January 13, 1918 – Japanese Battleship Iwami Arrives in Vladivostok
Pictured – The Iwami was the first presence of the Allied intervention in Russia. Japan would have 70,000 troops in country during the Russian Civil War, by far the largest part of the Allied intervention. Japan, however, immediately demonstrated that it had zero interest in Russian affairs and just wanted to loot the far east of all its worth
while the nation was in turmoil.
The Great War was a crucible for most of its participants, but not Japan. The island empire and longtime British ally made the most of the conflict, snapping up Germany’s Pacific colonies while sitting well out of the carnage of the European war. But Japan’s naval strength and her unblemished, powerful army could still be put to good use, and in 1918 it finallly looked like they might have somewhere to go.
The Bolsheviks were making peace with the Germans, but the Eastern Front had to be maintained. Most Russians wanted done with the war; only a paltry group of officers pledged to remain loyal to the Entente cause. But what about Japan? To their frustration, the Japanese found they had not been consulted about a possible Anglo-American naval intervention in Vladivostok, in Russia’s Far East. The British hoped to make a naval show of force to scare off the Bolsheviks in the city and keep a loyal Russian government installed there. Outraged, the Japanese ordered a battleship to get there first, and Iwami duly arrived on Janaury 13.
This was the beginning of the Allied commitment to Russia that would last through the civil war. Japan would play the largest part by far in terms of men: over 70,000 would follow Iwami over the next few years. But Britain and America had not consulted Japan for good reason. Over those next few years, the Japanese would show that their sole concern in Russia was not maintaining the Eastern Front, nor overthrowing the Bolsheviks, but pilfering everything not nailed down in the Russian Far East while the country was in turmoil.