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, Hawaii, 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 in Japan’s oceanic backyard.

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

Japanese embassy decked out with flags of Tripartite Pact partners, September 1940

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.

German/Italian and Japanese (Tripartite) spheres of military control, 1942

Above: German/Italian and Japanese spheres of global reach. Arrows show planned move­ments of the three Tripartite 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.

Japan Joins Germany and Italy in Tripartite Pact, September 27, 1940 (Skip first 20 seconds)