Chapter 5 – The Long Walk
With 1944 coming to a close, the Empire of Japan was ready to begin its final sea borne invasion in the Pacific theater. The Imperial Japanese Army had conducted many naval invasions over the past seven years, and the occupation of Australia promised to be one of the most simple.
Landing in stages over several weeks a total of 34 divisions would land on the northern regions of the continent, with Generals Terauchi and Yamashita taking point. Generals Ando and Tanaka were scheduled to follow closely behind, and Ando’s 8 divisions of Marines had the most successful landing on the north-west corner of the island. Yamashita’s forces faced the largest and most determined defensive, running into resistance before landing ships reached their destinations. One division was turned back entirely, though 9 were able to secure a beachhead after several hours of fierce fighting. General Tanaka landed 7 divisions on the north-east peninsula, and walked ashore with no resistance. Despite the extensive fighting in the north and north-west portions of the continent, the Australian Army was able to move several divisions to meet Tanaka’s forces, and capitalize on their supply issues. Tanaka was never able to fully regroup after the landing occurred, and his seven divisions were picked apart as they were pushed back into the sea and destroyed. In what was due to be a simple and brief campaign, Australian beaches were stained a deep red with Japanese blood. Despite the failure on the north-east corner, a solid front line had been established on the opposite side of Australia. Characteristic of the rest of the Pacific campaign, the bulky Japanese army moved slowly, patiently waiting for a break in the Australian line. The rest of the invasion would be fought in small battles and skirmishes, with the Australian defenders being pushed back slowly over the course of the coming months. The effort took 15 months, and by March of 1946 the IJA reached the dense population centers in the southern regions of the continent, forcing Australia to surrender on the 19th of March. With the loss of Tanaka’s seven divisions the campaign was unexpectedly costly, but even worse it was an enormous usage of valuable time. The longest single portion of the Pacific campaign, Japan devoted nearly a year and a half to the effort, all to knock out an already beaten down enemy. This time could have been spent allocating resources to a rapidly changing front in Europe. For the first time since the war in Europe began, Germany was on the retreat. A British and American led invasion out of the United Kingdom liberated Belgium, half of France, and a significant portion of the Netherlands, driving the German Reich back towards Berlin. Despite their enormous successes, the casualties inflicted upon the Axis Powers made their rate of progress nearly impossible to maintain, primarily due to the horrific losses on the Eastern Front. If Germany were to fall, the rest of the Axis powers would fall with it, almost certainly leaving Hirohito alone against the combined might of the Allies. In order for Germany to have any hope of making a comeback, the Soviet Union needed to be removed from the equation. What was once considered a suicidal plan just several years before, Japanese troops began to relocate from South-East Asia to the border with the Soviet Union. Despite 11 million losses, the USSR still posed a large enough threat to make Hirohito cautious. Generals Ando and Yamashita spent months traveling from Australia to the border with the USSR, and carefully prepared a defensive line in the event that the Soviet Union was capable of gathering enough strength to mass a counter attack against the IJA. The first target was to be the critical port city of Vladivostok. The city was close enough to the border that the IJA should be able to seize it will little effort, and force Stalin’s hand in relocating troops east, taking pressure off of the Axis. The attack would never come.
On July 4th, 1946, the Soviet Union died at the age of 24. A broken and battered collection of Germans, Italians, Finns, and Romanians took a brief pause after 5 years of fighting on the Eastern Front, grateful to have survived the bloodiest theater in the bloodiest war the world had ever seen. Since the day Stalin made the grave mistake of breaking the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Eastern Front claimed an average of 9,000 lives every day. Stalin was either dead or in hiding, and with the collapse of the USSR, a new nation was born. Those loyal to the Axis Powers were granted a small portion of old Soviet territory in Eastern Asia. The land was poorly located, lacking in resources, but it was Russian. The Russian Federation was the newest addition to the Axis, by association more than importance. The new Russian nation was in shambles, and rebuilding needed to begin before they could march west.
They would not be the newest addition for long, as the death of the Soviet Union removed the only barrier that stood between the German Reich and the Empire of Japan. On the morning of July 16th, surrounded by Japanese and German ambassadors, Emperor Hirohito announced that the Daitoa Kyoeiken alliance would be absorbed into the Axis Powers. They would either crush the remaining Allies together, or have a new companion in their final days.
The inclusion into the Axis Powers didn’t shake up the course of the war overnight, but it was clear that Japan was going to be arranging some sort of intervention into Europe. Hundreds of fighters and ground support aircraft were flying from Japanese occupied territory to the front in Western Europe, but the ground forces faced a drastically different story.
The Imperial Japanese Army was suffering under its own weight. Many of the IJA’s divisions swelled at 22 thousand men, and with the exception of support battalions, the front line soldiers were strictly leg infantry. This was preferred during the Pacific campaigns where the Indonesian jungles made life harsh on vehicles, but if the IJA was to modernize and push the fight west, this needed to change rapidly. In July, all military production took a back seat to the fabrication of 2-1/2 ton trucks, capable of carrying infantry and material.Dozens of trucks were being rolled out of the factories every day, but early estimates suggested that the IJA would need nearly 20,000 to meet the initial demand. As the IJA moved West by train and on their own two feet, truck factories were erected in former China to speed up the process. Despite this, the march west was painfully slow.
Before Japan could intervene in Europe, one of the most strategic places in all the world would need to be claimed for the Axis: The Suez. The capture of the canal would allow the Japanese Navy to punch into the Mediterranean, crushing the allied navies and providing a route for supplies to flow into Italy and Vichy France. To achieve this goal, a new war would have to be started. The Middle-East would have to be occupied, acting as a staging ground into North Africa. To secure their own sovereignty a number of Middle-Eastern nations banded together, forming the Sadabat Pact, composing of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. With the exception of Turkey, the four posed little military might. It was agreed that Japan would fight this burden alone, securing the Middle-East and the Suez for the Axis.
It took until December of 1946, but the Imperial Japanese Army was now fully motorized and staged on the border with Afghanistan and Iran. As they braced themselves for the order to charge headlong into enemy territory yet again, the world in front of them was vastly different from the familiar jungles and islands they had been fighting in for the previous 10 years. Now they faced a sea of mountains, the last obstacle between them and their new brothers in the Europe. The newest invasion could not come quickly enough, as the front line in Europe was now within striking distance of Berlin. All Hirohito could do was hope that Japan was not too late. Casualties in Western Europe had reached apocalyptic levels.
Combat fatalities on the Western Front, January 1st 1947:
German Reich: 10,660,000
Vichy France: 1,460,000
Legionary Bulgaria: 113,000
Legionary Romania: 102,000
Greater Finland: 106,000
United States: 4,250,000
United Kingdom: 2,210,000
Free France: 121,000
Dominican Republic: 32,000
New Zealand: 6,000
* – Notes nations who remained occupied by January 1st, 1947