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Others advocated a hokushin or “Go North” strategy, seeing the Soviet Union as the greater threat that must be dealt with first. Adding weight to their argument was the support of the new foreign minister, Yosuke Matsuoka, and the new war minister, Gen. Hideki Tojo, under the second cabinet formed by Prince Konoye. Strengthening their hand was the unease of the Emperor himself at leaving a powerful Red Army to their rear. Complicating deliberations was Japan's membership in the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, which obligated the other members to come to one another's aid if attacked.

Still, even in the catastrophic years of 1944 and 1945, opportunities appeared. It was only by the slightest of chances that Admiral Halsey's failure to properly protect the invasion fleet in Leyte Gulf did not result in catastrophic slaughter. Christopher J. Anderson, in “There Are Such Things as Miracles,” shows how good fortune might have fallen instead to Admiral Kurita. How long would it have taken the United States to recover had Kurita been able to ravage the huge herd of American transports and merchant ships in Leyte Gulf?

Even before the tanks came within shooting distance of one another, a battalion of motorized artillery deployed and got in the first shot, its salvo straddling the 16th Infantry. The T-34s opened up at a longer range than the Japanese Type 98 tanks could reach, their 76mm guns quickly finding targets as Japanese tanks began to blossom then burn. The Soviet attack would have swept over Hill 341 and Maruyama himself if not for a swarm of Japanese planes that showed up to strafe and harry the Soviets.

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