In April of 1945, the Second World War was winding down in both the European and Pacific theaters. Now don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of bloodshed left in both areas. Way out west, the Battle of Okinawa, commenced in the quiet Easter morning of April 1st, was now turning into the true fight-to-the-death for which Japanese encounters had become known. Back in the battered, blasted, and bombed-out remnants of Germany, the Russian armies were extracting four years of pent up revenge against their enemy the streets of Berlin. For Germany, it was only a matter of time. For Japan, it was much the same.
It strikes me as somewhat strange that these two “partners in war” never really partnered at all during the war. Sure, they had signed up to fight as a team, but on the field of battle, it never played out like that. Germany and Japan ran their own schedules, never coordinated any activity and, as far as I know, never once engaged an enemy on the same battlefield. Part of the reasoning is obvious. Japan’s interests were in the Pacific, Germany’s lay in Eastern and Western Europe. In between were thousands of miles of reasons keep things separate. But even over the distances, the two could have attempted to coordinate attacks, worked to stretch their enemies more thinly, or something…anything. But to my limited knowledge, it didn’t happen.
Of course, by the time both Germany and Japan were fully engaged, both Russia and the United States were fully engaged as well, and there was no way Germany and Japan could match the war-making capabilities of either foe. Each of the Axis powers couldn’t handle its own main enemy, much less give thought to really assisting in another theater.
It’s against this backdrop that we come to Berlin and April 15, 1945. Amid the fire and bombs and slaughter, Japanese Vice-Admiral Katsuo Abe was granted a meeting with German Admiral Karl Donitz. Finally granted, I should probably say…he (and other emissaries) had been trying to interview (surviving) members of the German High Command for a while. And when Abe entered Donitz’s presence (which was well underground), he finally asked about coordinating some attacks…no, I kid.
Vice Admiral Abe pretty much begged his German counterpart to send the surviving German fleet to Japan so it could be used in the Pacific against America. At first glance, it’s not so unreasonable a request. Germany’s days of fleet actions were finished. She didn’t even have enough ammunition for all the guns defending Berlin, and ships and U-boats couldn’t defend the Chancellary. But from the German point of view, Abe was basically saying, “You guys are toast, give us your goodies so we can delay our own defeat a bit longer.” The response from Donitz was predictable and emphatic. Abe tried his luck with Ribbentrop and Keitel a couple of days later, but was again flatly refused. The Japanese Admiral persisted and tried to meet with Hitler, but the now-deranged dictator was too busy playing with pretend armies on his maps deeper in the bunker and refused to even grant Abe an audience.
So two countries that now had no chance of victory gave up their last chance to work together. And based on how they had carried out the war to that point, it was fitting.