Berlin, Germany • January 18, 1942
On this date in 1942 Axis partners Germany, Italy, and Japan renewed their military and economic alliance just one and a half years into their 10‑year convention. The Tripartite Pact had come into being on September 27, 1940, when the foreign ministers of the three nations met in Berlin. Originally a defensive military alliance, the “High Contracting Parties,” as the founders called themselves, were joined within six months by Hungary, Romania, Slovakia (formed from a portion of German-dismembered Czechoslovakia), Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia—states that had been drawn into Nazi Germany’s orbit after Wehrmacht (German armed forces) successes on the Eastern Front (September 1939) and Western Front (April and May 1940).
In late December 1940, Germany, Italy, and Japan established “joint technical commissions” as required by the treaty. Nearly a year elapsed before all three commissions assembled in one place, in Berlin, on December 15, 1941. The date was one week after Japan’s surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, which propelled the United States into the world conflict. Two months later a “Permanent Council of the Tripartite Pact Powers” was formed, chaired by German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. On February 24, 1942, he told the gathering that the propaganda effect, mainly directed against the United States, was a driving force for their meeting.
In the meantime, on January 18, 1942, the German and Italian governments entered into secret operational agreements with the Japanese military. The agreements divided the world at 70 degrees east longitude into two major operational zones (see map below). This division had practically no strategic military significance. The two European powers operated in a contracting sphere (over time) in Europe and parts of Africa, while the Americans shrank the Japanese sphere more slowly (the China-Burma-India and Pacific theaters were huge) but in the end just as decisively. In terms of trade, communication, and intelligence sharing a degree of cooperation existed between Japan and Germany (but not Italy), shrinking though by the month, powerless in the growing presence of the U.S. Navy.
Just as powerless were the “high contracting powers” when it came to keeping their December 11, 1941, “no separate peace” pledge “without complete and reciprocal agreement.” Despite their vow to “conduct in common and jointly a war which has been imposed on them by the United States of America and England, by all means at their disposal and until the end of hostilities” (Article 1), Germany, Italy, and Japan for the most part fought separately during World War II and surrendered separately less than five years into the Tripartite Pact: Italy in September 1943, Germany in May 1945, and Japan in September 1945.
Germany, Japan, and Italy During the Axis Heyday, 1940–1942
Above: Japanese embassy in Berlin clad in flags of the three Tripartite (Axis) Pact signatories in September 1940. At their zenith during World War II, the Tripartite powers presided over empires that occupied large parts of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. The global war ended in 1945 with the defeat of the Axis powers and the dissolution of their alliance and empires.
Above: German/Italian and Japanese spheres of global reach. Arrows show planned movements of the three Axis powers, their occupied territories, and spheres of influence (red and tan) to the agreed demarcation line at 70 degrees east longitude, which was the western frontier of British India.
Festivities in German Capital Celebrating Signing of the Tripartite Pact, September 1940 (German with English Subtitles)