Quick navigation

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The attempts by the Japanese government to surrender, July 1945

These extracts from British and American archives may contain phonetic or transcription errors. We invite comments, corrections and expansions. Please give details of item referred to. [comment]

July 7, 1945: George McWilliams of International News Service (INS) had questioned three Japanese newspaper publishers on Okinawa, who testified authoritatively that Japan would surrender at once if the American occupation forces would be of only token character. Joseph Grew, the Under-Secretary of State, stopped publication of the lengthy dispatch, lest it weaken America's determination to carry out the complete defeat of Japan. (Text of the despatch dated July 7, 1945, and Grew's reaction, are in Forrestal diary, July 7, 1945)

On July 8, 1945, Joseph Grew, the Acting Secretary of State, reported to the Secretary a message from the American envoy in Stockholm: Major-General Onodera, the Japanese military attaché there, had just invited to dinner Prince Carl Bernadotte. Over dinner, the attaché had told the Swede that Japan knew that the war was lost, and that the Emperor and government had authorised him to make direct contact with King Gustav when the right time comes with a view to contacting the Allies. Apart from stating that the Emperor must be maintained in his position after the Japanese capitulation, no condition was specified. Onodera did however stress that the right time had not yet come -- so the Americans were not to be informed of this approach yet. But meanwhile he asked Bernadotte to arrange a meeting with his father Carl Sr., who was brother of King Gustaf and President of the Swedish Red Cross.

(Grew to Sec St., Jul 8, 1945: in RG-59, Matthews papers, box 12.)

FO sent to Eden July 18 the text of Tel 1121 from Stockholm, dated July 17:
"I feel that you should know that the Assistant head of Political Division, of Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed me today that a telegram had been received from Swedish Legation in Washington this morning to the effect that Stalin was bringing Japanese peace proposals to the Potsdam meeting and that his late arrival there was due to last minute discussions with the Japanese."
Source: Mallet to FO, No. 1121, Jul 17, in FO to Eden, ONWARD 60, Jul 18, 1945 (PRO file CAB.120/191). And see similar story in Moscow Tel. 3295 to FO, Jul 26, 1945, in ONWARD 235, Jul 26, 1945 (PRO file CAB.120/192)
Adml Nomura and other Japanese representatives were said to be in Moscow asking for Soviet mediation to end war in Far East; US embassy thinks the story is not unfounded. But Moscow ambassador in Tel. 3295, Jul 30, in ONWARD 286, Jul 30, 1945 (PRO file CAB.120/192) considered it improbable: 'If Admiral Nomura had visited or was in Moscow we should almost certainly have heard of it.'

There were security problems for Truman in receiving the ULTRA signals.

His ship Augusta had been identified, and the Map Room traffic over Ensign Detwiler's circuit had been identified by press stories. Future top secret messages would have to be sent on FOX [communications system?]

(Signal Cdr Tyree, White House Map Room, Jul 13, 1945, 12:44Z, to Map Room at White House: in Naval Aide box 5, folder 1. Truman library).

On July 12, 1945, the Map Room rushed to Truman an item numbered OUT-105, an unnumbered ULTRA message. Evidently in reply to an inquiry as to whether the Navy or Army codebreakers had decoded this message, the Map room followed at 20:46Z on July 12: "Navy scored scoop. Believe General Marshall will have this to show to President."

(H S Truman Library, Naval aide file Box 6, Unnumbered communications, Map Room, Jul-Aug 1945): MR-OUT-106, Major Putnam to Cdr Tyree, July 12.)

July 12, 1945: Major Putnam in Washington jotted down a message over the high speed teletype machine to Colonel Bowen in Berlin: "When party arrives be sure to see Map Room Out-105."

He added, "Check of their IN and OUT file will brief you on such news as we have sent prior to duplicating to you as well as other items. Both army and navy news has been light since you left with no major developments except carrier strike on Japan on which there is little official info due to lack of radio intercepts."

(H S Truman Library, Naval aide file Box 6, Unnumbered communications, Map Room, Jul-Aug 1945)

At 8 am Washington time July 13, 1945, 3 pm Berlin time, Berlin telexed ('conference') this message for Major Putnam in the White House: 'Colonel Bowen would like to know what is the contents [sic] of the letter that Colonel McCarthy sent to him and if there is anything of importance in same please forward to him here.' And Berlin added, 'I have a message from him (Bowen) for you: do you have a "105" message. He seems to think you have, and desires a copy of same.' Washington replied, 'Please tell the Colonel that "105" is one of the messages that we get by locked pouch and cannot be transmitted from here.'

(H S Truman Library, Naval aide file Box 6, Unnumbered communications, Map Room, Jul-Aug 1945)

Extracts from the folder Magic Diplomatic Extracts July 1945, NARS number SRH 040:

[Selected items prepared by MIS War Department for the Attention of General George C Marshall.]

They are summarised too in Forrestal diary, July 13, 15, and 24, 1945.

We leave these for the moment and go back to the original reports:-

Top Secret-Ultra reports (NARS number: SRH 084, headed Russo-Japanese Relations)

[My summary:] Early in June 1945 the Japanese Foreign Minister Shigenoria Togo advised Ambassador Sato in Moscow that it was a matter of 'the utmost urgency' to prevent Russia from entering the Pacific War. In the first two weeks of June, former prime minister Hirota conducted at Togo's request four conversations with Soviet ambassador Malik in Moscow (TOKYO?). This became plain from a June 28 message from Togo, from Tokyo to Moscow (See diplomatic summary 61195, dated July 3).

Ambassador Malik did not however hold out much hope of providing the kind of friendly assistance that the Japanese were asking for.

Two days later, on June 30, after a 7,000 ton TNT bombing raid, Foreign Minister Togo sent an extremely urgent despatch to Sato. However neither message attracted the urgent attention of Sato in Moscow. Sato made little or no attempt to secure the interview with Molotov that Tokyo had demanded.

He informed Tokyo on July 6, 'I believe that Molotov will leave for Berlin around the 10th and that it will be difficult for me to obtain an interview with him before that time.'

On July 9, Foreign Minister Togo sent an extremely urgent and peremptory message to Sato. 'Your opinions notwithstanding,' it read, 'please carry out my orders.' Later that day, July 9, Togo added a further message to Sato urging him to discuss all problems and 'other matters as well if the Russians wish it.'

On July 11 however Foreign Minister Togo further impressed by two days of US air raids mounted by B-29s and from aircraft carrier sent the following unprecedented message to Sato in Moscow, marked Extremely Urgent and Strictly Secret.

'Since we are secretly giving consideration to termination of war !in view of the pressing situation confronting Japan, both at home and abroad, you are not to confine yourself in the interview discussed [. . .]to the objective of a rapprochement between Russia and Japan but are to sound out the extent to which it is possible to make use of Russia with regard to ending the war as well.'

After listing far-reaching concessions which Japan was willing to make to Russia, the telegram continued:

'Therefore, we should like to know the views of the Russian government on this with all haste, and since this is a matter about which the Imperial court also is tremendously concerned, please have an interview with Molotov, and [ . . . ] attempt to find out their views and reply at once.'

In the same message, Togo urged Sato to be careful not to give the impression that 'our plan is to make use of the Russians in ending the war.' (This was Magic Intercept #H-1961505, 11 July, Tokyo-Moscow.) On the following day, July 12, Togo sent a further dispatch to Sato, marked Very Urgent, again urging Sato to inform the Russians before the Potsdam conference opened, of 'the Imperial will concerning the end of the war.' The precise terms of the message to be presented to Molotov were:

'His Majesty the Emperor, mindful of the fact that the present war daily brings greater evil and sacrifice upon the peoples of all the belligerent powers, desires from his heart that it may be quickly terminated. But so long as England and the United States insist upon unconditional surrender in the Greater East Asia War, the Japanese Empire has no alternative but to fight on with all its strength for the honour and the existence of the motherland. His Majesty is deeply reluctant to have [any further?] blood lost among the peoples on both sides for this reason, and it is his desire, for the welfare of humanity, to restore peace with all possible speed.'

The Emperor accordingly proposed to send Prince Fumimaro Konoye &endash; who had been the country's prime minister from June 1937 to January 1939, and again from July 1930 to October 1941 to Moscow as his special envoy, bearing a letter from him confirming the concessions stated above.

The few Americans privileged to read these intercepts were deeply impressed, although they did not yet reveal whether the Japanese chiefs of staff anticipated that the Foreign office was aware of these considerations, the fact that the move was stated to be an expression of 'the Emperor's will' was not without significance.

Meanwhile Sato had reluctantly arranged a discussion with Vice-Commissar Lozovsky on July 10, and then on the following day with Molotov himself.

[Website note: It is reasonable to assume that the above summary, or its contents, were what was transmitted by secure teleprinter to Potsdam on about July 13.]

From Report NARS number: SRH 085, Russo-Japanese Relations, 13 to 20 July 1945:-

[My summary:] On July 12, Foreign Minister Togo had sent a despatch to Moscow, telling Sato to negotiate with Molotov. Molotov however 'simply could not manage it' ... Vice Commissar Lozovsky instead. He did so at 5 pm on July 13, handed him the Imperial instructions, which he had translated into Russian, and asked that the Russians consent to the arrival of Prince Konoye, emphasising 'I should like the Soviet government to bear particularly in mind the fact that the present special envoy will be of an entirely different character from the special envoy I have discuss with Molotov three times in the past.' (These had been attempts made in the fall of 1943 and in April and September 1944 to improve German-Russian relations.)

As Lozovsky replied that some members of the Soviet government were leaving that very night, Sato informed him: 'If we are too late, I should like you, if possible, to get in touch with Berlin by telephone or the like, and then give us an answer.' Sato's despatch that day, July 13, was intercepted by the Americans, and formed Diplomatic Summary No.1207, dated July 15.

On July 13, Togo had informed Sato that he had sent a Japanese diplomat to inform Soviet ambassador Malik, who was sick in bed, of the Emperor's views.

On July 14, however, Sato informed Tokyo that during the night he had been verbally advised that 'because of the departure of Stalin and Molotov a reply will be delayed.' This was not honest.

On July 15, Sato informed Tokyo that Molotov and Stalin had in fact not left Moscow for Berlin until the evening of the 14th. Evidently Moscow was playing for time.

On July 25, Admiral Leahy read the Top Secret MAGIC summary dated July 23, presumably the above summary.

[George M. Elsey, the naval aide, reminded him that Secretary Forrestal had instructed Admiral King to make sure that the President saw this material; but Leahy was the only member of the White House party to see MAGIC. Leahy replied that he alone could properly discuss MAGIC with Truman, and accordingly he would talk with him at length as soon as he returned from London.]

(H S Truman LIbrary, Elsey to Tyree, Jul 25, 1945: box 55, speech file, Berlin conf; and George M. Elsey papers.)

July 24, 1945: "Japan seeking Soviet good offices to surrender." Ultra intercept, in PRO file HW.1/3784.

July 25, 1945: "Japan seeking Soviet good offices to surrender." Ultra intercept, in PRO file HW.1/3785.

Website note: neither British file includes the above July 13, 1945 etc messages relating to this.

On July 28, the Map Room in Washington notified its Potsdam terminal: 'We are preparing for off-line transmission a dispatch for Admiral Leahy's eyes only.'

But they would not send it unless Elsey or Graham alone were in the receiving room to decipher it.

[Website note: We don't know what it was, but an educated guess is that it was the following MAGIC summary. Leahy alone was authorised to receive MAGICS.]

(H S Truman Library, Naval aide file Box 6, Unnumbered communications, Map Room, Jul-Aug 1945)

From Report NARS number: SRH 086, Russo-Japanese Relations, 21 to 27 July 1945:-


The above material has been researched by David Irving for the third volume of his Churchill biography, "Churchill's War", vol. iii: "The Sundered Dream."

© Focal Point 2004 F Irving write to David Irving