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Sunday, October 11, 2015

MAKING PEACE - Four - Theatrics

I am certain the Soviet attack was a total surprise for the Japanese military leadership. First, wishful thinking had convinced the high command that the Soviets would not attack until the spring of 1946. There were good practical reasons for this delusion. The Kwantung Army, occupying Manchuria and facing the Russians, had once been the largest in the Japanese army  (1, 300,000 men),  and promoted its commander Hideki Tojo to Prime Minister and war leader.  But by August of 1945 it  had sent  half its strength south to reinforce the 2nd Army facing the American threat to Kyushu, leaving behind 25 under strength divisions with 1,200 light tanks and 1,800 obsolete aircraft, and just 50 Zero fighters. And the Japanese had no more fuel in Manchuria than they had in Kyushu.  They had to believe the Russians would not attack, or they would panic.
One minute into Thursday  9 August, 1945,  three Soviet "Fronts" (the equivalent of American army corps) fell upon the Japanese with 1,500,000 men in 89 divisions, with 3,700 heavy tanks and 3,700 state of the art front line combat aircraft. The last surprise for the Japanese was the method and location of the attacks. In the south, the TransBaikal Front 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 was something the U.S. would repeat on a much smaller scale in Iraq in 1989.  Soviet parachute troops captured Japanese airfields far behind the front lines and food and fuel were then flown in, turning them into supply depots for the advancing ground troops. 
The Trans Baikal thrust was aiming for the city of Changchun, where they would meet the equally successful advance of the twin Soviet Far Eastern Fronts. Those pincers would together isolate the entire Japanese Manchurian Army. And there was little the Japanese could do to stop them.
For the first time the Japanese Army faced a ground campaign by a mechanized foe hardened by four years of vicious warfare with Nazi Germany. If the German soldier was the best in the world in 1942, by 1945 it may well have been the Soviet soldier. A great many egos in the Japanese Army high command were facing loss of face, if the war continued much longer. The soldiers in the field were facing death.
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. He had been planning this invasion since late 1944. He called it "Operation August Storm”, and perhaps as a homage to Vaslevsky, American General Schwarzkopf called his 1989 similar operation “Dessert Storm”.
In just 24 days the Red Army would capture all of Manchuria, make amphibious landings in northern Korea and move to capture the southern half of Sakhalin Island. But a large part of this appallingly bad news was withheld from the cabinet and even 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
The Japanese commander in Manchuria, General Otozo Yamada, was missing for the first 18 hours of the battle, unable to get back to his headquarters. But the battle developed just as Yamada had warned the supreme command that it would; disastrously.
Also on 9 August The British Pacific Fleet (Task Force 37) made up of 10 large and 9 escort aircraft carriers carrying over 2,000 big Corsair fighter/bombers (above) and 106 Avenger torpedo/bombers, 4 battleships, 11 cruisers and 35 destroyers, began launching attacks against Japanese naval targets. 
The British carriers, with their armored flight decks,   proved more effect than their American counterparts which had wooden flight decks. As the U.S. Navy liaison officer on the "HMS Indefatigable" explained, "When a kamikaze hits a US carrier it means 6 months of repair...When a kamikaze hits a Limey carrier it's just a case of 'Sweepers, man your brooms.”
At 10:30 that Wednesday morning, 9 August,  when the full cabinet  met at the request of Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo, the scale of the Manchurian disaster was still unknown, as was the specifics of the British naval addition to the American juggernaut. The primary topic of discussion was the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and the threat to the Emperor posed by Lt. McDild's (false) information about an American atomic bomb attack on Tokyo.
Army Chief of Staff, General Yoshijiro Umezu (above) began the meeting by insisting the the war must continue until the Americans were forced to meet the army's conditions – no occupation, no disarmament, no war crimes trials, and retention of the Emperor. 
But Baron Hiranuma Kiichiro (above),  past Prime Minister, a ten year member of the Emperor's Privy Council and one of the few politicians with an unquestioned right wing political reputation,  growled, “"Air raids come now every night and day. Do you have the means to defend against the atom bomb? I wonder.”
The Baron then asked if the military could defend Tokyo, should the Americans decide to invade Honshu directly, and strike the capital. The Baron already knew the preparations had fallen behind schedule. General Umezu was forced to admit that factory production of even the suicide weapons was falling further behind, because of the American bombings.  Kiirchiro almost snorted his disdain . "How on earth can you believe it is still possible to continue the war under existing conditions?" 
General Korechika Anami (above), commander of the Imperial Army,  interrupted to save his ally by changing the subject. “I am convinced that the Americans had only one bomb, after all,” he assured the room. It was at this precise moment that a messenger arrived with word of the second atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki. There were now another 70,000 Japanese dead (with another 70,000 injured who would die within days)
In fact the U.S. had enough plutonium for several more bombs. Manhattan Project Commander General Leslie Groves had already reported that another plutonium bomb would be ready for operations on the 17th or 18th of August. At least seven bombs would be available in time for the invasion of Kyushu, now less than a month away.
The current plan was to use the bombs  to "clear the ground" for American invasion forces. But that made sense only if the Americans ignored their own increasing unease with the risk of radiation to the invading American troops. And for the Japanese the plan still made sense - not death not before dishonor, but death as a path to honor.
So the Big Six would have to meet again,  still tied at three to three. This would delay ending the war, but  this time the Emperor must attended and his presence must not be wasted. Like a Kabuki performance, for the generals' benefit, the arguments would have to become characters in the play, representing moral arguments. And the performance would be worth the delay only if the theatrics finally brought an end to the killing.
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