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“I’ve got a cunning plan…”

The Japanese went to war in 1941 for a number of reasons.  The prime one was an economic blockade by the United States and Britain, which was slowly strangling Japan’s economy.  The other reasons included a desperate need to win their empire before one of the European combatants actually won the war, the need to cut American supplies off from the Chinese, a correct assumption about the fragility of the European Empires and a strong belief that, despite all they’d achieved, they were still looked down upon by the white powers. 

Having talked themselves into confronting their ‘tormentors’, the Japanese conceived a plan that was strategically brilliant – provided that you accepted one assumption.  That was the assumption that, if it lost all its immediately available striking power and needed to spend time and money rebuilding that power, the US would accept a compromise peace that would leave the Japanese with their ill-gotten gains.  Unluckily for the Japanese, their ‘cunning plan’ hit a slight snag – they failed to destroy the US’s carriers and their support ships.  That gave the US the ability to feel that it could still fight in the darkest days and gave them the strength to build up and crush Japan.  At some other point, we can discuss if America would have given up if the carriers had been sunk and Japan’s rampage was unopposed for longer. 

There was, however, another possibility.  Many of the resources that Japan needs, in the short term, are available in the Dutch East Indies.  Of all the powers in the pacific, the Dutch are arguably in the worst position, taking them would have been child’s play for Japan and the concept that a Dutch fleet comprised of destroyers and supports could have stopped Japan’s main strike force is laughable. 

There is, however, a slight snag.  Both Britain and the US would be likely to be unhappy with the Indies changing ownership.  Britain can be discounted in 1940, fighting for survival at home; they’re not going to start a war in the Far East.  The US, on the other hand, is very powerful and is opposed to any colonial transfer.  In order for Japan to use the Indies, they need a shed of legality.  I can think of two ways to do this.

One – Let’s have Hitler offered a deal by the Japanese in January 1940.  The Japanese will provide technical support and assistance for the growing German fleet, mainly the Graf Zeppelin carrier.  In exchange, Hitler will force the Dutch to surrender the East Indies to him and then ‘sell’ them to the Japanese.  The British would be unhappy about this little stunt, but, as the Japanese would have local superiority and no commitment from FDR, they would probably accept the situation.

Two – Let’s have the Japanese approach the Dutch government in exile.  The Dutch have two choices.  They can agree to sell the Japanese goods at minimal prices, regardless of what the Americans or British may say, or the Japanese will either seize the islands and gamble on the Americans doing nothing, or the Japanese will support nationalists who will then invite the Japanese in.  Either way, the Dutch Empire is doomed.

The beauty of this scheme is that if America goes to war over it, they will not be fighting to avenge a sneak attack, but for the defence of colonisation.  The heart of America will not be in this war and the Japanese would have a good chance of surviving the war without massive damage. 

So, assuming no other major changes in the timeline, at the end of 1940, we would have a Japan occupying (de facto if not de jure) both the Dutch East Indies and Indochina.  In both cases, we also have a sullen, but seriously concerned Britain and an unhappy (and in some quarters paranoid) US.  The US would probably dispatch what army and air force units it could scrape up to the Philippines and begin a massive build-up of that colony’s defences and native forces.  As the US grows in power, the US stations small fleet units and fighter planes in the bases there. 

What has changed, as 1941 rolls on, is no real embargo.  The US is unwilling to start a war, with their supplies the Japanese, while still pinched; don’t see a war as a necessity.  The Japanese, instead of preparing to hit the US in late 1941, continue attacks on Cheing’s forces in china and concentrating forces to attack the USSR if it looks like the USSR will be defeated.  However, the Germans do not manage to force the USSR to surrender and Japan, still feeling the sting of Nomonhan, does not stab them in the back. 

1942 sees a very different world.  The US is not in the war, but is actively supplying both the British and the Russians, as well as the Chinese.  The British have finally managed to produce a strategic victory in the Middle East, defeating Rommel and forcing the Germans and Italians back into Libya.  The extra British naval forces cut off Rommel’s supply line and force him back into Tunisia.  As the British chase him into French territory, Hitler sends some reinforcements, but not enough to turn the tide.  The British effectively occupy the French North African colonies. 

Meanwhile, in the pacific, the Americans have built a massive force in the Philippines.  They have trained thousands of native troops, as well as shipping in hundreds of fighter planes and bombers.  Those forces are in a perfect location to interfere with Japanese transports from the East Indies to Japan, making the Japanese very paranoid.  The Chinese have been getting better as well, as have the British Indian forces.  The Japanese launch a massive offensive against the Chinese Nationalists, which, despite tough resistance, is a limited success.  Cheing is bottled up in Western China.  With the defeat of the nationalists, many Chinese warlords agree to support Japan in exchange for favours. 

The Soviets push the British into invading France or Italy.  The British are reluctant to invade Italy and flatly refuse to invade France.  The British are recovering from the war in North Africa and are rebuilding their forces.  The Americans are supplying as much material as they can, but the British don’t have the sheer numbers of troops, or the experienced leaders, to take on the Germans.  They do increase the bombing program, but the only other offensive action they do is an invasion of Sardinia.  The British have to fight with one eye cast over their back.  They don’t trust Japan – although with Lead Lease the British are stronger in the Far East – and they have nationalist problems in India. 

FDR is one frustrated politician.  He’s pushed the American congress into approving large amounts of supplies for Britain, Russia and China.  It is becoming clear, however, that China is incapable of using the American supplies and that Russia is untrustworthy.  The Germans have exposed the Russian massacre of Polish officers to the world.  FDR also has the problem of paying for lend lease.  The British will not be able to pay the debt they’ve had to take on, so they’ll have to default and if they do, the American economy will take a nosedive. 

World War Two stalemates.  The Germans and the Russians have fought bitterly, but the Russians are scraping the barrel, while the Germans have persistent supply shortages.  The British have captured Africa, but they cannot take the war directly to the Germans.  After demanding a second front, Stalin decides to make a separate peace, which gives the Germans western Russia in exchange for peace in early 1944. 

The Germans and the British are stuck.  The British are far more powerful in 1944 than they were in 1940.  America has provided several new carriers and dozens of advanced aircraft.  The British have been able to tap Indian, African and Algerian manpower (the British have promised not to allow the French back if the Algerians help defeat Germany) to make dozens of new divisions.  The British have also designed a tank which is reasonably comparable with the best German tanks and America has mass produced it for both their army and the British one. 

The British are in fact divided.  FDR has slowly loosened the purse strings to the point when the British are receiving goods that can rebuild the British economy.  On the other hand, the soviets have taken over north Iran completely and are threatening the British from the east.  Meanwhile, Japan sits in the rear and might still be threatening. 

Under such circumstances, the British will probably seek peace.  They’ll acknowledge German continental dominance in exchange for their empire being recognised and a private deal against Stalin if he attacks the British positions in Iran.  World War Tow ends with a weak USSR, a weakened, but victorious Germany, an extremely powerful US and a strong Japan.  China will probably end up being partitioned between Japan, Britain and Russia. 

I leave the long-term effects of a powerful Asian nation on Indian independence and geopolitics to the reader. 

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