While there is no doubt China contributed a lot of blood and treasure in the War with Japan, how useful were those contributions given that Japan was strangled by a the navy, bombed by the air force and finally hit with nuclear weapons all of which were delivered from the Pacific? It has been said that China tied down a lot of Japanese troops, but would those troops have made much difference given that you can only pack so many defenders onto an island and you have to have ships to move the men around? If China had fought twice as effectively or half as effectively how much difference would it have made to the outcome of the war and to the military expenditures of America and other western allies in the Pacific?

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    What would have happened had the US never become involved and Japan had never signed a pact with the Axis countries? Japan had already spent over a decade fighting in China and were not approaching a peaceful equilibrium of domination. There were well respected voices in Japan arguing for a diplomatic solution in China and rollback of military activity. But the prospect of the humiliation of defeat caused the militarists to "surge" internally in Japan, leading to a string of political assassinations and an atmosphere of fear and intimidation where common sense no longer ruled the country. Sep 20, 2017 at 7:44
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    "China's fight supported the anti-Fascist struggle in the European and Pacific theaters, disrupted the overall plan of Japanese ... thwarted Japan's "northern march" plot to invade the Soviet Union, & delayed its "southern march" schedule for unleashing the Pacific war ... 67 percent of the total Japanese military strength was tied up in China during the most dangerous period of the Pacific war - article. It's a Forgotten Ally
    – J Asia
    Sep 20, 2017 at 18:12
  • I don't know how to link one question to another, but this question that was asked shortly after mine seems pretty relevant especially in light of Tom Au's answer. history.stackexchange.com/questions/40359/…
    – Readin
    Sep 22, 2017 at 5:18
  • Head counting how many soldiers were "tied down" is not the only factor. If Japan had created X army divisions less than IRL because they were not needed in China, this would have freed $ and resources, including supplies and logistics. How many ships or planes or whatever could they build extra? By how much their logistics situation would improve? Armies are expensive.
    – Luiz
    Aug 4, 2021 at 16:18

3 Answers 3


China was the "anvil" to the Americans' "hammer."

Japan had about one million troops tied up in China proper (and another million in Manchukuo), and one million in India and Southeast Asia not facing the Americans (except in New Guinea and the Philippines). This compares to the one and half million or so that the Americans fought in the Pacific (counting New Guinea and Philippines) and the two million that they feared facing on the Home Islands. Basically, the Chinese inflicted almost as many casualties on the Japanese as the Americans, with far inferior weaponry.

By early 1944, American B-29s were bombing Japan long range from Chinese airfields. The Japanese undertook the Ichigo offensive to capture these airfields, right at the time when the Americans were launching their central Pacific offensives. Japanese attempts to reinforce and resupply their forces in China by sea made excellent targets for American submarines.The Japanese were forced to fight a two front war against two different enemies, and lost.

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    So if the Japanese had not been fighting in China they could have put more troops in New Guinea and the Philippines? Would it have mattered in places like Wake and Iwo Jima or were those islands pretty well saturated? Wouldn't the attempts to reinforce and resupply troops on islands have made even better targets for American subs? Could America have simply skipped the larger islands? Thank you for the link to the Ichigo offensive. I will have to read up on that.
    – Readin
    Sep 20, 2017 at 12:04
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    @Readin: The Americans didn't have to fight the million soldiers that were killed in China/Manchuria, or the two million the remained there. They would otherwise probably have been placed on the Philippines and New Guinea, also modern Indonesia (captured by Australians late in th war). The other Pacific islands, unlike the previous, were "pre" supplied, and therefore seldom "resupplied." The Americans managed to interdict supplies/reinforcements to New Guinea, but the ones to the Philippines were escorted by the whole Japanese navy.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 20, 2017 at 14:04
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    I find this a bit dubious, given that the most strategic islands invaded were indeed small, and that once the naval balance swung to the American side, resupply became very difficult. My suspicion is that most of those million soldiers would have sat on the Japanese mainland, and would have only mattered had the home island invasions been necessary. Of course, given that the root cause of the war was Japan's actions in China, the whole question is a bit odd. Sep 20, 2017 at 20:17
  • @Readin I'm not a fan of this kind of thinking - island hopping was successful therefore the China theatre didn't matter - it's too Monday morning quarterbacking. The tide was turning in China too, with Shanghai soon to be liberated, so the atomic bombings (using airfields including Iwo Jima) beat that to the punch, by a few months at most. Had the advances in China happened a few months sooner, we might be here arguing whether the taking of Iwo Jima was moot - note that Shanghai is closer to Hiroshima/Nagasaki. Sep 21, 2017 at 0:48
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    @congusbongus I'm not questioning the decision making that lead to the Chinese and other fighting on the Asian landmass. Certainly at the time there was no way of knowing that America would develop an A-bomb or even of being certain that America would gain such dominance in naval and air power. But I do wonder - in hindsight - how much the fighting on the continent mattered knowing what we know now.
    – Readin
    Sep 22, 2017 at 5:16

There are troops and then there are troops. Even among the Germans, much less the Japanese, there was a relatively small set of highly-trained, high-quality, and mechanized divisions, and a much larger set of non-mechanized troops that were good for lesser duties like occupation.

A couple of interesting opinion, although fact-supported, articles, are at the blog linked to below.

The author makes the point that... "The Japanese demonstrated an ability to shatter the Chinese at will – when they could spare the effort or inclination. But the great Japanese advances against the Western Allies in Asia and the Pacific were made by the ten most well trained and equipped divisions, while the Army staff acknowledged that the ninety odd divisions assigned to China and Manchuria were both fully occupied, and incapable of contributing much of additional value. Those ten divisions were of greater importance than the other 90, and no advance was possible without them..."

http://rethinkinghistory.blogspot.com/search?q=numbers+fallacy http://rethinkinghistory.blogspot.com/2011/02/statistical-confusion-whose-troops.html

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    The Imperial Japanese Army did not get along with its naval counterpart. The dominant army was occupied guarding against a Soviet invasion leaving the heavy lifting against the U.S.to the navy.
    – TomO
    Sep 20, 2017 at 18:50

The contributions of China in defeating Japan were major because China's territory was under attack.

I mean: Suppose the Chinese contribution was minor. Then you should accept that no Chinese contribution does not change the course of the war in a major fashion. But no Chinese contribution does not mean that China is neutral: it means that the nationalist army is defeated and Tchang Kai Chek fell.

Lets's consider a situation where China's resistance collapsed in early 1942: Then the Japanese could:

  • Destroy the Flying Tigers on their bases
  • Use one more million soldiers, including tank divisions, and some supporting air power on another theater
  • Have no problem on the North-East flank of Burma

Thus, the situation in the Pacific might have not changed, but in India the Allies would be in danger: Imphal and Kohima would have happen earlier and probably be victorious for the Japanese. This is a major change in the course of war because it would force the Americans to direct air, land and sea power to defend India, and thus the Japanese would have another chance to try to inflict them losses, or even beat them.

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    While the Burma-into-India campaign would be my first guess for where extra Japanese soldiers could have made a difference, my understanding is that it took place in a region with abyssmal logistics. Would it really have been possible to bring significantly more troops to bear on the frontlines here, even if they were available in general?
    – Arno
    Aug 3, 2021 at 17:22
  • @Arno Well the Japanese lanaged to bring 3 divisions in Burma (two fighting, one in charge of logistics) and 2 in Burma in less than six months and with ennemy opposition. This could be even more important in occupied territory Aug 3, 2021 at 18:57
  • How would any success in the Burma theater influence the US navy/army at all?
    – Greg
    Aug 4, 2021 at 17:07
  • @Greg Potentially because India falling is not a good idea And less forces for British in India influences their air and naval situation, thus the Japanese are potentially in better shape against the US Navy Aug 4, 2021 at 17:47
  • @totalMongot Does “the potential better shape” mean more skilled pilots? More air carriers? More commercial convoys that capable to move the row materials to the Japanese industry even under American attacks? Nope. Also, those guys were army, not navy (and in Japan the two were famously cancelling each other out during war).
    – Greg
    Aug 5, 2021 at 2:02

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