I am certain the attack was a total surprise in every way possible. In the south, the Russians came across the mountains and desserts of Mongolia, a path that seemed impossible because they could not be supplied through that line. What the Soviets did here was something new, a method the U.S. would repeat in 1989 in Iraq. Soviet parachute troops captured Japanese airfields far behind the enemy lines and food and fuel were then flown in, turning them into supply depots for the advancing ground troops. The Soviets were clearly driving toward the city of Changchun, where they would meet the equally successful advance of the Soviet armies from the Far Eastern Front. Those pincers would together isolate the entire Japanese Manchurian Army. And there was nothing the Japanese troops could do to stop them.
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 either the American or the Soviet soldier. In the invasion of Manchuria there were one and a half million Russians; eighty divisions, five thousand tanks, including 3,700 T-34’s, acknowledged as the greatest tank of the Second World War. The Japanese never had a tank or an anti-tank gun to match the T-34. And there were also almost 4,000 first line Soviet aircraft filing the skies. The Japanese had just 50 front line fighters 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, in part because they feared their superiors would become defeatist and 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
Finally, 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.
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.
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?There were more than one and a half million American soldiers were poised for that invasion. American intelligence services now estimated there were an equal number of Japanese soldiers waiting on the American invasion of Kyushu.
Iwo Jima, where it had been one American for every two Japanese dead; which meant, on Kyushu 1.5 million Japanese dead and wounded, and 750,000 American dead and wounded. Civilian casualty's would probably have more than doubled the Japanese numbers. So, the American conquest of the southern half of Kyushu seemed assured, but at casualty levels not seen so far, even in the bloody Pacific.
That night, the Big Six met again, still tied at three to three. But this time the Emperor in person actually cast his vote, something the Emperor had never done before. The vote was now four for peace, three for continuing the war. 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….”
Please pardon me, but honestly, it was far past time.
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