In the early 1940s, relations between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Greater Empire of Japan were surprisingly good. Despite Japan being a member of the Axis pact and the Soviet Union being allied with the British Empire and the United States, relations between Moscow and Tokyo remained reasonable and calm.
The document which defined this most unusual relationship was the Neutrality Pact of 1941, according to which the sides pledged to non-aggression and non-interference in any war the other side was waging.
With the signing of the Pact on April 13, 1941, both Tokyo and Moscow promised to respect the borders of the other side’s satellite states: Manchukuo and Mongolian People’s Republic. It was also stated in the Pact that it could have been nullified with notice given a year in advance.
Despite the USSR being attacked by Nazi Germany a few months after the signing of the Neutrality Pact, Japan duly upheld the pact and did not interfere in the war. The Soviet Union appreciated this and for several years its official publications refrained from criticizing Japan – which had been portrayed as an enemy capitalist nation before 1941.
THE ROAD TO WAR
The event which changed it all was the Yalta Conference in February 1945, in which Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Franklin Roosevelt spoke of the fate of the post-war world. By that time it was already clear that victory was inevitable – but Washington still did not know if they would succeed with their latest military innovation: the atomic bomb. It was in Yalta where Churchill and FDR made their biggest mistake: they asked Stalin to participate in the war against Japan.
On April 5, Moscow informed Japanese Ambassador Sato Naotake that they intended to nullify the Neutrality Pact. Sato immediately asked if this meant that the Pact continued to be in force for another year and was assured that it was the case. However both sides understood that this would likely not be so – and preparations for war began.
The Soviet Union formed the Supreme Command of the Soviet Forces in the Far East, headed by Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevskiy, who was instructed to prepare the attack. The Empire of Japan in return formed the Seventeenth Area Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Kozuki Yoshio, to defend Korea. Defense of the Japanese satellite of Manchukuo was to be done by Kwantung Army.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
The Soviet Union declared war on Japan on August 8, two days after Hiroshima was devastated by a nuclear attack. The declaration was announced at 1700 Moscow time: due to the time difference, it was 2300 in Manchukuo. The state of war was to take effect in an hour.
Thus, it was technically not a surprise attack, although the conditions of the Neutrality Pact were violated – the USSR broke it before the one-year term expired. However, given that neither Tokyo nor Xinjing were informed in time about the war declaration by the Japanese embassy in Moscow, the attack proved to be a surprise after all.
The invasion began on the same day the second atomic strike destroyed Nagasaki. The Red Army, armed with superior weaponry and experience in the war in Europe, proved itself to be overwhelmingly superior to its enemy. The invasion began in not only Manchukuo and Korea but also the Japanese mainland – Karafuto Prefecture, located at the southern part of the Sakhalin island and Chishima islands, which soon regained their old name – the Kurils.
The very fact that Japan had several more fronts suddenly opened – combined with the knowledge of the new devastating weapon its enemies possessed – pushed Tokyo towards discussion of surrender. Any politician with any reason left understood that further resistance was hopeless and that every day would just bring news of more victims.
But while reasonable men in the government – including the only ethnic Korean in it, Minister of Foreign Affairs Togo Shigenori – were arguing for immediate surrender – some fanatical hardliners continued to resist. Even when, in an extremely unusual move, the Emperor himself stepped in, directly approving Togo’s suggestions, some questioned the decision of the man they considered a living god. Yet, the negotiations of surrender began – and lasted for a few days due to some misunderstandings between the sides.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union continued to advance. The Red Army’s tanks were rolling over Manchuria, while the Pacific fleet conducted landing operations in northern Korea. On the Japanese mainland, however, the resistance was stronger than the Soviets anticipated and it took them more time to take the islands targeted by the command than they thought.
On August 14 Tokyo finalized the text of the Imperial surrender – to be recorded by the Emperor and broadcast at noon next day. Meanwhile, a group of radical officers tried to seize power and stop Japan from surrendering. They failed – and the recorded broadcast was brought to the studio. It was over.
Immediately after Japanese radio announced the time – noon, August 15, the announcer Wada Nobukata addressed the nation: “There will be a major announcement now. Listeners of all the nation, please stand up.”
After this, the chief of the Cabinet’s Information Department Shimomura Hiroshi continued: “His Majesty the Emperor shalt read his awe-inspiring proclamation to all the people of the country. From now forward, the broadcast of Jade Voice shalt begin.”
The national anthem played – and then all the Empire heard the Emperor’s voice for the first time. Speaking in classical Japanese the Emperor read a proclamation.
It lasted for several minutes and the most important sentence of it was: “We have ordered our government to communicate to the governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that our empire accepts the provisions of their joint declaration”.
This meant surrender on conditions of the Potsdam Declaration, adopted by the Allies.
This meant that Korea’s independence was restored, Taiwan was again Chinese, the Kuril islands and the entire Sakhalin go to the Soviet Union, and Manchukuo – and other Japanese satellites and puppets – were no more.
It also meant that the Second World War had ended – and that the fate of Korea was now in the hands of the Soviets and Americans.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: RIA Novosti archive
In the early 1940s, relations between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Greater Empire of Japan were surprisingly good. Despite Japan being a member of the Axis pact and the Soviet Union being allied with the British Empire and the United States, relations between Moscow and Tokyo remained reasonable and calm.The document which defined this most unusual relationship was the
Fyodor Tertitskiy is an expert in North Korean politics and the military and a contributor to NK News and NK Pro. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Seoul National University, and is author of "North Korea before Kim Il Sung," which you buy here.