1. Off the rails and off the cliff
In 1938 the world had two sources of tension.

In Europe Spain was in the second year of its civil war and a embryonic Fascist block was coalescing around the Kingdom of Italy and the ever aggressive German Third Reich. A general European war was feared by all: As diplomats raced to defuse conflicts national armament industries received their contracts and shook out the rust that had accumulated since the last war.

With the colonial powers occupied by matters closer to home the Empire of Japan acted with a free hand on the other side of the planet. The previous year it had unleashed its armies upon the Republic of China and in a series of stunning campaigns it had captured Beijing, Shanghai, and even the Chinese capital of Nanjing. Throughout 1938 it had plunged deeper still into China and found its forces increasingly coming up against National Revolutionary Army formations armed with western sourced equipment. With much of China’s industrial areas having already fallen it was determined that these imports must have been China’s last life line.[1]

Where the World Went Awry: Yet Another Upstart Officer

Since the late 1920s the Imperial Japanese Army had a persistent problem on its hands. The lower ranks of its officer corps, especially those who had served in the Kwantung Leased Territory, had embraced a militantly radical understanding of civic duty. On a number of occasions these officers had acted without orders, assassinating foriegn and domestic officials, hijacking foriegn policy, and even attempting coups against the Japanese government.

In the early 1930s this matter seemingly came to a head when the young radicals coalesced around General Sado Araki formed the Imperial Way Faction (Kōdōha). In opposition conservative elements of the army coalesced around Lieutenant General Tetsuzan Nagata to form the Control Faction (Tōseiha). These two factions spent most of the 1930s at eachothers throats, with tensions reaching their peaks when Kōdōha members murdered Nagata. The next time the Kōdōha overstepped, their attempted coup in February of 1936, the Tōseiha made sure to get their revenge, sacking many of the Kōdōha faction’s leaders and demoting many of its known members.

Yet this victory proved hollow. The victorious Tōseiha saw fit to subordinate Japan’s civilian government, a spirit of independent action remained pervasive amongst the IJA’s officers, and the army’s successes in the new war in China further intensified and promoted the IJA’s indulgences.

In October of 1938 the Japanese General Staff had devised a solution to the problem of western aid to the Republic of China. The “Canton Operation” was to be a joint operation by the IJA and the Imperial Japanese Navy. Its aim would be to capture the city of Guangzhou and its environs, thereby denying the Pearl River delta to those wishing to import war materials. The European colonies of Hong Kong and Macau were not to be touched, as simply occupying the areas peripheral to them would be sufficient to neutralize them.

Originally the plan was to have two commanders; the ground component was to be led by Lt. Gen. Motoo Furushō, while the naval component was commanded by Adm. Koichi Shiozawa. A last minute adjustment to this plan came a mere two weeks prior to its start, when Lt. Gen. Furushō was promoted to the Supreme War Council of Japan. His replacement was to be the infamous Lt. Gen. Rikichi Andō.

Mr. Andō’s affiliation (if any) during the confrontation between the Kōdōha and Tōseiha is unknown. After all, as the IJA’s military attache to the United Kingdom, he was out of the country for much of the early 1930s. However, it is plainly apparent that he would be one of the IJA’s most dangerous independent actors.[2]

The Canton operation was an outstanding success by most measures. Supported by elements of the IJN’s 5th fleet the IJA’s 21st Army[3] made landfall and muscled its way through the NRA forces that attempted to halt its advance. By October 21st Guangzhou had fallen to Japanese occupation, and as the 104th Division pushed on towards the city of Foshan the 5th Division doubled back to the south. On the evening of November 2 the first 105mm shell fell upon the New Territories.


General Rikichi Andō: the man who started the Anglo-Japanese War

Of Course You Realize: This Means War

News reached London at 12pm. Parliament had just finished postponing debate on implementing the Anglo-Italian Easter Accords when news of Japan’s unprovoked attack on Hong Kong arrived. After a little debate an ultimatum was penned for the Japanese, giving them 24 hours to explain their actions, withdraw their forces, and for those responsible to face appropriate punishment.

Tokyo itself was also caught flat footed by this news. Upon initiating the attack Andō had sent word that he was engaging “non-negligible” NRA formations which had “regrouped in British Hong Kong, seemingly with the approval or apathy of the British authorities” which had committed “acts of sabotage directed against the rear areas of the 21st Army”, and that during these engagements “the fighting has organically spilled over into Hong Kong.”

An emergency liaison conference between the government and the military had been called. While it was agreed that Andō’s explanation was wholly unlikely, there were other matters to consider.

Was war with the UK desirable at this time? There was some understanding of the pace of British rearmament. The window for a successful war against the British was closing with each day, and Britain was undoubtedly one of the powers sponsoring the Republic of China’s resistance.

Could Japan admit to have acted in error? Doing so would be a national humiliation on par with acquiescing to the Triple Intervention in 1895.

Would the lower ranks skin them alive if they did so? Probably.

Was there even a problem? “Ambiguous incidents” had brought them unimaginable success in China.

No understanding would be reached before the ultimatum lapsed, and Japanese state mouthpieces and allied media began regurgitating Andō’s story in full.[4]

At 1:00pm GMT Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain issued a declaration of war.


[1] Though, it’s worth noting that the Hanyang Arsenal had been relocated out of Wuhan before the Japanese captured the city, and domestic arms production continued throughout the war.

[2] iOTL he unilaterally invaded French Indochina while the Japanese government and French State were still negotiating. This is admittedly quite the step up from that.

[3] in IJA terminology refers to a corps level formation.

[4] at this time it is still unknown if this was the result of a policy decision or if an Andō ally in the media had gotten the ball rolling on their own.

Yes COVID-19 has made me stir crazy to the point of productivity. No that energy has not been put towards updating my existing timeline. Yes I agree that’s probably a bad thing.

So: Comments? suggestions? complaints? Hate mail? Please post it in this comment section.

Tune in next week as we delve into the Battle of Hong Kong and diplomatic fallout.
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I'll be watching :) The China Lobby in the USA is probably sending up fireworks! The Panay Incident wasn't that long ago, either...
Well, instead of stiring up a hornet's net in Indochina, good old Ando is going to do it in Hong Kong... I wonder what is FDR going to say about this.
This is going to be weird. Britain is unquestionably stronger than Japan, but the war will be in Japan's back yard. It will take weeks if not months for the RN to deploy in strength to the Far East and Pacific.

The US will immediately embargo Japan, cutting off oil supplies. Japan can seize oil supplies in SE Asia - but Japan has made no preparations whatever for a "Southern Operation". OTOH, British forces in the area are also unprepared. Overall, IMO, this favors the defense.

What will be the policies of France and the Netherlands?
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Very interesting. Britain is going to be taking its eye of the ball in Europe and will be even more conciliatory to Germany. I imagine Hitler is privately delighted and will leave Japan in the lurch?
When thinking about what can happen, remember that the USA is already a mess if Japan can pull this off, and the OP mentions just that. Is the country too much of a mess to put its problems on the back burner in the wake of this attack? If so--good by Japanese Empire.


Oh good lord that's interesting. What will the implications be in Europe? Does the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo axis still happen?
Probably not. Japan is already ensuring Britain will be distracted from European affairs without Germany needing to form an alliance with them.
Very interesting. Britain is going to be taking its eye of the ball in Europe and will be even more conciliatory to Germany. I imagine Hitler is privately delighted and will leave Japan in the lurch?
This what I'm thinking too.


Gone Fishin'
Monthly Donor
The Soviet Union probably sees an opportunity to "let's you and him fight", but, the Soviet Union was aiding China a lot and border clashing with Japan. It could ally with Britain against Japan, and has fewer domestic impediments to doing so than the USA.
2. Where everyone is caught with their pants down
Opening Strategy: The need to come up with one

Once again it must be stressed that neither Empire had intended to go to war at this time. Accordingly it should be no shock that neither had any substantial preparations for war with the other.

The UK would need time to mobilize the economy of its vast empire and muster its military. During the 1930s Hong Kong had been substantially fortified. The Gin Drinker’s Line[1] in the New Territories was intended to halt any attack for up to 6 months. Even half that though would theoretically be enough time to assemble a fleet in Singapore that would be able to break out into the South China Sea thus relieving the embattled Hong Kong Garrison. This plan of course relied on a very pessimistic assessment of IJA and IJN capabilities.


One of the tunnels that constituted the Gin Drinkers Line

Relief was to be provided by the Eastern Grand Fleet. This combined force of the pre-war China Station, Australia Station, and East Indies Station would be further reinforced with elements of the Mediterranean and Home Fleets. In addition, the navies of the Dominions[2] would be expected to contribute.

Parliament was also quick to identify another opportunity. The Yunnan-Burma Railway which had begun construction earlier that year was to be hastened, so that a larger volume of supplies and possibly even a BEF could be sent to the Chinese front.

Japanese strategic planning was hampered by factionalism. The famous rivalry between the IJN and IJA was playing out once more.

While the IJN was in fact no more immune to radicalism than the IJA, it had a healthy appreciation of Britain’s naval capabilities. In fact, it hadn’t been too long ago that Royal Navy advisors had taught the IJN about carrier operations, and many of the IJN’s personnel still served aboard ships that had been built in Britain. Additionally, naval campaigns required fairly substantial preplanning and preparation. Stumbling into war without warning, when much of the IJN was tied down in existing operations in support of the campaign in China, was the worst possible way to pick a fight with a powerful foe.

The IJA had its own internal disagreements over how to proceed. There were those who wanted to see Lt. Gen. Rikichi Andō tried for his actions, and there were those who saw him as a hero who had finally unleashed the might of Japan upon the hated western barbarian. The compromise eventually reached was that, to avoid disrupting morale, Andō’s court martial would be held off until the conclusion of the battle of Hong Kong.

What all this meant was that Japanese strategy at this time amounted to “take Hong Kong” and that initiative was passed to the international community.

From Catastrophe: Unity of an ephemeral sort

The international reaction was fairly homogeneous. No one could find any reason to not condemn Japan’s attack on the UK.

German Reich:
This held true even in Germany, which under the influence of Joachim von Ribbentrop had been in the midst of reorienting itself away from China and towards Japan. As in all cases with the Nazi regime, it was a matter of backstabbing and feelings rather than consistent and coherent policy. When Ribbentrop excitedly informed Hitler of Britain’s distraction, he had caught Hitler in a melancholic mood and was asked to know the probable fate of the white race in Asia. That put the ball in the court of Herrman Gorring, who had once derided Japan as a “Far East Italy”, and who still had some strings to pull at the Gestapo. John Rabe’s photos of the Nanjing Massacre arrived at Hitler’s office later that day.

Germany’s official statements on the matter would remain fairly muted, but high level diplomatic cables between Berlin and London indicated that Germany strongly supported Britain’s decision.

Kingdom of Italy:
Italy had a more coherent policy, one which quite favoured Japan, especially after the economic mission to Japan earlier that year had yielded positive results. However, economic reality made it weary of Britain, especially as Germany wasn’t taking a position at this time. Instead Mussolini sought the chance to once more play the part of the great conciliator, and instead offered to broker peace if Japan would withdraw its forces from British territory.

Unfortunately for Mussolini’s ego, Japan was still set on war, and the UK was done giving Japan opportunities for peace.

French Third Republic:
For France these events could not have come at a worse time. On the same day that Japan attacked Hong Kong Germany awarded a portion of Czechoslovakia to Hungary; strong indication that Hitler’s ambitions were yet to be sated.

Worse, France was still racked with post-Munich Agreement strikes and the government was in general disorder following the Communist Party’s exit from the Popular Front. As a result France had little recourse but to stress to their British colleagues the necessity that their war in the east be short and victorious.

The British were all too happy to accept the French position that they would hold down the fort in Europe and provision Britain with discounted arms for the duration of the conflict.

Kingdom of the Netherlands:
The mood on the street and the mood of the Dutch government could not be more different.

To the average Dutchman, it seemed assured that their neutrality would be respected. After all, they had managed to remain neutral throughout the Great War despite being sandwiched between the rival power blocks. Furthermore, the Dutch had a firm grasp over its colonial empire and was actively strengthening it with its expensive naval program.

To those in the know, the Dutch East Indies were in an extremely precarious position. The Dutch had had growing concerns about Japanese aggression since the invasion of Manchuria.[3] What’s more, the fact that Britain’s colonies nearest Japan were all either nearby or outright bordering the DEI, meaning that it was almost certain fighting would spill over even if the opposing sides tried to respect Dutch neutrality. Diplomatic feelers were sent to both sides to gain guarantees.

The British were quick to point out that Hong Kong had been subject to an unprovoked attack, and that, regrettably, when the Japanese violate the neutrality of the DEI Britain will be forced to act in kind.

The Japanese response at first seemed uncharacteristically reserved, “The Empire of Japan will strive to do all in its power to maintain the centuries-old amicable mercantile relation with the Kingdom of the Netherlands.” However, an ultimatum could be inferred; that an embargo would be viewed as an act of war.

The Dutch government issued its statements, wishing for a prompt end to the conflict, and denouncing Japan’s aggression. However it stopped short of issuing any sort of embargo, a matter it rationalized to Britain on the basis that Japan got over 90% of its oil from the US and that an embargo would therefore be only an empty provocation.

United States of America:
Many in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration were ready for war.

The American public at large was not, and outside of FDR’s inner circle America’s political class was heavily divided on the issue. America was still gripped by a strong isolationist sentiment and Roosevelt’s words in support of Britain would draw numerous unflattering comparisons to Woodrow Willson.

Additionally, FDR’s hands were tied by the provisions of the Neutrality Acts. Fortunately, the Cash and Carry Clause remained in effect enabling the UK to purchase war materials from the US, and the FDR administration was able to lawyer its way around recognizing the state of war between Japan and the UK while still not recognizing the state of war between Japan and China.[4]

Anymore than that however, would be dependent on the amendment of the Neutrality Acts, and despite FDR’s efforts, filibusters and factionalism would drag out the matter for nearly a month, by which point FDR finally received the power to selectively apply embargoes.

Congressman Charles Lindberg, one of America's foremost proponents of isolationism

Republic of China:
The Republic of China was overjoyed to finally have an ally against Japan. Chiang Kai Shek was so overjoyed that two poorly planned and under prepared offensives were mounted to try to relieve Hong Kong. These would do little more than waste lives and war materials, but the effort was much appreciated by the British Foriegn Office.

Soviet Union:
During the previous summer, the Soviet Union’s far eastern forces had been badly maimed in clashes with the IJA, and while a tenuous cease fire remained in effect it was clear to all that another round of hostilities was likely.

Based on this one would assume that the Soviet Union would be supportive of the UK in its conflict with Japan, and behind closed doors this was the case. Stalin accelerated the redeployment of troops to the far east and gave orders to Grigori Shtern to act as soon as Japan faced a reversal at the hands of the British.

Publicly, the Soviet official position was that the war was yet more proof of the contradictions inherent to a world of capitalist imperial projects.

For King and Countries: The Dominions Fall In


A period propaganda poster

Canadian opinion was once more divided along ethnic lines. Anglophone Canada was enraged at the attack upon the Empire, and across the country Union Jacks were flown at half mast. Francophone Canadians however lamented a repeat of the Second Boer War and there were large demonstrations against war, and conscription in particular.

In parliament, the positions of the parties were as follows: The reconstruction party of H. H. Stevens had been pro-isolation, but had recently merged back into the Progressive Conservative Party. Of the Progressive Conservative Party, Stevens would be the only one to object to an immediate declaration of war. The leader of the socialist-afiliated Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, J. S. Woodsworth, was opposed to war, but the rest of the party was in favour of aiding in Britains fight. The arch-reactionary Social Credit Party was nearly frothing at the mouth in favour of war and the immediate detention of all Japanese Canadians.[5]

Mackenzie King, whose Liberal Party held a firm majority sympathized with Britain’s plight but had a divided party and an agenda of his own. The Liberal majority government owed its existence to its strong showing in Quebec, the 59 seats it had won in Quebec answered to the population of Quebec, and accordingly could be expected to vote against war. However, the other 112 seats occupied by the Liberals were predominantly anglophone and thus in favour of war. A backbencher revolt by either side would immediately end the Liberal majority and King was determined to neither share power nor jeopardize Canadian unity.

The need to take time to ameliorate Quebec’s fears dovetailed nicely with KIng’s other goal, to remind the British, and english Canada, of the Dominions autonomy in foriegn policy. A delayed declaration of war suited him just fine, and it was enough of a compromise to hold the party together for a vote on the 3rd to defer.

Quebec’s fears however were going to be difficult to ameliorate. The National Union Party of Maurice Duplessis held Quebec’s provincial government with a vice-like-grip, and under his rule a strong opposition to Federal and Anglophonic overreach had been instilled in the population. Duplessis’ political machine was ever active reopening the wounds of the 1917 conscription crisis. Mackenzie King and his Quebecois lieutenants, Ernest Lapointe and Louis St. Laurent, had to mount a feverish campaign to convince the public that conscription wasn’t even an option for the Liberal government.

On the other side of the country another crisis was brewing as Vancouver was rocked by Race Riots. While smaller than those of 1907[6] these made headlines across the nation, many of the corresponding articles to which attempted to rationalize the violence or made impassioned arguments for the internment of the Japanese on humanitarian grounds.

When Parliament reconvened on the 10th a clear majority was found in favour of war, and a policy of internment consistent with precedent set during the Great War.

South Africa:
South Africa was divided in a manner comparable to Canada. It too had a large non-english settler population to contend with, and worse in South Africa’s case they formed the majority (of the settlers).

The Afrikaner population found its voice in the nationalist wing of the United Party, then lead by J. B. M. Hertzog, a former Boer General and a man who sought to distance South Africa from all things British.

With regards to the flaring tensions in Europe he had strongly advocated for South African neutrality. This stance was informed by his desire to assert South Africa’s interests and by his recently developed admiration for Hitler.

Against Japan though, things were a bit different. A colonial campaign was unlikely to be costly in South African lives, and committing to operations in Asia may provide South Africa with a convenient excuse to not participate in any hypothetical European theatre. Accordingly, he permitted his party members to vote as their conscience dictated. On November 4th South Africa’s parliament voted for war.

In 1938, Australia’s parliament had yet to ratify the Statute of Westminster (from 1931!) and had accordingly been automatically brought to war with Japan by the British declaration. Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies had made it a policy to tie Australia to Britain as much as possible under the understanding that only the imperial defence scheme could protect Australia in event of a war with Japan.

As a result news of the war wasn’t entirely unwelcome. It seemed Japan’s ambitions would be curbed without Australia having to follow through on the European implications of its commitments.

Australia by virtue of its position had to move fast, immediately getting its navy on active patrols around the Territory of New Guinea, and announcinging the formation of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force on the 5th of November.

New Zealand:
New Zealand was very much in favour of war. In fact it had been the one dominion to consistently advocate for force rather than restraint in each of the crises prior to the Anglo-Japanese War.

New Zealand’s parliament voted in favour of war on the same day as the UK’s declaration. Sentiment in New Zealand was aptly summarized by Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage‘s words, “It is with gratitude in the past, and with confidence in the future, that we range ourselves without fear beside Britain, where she goes, we go! Where she stands, we stand!”[7]

Eire, formerly the Irish Free State, had less than amicable relations with the UK at this time. The Anglo-Irish Trade War had only recently been resolved and the matter of the border remained a point of contention. Worse, Irish prime minister Éamon de Valera was a committed republican who had worked diligently to entrench neutrality as the dominion’s foreign policy.

Still, relations weren’t all bad, as demonstrated by the handover of Lough Swilly the same day as the British declaration of war. The Irish soldiers at the handover were clear to wish their British counterparts good luck.

De Valera was keen to explain to London that allying with Britain may reignite the Civil War, the popularity of his neutrality policy, and his fear that Irish clergy in Japan may be endangered if Eire’s neutrality wasn’t upheld.

However, he also understood that there were still some in Eire who took their shared monarch seriously,[8] and that there were many Irish people who were still hurting from the sorry state of the economy. Thus in his communications with London he was clear that his government would offer no obstructions to any Irish wishing to join the British military.[9]

This seemed adequate to the British, but as 1938 new circumstances would again endanger Anglo-Irish relations.


[1] named after the nearby bay, not for the sobriety of its defenders.

[2] of which Australia’s was the only noteworthy one at this time.

[3] the memoirs of some nationalists in the Dutch government have indicated that there was also some consternation about perfidious albion swooping in to steal Dutch Colonies as they had in the Napoleonic Wars, but no documentation indicates that these fears were in anyway reflected or represented in official policy.

[4] which meant that China was still able to import American arms via third party shipping, and that Jap.

[5] A position they shared with the rebelling CCF members, the majority of whom hailed from British Columbia

[6] and notably the Chinese residents were amongst the perpetrators rather than the victims this time

[7] [and yes that quote is indeed from OTL] some in the American press would cheekily caption this as “Savage goes to war”

[8] and presumably he was stoked by the idea of this demographic getting killed off on the other side of the planet.

[9] after receiving a petition with over a thousand signatures this would come to include a mechanism to allow Defence Force personnel to temporarily transfer to British service.

A/N: Sorry, I know I said last time that this would be the Battle of Hong Kong, but this section is long enough as it stands. I can finish that up next week.

So some small things here (Ireland won't court martial soldiers who join the British, because iTTL they aren’t deserting to do so) and some pretty big things (Hitler hates the Japanese now).

Now I wonder if I can consistently post at 9pm on Saturday?
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Nice summing up of the positions of the Commonwealth and other countries. The storm is booming and about to blow down on Hong Kong.

Britain may be allowed to base its submarines and other navel forces in French Indo China, allowing them to strike hard against Japanese shipping. Might be the beginning of mine laying near Japan as well.
Cool update and I think Hitler would actually be torn about which side to support, he was fond of Britain and to a certain extant Japan as well.