The Japanese and German Alliance / What once was….

L:Japanese ambassador Kintomo Mushakoji and foreign minister of Nazi Germany Joachim von Ribbentrop sign the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936.R: Matsuoka with Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel (centre) and ambassador Heinrich Georg Stahmer (right) at a reception in the Japanese embassy in Berlin on 29 March 1941

Alliances during a war can change the outcome, but the alliance between Japan and Germany is one that baffles many people. Most people can understand why Japan went to war with America, but why did the Imperial nation join forces with Nazi Germany? To understand the Tripartite Pact which created the Axis Powers, a look further back in history is needed.

Both Germany and Imperial Japan arrived on the international stage in the mid-1800s. Japan was forced out of isolation and started rapid westernization in 1854. Germany had been a number of city-states before Prussia won the Franco-Prussian war and united all of them in 1871.

A Japanese lithograph depicting Japan’s troops attacking the German colony of Tsingtao in 1914

Before Germany became a country of its own, Prussia and a newly open Japan had a very friendly relationship. Prussia had been going through a modernization effort with the speed and efficiency that the Germans are known for. This led Japan to view them as a good role model, as Japan wanted to modernize in a similarly effective manner.

To this end, Japan hired many Prussian and German advisers to help them with modernization. These advisers brought the militaristic approach to modernization which worked in Prussia, and later Germany, to Japan.

As German ambassador in Tokyo from 1920 to 1928, Wilhelm Solf initiated the re-establishment of good German–Japanese relations. Bundesarchiv,

However, this cozy relationship ended when both nations decided to follow the other major powers and look for colonies.

The problem that Germany faced with its colonization efforts was the fact that the Age of Exploration was coming to an end.

The other major powers of the time had been colonizing the world for years, so all the areas Germany would have considered first were already colonized. This led Germany to turn east and start colonizing different areas of Asia.  At the same time, Japan was also looking for colonies and saw their best options in East Asia. This was the same area the Germans were operating in and led to a cooling of the relationship between these nations.

“Good friends in three countries”: Japanese propaganda poster from 1938 promoting the cooperation between Japan, Germany and Italy

Japan also started to become friendly with Great Britain at this time, which would affect the relationship between Japan and Germany during World War I.

When WWI broke out in 1914, Japan allied with Britain. After the Allies won the war, Japan was quick to take over the former German colonies in Asia.

While this would normally sour relationships between countries, Japan and Germany’s friendship would reignite in the post-WWI world.

Japanese foreign minister Yōsuke Matsuoka visits Adolf Hitler in Berlin in late March 1941.

After the war, Germany was not in a good place and was forced to sign an incredibly harsh treaty by the Allied Powers. This led to the crash of the government and economy as well as the rise of the Nazi Party.

In addition, the newly formed League of Nations was unpopular in Germany, and Japan was not a fan of it either.

The League of Nations was not very fair to Japan. Japan would often be punished by the league for its actions against its neighbors.

This sowed the seeds of discontent because the leaders of the League, France and Great Britain, often conducted the same actions against their own colonies. This hypocrisy would lead to Japan withdrawing from the League of Nations.

Adolf Hitler declares war on the United States on 11 December 1941 in the wake of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

As the Nazi Party gained power, Hitler created strong ties with China. However, he changed course and started to view Japan as a more strategic partner in Asia.  For its part, Japan wanted to continue expanding, and saw rebuilding its relationship with Germany as beneficial to this goal.

The renewed relationship between Japan and Germany was still fragile when WWII broke out. In the early stages of the war, Japan was strongly allied with Germany, but not involved militarily in the war.

The I-8 arriving in Brest, France, in 1943, on a “Yanagi” mission to exchange material and personnel with Nazi Germany

Their relationship was one of mutual benefit rather than a complete alliance, since Japan was more focused on exerting its influence in East Asia.

The true alliance of Japan and Germany would only come about when Japan entered the war. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and other American bases, it led to America declaring war on the Imperial nation.

Rear Admiral Jisaku Uozumi signs the surrender of Penang aboard the battleship HMS Nelson on 2 September 1945. He fainted shortly afterwards and was rushed to hospital. Note the Distinguished Service Cross ribbon on Uozumi’s uniform, which he had earned from the British during the alliance

In response, Germany declared war on America, and thus further strengthened their relationship with Japan. The Tripartite Pact created the Axis Powers, allying Germany, Japan, Italy and a number of smaller countries.

The alliance between Japan and Germany during WWII may seem strange and an odd pairing which did not yield much in terms of results. 

Click on images to enlarge.


Military Humor – 



Farewell Salutes – 

Andrew Benjock – Pittsburgh, PA; USMC, WWII, PTO/CBI, Korea, radioman, Master Gunnery Sgt. (Ret. 31 y.)

Allan Brown – Toronto, CAN; RC Air Force, WWII

Dan Darden – Montgomery, AL; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Ralph Esposito – Mahopac, NY; US Coast Guard, WWII

Margaret Fish – CA; US Women’s Marine Corps, WWII

Murphy Neal Jones Sr. – Baton Rouge, LA; US Air Force, Vietnam, POW (6½ y., Hanoi Hilton)

Fred Knodle – Cincinnati, OH; US Army Air Corps, WWII, 187/11th Airborne Division, Medical unit

Robert Messel – Vincennes, IN; US Army Air Corps, WWII, West Point grad

Jack O’Neil – North Haven, CT; US Army, WWII & Korea, Chief Warrant Officer 4

Jocelyn Todd – Aiken, SC; US Army WAC, WWII


About GP

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GP is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on February 7, 2019, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 91 Comments.

  1. Excellent post! This is an important piece of history and I’m glad you shared it with us. Keep up the great work, GP.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Steve. I’ve had people ask, so this was only right to include. Both those nations believed in utter excellence, it is only logical that they would want to “compare notes” and keep an eye on each other. 🙂


  2. An interesting history lesson, GP. Alliances between countries can be quite complicated and hard to comprehend.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting! 😀

    Add information,
    Many people do not know the strong relationship between “Poland and Japan”,even though during WW2.

    Japan saved Jews and Polish in about 1920’s.
    There was also a plan to rescue Jews to Manchuria (postscript; the last Emperor in Manchuria and Japan was very close).
    Because there was a relationship of Trust, it was thanks to Poland that Japan could stop the Soviet Union(Yalta) after WW 2.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s not even odd cuz culturally the Japanese and Germans even till modern day relate to each other (engineering and a pursuit of perfection).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Musings of a Penpusher and commented:
    A great history lesson made very readable by an astute amateur historian who always manages to unearth a worthwhile snippet missed by everyone else. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. So interesting, GP. The children’s propaganda poster was quite something!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A great, readable summation. Like so many others, I knew the fact of German-Japanese cooperation (as well as something of the role of Italy) but I didn’t know any of this backstory. While the differences in cultures would seem to have made the German-Japanese alliance improbable, culture often takes a back seat to other concerns.

    I don’t know enough about the role of the Emperor in Japan, however. It may be that the strongly paternalistic role he played made Hitler more understandable to the Japanese. That’s just a hunch, though. More exploration’s necessary!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ha! I can relate to Beetle’s problem, GP. I’ve always said I’m a human sushi bar for mosquitoes.
    This is a great educational post. The way you presented it kept me reading. Yes, I had sometimes thought it was odd that Japan and Germany were partnered in war. I didn’t realize Germany had been a model of efficiency, thinking that must have originated in Japan.
    Well, done GP. Happy weekend hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great information, GP! Thank you, and have a beautiful weekend! Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Japan and Nazis stuck together? Here is my crazy view point since it is human relationships and the last time I checked countries are made of humans. it was a good move from FDR to put a stop on the Japaneese to have an embargo on oil.

    The US population was isiolationist in general, so that was a good move to intentionally or unitentionally( wishfull thinking) but certainly with some objective in mind, he put the Japaneese in a position to strike the US. A tragedy? Ofcourse. But if I think it not in a passionate heartfelt sense, but objectivally. It was a good move on his part to bring the people together for one cause. Hence we do have a batter planet doday, not perfect but I would not want some sore long lost father of Hitler to be telling me now in 2019 how you have to behave. The two are the same, one are white the others asians, but the goals weare the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This has been a blind spot in my understanding of how Germany and Japan became allies. Great summary.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Really fascinating. One of those rather worrying what if images.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you for this post. Very interesti ng!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thanks for the history lesson

    Liked by 1 person

  15. The enemy of my enemy – is my friend.

    Have you written a post on why Japan attacked America – the politics leading up to that strike on Pearl Harbour. If you have, please share that link.

    Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Great topic- I’d run into some info about tensions between Japan and the Allies, but not much on just HOW they and Germany ended up connected. Thanks for writing on this!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Something always strikes me in your articles, that maybe others are not thinking about. I can see countries wanting to be friends with Germany as they did seem ahead of their time in scientific and mechanical knowledge. Look how much the Germans that were brought here during the war contributed to the development of our space program and technological development.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I see your point, Bev, and I agree. While the scientists were improving German life, Hitler was giving pride back to the country that was so crest-fallen due to WWI. Top all that with a ‘common enemy’ (the Jews) and you have control and power. Looking through their eyes, it would have been difficult to see how it would all turn out.


  18. Having three kids in college, I really appreciated your military humor on this post!! 🙂 🙂 (Of course the post is interesting as well-I’m a student when I’m on your site…always learning something new!)

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Thanks for that, it certainly fills in the gaps and makes sense of what appears on the face of it, to be a peculiar alliance indeed. Very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Interesting history!

    I have a post, A Siegfried Pillbox, Jan 13, 2019 that you may want to view.

    My father-in-law was in WWII from Normandy to Berlin.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I wonder what Hitler had planned for Japan post victory over the allies. Could not have been a lasting alliance. Super post, GP

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Thank you for this excellent discussion of how the Axis alliance came to be. Always wondered about the background. (Old enough to remember bits of WWII.)

    Liked by 1 person

  23. That was interesting. I’m embarrassed to say this isn’t a topic I’ve spent much time thinking about. I guess ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ doesn’t quite cover it.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Thanks for this summary. I have wondered about it. I question, however, your comments about the League of Nations. No other country at the time was doing anything comparable to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Amazing that this perspective is so little known. It is as instructive to know the intrigues before war, as the outcome. Or maybe I slept through history lessons.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Interesting post. As I was reading it, I was struck by the thought of how important it is to teach and know “real” history … and not simply rewrite everything in the name of political correctness. Understanding history as it actually unfolded is the only way we can keep from repeating the mistakes of the past.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. A most informative post


  28. Very interesting read once again GP. I always wondered why Germany and Japan had come together. Makes a lot more sense now.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. This is fabulous, GP! I never knew any of this and have wondered about myself. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Great history lesson today. Since Hitler was taking over most of Europe, Japan’s rulers believed it was their destiny to rule Asia. It’s all about power.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Fascinating, GP and a very well written and detailed article. I have often wondered about this alliance but then never explored my curiosity further. I was interested to learn about their earlier cooperation as well, which I never knew about.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. It might have seemed an unlikely alliance, until you think of the militarism and strong nationalism that existed in both countries. There was also limited public opposition to the right-wing ideals in Germany and Japan, whereas Italy was more divided politically. I have always imagined that Hitler would have turned on Japan, if the Axis had won that war. He had little regard for Asians, as a race.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Thank you, GP, for sharing this little known bit of history! Even though Germany and Japan were allies, they apparently did not trust each other. While the Japanese ambassador was in Berlin, the attack on the Soviet Union was already in the planning stage, but the German government withheld this information. So the Japanese ambassador flew on to Moscow and signed a non-aggression treaty with Stalin.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Thanks for this. This has always made me wonder a little bit. I knew about the way Japan was treated by the LoN, but I didn’t know the previous history. We really botched things after WWI, didn’t we.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. A good over-all presentation of this history!

    Liked by 1 person

  36. It is so hard for me to imagine the delusion of believing any one person could take over the entire world. But every so often, someone does.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Hitler had to temporarily repress his racism and aversion to “Asiatic peoples” to enter into the Axis alliance. The feelings were probably similar in Tokyo’s power circle. Mussolini was just basically an opportunist along for the ride for what he might get out of the deal.

    Liked by 1 person

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