Chapter 3 – No Man’s Land
In a hasty effort to respond to the opening of the new front, Field Marshall Shunroku Hata, commanding the 4th Army in South East Asia, made the decision to split his forces. 20 divisions peeled away from the border with French Indo-China, and moved with haste towards the border with Burma. The strength of the Burmese Army was so irrelevant that the threat posed by the British Colony was never considered by Japanese high command, but the necessity to reinforce the border was at the forefront of invasion planning, out of fear that millions of men would come pouring out of British Raj to the west. That left Hata with ten divisions to push down into French Indo-China, banking on light resistance. It wasn’t much of a gamble, as the French military was devastated after its defeat in Europe, leaving them no time to gather strength and reinforce their colonies. Hata’s intuition proved correct, and only two months after France entered the war, Japanese forces were within reach of Saigon. Meanwhile, the divisions deployed to Burma moved through nearly uncontested. The two Burmese divisions stood no chance over the crushing weight of Hata’s forces, who moved slowly in the effort to maintain a solid and balanced front-line. No one was willing to take chances with British Raj. Sparing themselves from further damage, Burma capitulated on March 30th, 1940. Hata was now at the border with British Raj, and 360,000 of his men dug in to prepare for the worst. The 10 divisions in Indo-China needed to sweep all the way to the Gulf of Thailand before they could turn back and reinforce the front. Do one doubted that Hata would hold, he just needed to wait for the right moment to advance, and hope that the Japanese air force could keep the skies above his mean clear while they waited.
The situation in Indonesia had changed little, and the Japanese Army was growing accustomed to the slow paced combat that was their Pacific campaign. The Navy continued their stranglehold, as the invitation of more opponents into the war simply brought about more merchant targets. The Spring of 1940 saw very few engagements between warships. A major victory was accomplished on the 7th of April, as General Shizuichi Tanaka declared victory in Borneo, driving all of the Dutch and English forces into the sea. The large island would be instrumental in launching further attacks into Indonesia, South East Asia, and the Pacific. As the Third Army prepared for occupation, Japanese industry moved to increase infrastructure and port capacity, turning Borneo into a supply hub to allow men, supplies, and equipment to flow throughout Indonesia. After the success in Borneo, Japanese casualties first climbed above 30 thousand. The Allies were suffering much worse, with the Dutch and her colonies losing 90 thousand, the United Kingdom 66 thousand, and Australia 20 thousand. The IJA continued to wade through Sulawesi and New Guinea, hungry for more victories resembling Borneo.
Slowed by most of their forces splitting towards British Raj, Hata’s divisions in Indo-China needed until late June to drive Free France out of South East Asia. Once their important task was accomplished, they moved to regroup with their 4th Army comrades on the border with British Raj. The Japanese-Indian border was still a stalemate, as dozens of Allied divisions composed of troops from the UK, British Raj, France, and Belgium waited opposite of the IJA, with neither side willing to make a move.
The first great tragedy for Japan occurred at Sulawesi, in July of 1940. Seven of General Nishio’s divisions, who had spent the war moving through the Indonesian island, found themselves cut off and trapped from friendly forces. The inhospitable terrain of Sulawesi proved to be unbearable, as the 126,000 men on the island found themselves surrounded and out of supplies. With cliff faces overlooking the Java Sea on one side and several Dutch divisions on the other, Nishio’s men waited to be either resupplied or overrun. Resupply proved impossible, and landing more men onto Sulawesi so soon was too much of a gamble. It was likely that the rescuers would find themselves in the same circumstance. Dutch forces were still outnumbered and afraid to move on the malnourished 5th Army, but they knew it was only a matter of time. Before the necessary infrastructure could be built on Borneo to save the doomed men on Sulawesi, the Dutch forces advanced upon men who’s equipment had failed them in the scorching jungle of Indonesia. 126,000 Japanese soldiers fell off the face of the Earth, dealing a shocking blow to the Empire who had previously appeared invincible. Sulawesi once again belonged to the Dutch, but no one was naive enough to expect a comeback.
Motivated by the loss of 5th Army, the IJA finally occupied New Guinea in August after a lengthy struggle against British and Australian forces. As with Borneo, Japanese engineers rushed to the task of improving infrastructure and ports throughout the island. Two major Indonesian objectives had now been accomplished. IJA armies in Indonesia took a tactical pause to reinforce, resupply, and gather the strength needed to continue their offensives.
On October 15th, 1940, Hirohito ordered Hata to charge west. The Field Marshall had spent more than enough time sitting still, spending the past 7 months staring down Allied divisions just miles away from his own. Hata’s concerns proved valid, as the fall offensive yielded little to no results. The IJA had the manpower, but lacked the punch to make it through the fortified Allied positions leading into India. Hata made his moves slowly, attacking only vulnerable points in the enemy’s front and backing off when the results were negative, which they most always were. The only positive news was that the Allies could not push back either. With Indonesia completely pacified, Toyko reassigned its fleets to address this issue in December of 1940. Admirals Yamamoto, Koga, and Nagumo were to redeploy to the Bay of Bengal and the West Indian Ocean, leaving behind smaller and lighter flotillas to intercept Allied trade ships. If the Allies could not be defeated on the ground in Eastern India, perhaps they could be strangled at sea. The three battle-groups would attempt to provide air support from their 6 aircraft carriers when possible, as well as intercept and destroy resupply and reinforcements traveling at sea.
By coincidence, the very same day the Japanese fleets were reassigned, Stalin broke the groundbreaking Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact by invading Greater Finland, a member of the Axis. The Soviet Union was now at war with Germany, and the world seemed to spiral further out of control, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. Those in Toyko who campaigned for signing the Anti-Comintern agreement breathed a collective sigh of relief, as siding with Germany just a few short years ago could have lead to the armies of T-34’s and determined Russian men crashing upon their own border as well. Unofficially, Tokyo wished their fascist partners in the Germany the best of luck. Sharing a mutual war against the Allies had reminded them that their overall objectives were similar, and fascist governments needed to stand together as all the world’s ideologies looked to bring them crashing to the ground. The war began poorly for Stalin and the USSR as Finland shocked the world, capturing Leningrad on January 24th, 1941.
The process of controlling the seas around British Raj was about as easy as the IJN expected it to be, still riding the morale boost that was the outstanding success in Indonesia. The first notable victory occurred on April 15th, as aircraft from the Akagi sunk the British light carrier HMS Unicorn. Even with assistance from the Navy, Field Marshall Hata was at a standstill. The IJA simply lacked the break-thorough ability to get through an organized defensive assembled by a first rate army. IJA staff officers looked for solutions, and leaned upon the newly produced Type 4 15 cm Howitzer and Type 1 37 mm AT-Gun, donated by Germany. Out of fear of an offensive coming to such a crashing halt yet again, all of the IJA’s Hohei Shidan divisions were to receive a support battalion of the medium artillery, and a battalion of the Anti-Tank guns. The production of these guns was now priority.
In July of ’41, the Japanese engineering corps deemed Borneo as a capable launching pad for further invasions into Indonesia. Due to the great success in Borneo, General Shizuichi Tanaka was granted the opportunity to be the primary invasion force of Sulawesi and further islands as the IJA worked east. Tanaka’s 7 divisions landed on Western Sulawesi, shaking off the memories of 5th Army as their progress exceeded all expectations. As hoped it was now much easier to get supplies to the landing forces once they moved inland, and in 4 months Sulawesi would belong to Japan.
On the first of December, 1941, Hata finally got a break nearly two years in the making. Aided by their new equipment, Japanese forces on the south of the front-line made a successful push and threatened Calcutta. Once the south broke, the trend followed up the Allies’ defensive line, which moved back at a slow crawl. The advance wasn’t as fast as Hata hoped, but the IJA was finally moving in the right direction. The new offensive came at a cost, and the Japanese Empire found its casualties mounting at an unprecedented rate. On the morning of December 12th, Emperor Hirohito passed legislation to rewrite recruitment laws across Japan, putting millions of young men into the reserves, ready to move to the front as casualties mounted. The decision could not have been made at a better time, as the inevitable occurred exactly five days later, almost to the hour: The United States and Japan were at war.
Losing ground in India and reaching new heights of desperation, the United Kingdom pleaded with her friend and ally across the Atlantic for assistance. Someone needed to help hold Japan back, and Churchill would never get that support from Stalin. If anyone could stop Japan now, it was Roosevelt and his Arsenal of Democracy. As anticipated, the United States called the Philippines into the war on December 20th, placing a thorn in Japan’s side, so close to Japanese territory. A thorn was all it was however, as the Philippines lacked the might to face any real threat, and only presented themselves as a target for future occupation. For now they could be a base for American troops, aircraft and ships, but America had to get there first.
As dawn broke upon the new year, Japan and Hata found themselves at the border with Nepal, waiting for the Allies to break in Bengal. The Imperial Japanese Empire had sacrificed 383 thousand men to get this far, but had inflicted significantly more damage upon the Allied forces. The Netherlands had lost 140 thousand men, the UK 119 thousand, Free France 10 thousand, Australia 62 thousand, South Africa 52 thousand, Belgium 15 thousand, British Raj 320 thousand, Yugoslavia 3 thousand, the Philippines 30 thousand. All total, the Allies had lost 736,000 men at the hands of Hirohito’s Empire, and all the world knew they would need to sacrifice another million more if they were to bring Japan to its knees. The United States was eerily quiet, and Tokyo braced for their arrival. American fleets were cruising across the Pacific, but before Japan could respond in force they needed to break the Allies in India. And break them they would.