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We had to fight our way across the Pacific in order to obtain island bases close enough to bomb Japan.  We also launched relatively ineffective raids from China.  But the USSR was our ally, it seems its land mass is close to Japan, and of course Alaska is not far from the USSR.

Why didn’t we send planes to bases in the USSR, to bomb Japan?

Tony Dean


Dear Mr. Dean:

The United States did not stage bombers from the Soviet Union for the simple reason that as of April 13, 1941, the Soviets had signed the USSR-Japanese Neutrality Pact, in which the two powers (which had last clashed in Mongolia in September 1939, with the Japanese army taking the worst of it) pledged to a state of mutual non-aggression. This freed Josef Stalin to focus his attention on the coming conflict Nazi Germany (which, in spite of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed on August 23, 1939, both he and Adolf Hitler knew was inevitable), and also freed the Japanese to pursue their plans of conquest in China and against the British Commonwealth, the United States and the Dutch East Indies. It was in both powers’ interests to adhere to the pact for most of the war, but once Germany was teetering on the brink of defeat, on April 5, 1945 Soviet Foreign Minister Vyachislav M. Molotov denounced it on the grounds that it made no sense in view of the USSR’s alliance with the Western Allies. This was a warning to the Japanese of what was to come and the other shoe dropped on August 8, 1945, when the USSR—having had time to move its battle-seasoned military forces to the Far East—declared war.

It might be added that technically, as of December 8, 1941 the United States was only at war with Japan, but on December 11, after some thought on the matter, Hitler declared war on the United States, much to satisfaction of Franklin D. Roosevelt (who still had the downfall of Nazi Germany as his first priority) and to the horror of most German generals fighting in Russia. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini declared war on the same day and Hungary and Romania soon followed suit, saving Roosevelt the trouble of declaring war on the European Axis.

Although the Soviet Union spent most of the Great Patriotic War avoiding conflict with Japan, it played a canny game with the Americans in the Pacific. For example, when a North American B-25B Mitchell bomber involved in Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle’s carrier-launched raid on the Japanese Home Islands landed in Vladivostok, the Soviets impounded the plane and interned its crew. Over the following months, however, they were moved southwestward from one camp to another until they reached the frontier with Persia (Iran), at which point the Soviets looked the other way as they simply slipped across the border. For another, the United States arranged for Soviet pilots to ferry thousands of Lend-Lease warplanes from Alaska to Siberia.



Jon Guttman

Research Director

World History

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