Stalin's secret railway for war against Japan confirmed in Mongolia

By YASUJI NAGAI/ Senior Staff Writer
A secret railway in eastern Mongolia and a confidential order by Josef Stalin show that the Soviet Union was preparing for war against Japan in 1942, three years before the actual war started, researchers said.
A joint team of Japanese and Mongolian researchers recently confirmed the existence of the military railway connecting three huge bases that Soviet forces used as strongholds to attack Japan during the closing days of World War II in 1945.
Stalin’s order for research on construction of the military railway was given in a secret document dated June 6, 1942, despite the neutrality treaty concluded by the Soviet Union and Japan in 1941, the researchers said.
In 2009 and 2014, the joint research team confirmed the sites of the three bases, in Sanbeis, Matad and Tamsagbulag. The bases were surrounded by an anti-tank trench with a circumference longer than the 34.5-kilometer Yamanote Line loop in central Tokyo.
From late April to early May this year, the team, headed by Hisaya Okazaki, looked for transportation routes linking the three sites. Their work included aerial searches over vast plains in Mongolia, which was under the influence of the Soviet Union during the war.
The researchers found that the military railway, which transported troops and supplies, was an extension of a branch line of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The military railway’s total length was about 400 kilometers.
According to an internal document of the Imperial Japanese Army in 1941, Japan believed the Soviet Union only had trucks and other vehicles for transportation between the Sanbeis base and the border with Manchuria (current northeastern China), which was then under Japanese control.
But according to documents disclosed to the research team and accompanying Asahi Shimbun reporters by the Mongolian Institute for Defense Studies, Stalin demanded that research on the construction of a railway from the Sanbeis base to the Manchuria border be completed by the end of 1942.
The secret order was among confidential documents that Russia has disclosed to Mongolia in recent years.
“It seems that the railway was completed in 1943,” said Sanuidagva Ganbold, a professor at the Institute for Defense Studies.
Japan and the Soviet Union concluded the Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact, also known as the Japanese-Soviet Non-aggression Pact, in April 1941. The pact was effective for five years.
A month after war broke out between the Soviet Union and Germany in June 1941, Japan sent soldiers to Manchuria for “drills.” However, it gave up on the idea of invading the Soviet Union.
In mid-August 1942, Stalin told visiting U.S. special envoy Averell Harriman in Moscow that the Soviet Union was unable to start a war against Japan under the circumstances at that time, but it would do so in the future.
That remark was believed to be Stalin’s first reference to a possible war with Japan. However, his secret order for the military railway was made two months earlier.
“Seeing the traces of huge bases and the military railway on a vast plain, I felt anew the national will of the Soviet Union that regarded Japan as its enemy and was keeping its guard up against the country even when it had a neutrality treaty with Japan and was engaged in a war against Germany,” said Kazutoshi Hando, author of “Soren ga Manshu ni Shinkoshita Natsu” (Summer when the Soviet Union invaded Manchuria).
“Japanese leaders initially planned to attack the Soviet Union under the name of drills. But when the possibility of Japan’s defeat in the war became high, Japan tried to ask the Soviet Union to serve as a mediator. I am appalled by the gap between Stalin’s strong determination and Japan’s optimism,” he said.



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