Appendices - Hirohito's War
O. Japanese – Soviet Conflict in Siberia, Mongolia and Manchuria
The Significance of the Soviet Invasions: In itself the Soviet invasion of Manchuria was of little military importance or consequence even though some 674,000 Japanese troops were killed or captured. The cost for the Red Army may have been seemingly low at 12,000 dead and 24,000 sick and wounded but in reality, if Stalin had waited but a few days for Japan’s surrender, which must have been expected after the atom bombing of Hiroshima, Manchuria could have been acquired cost free. But Stalin was not one to quibble over the lives of his own soldiers. Even if Japan had surrendered on 6 August, the day of the Hiroshima bombing, three days before the commencement of the Soviet invasion, Stalin would still have occupied Manchuria and the northern half of Korea. He was determined to reclaim the territories that had been ceded to Japan after the humiliating defeat of Imperial Russia at the Battle of Tsushima  and the succeeding Treaty of Portsmouth. If that could be achieved with a crushing defeat of Japanese forces, all the better.
As it was, the Soviet invasion brought about the post-war conspiracy theory that America dropped the atom bomb when it did, to stop the Soviets in their tracks—this, it was argued, was the main reason for using an atom bomb on an already defeated enemy. if this was the US government’s theory, which it was not, it would have failed. The Soviets would have occupied former Japanese territories anyway. Stalin had agreed, indeed had allowed himself to be persuaded by Roosevelt at Yalta, to invade Japanese controlled territories. Roosevelt need not have concerned himself—Stalin, once Hitler had been disposed of, was only too happy to exact retribution on Japan and take advantage of its weakened state. He envisioned a post war world in which china would be a buffer vassal nation to the Soviet Union in the Far east, just as the eastern European nations would act as a buffer to Western Europe.
Stalin could have pushed further into China, south Korea and the northern main Japanese island of Hokkaido but chose not to—though he did make the suggestion to Truman, quickly rejected, that the Soviet Army could land in Hokkaido and take the formal Japanese surrender there. as great a villain as he was, Stalin, a cautious man, abided by the letter if not the spirit of Yalta. He occupied the territories that had been agreed but no more. At Yalta Roosevelt, and after his death, Truman, still saw Stalin as an ally and a future partner in global peace and security.
As for the ‘atomic diplomacy’ theory proposed by Gar Alperovitz, Barton Bernstein and others, that the Japanese surrendered largely because of the shock of the Soviet invasion of Manchuria—a critical point in their case that the dropping of the atom bomb was unnecessary—their logic is askew. The Imperial Army HQ was already inured to the idea of losing Manchuria. The filleting of the Manchurian Army of nearly all their good troops and equipment in April 1945 meant that Japan’s leaders had already given up on keeping hold of their empire. Togo and other Japanese leaders may have been shocked as to the timing of the Soviet invasion on 9 August, but they were not so naïve as to believe that it was altogether unlikely that Stalin would exact revenge on a country that had been its main geopolitical enemy for more than half a century. Stalin’s vacillation on any extension of the Japan-Soviet Neutrality Pact must have given the clue to all but the diplomatically blind—a characteristic that was evident in the conduct of much Japanese diplomacy, both before the Pacific War and at its end.
Although a cabal of Japanese officers based in Switzerland had, in June 1945, tried to initiate a peace deal based on Japan keeping Korea and Formosa as part of the Japanese empire, the plan was barely dignified with a response—even from Tokyo. Manchuria was not even mentioned. The empire was long lost by the spring of 1945 and the Japanese leaders knew it; hence the appropriation by Imperial Army GHQ of experienced army units based in Manchuria. For Hirohito and his army commanders, their last chance rested solely on the defense of Japan; by making its defense too painful to the Us invaders they believed that the allies would agree to a surrender that fell short of unconditional.
Noticeably after the Potsdam Declaration, Japan’s tentative offers to make a conditional surrender through ambassador Sato in Moscow did not include the ‘redline’ retention of Manchuria or any other possession of empire. Nevertheless the invasion of Manchuria was arguably a “psychological jolt comparable to that of the atom bomb.”31 This was not because Japan’s leaders feared the loss of Manchuria—that was already a given—but because it must have been feared that the Soviets might beat the Americans to the beaches of mainland Japan.
It was the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima that first propelled Japan’s military leadership along the path that led to surrender. The atom bombing of Nagasaki and the invasion of Manchuria, both of which followed three days later, merely underlined the futility of further resistance. Ultimately it was the atom bomb, not the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, which persuaded emperor Hirohito, the doves and even the majority of the ultranationalist military leaders that their last throw of the dice, the last ditch suicidal defense of Japan’s main islands, was a pointless and untenable strategy.