I find it ironic that on 1 August, 1945, Harry Truman (above), leader of the world's only superpower, found himself pressured to make peace as quickly as possible. He had been President of the Untied States for only 110 days (since Thursday, 12 April). It had only been 92 days since Nazi Germany had surrendered (Tuesday, 8 May), and in response to long standing American pleas, Soviet Dictator and ally Joseph Stalin had promised in February to join the war against Japan 90 days after Germany's defeat , which would be Wednesday 8 August. Truman had also recently learned that Operation Olympic, the American invasion of the Japanese home island of Kyushu, had been pushed forward. It would now be launched in 92 days (Thursday, 1 November) , and that it would likely result in 100,000 American dead and another half a million wounded. But 15 days ago, on Monday, 16 July, Truman had learned that America's $2 billion gamble to build a workable atomic bomb had paid off . So on this day, Wednesday, 1 August, 1945, Truman sent Stalin a note suggesting they “talk” about the impending Soviet intervention. Truman wanted the Russians to hold off. But it was too late.
In the sea's off Japan's most southern island, the United States had amassed 42 large aircraft carriers, 70 “escort” carriers, 24 battleships, 72 cruisers, 400 destroyers, 230 submarines and 1400 transports and landing craft.
This massive fleet was to support and deliver 14 divisions in the first wave onto 35 landing beaches in southern Kyushu.
In preparation for the assault (above) the battle group built around the carrier U.S..S. Yorktown had been launching air strikes on harbors and naval targets up and down the coasts of both Kyushu and the main island of Honshu.
Battleships USS South Dakota, Indiana, Massachusetts (above) and supporting cruisers had been blasting industrial targets with naval artillery fire.
Beyond the almost daily assaults by growing fleets of B-29 Superfort (above), heavy and medium bombers, based on recently captured Okinawa and Iwo Jima had been destroying road and rail lines behind the beaches.
And long range P-38 and P-51 fighter/bombers were daily ranging at will across Kyushu, destroying targets of opportunity, from airfields to single trucks to individual fishing boats (above).
The Japanese military leadership, however, remained confident, because at every step across the Pacific they had correctly anticipated the Americans next move. And they were now so certain that Kyushu (above) would be the next invasion target that by 1 August there were 900,000 soldiers in 14 divisions on Japan's southernmost island, with 40% of all the available ammunition left in the home islands.
And Japan had been hoarding their 12, 700 aircraft, intending to use half of them in kamikaze strikes against the American invasion fleet. At the same time they were redefining the definition of “victory”. The Journal of the Japanese Imperial Headquarters admitted, “The only course left is for Japan's one hundred million people to sacrifice their lives by charging the enemy to make them lose the will to fight.”
Most American commanders were aware of this threat. The U.S. Navy had crunched the numbers and predicted that only 14% of all kamikaze missions survived to reach the fleet, less than 20% of attacks actually made hit their target, and less than 10% of all ships hit, actually sank. Still, at least 47 U.S. ships had already been sunk by suicide planes. And with 6,000 kamikaze planes committed to the defense of the Kyushu, that meant 1 November would be the greatest bloodbath in U.S. Naval history.
General Douglas MacArthur's long suffering intelligence chief, Major General Charles Willoughby, warned on 29 July that it appeared there were almost as many Japanese soldiers on Kyushu as Americans about to invade (above), and an attack ratio of “one to one...is not the recipe for victory.” At least in the traditional American definition of that term.
But MacArthur (above), who was to command the invasion forces, could sell glory ahead. His Chief of Staff, General Sutherland, had begun organizing a campaign for the Presidency against Roosevelt in 1943-44, and only the promise of a glorious return to the Philippians had kept the corn pipe ego maniac in the Pacific. And now, with the path to the White House seemingly leading across the volcanic beaches of Japan, "Dugout Doug" called Willoughby's depressingly accurate estimates “greatly exaggerated”, insisting he did "not, repeat not, credit the heavy strengths reported...in southern Kyushu." McArthur pompously added, “In my opinion there should not be the slightest thought of changing the...operation.”
But MacArthur was alone in believing in McArthur's destiny. Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of all U.S. Naval forces in the Central Pacific, was so worried he now wanted to delay the Olympic landings. And he was supported by Admiral Ernst King, Chief of Naval Operations, and General George Marshal, General of the Army. Marshal offered a list of military alternatives to Olympic. MacArthur rejected them all..
There was also division inside Japan. A senior civil servant, Yutaka Akabane, remembered, “It was the raids on the medium and smaller cities which had the worst effect and really brought...a demoralization of faith... the morale of the people sank terrifically...there was no longer hope of victory...but merely desire for ending the war.”
Even Hirohito (above), the 124th Emperor of Japan, was forced to admit that after he was told shrapnel from American bombs was being used to make shovels, he realized “we were no longer in a position to continue the war”.
But the Emperor did not rule Japan. The real power was held by the “Big Six”, the council under Prime Minister and retired Admiral Kantaro Suzuki (above, center): Army Minister, and "2nd most powerful person in Japan, General Korechika Anami, Naval Minister Admiral Misumasa Yonai, Army Chief of Staff General Yoshijiro Umezu, Naval Chief of Staff Admiral Soemu Toyoda, and the only civilian in the cabinet, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo. The Emperor and his Keeper of the Privy Seal Koichi Kido also occasionally attended Big Six meetings but by tradition they only voted when asked to. As of 1 August, 1945, only Admiral Yonai was on record as favoring ending the war as soon as possible.
The Emperor was shifting slowly. In late June he insisted Japan seek the assistance of the Soviet Union, the Swiss and even the Vatican in brokering a peace agreement. But in exchange for a Japanese surrender, the military insisted they offer no disarmament, no occupation of Japan, no war crimes trials outside of Japanese courts, and, of course, the military and the Emperor must remain in power.
There was never a chance the Americans would accept those terms. Even as late as 1 August, the supreme council was still insisting on yet another decisive battle, this time on Kyushu, to so bloody the Americans they would accept the Japanese terms. And until the military agreed to move off that position, peace would remain but a hope.
Early on the morning of Thursday, 2 August, 387 American, British and Australian Prisoners of War, were driven into the shafts of the Mitsubitsu mine on Sardo Island, 20 miles off the west coast of Japan. But instead of yet another day digging in Japan's only domestic coal mine, they were sent 400 feet down to hack at a supposed gold seam. At 9:10 that morning, the guards slipped back up the elevators, and explosives were set off at the 200 foot level, sealing the mine, and eventually suffocating the prisoners in the blackness of the mine. The POW's were shortly joined by 1,000 Korean forced laborers who died in another corporate mine, also sealed into the mass grave they had been forced to dig.
That night American bombers ranged across Japan, blasting half a dozen separate targets, dropping some 6,000 tons, the largest single day bomb total of the war Hardest hit was the west coast fishing port and agricultural center of Toyama, on the Jinzu river. Some 180 B-29's dropped 1,465 tons of explosive and incendiary bombs on the sleepy community of 30,000 (above). By dawn the tallest structures left were the trolley tracks down the center of main street. So intense were the flames that every building was reduced to white ash, leaving behind “an empty and white world”, and blackened corpses.
The next day, Friday 3 August, the B-29's completed deploying mines off the last major port in Japan.
Economically Japan was now totally isolated. And none of this had convinced the Supreme Council to let of of the fantasy that they could still change the outcome of the war.