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A. Roland

Vladivostok – Key to the Pacific War

(14 February 1942)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 7, 14 February 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Never in all history have the front lines in a war extended over such vast distances. In Europe the front extends from the Arctic tundras to the further shores of the Mediterranean in North Africa. But the length of front in the Pacific War dwarfs the European one. It extends from Alaska along the entire Asiatic coast to Australia.

The “keys” to this vast front lie in the naval and air bases that give military and commercial control over the surrounding areas. Singapore is one great key, rapidly slipping from the hands of the United Nations. If this shield for India, the Dutch East Indies and Australia falls into Japanese hands, then the greatest blow of the Pacific War will have been dealt to Britain and America.

That blow would then concentrate the attention of both sides in the war on that other key to the north, Vladivostock. It is unthinkable that Japan would wait for the Allies to strengthen this vital point any further before attempting to wrest it from the Soviet Union. At any moment, when the Japanese feel themselves sufficiently entrenched in the south Pacific to turn their attention once more to Russia, the great Siberian base may come under attack.

It is quite true that the Soviet Union would prefer to concentrate her entire attention on the enemy with whom she is already at war. The Red Army is fully occupied with the fascist invaders on the European front. It is probably just as true that Japan would like to stave off the rupture of relations with Soviet Russia as long as possible, But both countries recognize the inevitability of the struggle for Vladivostok.

Importance of the Vladivostok Base

The importance of this base in the Pacific War can hardly be exaggerated. It is a point of concentration for a direct attack on Japan, potentially speaking. It has become a commonplace – which, however, remains true – that the Maritime Provinces of Siberia, with Vladivostok as the muzzle, are like a gun aimed at the heart of Japan. The radius of flight of long-range bombers makes the Star of the East a possible base for the bombing of the entire industrial area and the most powerful naval bases of Japan. Less than eight hundred miles from Vladivostok lie the great fleet bases at Kure, Kobe within the Inner Sea of Japan, Sasebo, Yokasuka, Maizuru, Ominato, all can be reached. Japanese shipping through Tsugaru Strait, through La Perouse Strait, through Shimonoseki and through the vital Japanese life-line, the Straits of Tsushima, can be directly menaced by airplane and submarine based on Vladivostok.

It was not entirely by accident that Japan chose December as the time to make her attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese militarists reckoned on nature to help keep the USSR quiescent for the time being, even had the USSR desired to take any immediate action in the Pacific. Vladivostok harbor can be kept more or less free of ice, but the ice-infested seas nearby make difficult the passage of submarines for refueling at such bases as Postovoi Bay. Vladivostok Bay outside the harbor itself remains coated by ice up to March.

It is clear that it is only a question of time before the Japanese launch their attack on Vladivostok and the Maritime Provinces. They will once more attempt to use the element of surprise to deliver a terrific blow similar to that of Port Arthur and Pearl Harbor. It is doubtful that they can succeed again, but that will not deter them from trying. They might hope to smash the bombing planes concentrated at the Siberian base before the planes can take off.

The Red Army was caught napping in Europe when Hitler sprang his invasion, mainly because of Stalin’s policy of conceding to Hitler whatever Hitler demanded. Stalin could not believe that Hitler would invade when he could obtain all that he needed without invasion. But the same thing does not apply in the East. The “peace-pact” signed between Stalin and Matsuoka became meaningless the moment the Pacific War began.

The Strategy of Japan

Will the Japanese attack this spring, when Hitler opens his new campaign in the West? That possibility is not to be ignored. The Japanese may have an eye on India once they take Singapore, but they would not dare to concentrate the forces necessary for such an undertaking, even with Hitler attacking from the West if he can break through the Near Eastern barriers, while Vladivostok remains there to the north. Just as Hitler found it necessary to try to wipe out the Red Army before proceeding to an attack on England, so Japan will feel it necessary to get rid of the menace of Vladivostok before going much further in the Pacific War.

The strategy of Japan was to keep her enemies divided as much as possible. Japan did not succeed entirely, but she would most certainly prefer to attack Russia while she continues to have control of the Pacific sea-lanes. She could thus hope to isolate Siberia and face Russia in the East while Hitler faces the Soviets in the West. The time, element remains favorable to Japan, because the United States still has a long way to go on its war production program.

It is possible that Japan was herself surprised at the ease with which she was able to move south and seize vast territories. Her strategy may well have included the attack on Vladivostok sooner. The very success of her southern campaign whetted her appetite for more and may have caused the postponement of the inevitable attack on the Star of the East. But Japan may well feel that she cannot afford to postpone the inevitable much longer. The Japanese generals know as well as the English and Americans that the final outcome of the war depends in large measure on what happens to Hitler’s campaign in Russia. Japan will take every possible measure to assure his success.

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