A successful Trautmann Mediation?



  • For about 15 years, starting in 1926, Germany and China had a mutually beneficial relationship where, in summary, China modernized its military and industry while Germany received raw resources. Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan in 1936, believing it to be more militarily effective than China and could help later against USSR and was dismayed when nationalist China and Japan formally clashed in 1937, kicking off the Second Sino-Japanese War, tying up an ally and a potential war ally against each other in a wasteful slug fest.

    In the fall of 1937, after the Battle of Shanghai indicated a full-scale war and China called for international aid against Japan, Japan asked Germany to mediate a peace between China and Japan, as Japan correctly saw the conflict as an endless waste of men and equipment. This proposal is called the Trautmann Mediation. Among other things, the first proposal would end the conflict and Japan and China would cooperate to fight communists(which would have crucially help Germany later). Japan warned China that the response must be swift as fierce fighting was ongoing. China delayed, tried unsuccessfully for international help, and sent an acceptance response some 28 days later, however; by then, the Japanese had gained the upper hand and the warhawks won out in Tokyo and war continued. Later, the second proposal to China was of harsher nature and was declined by China.

    If the first Trautmann proposal had been accepted in a timely fashion and saw an early end of the Second Sino-Japanese War, how different would World War II have played out? After rooting out the communists in China, how significant would a Sino-Japanese buildup in western China and Manchuria along USSR’s border be to disallow full USSR deployment against Euro-Axis? Or perhaps India is sacked? I don’t know the resources Japan dumped into China but imagine that being deployed throughout the Pacific or USSR Far East instead.

    Thoughts?



  • There are many factors tied into this. A few…

    Germany and China continue fruitful trade throughout WWII(albeit dangerously overseas)

    Perhaps southern Russia is secured via joint invasion, securing oil fields and opening land trade route between Ger and Chin

    Consequently, increased fuel for German air and armor and other vital materials. Also, increased Axis aid to Iraq, some serious action in Mid East??


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    I’m not sure that the first Trautmann proposal failed because of Chinese delays.  I think a much more fundamantal problem was that the decision-making power structure within Japan was fractured and plagued with dissent and disagreement.  Hardliners within the Japanese Army had, over the past decade or so, accumulated a track record of fighting against their own civilian government, against their Navy rivals, against each other, and against the Chinese; as I recall, the 1933 invasion of Manchuria, the 1935 invasion of Jehol and the 1937 start of the second Sino-Japanese War had all started to a greater or lesser extent by elements of the Japanese Army (particularly the Kwangtung Army, if I remember correctly) “going rogue”.  Moreover, the war in China provided a certain amount of justification for the Japanese military to have a heavy involvement in Japan’s government, so it wasn’t in their interest to end the conflict.  The docu-drama “Japan’s Longest Day”, which focusses on the couple of days prior to Japan’s August 1945 surrender, depicts vividly just how convoluted and tense and ossified the decision-making process was within the military-dominated Japanese government in 1945, and this was probably true in 1937 too.


  • 2018 2017

    An interesting question.

    After a review of the relevant timeline and events, the answer I would give is that no such peace proposal could have been successful in earnest.    Both the November and December proposals represent (as diplomacy often does) a recognition of Japan’s goals without forcing Japan to fight for them.    This rubicon had already been crossed, and the 1st mediation was proposed the same day as Japan landed significant reinforcements in the face of increasing opposition and losses, a tremendous escalation of the conflict that does not square with an immanent ceasefire

    Even if we ignore the other provocations that led to the 2nd S-J war, we probably have to accept that no legitimate and mandated government of China could come to an unequal peace without being collapsing, and that after several centuries of national crisis, that China could not accept a status-quo détente, that would be tantamount to national surrender and destruction by the slow, creeping constriction method rather than the not that much faster method of outright war, in which China was actually doing surprisingly well.

    We also can’t be sure that Japan would have been all that satisfied by the terms;  while it solidified their 1930s era-goals, it did not entertain the possibility of Japan dominating all of China and therefore the surrounding areas and becoming a real empire.  Khalkin Gol demonstrates, the Japanese were not ready to project continental power or support armies across vast seas and lands.

    As armchair generals, we might ask why Japan would not cynically but pragmatically accept that a limited victory in China would give them the flexibility to look elsewhere a few years later, but the answer here I believe is that Japan (like Germany) did not have enough strategic focus or any sufficiently clear plan to begin or end wars by winning them in order and one at a time.    So, having escalated things so dramatically in China, leading to a gigantic ongoing boondoggle, Japan made the classic Napoleonic/roman error of deciding that that was the perfect time to attack its other, much stronger Imperial enemies.  Brilliant.

    Accepting your hypothetical, a ceasefire and negotiated solution would be tenuous.  “Sino-Japanese buildup in western China and Manchuria along USSR’s border be to disallow full USSR deployment against Euro-Axis?”  It sound like you are proposing a transition directly from enemies to friends.

    Look at these statements from the wik;

    “At the start of 1938, the leadership in Tokyo still hoped to limit the scope of the conflict to occupy areas around Shanghai, Nanjing and most of northern China. They thought this would preserve strength for an anticipated showdown with the Soviet Union, but by now the Japanese government and GHQ had effectively lost control of the Japanese army in China”

    Which goes to what Marc is saying;  the Army was an independent part of the junta, pursuing its own strategic aims, which accounts for the incoherence of the planning…

    And on the other side:

    “He (Chang Kaishek) had lost a substantial portion of his best trained and equipped troops in the Battle of Shanghai and was at times at the mercy of his generals, who maintained a high degree of autonomy from the central KMT government.”

    And;

    “The Japanese captured Wuhan on October 27, 1938, forcing the KMT to retreat to Chongqing (Chungking), but Chiang Kai-shek still refused to negotiate, saying he would only consider talks if Japan agreed to withdraw to the pre-1937 borders.”

    Which is to say, after another year of mixed results, much fighting and chaos, CKS and GMD considered their position to be better than the November Case #1 of the proposed peace.

    Which demonstrates how difficult such an alliance would be to make coherent for both sides.    A ceasefire may have emerged from your hypothetical, but what is missing is that 1) China was fighting for survival 2) any capitulation or negotiated solution would likely lead to the devolution of the Kuomintang status quo 3)  the Japanese was not content with what it could achieve by diplomacy – the maintenance of the 1935 status quo, and wanted more, but 4) China was not as weak as they presumed and Japan not as strong…at least as far as winning a fast, mobility/logistics war.



  • @taamvan:

    An interesting question.

    “Sino-Japanese buildup in western China and Manchuria along USSR’s border be to disallow full USSR deployment against Euro-Axis?”   It sound like you are proposing a transition directly from enemies to friends.

    Yes, I certainly got ahead of myself there  :lol:. I guess I was thinking along the lines of them being separately deployed and that China and Japan would go along with it to acquire territory to make up for the eastern land ceded to Japan. But, yes, extremely unlikely.

    Thanks for the input, guys.


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