine Islands, which had been a US territory since the Spanish-American War. The Americans had been in the process of reinforcing the island as part of the massive rearmament and expansion of the US military since FDR's reelection in 1940 (he promised to keep the US out of the wars overseas, but that didn't mean he wouldn't prepare just in case, but they are still woefully underequipped for the task. Upon hearing of the attack in Hawaii, the Philippine and American forces go on alert, with the Far East Air Force scrambling to meet any Japanese attack that might be aimed at them, but they end up overwhelmed by the attack when it comes, catching many of the FEAF planes while they are refueling on the ground. note While the FEAF has received some new planes in the form of B-17 Flying Fortresses and P-40 Warhawks, many of the Philippine and American pilots still fly obsolete planes such as the P-26 Peashooters, with their open cockpits and braced wings. Even so, several Japanese planes meet their end at the hands of these outdated planes, including two Japanese Zeroes, hinting at their critical defensive flaws. The jungle conditions in the Philippines are brutal to fight in, with many of the Japanese troops suffering from heat stroke and diseases. Though they are in no position to capitalize on it, at one point late in the battle, American and Philippine forces outnumber the Japanese two to one as a result. The American forces are pressed back to the Bataan Peninsula, with General Douglas MacArthur commanding from the island fortress of Corregidor, earning him the unflattering nickname of "Dugout Doug". Roosevelt orders that MacArthur, his family, and staff be evacuated to Australia, and he promises "I Shall Return!" The American forces on the Philippines surrender soon after, and MacArthur spends most of the war working to advance towards and retake the islands where he has spent much of his career. Of greater concern, though it is not apparent at the time, is the US Navy's declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare against the Empire of Japan, similar to Germany's submarine campaign against that other island-empire, Britain. It's rather ironic given US objections to unrestricted submarine warfare on the other side of the world. Though at first this is a hollow threat - modern submarines are relatively few and far between and over-cautious peacetime skippers and defective torpedoes will limit their effectiveness for months to come. Meanwhile Japanese submariners, who already have effective torpedoes, squander their initial advantage by concentrating on scouting for their fleet and hunting allied warships instead of merchant vessels. The Japanese obsession with a short decisive war meant they'd never developed proper doctrine for commerce warfare, and even if they hadn't their lack of island bases and the vastness of the Pacific effectively prevent a Japanese submarine campaign against Australia and the USA's Western coast to match the German assault against Britain and the US East Coast in the Atlantic. Tactical success aside, the Navy and the Cabinet soon realize they have made a mistake. This was partly a failure of the Japanese intelligence services, which were weak, but more fundamentally a failure to understand the motivations of their now-enemies. The USA wasn't at all interested in helping Britain maintain her Empire, or even using the conflict as a pretext for a war with Japan. note In fact, their 'preemptive' offensive has generated huge outrage and calls for revenge among the US public, the attack on the fleet in particular being reviled as 'A date which will live in infamy'. This makes it possible for President Roosevelt, who personally supported US involvement in the the wider war but previously had to contend with a staunchly anti-war public, to declare war on Japan and bring the US into the Allied camp. He also mandates massively increased investment to make the ridiculously large "Two Ocean Navy" (as laid out in 1940) a reality in just three years, stating his intention to take the war to Japan. Rational officers like Admiral Yamamato had understood the nature of the US's strong isolationist lobby, not to mention its overwhelming material advantagenote , but were duty-bound to follow the government's orders anywaynote . Hitler promptly commits one of the greatest strategic blunders of all time by declaring war on the United States in support of his ally, clearing the way for Roosevelt to have the US join the fight in Europe with complete domestic political support.note Thus, as 1941 comes to a close, the Germans, who six months before only faced the British Empire and its Commonwealth, are now at war with the three most powerful non-Axis nations on Earth. At this point the defeat of the Axis is inevitable, their poor decision-making having doomed them. note However, it isn't immediately apparent that Japanese are bound to lose, since they promptly sweep the Allies nearly out of the Pacific. On the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces seize the foreign concessions in China and Guam island and launch an amphibious invasion of the American Philippines and British Malaya. Within just a couple of months these are all secured for Japan, and the Japanese sweep outward to take the entire Dutch East Indies and most of Burma. Six months of uninterrupted victories leave Japan the master of East Asia and the western Pacific. To raise morale and curb spying, the US promptly herds all its ethnic-Japanese citizens living on the west coast into internment camps and expropriates all their assets.note The US does, however, allow Japanese-Americans to serve with its armed forces - but only in the European theatre, except for some who serve in non-combat roles as translators. Roosevelt is keen to capitalise on the strength of the American people's anti-Japanese hatred, so he gets Chief-of-Staff George Marshall to assign the US Army to help the Guomindang in their fight against the Imperial Japanese Army. Somewhat cynically, Marshall appoints the newly-promoted General Stilwell to head up the US Army's Expeditionary Force to China but doesn't actually give him any men. From the USA's standpoint, it makes no sense to give the Guomindang any more support than necessary for their ally to survive in their role as a meatshield, and the nearly insuperable logistics of even getting supplies overland to China when Japan holds nearly their entire coastline makes it difficult to even do that. This is more-or-less exactly what they do, giving the Guomindang only a fraction of the aid they give Britain or the Sovietsnote and turning down Jiang's calls for American troops. Moreover, the Lend-Lease supplies they 'do' send to Jiang are largely consumed by their own forces. Stilwell's on-loan Guomindang divisions (in India) get most of the army equipment meant for the Guomindang at large, and Claire Chennault's Far Eastern USAF group gets much of what does make it to China proper. The US does, however, give the Guomindang enough money in the form of low- (and some no-)interest loans to keep their government ticking over - for a while. After four years of cripplingly expensive total war, the Guomindang has been forced to decentralise its administration and tax-collection to the regional and local level, arbitrarily conscript peasants, and print money in order to survive. The consequences have been mounting governmental corruption and monetary inflation. The loans help stave off the Guomindang's imminent implosion, but it isn't enough to allow them to reform and recentralise (and the huge cash inflow the loans constitute actually makes the inflation worse). Consequently, the Guomindang's administrative and fighting efficiency continues to slowly but inexorably deteriorate. The US also loads 24 land-based medium bombers on a carrier to launch a symbolic strike of their own on Japan itself; the 'Doolittle Raid'. Although the damage caused by the bombing is negligible, the Japanese people are spooked that the Americans can hit them even now, after all the measures that have (supposedly) been taken in the name of the defence of the Japanese Nation. This prompts the China Expeditionary Force to go on a new offensive in the hills of Hunan and Jiangxi provinces, with the aim of capturing or destroying all airbases within strategic-bombing range of Japan. The operation is a success insofar as the airbases are all cut off or destroyed, but as usual the Japanese overstretch their supply lines and are forced to withdraw again. For their part, the Imperial Navy seeks a decisive battle with the US Pacific Fleet, in the hope that its (certain, of course) destruction will buy them a year or two of breathing space (or even, the more optimistic among the Imperial Cabinet hope, a negotiated peace). The US has also committed itself to a 'Europe-first' strategy by this time, one that has decided the USA's use of Jiang and the Guomindang - they consider his regime too weak, inefficient and politically unreliable to be trusted with the kind of resources they would need to fight Japan on equal terms. The US Navy's argument - that it'd be cheaper to simply prop the Guomindang up with the bare minimum of support needed to keep them in the fight and use the Pacific Fleet to 'Island Hop' into a position where they can blockade or even invade the Japanese Home Islands - wins out, though the US works hard to keep up the appearance of Sino-American solidarity for now.
The Pacific Tide Turns
The tide of battle turns at the end of Japan's six month window of strategic advantage, as Admiral Yamamoto warned would happen. In the mid-Pacific, a Japanese attempt to destroy the American fleet and capture the island of Midway leads to disaster, as American code-breakers have managed to crack Japan's primary naval encryption and know their fleets' every move. Even better, American dive bombers just happen to catch the Imperial Japanese Navy at a moment when all its planes are being reloaded for an another attack—meaning the hangars of each ship are covered with fuel, munitions and aircraft. The US Navy sinks three Japanese carriers in the span of five minutes, and a fourth a few hours later, at the loss of only one of its own. The IJN is broken as an offensive threat and the balance of power in the Pacific permanently shifts to the United States - though it would be months before this became apparent.note The Pacific war is an island war, something the world has never seen before or since. It is a long distance war, waged largely by air and sea power, but mostly it is a struggle for island bases that have no strategic value other than as stepping stones that can be used to carry the war to the enemy. Most have no strategic resources and their tiny native populations are either neutral or indifferent to the titanic clash surrounding them. Only the largest archipelagos like the Philippines and Indonesia have resources worth fighting over and populations with vested interests in the outcome. Unlike a land war, island bases can easily be cut off from their supply lines, effectively making their entire garrisons prisoners of war without actually fighting themnote . In this environment, relatively small battles and conquests can carry huge strategic implications, and the fighting will be intense and brutal compared to the European theater's more traditional front line warfare. It's also a form of warfare practically tailor-made for the Americans; with their mastery of logistics and heavy construction they can create or capture island bases and airfields practically faster than the Japanese can destroy them. In the southern Pacific, the Japanese take the offensive, intending to capture southern New Guinea, but an Allied flotilla intercepts the Japanese landing force, forcing them to turn back. An overland advance southwards through the mountains is halted by a scratch force of Australian militiamen and regulars,note and the Americans capture an uncompleted Japanese airbase on the island of Guadalcanal. Much of the momentum of the southern offensive was lost due to the unanticipated effect of partisan and guerrilla resistance, particularly in the Philippines, while the Guadalcanal campaign turns into a six-month meat grinder of horrific foot-slogging battles and fierce nighttime naval engagements that consumes ships, airplanes and men that Japan can ill afford to lose and lacks the resources to replace. US and Australian forces will eventually go on to liberate the rest of New Guinea together and then part company, the Australians driving west into Indonesia while the US turns north towards the Philippines. note The Imperial Army's advances into Burma showcase some serious issues with the tentative Sino-British-American alliance. For one thing, Stilwell immediately overrides his commanders' objectionsnote and orders his on-loan Guomindang divisions to drive back the Japanese offensive by way of a counter-attack - even though his forces are outnumbered three-to-one, have no air-cover or air-support, have no artillery, lack communication equipment, and are not supported by their British allies (who think it's a spectacularly stupid idea). It fails, and Jiang goes over Stilwell's head to order his encircled forces to make a break-out and retreat. The Japanese advance soon cuts the Burma road, China's sole remaining transport link to the rest of the Allied-aligned world. Its loss forces the Americans to fly everything from Bazookas to bandages over 'the Hump' of the Himalayas in order to meet their Lend-lease commitments. As Guomindang troops and the Sepoys of the British Indian Army bring the offensive to a halt in the Himalayan foothills, Gandhi and the Indian National Congress declare the start of the Quit India movement - which advocates Britain's immediate withdrawal from India to make room for Indian Independence. Gandhi and the Congress are promptly imprisoned for the duration of the war, and acts of open rebellion and sabotage are quite brutally suppressed. However, Jinnah and the Indian Muslim League declare their loyalty to the British Raj and give the war effort their full support - their proposal of an independent or autonomous Indian-Muslim State (AKA the modern nation of Pakistan) being taken seriously as a consequence. Like the Chinese, the Anglo-Indian army is a bit short on equipment and weaponry (but nowhere near as badly, however), and this is where the Americans come in again. Jiang keeps Stilwell on as commander of his stranded forces, despite his incompetence. Jiang can hardly ask for his troops back 'now', as that would be politically awkward and besides, Stilwell is useful because he is pretty much the only US commander who demands that Jiang be given any measure of lend-lease material and support. Moreover, Jiang doesn't trust the British to not use his troops like they do the Sepoys - in the defense of their Empire, and not China. Thus, Stilwell sees to it that the US Army educates, trains, and equips Jiang's forces to its own standards - though the US Army sees that they are kept on the wrong side of the Himalayas. US forces begin to hop in earnest from strategically-important island to island, avoiding fighting non-essential battles and winning each one. However, this comes at what the Americans consider frightful costs in the face of China-veteran garrisons, who fight almost literally to the last man rather than surrender. The war in the eastern Pacific quickly comes to mirror that in the west - the mutual, deep-seated (racial) hatred and animosity on virtually all sides means that quarter is rarely asked or given.
Operation Ichigo, aka 'Operation Because'
Meanwhile, the Imperial Army has mobilized just shy of half a million men for a final offensive to crush the Guomindang - 'Operation Ichigo'. With one bold stroke they hope to secure Jiang's holdouts in the mid-Yangtze and go on to push upriver and capture the upper-Yangtze Sichuan Basin. If they can take the latter (the last scrap of Jiang's old power-base), his tentative hold over his regime will collapse and his warlord allies will abandon him. Even if they don't join Japan's friendly Chinese Nationalist Government, if they have any sense they will at least cease open hostilities rather than be wiped out one by one. With China secured for Japan, up to a million veterans of the seven-year 'China Incident' will be freed up for duties elsewhere and the Allies may well sue for peace rather than go to all the trouble of defeating them and their new Chinese allies in detail. The most optimistic outcome would see Japan's Burma force successful as well - it is slated to fight through the Himalayas and into Guomindang-allied Yunnan province, and westwards into British India proper. At least, this is the plan presented to the Emperor; the real plan is far more realistic, which speaks volumes. The Army is confident only in its ability to take the mid-Yangtze, linking up the railways from Beijing down to Guangzhou and capturing or rendering unsafe the forward airbases Chennault's Air Force Army is operating from in the process. Mindful of his forces' deterioration and the inevitability of Allied Victory, Jiang had been highly critical of Marshall's decision to give Chennault forces enough to antagonise the Japanese into making a grand offensive - at least, not without giving his troops the weapons, training, and equipment needed for them to hold such an offensive off. Chennault actually has half as many planes as the Imperial Army does in China now, a serious problem for the Empire given the huge amounts of territory and the number of strategic fire-bombing missions they have to defend. note The result has been chaos in the occupied territories as Japan has neither sufficient radar installations, anti-air artillery, or planes to defend their lines of communication and supply properly. Thus, Operation Ichigo is the solution. It's worth noting that even if 'Ichigo' does succeed beyond High Command's wildest dreams, Japan will still lose the war. It's only a matter of time before the American Navy manages to blockade and maybe even launch an invasion of Japan itself, and the American air forces are only a couple of islands and a few months away from being able to launch strategic-bombing raids on the Home Islands themselves. High Command can hardly claim ignorance of the offensive's futility, as their other big project is wrangling out a defense plan for the Home Islands with the co-operation of the Navy, but they go ahead with it anyway. Initially, 'Ichigo' seems like a wild success. The Guomindang's Henan salient - which has to be supplied by ox-cart, as the Japanese hold the railway network at either end of it - is eliminated in mere months, having held out for seven years. Changsha is captured, again, but the Japanese hold onto it this time as they regroup and then concentrate virtually all their artillery and armoured forces to take the Guangzhou-Changsha railroad, fanning out into the mountains to take out the Allied airbases from there. Jiang tries to get his forces recalled from Burma but Stilwell refuses, as Marshall has told him that Jiang doesn't need them. Stilwell, moreover, has been trying to get Jiang to commit more troops to help out in the Allied offensive in Burma. To do so, he has been withholding lend-lease supplies for months now, such that even Chennault (with whom he has a very thorny relationship) is short on spare parts and fuel, and complains about Stilwell's conduct to Marshall. Worse still, when Chennault tries to use his planes to disrupt the Japanese offensive Marshall tells him to pull his forces back to Chongqing and reduce his operations - though US High Command initially didn't realise the scale of the offensive, they soon come to believe that it might mean the end of the Guomindang. Roosevelt soon looks to cut his losses in the run-up to the US Election of November 1944. Roosevelt's opponent, Thomas Dewey, relentlessly criticises Roosevelt's conduct of the war and lambastes him for not providing Jiang with enough support. By way of response, Roosevelt allows the publication of a series of previously-censored articles which are highly critical of Jiang, the Guomindang, and their forces. If China loses, Roosevelt says, it will be their own fault - and Marshall will ensure the USA's losses will have been minimal. Jiang, accordingly, is absolutely furious but has to bite his tongue, insisting only on the resumption of lend-lease deliveries and the dismissal of Stilwell.
Japan Fights On
'Operation Ichigo' is a success, sort of. The Empire has its Seoul-Beijing-Guangzhou rail line, though most of the line south of Wuhan-Changsha is torn up or destroyed, and most of the Allied airfields in China have been captured or abandoned, for all the good that does them. The advances into the Chongqing Basin and British India haven't materialised, though, and the IJA doesn't have the strength or the supplies to do anything but hold its positions. Despite the losses, the offensive has not been an unmitigated disaster for Jiang - Stilwell has been dismissed, he has a reliable supply of lend-lease material now and even though his loyal forces have taken a severe mauling, several regional warlord 'allies' have taken critical losses as well, and much of their authority has been sapped or dissipated to warlords at the local level. A lot of this is due to Jiang's politicking - at the same time the USA was holding back lend-lease material from Jiang, Jiang himself was refusing to send ammunition or aid to his 'allies' on the front lines. A doomed-to-failure offensive directed at capturing Chongqing is launched by a faction of rogue Japanese generals. It not only fails, but goes on to backfire spectacularly as the Guomindang's opportunistic counter-attacks turns into a counter-offensive, precipitated by success upon success at the tactical level, that actually forces the Japanese to retreat and abandon their precious Wuhan-Guangzhou railroad as the Guomindang re-capture Changsha. Not at all coincidentally, the Burmese front is also moving again after years of stalemate. The long-planned Sino-Anglo-Indian offensive, something Jiang has been pressuring the Americans and British to get around to for years now, gets off to a shaky start as organisational issues come to a head. But after their resounding victory at Imphal, the Allies' mechanised forces lead a mad dash to capture as many Japanese troops as possible and get to Rangoon before the monsoon season starts and bogs down the offensive for another few months. Racing from just-captured and barely-serviceable airfield to barely-serviceable and barely-secure airfield, getting virtually all their supplies by aeroplane because of the god-awful roads, a last-minute amphibious operationnote takes Rangoon just days before a monsoon hits. Most of Japan's Burma force is out in the open, but the British are unable to follow up on this and push into Japanese-allied Thailand until the monsoon-season ends and the flood-waters recede. In the Pacific, the Americans capture the island of Saipan after a terrible land and sea battle. The Japanese defense plan is desperate and mostly involves shore-based aircraft, as the Americans outnumber them three to one in carriers, a sure sign that they're about to be crushed under the weight of US industrial production.note The sea battle, officially known as the 'Battle of the Philippine Sea', is quickly dubbed the 'Great Marianas Turkey Shoot' when US pilots equipped with a new generation of carrier-borne fighters shoot down nearly 500 aircraft with virtually no losses of their own, effectively exterminating the last of Japan's trained naval aviators. The US Navy in turn loses approximately 100 aircraft (mostly due to running out of fuel) in their own counter-strike, but manage to sink one Japanese carrier and seriously damage three others. Adding injury to further injury, two more Japanese carriers go down at the hands of US submarines, though the loss of their carriers matters little by this point since the Japanese no longer have the pilots to man them. The land battle is the usual horrific slog against deeply entrenched and fanatical Imperial defenders, though Saipan is different in that it is the first island taken to contain a significant population of Japanese civilians, most of whom promptly commit suicide, horrifying all observers. It's even worse for the Japanese, considering that after that defeat there could be no more hiding the fact from the civilian population that the Allies are advancing relentlessly toward the home islands as part of a Hopeless War their Army and Navy started to avoid looking bad. Elsewhere in the Pacific the US submarine offensive is finally in full swing. Combat experience has separated out the fighters from the trimmers, the torpedo problems are all ironed out, and US shipyards are turning out literally hundreds of new "fleet boats" equipped with the latest technologies to take these better officers and weapons to the enemy. By late 1944 US submarines will regularly achieve monthly sinking rates more than double the best rates the German U-boat fleet ever managed to achieve in the Atlantic... at least until they run out of targets. Japanese seamen soon learn that there is no place safe from American submarines outside of the Inland Sea. Even the Sea of Japan is not safe from their depredations; Tokyo Bay becomes a shooting gallery, and Japan's last superbattleship-turned-aircraft carrier Shinano barely lasts six hours on her first and only voyage. Saipan (and nearby Tinian, captured soon after) are close enough to allow US bombers to strike the Japanese Home Islands. This is initially of limited effectiveness, as strong winds and the intensely crowded nature of Japanese urban-industrial areas makes precision bombing nigh-impossible. Once someone suggests using fire-bombs (sound familiar?) to set the cities ablaze, the bombing becomes highly effective and the war has in a sense finally come full circle as the second-most vocal country to decry Japanese "terror bombing" in China - next to the Chinese themselves, obviously - is now deliberately targeting civilians themselves. Like many contemporary Chinese buildings, most Japanese buildings of the time were constructed with cheap but (highly) flammable materials - wood, bamboo, rattan, rice paper - and arranged in densely packed warrens. The fire-bombing campaign - exemplified by The Great Tokyo Fire Raid that destroyed a third of Tokyo to the tune of 100 000 civilian deaths - is horrifically effective, razing entire towns practically overnight and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. Even more devastating from a strategic perspective, the Americans had also launched 'Operation Starvation', in which the majority of Japan's ports and waterways were mined from the air, largely crippling the home islands' vital marine logistics. What's left of the Imperial Navy sallies forth for a last, titanic battle against the American fleet. Despite one portion of the fleet coming very near to its objective, it is promptly annihilated with minimal USN losses in history's largest naval engagement, the 'Battle of Leyte Gulf'. Far more effective is the new Japanese tactic of attacking ships by deliberately crashing airplanes into them. American soldiers return to the Philippines in late 1944, landing amidst much rejoicing and partisan warfare, and after several brutal months of combat they wrest control of most of their former colony from the hundred-thousand strong Japanese force redeployed at the last minute from China to defend it. The fighting on Luzon in particular (the largest island) is incredibly one-sided in favor of the Americans, though their More Dakka approach causes an awful lot of collateral damage to the (not great, but still) local infrastructure. By now even the Japanese citizenry, like their German counterparts, begin to suspect that they are losing. The China Incident gets that bit grimmer as Wang Jingwei dies and Japan's 'friendly' Chinese-Nationalist regime loses the last vestiges of credibility and popular support, and becomes harder to control as it becomes clear that the Japanese won't be around for much longer. IJA High Command quietly admits to itself that China is lost and begins drawing forces back to the Home Islands while they still can, giving the totally unnecessary anti-invasion fortification-building program top priority.
Japan Fights On?(!)
But to everyone's increasing exasperation, Japan fights on. The Americans continue to island-hop closer to their 'Home Islands', capturing the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa to aid the strategic bombing campaign and planned invasion. The civilian population of the former island had been evacuated, primarily because survival on Iwo Jima was so tenuous (there is no source of fresh water other than rain) that there weren't many civilians to evacuate. note Okinawa, however, was fairly well populated and part of the Home Islands proper note and the fighting there was marked by more government-sponsored suicides - supposedly to avoid the kind of treatment that Chinese civilians might expect from Japanese troops, but actually because High Command didn't want the USA to score a propaganda victory by using well-treated civilians to prove their decency to non-combatants (which could erode their soldiers' will to fight). Okinawa marks the British return to the Pacific, as the end of the war in Europe allows the Royal Navy to send a task force to join the US Pacific fleet, and it also marks the effective end of the Imperial Japanese Navy when the doomed and ultimately futile final sortie of battleship Yamato is obliterated by overwhelming US airpower. The fighting is savage and horrific, bloody and slow, and sees the first full-scale use of the terrifying Tokko note or Kamikaze attacks first seen in the Phillippines, which amaze and horrify the Allies at just how far the Japanese are willing to go in their country's defence. The sinking of almost all of food-importing Japan's merchant fleet and the impact of air-raids on agriculture - it's hard to plow a rice paddy when it's full of shrapnel - is compounded by domestic crop failures. His majesty's subjects are now trying to survive on 1200 calories a day. It's not all bad, though, as the government publishes a helpful series of articles on how to stave off hunger by padding out one's diet with sawdust, insects and micenote . Urban depopulation results as people move to the countryside in the hundreds of thousands. By early 1945, Allied air and naval forces roam Japanese shores and skies virtually at will, shooting up or sinking just about everything that dares to move in daylight. But the Japanese still refuse to give up. Even as the Empire crumbles, the government pulls every available boat, plane and tank in the Empire back to the 'Home Islands' and conscripts as much of the able-bodied population as can be spared into work details and citizen militias in anticipation of the Allied invasion. Any remaining petrol is issued to the newly-formed kamikaze speedboat and human-piloted torpedo flotillas; the airforce has long since claimed the last of the aviation fuel for its kamikaze squadrons. The Army and Navy continue to squabble over who should get first priority on 'lunge-mine' note production - the Navy wants them for its kamikaze scuba divers, the Army for their anti-tank kamikaze troops. On paper, the Volunteer Fighting Corps is more than capable of fending off the invasion on its own; in reality, there are few weapons and even less ammunition to go around, so the teenaged and elderly recruits are taught how to fight with knives, spears and petrol-free Molotov Cocktails. Others are simply handed a grenade and told to make their deaths meaningful. Planned for October, there is no attempt to disguise the planned invasion's timing or purpose - not that the Imperial Cabinet has a great track record in accurately anticipating anyone else's actions thus far. Christened Operation Downfall, it consists of a two-stage attack with the first stage (Operation Olympic) aimed at capturing about a third of the southern island of Kyushu which would be used as a staging area for the second stage (Operation Coronet), a strike at Tokyo with the ultimate goal of capturing the capital and the Emperor. Operation Downfall will also be a true Allied operation including a significant contingent of British and Australian forces. It is expected to more than double the total number of Allied military casualties.note After the war these estimates were considered to be optimistic as the Japanese plan of defense (Operation Ketsugō) is pretty much a worst case scenario for the Allies. It banks on an all-out defense of Kyushu, pretty much predicting exactly where and when the Allies would attempt their landing, and aims to create a defensive system that would make the cost of victory too great and force an armistice instead of an unconditional surrender. Japanese civilian casualties are expected to surpass Chinese levels, quite a feat considering Japan has only one tenth of China's total population. The Guomindang is on the verge of launching its own offensive downriver to seize Jiang's old power-base in the the lower Yangtze, and hopefully up to the Yellow river from there - they fear that the Soviets will turn all the land, weapons and equipment they liberate from the Japanese straight over to the Chinese Communists. note Given the terrible inter-unit coordination that Jiang's forces have displayed so far - their offensive actions being limited to counter-attacks, and with the Japanese Intelligence services knowing virtually their every move - the Japanese doubt that the Nationalist Party forces will get very far despite their own (total) lack of air cover and (chronic) supply problems. A new weapon, a bomb of immense explosive force, has been developed to support the landings. In the American state of New Mexico, a multinational team of scientists headed by Robert Oppenheimer have test-detonated the first nuclear bomb. After witnessing the destructive power of the prototype, some dare to hope that the mere threat of its use may be enough to force Japanese surrender. The Allies ask Japan to surrender unconditionally; unsurprisingly, they refuse. In response, a nuclear bomb is detonated over the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. The combat debut of nuclear weapons results in an immediate 70,000 to 80,000 civilian dead and wounded, and at least as many again will succumb to radiation poisoning over the months and years to follow. Another bomb used on the city of Nagasaki on August 9 has much the same effect - together, those two bombs account for as much as a fifth of the number of people killed in the whole strategic bombing campaign against Japan. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union honours its promises to the rest of the Allies (who are by now styling themselves the "United Nations") and declares war on Japan in violation of their Non-Aggression Pact of 1941, the two-plus million war-hardened mechanised columns of the Red Army and their Mongolian auxiliaries making short work of Japan's ill-equipped one-and-a-half-million-man Manchurian/North-China Army Group, which has been weakened by years of neglect in favour of first the China Expeditionary Force, the Home Islands Defence Force, and especially the forces sent South to fight the Western Allies. Adroitly using their superior mobility to bypass the relatively static Japanese forces when they can and their superior firepower to blast straight through when they can't the Red Army's armored spearhead rolls right over the Japanese, reaching the southern coast of Manchuria in just two weeks and trapping more than a million IJA soldiers in isolated pockets. The Western Allies bargain for the southern half of Korea as they tell the Showa Emperornote that there are more such "atom bombs" to come, as if the imminent threat of invasion from two directions at once - the Soviets are themselves poised to invade and have good chance of taking Hokkaido - weren't enough. The Emperor himself calls it quits and gives his support for unconditional surrender on August 14, effectively commanding his subjects to accept his decision in his first-ever radio broadcast to the whole Empire. Following a failed last-minute coup by some junior officers who wish to continue the war and a wave of suicides amongst his civil and military servants the formal surrender is signed aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2.