Saturday, June 8, 2013


Adolf Hitler's reckless promise to Japan had been made during a series of talks in Berlin with Yosuke Matsuoka, the pro-Axis Japanese  Foreign Minister, in the spring of 1941 just before the German attack on Russia. The captured German minutes of the meeting enable us to trace the development of another one of Hitter's monumental miscalculations. They and other Nazi documents of the period show the Führer too ignorant, Göring too arrogant and Ribbentrop too stupid to comprehend the potential military strength of the United States, a blunder which had been made in Germany during the First World War by Wilhelm II, Hindenburg and Ludendorf. There was a basic contradiction from the beginning in Hitler's policy toward America. Though he had only contempt for her military prowess he endeavoured during the first two years of the conflict to keep her out of the war. This, we have seen, was the main task of he German Embassy in Washington, which went to great lengths, including the bribing of Congressmen, attempting to subsidize writers and aiding the American First Committee, to support the American isolationists and thus help to keep America from joining Germany's enemies in the war.
That the United States, as long as it was led by President Roosevelt, stood in the way of Hitler's grandiose plans for world conquest and the dividing up of the planet among the Tripartite powers the Nazi dictator fully understood, as his various private utterances make clear. The American Republic, he saw, would have to be dealt with eventually and, as he said "severely". But one Nation at a time. That had been the secret of his successful strategy so far. The turn of America would come, but only after Great Britain and he Soviet Union had been struck down. Then, with the aid of Japan and Italy, he would deal with the upstart Americans, who, isolated and alone, would easily succumb to the power of the victories Axis. japan was the key to Hitler's efforts to keep America out of the war until Germany was ready to take her on. Japan, as Ribbentrop pointed out to Mussolini on March 11, 1940, possessed the counterweight to the United States which would prevent the Americans from trying to intervene in Europe against Germany as they had in the first world war.
'Matsuoka visits Hitler (March 1941, Matsuoka subsequently drifted into obscurity and lived in retirement through the war years. Following the surrender of Japan, he was arrested by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in 1945 and held at Sugamo Prison. However, he died in prison in 1946 before his trial on war crimes charges came up before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.
In their wartime dealings with the Japanese, Hitler and Ribbentrop at first stressed the importance of not provoking the United States to abandon her neutrality. By the beginning of 1941 they were exceedingly anxious to draw  Japan into the war, not against America, not even against Russia which they were shortly to attack, but against Britain which had refused to give in even when apparently beaten. Early in 1941 German pressure on Japan stepped up. On February 23, Ribbentrop received at his stolen estate at Fuschl, near Salzburg, the fiery and hot-tempered Japanese ambassador General Hiroshi Oshima, who had often  impressed others as more Nazi than the Nazis, Though the war, Ribbentrop told his guest, was already won, Japan should come in "as soon as possible, in its own interest," and seize Britain's empire in Asia. A surprise intervention by Japan, he continued, was bound to keep America out of the war. America, which at present is not armed and would hesitate to expose her Navy to any risks west of Hawaii, could do this even less in such a case. If Japan would otherwise respect the American interests, there would not even be the possibility for Roosevelt to use the argument of lost prestige to make war plausible to the Americans. It was unlikely that America would declare war if it had to stand by while Japan took the Philippines. But even if the United States did get involved, Ribbentrop declared "this would not endanger the final victory of the countries of the Three-Power Pact." The Japanese fleet would easily defeat the American fleet and the war would be brought rapidly to an end with the fall of both Britain and America. This was heady stuff for the fire-eating Japanese envoy and Ribbentrop poured it on. He advised the Japanese to be firm and use "plain language" in their negotiations in Washington.
Only if the U.S. realized that they were confronting firm determination would they hold back. The people in the U.S.A.... were not willing to sacrifice their sons, and therefore were against any entry into the war. The American people felt instinctively that they were being drawn into war for no reason by Roosevelt and the Jewish wire-pullers. Therefore our policies with the U.S. should be plain and firm...
The Nazi Foreign Minister had one warning to give, the one that had failed so dismally with Franco: If Germany should ever weaken, Japan would find itself confronted by a world coalition within a short time. We were all in the same boat. The fate of both countries was being determined now for centuries to come...  A defeat of Germany would also mean the end of the Japanese imperialist idea.
To acquaint his military commanders and the top men in the Foreign Office with his new Japanese policy, Hitler issued on March 5, 1941, a top-secret directive entitled "Basic Order No. 24 Regarding Collaboration with Japan."
'It must be the aim of the collaboration based on the Three-Power Pact to induce Japan as soon as possible to take active measures in the Far East. Strong British forces will thereby be tied down, and the centre of gravity of the interest of the United States will be diverted to the Pacific. The conman aim of the conduct of war is to be stressed as forcing England to her knees quickly and thereby keeping the United States out of the war. The seizure of Singapore as the key British position in the Far East would mean a decisive success for the entire conduct of war of the Three-Powers.
A flight of RAAF Avro Lincoln bombers overflying Singapore Naval Base, June 1953.'
Hitler also urged the Japanese seizure of other British naval bases and even American basis, "if the entry of the United  States into the war cannot be prevented." He concluded by ordering that "he Japanese must not be given an intimation of the Barbarossa operation." The Japanese Ally, like the Italian, was to be used to further German ambition, but neither government would be taken into the Führer's confidence regarding his intention to attack Russia. A fortnight later, on March 18, at a conference with Hitler, Keitel and Jodl, Admiral Raeder strongly urged that Japan be pressed to attack Singapore. The opportunity would never again be so favourable, Raeder explained, what with "the whole English fleet contained, the preparedness of the U.S.A. for war against Japan and the inferiority the U.S. fleet compared to the Japanese." The capture of Singapore, the Admiral said, would "solve all the other Asiatic questions regarding the U.S.A. and England' and would of course enable Japan to avoid war with America, if she wished. There was only one hitch, the Admiral opined, and mention of it must have Hitler frown. According to naval intelligence, Raeder warned, Japan would move against the British in South-east Asia only "if Germany proceeds to land in England." There is no record in the Navy minutes of this meeting indicating what reply Hitler made to this remark. Raeder said something else that the Führer did not respond to. He "recommended" that Matsuoka "be advised regarding the designs on Russia."
The Japanese Foreign Minister was now on his way to Berlin via Siberia and Moscow, uttering bellicose pro-Axis statements, as Secretary of State Hull put it, along the route.(Hull made the remark to the new Japanese ambassador in Washington in the presence of Mr, Roosevelt on March 14. Nomura replied that Matsuoka "talked loudly for home consumption because he was ambitious politically,sic)
Nomura (left) and Kurusu (right) meet Hull for the last time on 17 November 1941, two weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbour (7 December 1941)' [After World War II, Nomura denied that he knew beforehand of the attack on Pearl Harbour. Reportedly Nomura and Kurusu had to personally decode the radioed message of Japan's breaking off the negotiations with the United States (which given the circumstances practically meant war), as it had been sent from Japan on Monday, December 8 and was received when the embassy's technical support staff was still on Sunday holiday. Nomura stated that this is why he had been unable to deliver the message until after the actual attack had taken place. In his memoirs, Hull credited Nomura with having been sincere in trying to prevent war between Japan and the USA, sic]
The arrival of Matsuoka in the German capital on March 26 came at an awkward moment for Hitler, for that night the pro-German Yugoslav government was overthrown in the Belgrade coup and the Führer was so busy improvising plans to crush the obstreperous Balkan country that he had to postpone seeing the Japanese visitor until the afternoon of the twenty-seventh. Ribbentrop saw him in the morning, playing over, so to speak, the old gramophone records reserved for such guests on such occasion, though managing to be even more fatuous than usual not allowing the dapper little Matsuoka to get in a word. The lengthy confidential minutes drawn up by Dr. Schmidt leave no doubt of that. "The war has already been definitely won by the Axis," Ribbentrop announced, "and it is only s question of time before England admits it." In the next breath he was urging a "quick attack upon Singapore" because it would be "a very decisive factor in the speedy overthrow of England." In face of such a contradiction the diminutive Japanese visitor did not bat an eye. "He sat here inscrutably," Schmidt later remembered, " in no way revealing how these curious remarks impressed him." As to America:
There was no doubt (Ribbentrop said) that the British would long since have abandoned the war if Roosevelt had not always given Churchill new hope...The There-Power Pact had above all had the goal of frightening America and keeping it out of the war... America had to be prevented by all possible means from taking an active part in the war and from making its aid to England too effective...The capture of Singapore would perhaps be most likely to keep America out of the war because the United States could scarcely risk sending its fleet into Japanese waters... Roosevelt would be in a very difficult position...
Though Hitler had laid down that Matsuoka not be told about he impending German attack on Russia, a necessary precaution to keep the news from leaking out, but nevertheless, as we shall see, one that would have disastrous consequences for Germany, Ribbentrop did drop several broad hints. Relations with the Soviet Union, he told his visitor, were correct but not very friendly. Moreover, should Russia threaten Germany, "the Führer would crush Russia." The Führer was convinced, he added, that if it came to war "there would be in few months no more Russia." Matsuoka, says Schmidt, blinked at this and looked alarmed, whereupon Ribbentrop hastened to assure him that he did not believe that "Stalin would pursue an unwise policy."[Japan and Russia had signed a Neutrality Pact,sic] At this juncture, says Schmidt, Ribbentrop was called away by Hitler to discuss the Yugoslav crisis and failed even to return for the official lunch which he was supposed to tender the distinguished visitor.

Japanese Foreign Minister Matsuoka signing the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact, 13 Apr 1941, note Molotov and Stalin in background'
In the afternoon Hitler, having determined to smash another country (Yugoslavia), worked on the Japanese Foreign Minister. "England has already lost the war," he began. "it is only a matter of having the intelligence to admit it." Still, the British were grasping at two straws: Russia and America. Toward the Soviet Union Hitler was more circumspect than Ribbentrop had been. He did not believe, he said, that the danger of a war with Russia would arise. After all Germany had some 160to 170 Divisions "for defence against Russia." As to the United States:
America was confronted by three possibilities:she could arm herself, she could assist England she could wage war on another front. If she helped England she could not arm herself. If she abandoned England the latter would be destroyed and America would then find herself fighting the powers of the Three-Power Pact alone. In no case , could America wage war on another front. Therefore, the Führer concluded, "never in human imagination" could there be a better opportunity for the Japanese to strike in the Pacific than now. "Such moment," he said, laying it on thickly as he could, "would never return. It was unique in history." Matsuoka agreed, but reminded Hitler that unfortunately he "did not control Japan. At the moment he could make no pledge on behalf of the Japanese Empire that it would take action." But Hitler, being absolute dictator , could make a pledge and he made it to Japan, quite casually and without being asked to, on April 4, after Matsuoka had returned to Berlin from seeing Mussolini. This second meeting took place on the eve of the Nazi attack on two more innocent countries, Yugoslavia and Greece, and the Führer, thirsting for further easy conquests and for revenge on Belgrade, was in one of his warlike moods. While he considered war with the United States "undesirable", he said, he had "already included it in his calculations." But he did not think much of America's military power. [Hitler had come to believe his own Nazi propaganda, sic]
Germany had made her preparations so that no American could land in Europe. Germany would wage a vigorous war against America with U-boats and the Luftwaffe, and with her greater experience...would be more than a match for America, entirely apart from the fact that German soldiers were, obviously, far superior to the Americans. This boast led him to make the fateful pledge. Schmidt recorded it in his minutes: "if Japan got into conflict with the Unites States, Germany on her part would take the necessary steps at once.' From Schmidt's notes it is evident that Matsuoka did not quite grasp the significance of what the Führer was promising, so Hitler said it again: 'Germany, as he had said, would promptly take part in case of a conflict between Japan and America.'

Hitler paid dearly not only for this assurance, so causally given, but for his deceit in not telling the Japanese about his intention to attack Russia as soon as the Balkans were occupied. Somewhat coyly Matsuoka had asked Ribbentrop during a talk on March 28 whether on his return trip he "should remain in Moscow in order to negotiate with the Russians on the Non-aggression Pact or the Treaty of Neutrality." [In fact he did not inform Ribbentrop either that he would sign the Neutrality Pact in Moscow, sic]. The dull-witted Nazi Foreign Minister replied smugly that Matsuoka "if possible should not bring up the question in Moscow since it probably would not altogether fit into he framework of the present situation." He did not quite grasp the significance of what was up. But by the next day it had penetrated his wooden mind and he began the conversation that day by referring to it. First of all he threw in, as casually as Hitler would do on April 4, a German guarantee that if Russia attacked Japan "Germany would strike immediately." He wanted to give this assurance, he said, " so that Japan  could push southward toward Singapore without fear of any complications with Russia." When Matsuoka finally admitted that while in Moscow on his way to Berlin he himself had proposed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union and hinted that the Russians were favourably inclined toward it, Ribbentrop's mind again became somewhat of a blank. He merely advised that Matsuoka to handle the problem in a "superficial way." But as soon as the Nipponese Foreign Minister was back in Moscow on his trip home, he signed a treaty of neutrality with Stalin which, as Ambassador von der Schulenburg, who foresaw the consequences, wired Berlin, provided for each country to remain neutral in case the other got involved in the war. This was one treaty, it was signed on April 13, which Japan honoured to the very last despite subsequent German exhortations that she disregard it. For before the summer 1941 was out the Nazis would be begging the Japanese to attack not Singapore or Manila but Vladivostok!

View of Vladivostok and the Golden Horn Bay
At first however, Hitler did not grasp the significance of the Russo- Japanese Neutrality Pact. In April 20 he told Admiral Raeder, who inquired about it, that it had been "made with Germany's acquiescence" and that he welcomed it "because Japan is now restrained from taking action against Vladivostok and should be induced to attack Singapore instead. At this stage Hitler was confident Germany could destroy Russia during the summer. He did not want Japan to share in this mighty feat any more than he had desired that Italy should share in the conquest of France.  And he was absolutely confident that Japanese help would not be needed. Ribbentrop, echoing his master's thoughts, had told Matsuoka on March 29 that if Russia forced Germany "to strike" he would "consider it proper if the Japanese Army were prevented from attacking Russia." But the views of Hitler and Ribbentrop on this matter changed very suddenly and quite drastically scarcely three months later. Six days after the German armies were flung into Russia, on June 28, 1941, Ribbentrop was cabling the German ambassador in Tokyo, General Eugen Ott, to do everything he could get the Japanese to promptly attack Soviet Russia and also to argue that this was the best way of keeping America neutral. It maybe expected (Ribbentrop explained) that the rapid defeat of Soviet Russia, especially should Japan take action in the East, will prove the best argument to convince the United States of the utter futility of entering the war on the side of a Great Britain entirely isolated and confronted by the most powerful alliance in he world.
Matusoka was in favour of immediately turning on Russia, but his views were not accepted by the government in Tokyo, whose attitude seemed to be that if the Germans were rapidly defeating the Russians, as they claimed, they needed no help from the Japanese. However, Tokyo, was not so sure about a lightning German victory and this was the real reason for its stand.But Ribbent5rop persisted. On July 10, when the German offensive in Russia was really beginning, to roll and even Halder, as we have seen, thought that victory already had been won, the Nazi Foreign Minister got off from his special train on the Eastern front, a new and stronger cable was sent to his ambassador in Tokyo.[Ribbentrop kept trying all that fall and several times during the next two years to induce  the Japanese to fall upon Russia from the rear, but each time the Tokyo government replied politely, "so sorry, please."sic] 'Since Russia, as reported by he Japanese ambassador in Moscow, is in effect close to collapse... its simply impossible that Japan does not solve the matter of Vladivostok and the Siberian area, as soon as her military preparation are completed...I ask you to employ all available means in further insisting upon Japan's entry into the war against Russia the soonest possible date... The sooner this entry is effected, the better it is. The natural objective still remains that we and Japan join hands on the T rans-Siberian railroad before winter starts.
Such giddy prospects did not turn the head of even the militaristic Japanese government. Four days later ambassador Ott replied that he was doing his best to persuade the Japanese to attack Russia as soon as possible, that Matsuoka was all for it, but he, Ott, had to fight against "great obstacles" in the Tokyo cabinet. As a matter of fact the fire-eating Matsuoka was soon forced out of the cabinet. With his departure, Germany lost, for the time being, its best friend, and though closer relations were later restored between Berlin and Tokyo they never became close enough to convince the Japanese of the wisdom of helping Germany in the war against Russia. Once more Hitler had been bested at his own game by a wily ally.
[The Japanese archives reveal how Tokyo evaded Germany on this embarrassing question. When, for instance, on August 19, Ambassador Ott asked the Japanese Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs about Japanese intervention against Russia, the latter replied. "For Japan to do a thing like attacking Russia would be a very serious question and would require profound reflection." When on August 30, Ott, who by now was a very irritated ambassador, asked Foreign Minister Admiral Toyoda, "Is there any possibility that Japan may participate in the Russo-German war?' Toyodo replied, 'Japan's preparations are now making headway, and it will take more time for their completion."sic]
Japanese Admiral Soemu Toyoda'       Promoted to full admiral on 18 September 1941, at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbour, Toyoda was Commander-in-Chief of the Kure Naval District. Toyoda was strongly opposed to the war with the United States, which he viewed from the start as "unwinnable."On 10 November 1942, Toyoda became a member of the Supreme War Council. After the war, Toyoda was interrogated by Rear Admiral Ralph A. Ofstie in Tokyo on 14 November. He was viewed as "highly intelligent and widely informed", and was observed to be a strong critic of the amount of political power the Army held in the Japanese government. He also expressed his opinion that the war with China should have been ended "even at some sacrifice" so that the men and resources could be redeployed to the Pacific theater.
Toyoda was subsequently arrested by SCAP authorities, held in Sugamo Prison, but was not charged with any war crimes and later released.He died in 1957 of a heart attack at the age of 72.
                                                                                                                                                           continued under Part 4

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