Thursday 6 August 2020

Japan's Asian Allies - A Look at the Collaborationist Regimes of World War II

Compared to Nazi Germany, the Japanese Empire during World War II receives little to no coverage in Western media. Even more obscure, are the many puppet regimes that aided the Japanese occupation throughout Asia, spanning from the far north in Manchuria to the south in Burma and the Philippines. Luckily, Osprey publishing has come to the rescue with their newest edition to the Men At Arms series titled Japan’s Asian Allies 1941 – 45.

Written by Philip Jowett and illustrated by Stephen Walsh, this book is a concise history and examination of the various Asian puppet regimes that aided Japan during World War II. Philip Jowett has a long history with Osprey, writing such titles as Chinese Warlord Armies 1911 - 1930, Imperial Chinese Armies 1840 - 1911, The Japanese Army 1931 – 1945, and The Chinese Army 1937 – 1949, proving the man knows his stuff regarding East Asian history. Added to that is his great study of conflicts during the so-called Nanking Decade titled The Bitter Peace.

The artwork is done by Stephen Walsh, who is talented, but not my favorite Osprey artist. His work on other Osprey titles such as The Chinese Army 1937 – 1949 and The Spanish Civil War 1936 – 1939, is impressive, but there is a certain rough coarseness to it, like a draft that hasn’t been refined yet. Nevertheless, details are what you look for in an Osprey book, and here’s where it shines.

As per usual, this Osprey book breaks down the military formation by each country, spotlighting their organization, uniforms, and weapons. Most important were the Armed Forces of Manchukuo, consisting of an army, air force, and navy, which was more like a river patrol. Manchukuo’s military was probably the most professional of all of Japan’s puppet regimes, and it was also horrendously corrupt and ineffective. So, that’s saying quite a lot for the others.

Next up is the so-called Nanking Regime, led by Wang Ching-wei, the bitter rival of Chiang Kai-shek. Established in 1940, it was officially known as the Reorganized Government of China and headed by the Kuomintang politician Wang Ching-wei, who claimed his regime was the legitimate government of China. As such, they used the iconic Kuomintang White Sun insignia and uniforms of the Chinese Nationalist Army. Situated in Nanking (Nanjing) they earned the nickname the Nanking Regime, the Nanking Government, or the Wang Ching-wei Regime. Its army consisted of remnants of the Nationalist Army who’d surrendered to the Japanese, as well as defectors and forced conscripts. Unit quality varied widely, ranging from elite formations to “armed rabble.”

Thailand was perhaps Japan’s only true Asian ally, in that it wasn’t a full-fledged puppet regime, but relations were far from warm. In 1938, General Phibun Songkram came to power and instituted a pro-Japanese foreign policy. There was a short war against Vichy France between 1940 – 1941, in which Thailand gained control of disputed territory from French Indochina. However, at the start of the Pacific War, Japan briefly invaded Thailand before signing a formal alliance. For declaring war on America and Britain, Thailand was spared full invasion, but relations with Japan were always dicey, even though they were technically “allies.”

The book also covers collaborationist regimes in Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, Indochina, and the Indian National Army. The only drawback is that it’s a slim volume, so a deep dive is impossible. But don’t worry, since Philip Jowett as also authored Rays of the Rising Sun, a two-part examination of the Asian collaborationist regimes during World War II. Told you he knows his stuff.