For the first time the Japanese Army faced a ground campaign against a mechanized army, with troops hardened by four years of vicious warfare with Nazi Germany. If in 1941 the German soldier was the best in the world, by 1945 it may well have been the Soviet soldier for this type of warfare. In the invasion of Manchuria there were one and a half million of them, pouring into Japanese territory: eighty divisions, five thousand tanks, including 3,700 T-34’s, acknowledged as the greatest tank of the Second World War. The Japanese had never had any tank or anti-tank gun to counter the T-34. And there were almost 4,000 first line Soviet aircraft filing the skies. The Japanese had just 50 , 5 year old zeros left in Manchuria.
The Soviet offensive was violent and smart and merciless, which perfectly matched the personality of its planner and commander, Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky:, the man who had saved Moscow in 1941, and who had actually directed the Stalingrad counter offensive, and who had been planning this invasion since late 1944. He called the operation “August Storm”, and perhaps as a homage to Vaslevsky, American General Schwarzkopf called his 1989 similar operation “Dessert Storm”.
The one million Japanese troops in Manchuria and Korea were not prepared for what hit them. The best troops in the Kwantung Army had already been transferred to the Pacific and Burma meat grinders. They were now either dead or isolated and starving on bypassed islands or jungle outposts. Instead the Kwantung Army now contained a high percentage of new recruits. The units spent their time in drill and chasing guerrillas. The Imperial Staff was convinced that any Russian offensive could not be launched before October. So, they ignored warnings from the local commanders in Manchuria. And when the Soviet tanks sliced through the stunned Japanese border entrenchments on the morning of August 9th, there was nothing behind them to slow their advance.
In just 24 days the Red Army would capture all of Manchuria, make amphibious landings in northern Korea and capture Sakhalin Island and the Kuril islands, then part of Northern Japan. But a large part of this appallingly bad news was withheld from the "Big Six" by staff officers lower down the command chain, in part because they feared their superiors would become defeatist, in part to save their own necks, but mostly because the Japanese communications network had been damaged so badly by the Soviet blitzkrieg that the Japanese military staffs did not know a lot of the bad news themselves
On August 9th at about 10:30 in the morning Prime Minister Suzuli told the "Big Six" that the Emperor agreed with him; the war must be ended as quickly as possible now that Russia had joined the conflict. The Foreign Minister said he could not accept the American position given in the Potsdam Proclamation, because it would require the removal of the Emperor. (Again, no one in Japan had yet told the Americans that this was the primary sticking point.) Terms to be offered the Americans were still that, one, Japan would disarm herself, two, accept no occupation, and three, that Japan would conduct any war crimes trials of Japanese soldiers, and four, again, the Emperor must remain untouched.
It was all clearly fantasy, and the "Big Six" spent their time this morning arguing these points to be negotiated after the next great bloodbath. They argued until word arrived of the nuclear attack on Nagasaki: so much for the theory that the U. S. had only one bomb. There were now another 70,000 dead (with another 70,000 to follow within days). Still, when the "Big Six" ended their meeting they were still tied, three for continuing the war until Japan could score a "blood victory" against the Americans, and three for immediate surrender.
In fact the U.S. had enough plutonium for several more bombs. The assembly of nuclear weapons was not yet industrialized, but it soon would be. Manhattan Project Commander General Leslie Groves reported to the War Depart that another plutonium bomb would be ready for operations on the 17th or 18th of August and at least seven bombs would be available in time for the invasion of Kyushu, scheduled for September, now just a month away.
The plan was to use the bombs against the island's defenders, to "clear the ground" for American combat troops. But even assuming this worked, and ignoring the likelihood of massive radiation deaths amongst the American invaders, what would have been the cost of such a risky operation?
It was assumed during the Second World War that any amphibious invader must have a three to one advantage to ensure victory. Given America's weapon and technical advantages, with one to one numbers, an American victory was still likely. But the casualty rate would probably have been close to the rate on Iwo Jima, where it had been one American for every two Japanese dead; or 1.5 million Japanese dead and wounded, and 750,000 American dead and wounded. Civilian casualties would probably have more than doubled the Japanese numbers. So, the American conquest of the southern half of Kyushu seemed assured., but at levels of death not seen before, even in the bloody Pacific.
That night, the Big Six met again, still tied at three-three. But this time the Emperor in person actually cast his vote, something never done before. The vote was three for continuing the war and four for peace. It would be peace. The next day Mr. Max Grassli, charge d’Affaires for Switzerland, sent to James Byrnes, the U.S Secretary of State, the following cable:.
“I have the honor to inform you that the Japanese Minister to Switzerland, upon instructions received from his Government, has requested the Swiss Political Department to advise the Government of the United States of America of the following:
"...The Japanese Government are ready to accept the terms enumerated in the joint declaration which was issued at Potsdam…with the understanding that the said declaration does not comprise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler. The Japanese Government sincerely hope that this understanding is warranted and desire keenly that an explicit indication to that effect will be speedily forthcoming….In transmitting the above message the Japanese Minister added that his Government begs the Government of the United States to forward its answer through the intermediary of Switzerland….” Honestly, it was far past time.
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