The Lion and the Rising Sun: Japan Joins the Allies in 1940
The Japanese alliance with Britain was broken, at the behest of the Americans, back after World War One, isolating the Japanese and surrounding them with too many possible enemies. The Japanese found themselves in a permanent economic trap, where the territories they needed to ensure their mere survival were held by far more powerful foes, leaving them unsure if they should go north or south. After they were soundly spanked by the Russians in 1939, the Japanese set their course to the south, something that would inevitably bring them into war with America. But what if...?
May-June 1940: Hitler’s Panzers smash into France and defeat the French Government. The BEF is hastily evacuated from Dunkirk, leaving France prostrate before Germany. The British suddenly no longer have a foothold on the continent and face a seemingly-invincible foe. It looks as if Hitler will attempt to mount an invasion of Britain soon enough.
In Japan, the Japanese consider jumping on the British when Operation Sea Lion is launched (as they did in OTL.) Factions within the Japanese Government, on the other hand, have other ideas. Admiral Yamamoto and his allies see Britain’s weakness as an opportunity. The Japanese can push the British into an alliance and get what they need to survive without war. As time goes by and Sea Lion fails to materialise, the pro-British faction is strengthened, particularly after Oran.
The Japanese Government makes an offer to Churchill. It’s very simple; the Japanese will join the war on the side of the United Kingdom, contributing air, naval and ground units to the North African Front. In exchange, Japan and Britain will jointly ‘secure’ the Dutch East Indies (which will give the Japanese access to materials), Britain will ship in vast amounts of supplies and quietly avoid interfering with Japanese operations in China. The Japanese Empire will stand or fall without British interference. If the British refuse the offer, the Japanese warn, the Japanese will stab the British in the back. There will be a world war at the worst possible moment.
Churchill hesitates, thinking hard. The only possible counter is the United States, but FDR is unable to guarantee anything (and such guarantees might be untrustworthy, given his anti-colonialist stance). If the British refuse the offer, the results will be disastrous. The British finally accept the offer. The Japanese, delighted, start making arrangements for the transport of Japanese army units to North Africa.
Over the next month, mainly-Japanese forces land in the Dutch East Indies, securing vital points and allowing the Japanese to take effective control. The Dutch government-in-exile protests loudly, but there is little they can do about it; the Japanese have overwhelming power. The Japanese do promise to respect the rights of the Dutch, but they maintain first claim on all the resources, which will eventually bring the islands into the Japanese Empire. This also provokes quieter protests from Australia and New Zealand, neither of which trust the Japanese very much, and refuse to send so many troops to Europe. The Japanese show no overt response to this display of mistrust.
July-October 1940: The British Navy already had dominance in ‘Mussolini’s lake’. The addition of a sizeable Japanese force ensures that the Italian Navy is completely cowed right from the start. The Japanese carriers launch a strike on the Italian Navy – planned by the British, as in OTL – that leaves most of the Italian Navy completely wrecked. The addition of German air force units only gives the Japanese more targets, although they do lose a carrier to German bombers. The u-boats represent a more dangerous threat as Japan was completely contemptuous of them at first. Even so, the Allies successfully cut the Italians off from their empire.
The additional Japanese army units aren’t as effective as one might think. The Japanese were certainly far braver than the Italians, but their equipment is actually worse and they are less capable of adapting to a new situation. Even so, without supplies from the homeland, the Italian position swiftly withers on the vine. By the end of October, the British and Japanese have effectively destroyed the Italian Empire and put in an occupational government. Neither power is particularly keen to assist the local independence groups from taking power.
In the United States, the election is hotly contested. FDR’s position is badly weakened because anti-Japanese feeling has become mixed with anti-British feeling. The American Chinese Lobby has been working overtime to blast the British – with Britain supplying the Japanese, the sanctions won’t work – and has been campaigning against the UK. FDR finds it hard to support Churchill when Churchill has knifed him in the back, but he still understands that Germany under Hitler represents a major danger. It isn't so easy to push for Lend Lease and other measures as in OTL. On the other hand, it is a lot easier to push forward rearming programs and the US embarks upon a major fleet construction program.
One issue that has popped up in the USN is the Anglo-Japanese success at Taranto. The Americans actually fought war games that proved that such a strike could work, but they were roundly ignored by the Admirals. Now, with such a strike a proven successes, the US also starts building up defences at Pearl Harbour and the Philippines.
November 1940 – March 1941: The Anglo-Japanese forces have halted at the borders of Vichy-controlled Algeria. This represents a major headache for almost all of the players. Hitler, knowing that he needs to help Mussolini or his ally will be overthrown, is pushing the Vichy French into joining the war or else. Vichy is trying to stall. If they get into the war, Japan will certainly take French Indochina and other French territories for themselves, yet if they refuse Hitler will take the rest of France and crush the Vichy Government. Complicating matters is the existence of the Free French, who want to take Algeria, but don’t want it to fall into British or Japanese hands. And then there are the Algerian nationalists, who want independence or at least autonomy.
The issue explodes in late 1940 as Hitler presents the French with an ultimatum. Either allow the Germans and Italians to use Algeria as a base or face invasion. Ultra alerts the British to the danger and Allied troops rumble over the border. They are accompanied by Free French units that try to convince Vichy French units to surrender without fighting. Some listen to their fellow countrymen and give up; others fight and have to be destroyed. The Japanese learn some more lessons about armour from the French; the Germans fly in aircraft in hopes of beating off allied air raids. It doesn't work very well and Hitler returns to trying to bomb Britain. Perversely, as allied forces close in on Algeria’s capital, the Vichy French find their position strengthened. They can blame everything on the British.
Victory in Algeria raises the question of just who should rule Algeria. The Free French want to claim Algeria as a base for recovering the mainland. The British aren’t so keen on the idea – Churchill doesn't like the Free French much – and the Japanese are adamantly opposed. No one listens to the Nationalists, although Algerian labour is being used in increasing numbers by the Allies. Eventually, Churchill puts together an occupational government that includes representatives from all major powers, with the British and Japanese in the driving seat.
Hitler has good reason to curse as 1941 rolls on. The British were already holding their own in the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic. The addition of Japanese forces only makes a bad problem worse. The limitations of the German Air Force become alarmingly clear, resulting in Goring’s eventual demotion to somewhere where he cannot do much harm. On the other hand, the Italians are under his control – there will be no invasion of Greece in this timeline – and preparations for the invasion of Russia are moving on apace. Who knows; perhaps the Japanese will convince the British to make peace so that they can go after the Russian Far East?
The Bismarck sets out on its maiden voyage as OTL. It doesn't get very far as it is intercepted by a joint force that sinks it fairly quickly using carrier-borne aircraft. Naval officers around the world take note. The carrier is the new queen of the seas.
The war in China is starting to fizzle out. The Japanese have successfully cut the Chinese off from most outside supply. The British have quietly advised them to seek a compromise and make peace. The Japanese aren't too keen on the idea, but the pro-British faction is keen on remaining on good terms with the UK. Besides, any local agreements with the Chinese can be broken later. They’re only Chinese, after all. As the Vichy French expected, the Japanese have quietly occupied Indochina and have jointly invaded Madagascar.
The Japanese also have new interests in Iraq and to some extent in Iran. As the Germans have nothing to lose in this timeline, they have been encouraging revolts in Iraq against the British. The British and Japanese have been putting them down, which just incidentally gets the Japanese involved in the area. The Japanese have also been dealing with the Saudis and attempting to wean them away from the Americans.
April-May 1941: The World War has effectively stalemated. Britain and Japan cannot take on the Germans in Europe, while the Germans cannot invade Britain or North Africa. Both sides try to induce Turkey to join them – providing a land bridge into the Middle East – but the Turks stall, refusing to get involved. The Spanish, too, are reluctant to do anything that might provoke the Allies. Hitler has good reason to curse his so-called allies.
Vichy France has remained in control of part of France, if only because Hitler doesn't want to spare the manpower needed to garrison all of France. The Germans, however, are intruding more and more into France, drawing off French manpower to work in Germany and replace German men who are joining the army. This is not popular in France and more and more Frenchmen are going underground or escaping to friendly territory. SOE is content to ship in as much weapons and supplies as it can.
Churchill is uneasily aware that Britain is not in a strong position. The Americans aren’t sending anything like enough aid, although FDR is trying to send as much as he can. The UK is approaching bankruptcy and will eventually run out of money. Even with the Japanese, there is no way that Britain can prevail on its own. Worse, the Japanese Navy has learned a great deal from the Royal Navy; radar, submarine and anti-submarine tactics and carrier-borne air raids. The Japanese may become a far stronger and more dangerous threat in the future. He knows that Hitler is thinking about invading Russia, but Stalin doesn't want to know. A victorious Germany would be far too powerful for both Japan and Britain. It may even pose a genuine threat to the United States.
Late May 1941: The Germans invade Russia.
The German Army of this TL is tougher than OTL. It hasn’t wasted precious war materials on diversions into Greece and Yugoslavia. Instead, it has powerful Italian formations joining the line of battle, along with Spanish and even some French formations. On the other hand, it is actually weaker in air power because the Germans took heavier losses in the Battle of Britain. Hitler has made that worse by ordering the development of a strategic bomber at the cost of a reduced CAS component. Rommel commands an armoured unit at the spearpoint as there was no North African campaign in this timeline.
Stalin is warned about the Nazi plans by Churchill, but he refuses to believe in the danger until it is too late. The Germans surge across the border and rapidly advance through Poland and into Byelorussia. The Russians are actually weaker in this timeline because they have less time to prepare for the offensive – and don’t believe that it is coming in any case. On the other side, this ironically works in Stalin’s favour as the Russians lose fewer men in the opening hours of the war. Even so, the Germans still make rapid progress, heading directly towards Moscow.
Rommel, who had a habit of ignoring orders that were clearly ill-informed, is likely to keep pushing onwards whatever the German High Command has to say about it. Unluckily for the Germans, they’re not fighting in Africa. Encircled Russian forces either force the Germans to reduce them or try to break out, often succeeding. Russian tanks are better than German tanks, although the Russians have very poor tank doctrine. The Germans officially deny any such fact, but quietly begin work on upgunning their tanks and designing new models suitable for Russian warfare. Italian and French units are allowed to patrol the rear areas, fighting off partisans and straggles who are still fighting.
Stalin contacts the British and demands help. Churchill is less willing to help than in OTL. The British are very short of war material and the Japanese adamantly refuse to send anything to the Russians, fearing that it will one day be pointed at them. Churchill suspects, correctly, that elements within the Japanese Government will not be displeased if the Germans destroy the Russians, allowing them to pick up the Russian Far East at low cost. The US is rather reluctant to send help to Russia; FDR has to deal with the anticommunists in America, who don’t want to send any help to Stalin.
Churchill finesses things as much as he can. The British trade war materials for gold (including gold from Spain, sent to Russia years ago) and Polish prisoners of war. The gold is used to buy war materials from America, which are used to replace the materials sent to Russia. Even so, the Russians are reluctant to send much gold out of the country. Worse, from Stalin’s point of view, is the fact that the Poles start going to America and telling their stories about life in the worker’s paradise. The Polish Lobby works to block all aid shipments to Russia unless the Russians make ironclad promises about Poland’s future.
The United States is also growing far stronger than OTL. The new force of American carriers is being launched, along with improved escort ships. The Americans are also pushing reinforcements into the Philippines and Pearl Harbour. Churchill calculates that the Japanese are unlikely to push things once the new American fleet is deployed. At best, the US will enter the war against Germany; at worst, the Japanese will be checkmated by the Americans.
As the months wear on, the Germans take thousands of prisoners in their advance on Moscow. The increased German and Axis forces allow the Germans to sweep their advance much more carefully, wiping out stray groups of cut-off Russians before they can become a threat. They also scoop up plenty of ex-Russian material and hand it over to the Italians, Finns and French. The Finns have kept advancing from the north and between them and the Germans Leningrad finally falls after a long and bloody siege. The Germans use the captured ports to help solve their logistics problems, although British submarines slip into the Baltic Sea and wreck havoc.
Stalin starts screaming for action from the Allies. Churchill would love to oblige, but there isn't much that either Britain or Japan can do to help. British and Japanese forces launch an attack on Sicily and eventually push the Italians off the Island, followed rapidly by Corsica and other French islands. The Free French end up with a small army to fight to liberate France, but Vichy is too strong on the French Mainland. The RAF bombs various targets in Germany, yet it isn't enough to deter the Germans.
The Germans close in on Moscow, deflecting the Russian attacks as they advance. Stalin has taken the risk of pulling forces away from the Far East to mass for a counterattack, but the counterattack fizzles against Rommel’s advancing force. Hitler orders the German Army into the city, where they end up fighting through each and every building. The cost is terrifyingly high, but in the end the Russians are forced to abandon their capital. Exhausted, the Germans prepare for winter.
Hitler thinks he’s won. With the fall of Moscow, Stalin will find it harder to continue the war. The Germans can recover from the brutal fighting and then go on the offensive. The British and the Japanese can't destroy the Germans. Besides, the Japanese are eyeing the Russian Far East and considering trying to take it.
1942: Stalin has withdrawn his government to the Urals and is concentrating on trying to build up again. He isn't entirely downhearted. He took the USSR from a marginal power to a great power once before, after all. Even so, the odds are not good. The Germans have captured vast Russian territories and are denying them to the Russians. The manpower Stalin has to draw on is rather unreliable. The Soviets conscript vast numbers of males from the Muslim regions, yet they are often restive and untrustworthy. A handful of revolts pop up in the south, forcing Stalin to divert scarce manpower to deal with them, which weakens the Red Army.
The loss of Moscow has damaged the Soviet economy quite badly. Moscow is a transport hub for the Russians, as well as home to the army of civil servants who kept the system running. Some got pulled out in time, but others were killed by the Germans or left behind to be captured. Stalin has also lost access to many NKVD records. The Russians are not in a strong position to rebuild their spying networks.
Worst of all, Stalin suspects that the Japanese and British intend to join the Germans, as illogical as that seems. Japan has long coveted the Russian Far East. Stalin has to pull out Red Army divisions from the Far East to provide cadre for rebuilding the Red Army in the West, which temps the Japanese to stab the Russians in the back. The Russian spy networks have been disorganised by the loss of Moscow, depriving Stalin of his window into Japanese politics when he needs it most.
Stalin embarks upon a scorched earth policy. Red Army units are ordered to pull back and consolidate, making the Germans pay a price if they want to advance, while hundreds of thousands of Partisans are funnelled into the occupied territories. Hitler is the best recruiting sergeant the Russians could hope for, as the Nazis treat the Russians – and Ukrainian – populations with exceeding brutality. The insurgent attacks grow worse as winter rolls on, forcing the Nazis to embark upon savage counterinsurgency campaigns. Stalin knows his history. German supply lines are not good, any more than the French were back in 1814. Given time, the Partisans will drive the Germans crazy and wear away at their strength.
Even so, things are not good. The Germans have pressed north – with the aid of the Finns – and captured Arkhangelsk and Murmansk, cutting the Russians off from supplies from the UK. The British have been trying to open up a new supply line through Iran. The Japanese have flatly refused to allow the Russians to receive supplies through the Far East. The Turks are being balky about opening up an additional supply line to the Russians, partly out of a desire to avenge Russian slights and partly out of fear of the Germans.
Stalin makes a grim decision. Contacting the Japanese, he offers to strike a bargain with them. The Russians will cede considerable Far Eastern territory to the Japanese and refrain from supplying the Chinese Communists. In return, the Japanese will relax their opposition to shipping supplies through the Far East and even sell the Russians resources from the Japanese Empire. The Japanese consider the bargain, haggle a bit and finally agree. The terms are steep for Stalin – the Japanese intend to milk the situation as much as possible – but Stalin calculates that he can recover lost territory later. Besides, the Red Army needs the Far East divisions.
In Berlin, Hitler considers his next move. The Russians have been effectively beaten, he believes, but the insurgency is draining German manpower. The SS has raised several new divisions to crush resistance by all means necessary, including the mass slaughter of civilians. The Germans have been dispatching experts to start reopening Russian mines and factories, but endless insurgent attacks keep shutting them down. The German policies ensure that there is no end to the war. Even so, the Germans start advancing towards Baku in April, intending to take Stalingrad and cut off the oil from the oil refineries. His victory has given him grand dreams about punching through to India and defeating the British.
The Germans discover that the Russians have prepared for them, thanks to the British warning them through Ultra. Russian units fight, fall back and fight again, trying to carry out a flexible war. The Russians are not properly trained for independent action, but it is actually quite successful – all the more so as German supply lines get longer and longer. The Russians are trying to lure the Germans into a fight inside Stalingrad itself, but after Moscow the German commanders are rather less keen on the option. Stalingrad is surrounded, German forces cross the river above and below Stalingrad and German bombers concentrate on the refineries.
The Germans also have a secret weapon, of sorts. The Russian South has long been restless under Russian rule. Now, with the Germans advancing, the largely-Muslim populations rise in revolt. The Germans have been trying to spread jihad into the east, hoping that it will spread into India and start an uprising against the British there. The Russians find themselves facing a partisan war in their rear, at the worst possible moment. As Stalingrad starves to death, the Russian position in the South collapses, cutting off the oil from Baku.
Stalin has mounted a counter-attack in the north, hoping to reclaim Moscow. Unluckily for him, the shortages spreading through the Red Army make it impossible for the Russians to act as anything other than a disorganised mass. (The Russians were always very dependent upon Lend Lease and it doesn't exist in this timeline.) The Germans have a few nasty moments, but Hitler rushes in forces and manages to break off and destroy enough of the Russian army to convince Stalin to withdraw before he loses his entire force. Both sides have been battered hard, yet the Russians have definitely come off worse.
Faced with no other option, Stalin sounds out Hitler on peace terms. Hitler isn't keen at first, but his Generals point out that the Germans are dangerously overextended. If Stalin manages to build up a new army, the German position might come apart. On the other hand, if the Germans get an uninterrupted couple of years to rebuild, they can probably defeat the Russians easily in 1947. Besides, there’s always the issue of the US. Roosevelt’s massive build-up of American forces will make the Americans dauntingly powerful soon enough and they could join the war at any time.
The Treaty of Moscow is harsh. The Russians concede everything they’ve lost. They also agree to withdraw from occupied Iran, allowing the Shah to reclaim some of his territory. They also agree to trade resources for machine tools, although neither side expects that to last for long. The Russians are also forced to stop arming the insurgency, although there are so many weapons running around in Occupied Russia that that is probably a moot point.
With the Russians out of the war, the British and Japanese reluctantly come to the peace table. The British-Japanese Alliance keeps the captured territory in Africa (Hitler doesn’t feel like helping Italy or Franco), although they are forced to repudiate the Free French. They also have to recognise German control of occupied Europe and disown the various governments-in-exile. Iran becomes an independent state between British and German spheres of influence. If Hitler was an honourable man, it wouldn't be a bad treaty.
The Japanese are quietly pleased with their success. They have not only occupied the French territory in the Far East, but they have access to all the resources of the Dutch East Indies...without fighting. The Chinese have made some reluctant concessions, mainly through forming puppet states, although the war may resume at any moment. Best of all, they have eliminated the Russians as a threat for the foreseeable future.
In the long term, this world has two great powers – Germany and America – and a smaller power, the British-Japanese Alliance. Rump Russia may rebuild, if the Germans give it time...