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THE BOMB — DEMON OR ANGEL?

by David Westheimer

 

Atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Scores of thousands of Japanese dead, vast areas devastated. Could anything be worse?

Yes. Operation Olympic.

Months before the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the United States began preparing the mightiest amphibious assault in history on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's home islands.

It was called Operation Olympic, target date November 1, 1945.

Concurrently, and with chilling prescience, Japan was marshaling all her remaining strength, including her civilian population, in exactly the right places to meet the assault.

It was called Operation Ketsu-go.

Both sides continued carrying forward their plans with grim intensity until the Hiroshima bomb and that dropped three days later on Nagasaki stopped Olympic and Ketsu-go in their tracks and prompted Emperor Hirohito to order an end to Japan's agony against the wishes of his top military leaders.

Had Operation Olympic clashed head on with Operation Ketsu-go American soldiers would have died in their tens of thousands and Japanese in their hundreds of thousands. Despite the fact that the atom bombs played the pre-eminent role in preventing this, for almost 60 years now the use of the bombs to discourage the inevitable suicidal Japanese resistance has fathered controversy and widespread national guilt in this country.

But not among the hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, sailors and airmen who would have stormed the beaches of Kyushu or to anyone who knew the unyielding temper of Japan's military leaders. And there are informed Japanese, as well, who have seen in the atom bombs not Japan's ultimate torment but Japan's salvation.

Dr. Taro Takemi, a former president of the Japanese Medical Association, wrote in a special edition of the medical journal commemorating the Aug. 6 anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, "When one considers the possibility that the Japanese military would have sacrificed the entire nation if it were not for the atomic bomb attack, then this bomb might be described as having saved Japan."

Dr. Takemi thought that a majority of the Japanese people agreed with him.

The late Edwin O. Reischauer (U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1961 to 1966), when commenting on Dr. Takemi's statement, said, "It is not an unusual idea from the Japanese point of view." Dr. Reischauer added that he believed that the bombs saved as many as 10 million lives and said, "I do say that myself in Japan but with a great deal of caution."

Does 10 million sound excessive? Perhaps. But when the first bomb dropped on August 6 the United States was already in the developing stages of the largest amphibious assault in history and the Japan was determined to resist it, if necessary to the last man, woman and child. Or so said General Korechika Anami, the war minister and key member of the Saiko Senso Shiko Kaigi, the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War. "If we cannot halt the enemy, one hundred million Japanese would gladly prefer death to the dishonor of surrender and they would thus leave the Japanese people's mark on history." (There is a bit of hyperbole there. There weren't 100 million Japanese.)

Bombast? No. Japanese soldiers had already died in their thousands, often at their own hands, rather than endure the disgrace of surrender.

Lieutenant General Masazumi Inada, chief of staff of the 16th Area Army, which would be dug in in exactly the right places to meet the invaders, could not bear the thought of the war ending without the Japanese army having dealt the enemy one last, devastating blow. Above all, he wanted the war to end not in humiliating surrender but "beautifully."

General Inada's "beautiful ending" was a titanic battle of annihilation in which Kyushu's defenders would destroy fully half of the invading forces, dying to a man if need be.

What kind of forces are we talking about?

First, the Americans.

Operation Olympic was to be mounted by Admiral Raymond A. Spruance's Fifth Fleet and General Walter Krueger's Sixth Army. The Fifth Fleet would comprise 2,900 vessels, including nine battleships, 20 aircraft carriers, 295 troop transports, 95 attack cargo ships, 555 LSTs (landing ship, tank) and hundreds of other specialized craft and would have the support of Admiral William Halsey's Third Fleet, the Pacific Fleet Submarine Force and a vast array of land-based aircraft. It would deposit 650,000 troops and 61,000 vehicles on the beaches of southern Kyushu.

Among the ships in the invading fleet would be one carrying crosses and Stars of David to mark the graves of American dead. Facilities for anticipated casualties were prominent in Olympic plans. Hospital ships stationed of the landing beaches would be augmented by attack transports remaining on station after disembarking their troops. Nine thousand hospital beds were to be made ready on Okinawa, 21,000 in the Philippines and 25,000 in the Marianas.

The Western Landing Force (40th Infantry Division, 21,997 men) would take several small islands west and southwest of Kyushu five days before the main landings to set up control, radar warning, guidance and communications facilities and safe anchorage for hospital ships and damaged vessels. The Southern Landing Force (158th Regimental Combat Team, 7,566 men) one day later would take Tanega Island, south of Kyushu, for the same purpose.

On X-Day, November 1, the Third Landing Force (XI Corps — 1st Cavalry Division, 43rd Infantry Division, Americal Division, 112,648 men) would assault southern Kyushu's Ariake Bay, the Fifth Landing Force (V Amphibious Corps — 2nd, 3rd and 5th Marine Divisions, 98,814 men) the Kushikino beaches and the Seventh Landing Force (I Corps — 25th, 33rd and 41st Infantry Division, 93,266 men) the Miyazaki area. Three more infantry divisions, the 77th, 81st and 98th, and the 11th Airborne Division, totaling 93,796 men, would join the fighting later.

The major documents directing Operation Olympic, the Army's Field Order No. 74 and the Navy's Operation Plan A11-45, were hundreds of pages long. They were so minutely detailed that even the souvenirs to be permitted the troops were specified. By the end of July, plans for executing the directives had been completed and ships, men and materiel were converging on the great U.S. bases in the central and western Pacific to join the vast forces already assembled there.

Secondly the Japanese.

The U.S. Sixth Army would be opposed by the 16th Area Army of Lieutenant General Isamu Yokoyama. Part of Field Marshal Shunroku Hata's Second General Army (headquartered in an old cavalry barracks at Hiroshima), it comprised the 40th, 56th and 57th Armies. By the time of the decisive battle a general southward flow of strength was expected to increase the number of Kyushu's defenders to 990,000 men, not including Navy personnel and "volunteer" combatants.

There would be even more of these volunteer combatants than soldiers. The entire population between 15 and 60 for men and 17 and 40 for women. They were to be part of the Kokumin Giyu Sento-Tai, the National Volunteer Combat Force. They were expected to oppose the invaders with pitchforks, bamboo spears, hand-carried explosives and their bare hands. They were to receive rudimentary close combat training in their villages. Some would learn guerrilla tactics from students from the Army Intelligence School in Tokyo, the Nakano Gakko. And they had an illustrated self-help manual, The People's Handbook of Resistance Combat, distributed in the hundreds of thousands:

"Close Combat, hand to hand fight (Hakuheisen): 1. With sword or spear. Neither swing vertically nor horizontally but always thrust tall Yankees on their belly."

Thousands of volunteers, along with more thousands of soldiers, were to be trained and equipped to serve as human land mines against the Sixth Army's tanks to compensate for the Imperial Army's lack of anti-tank guns.

Of the Japanese Navy's once-powerful fleet there remained only 19 destroyers and 38 submarines deemed employable because of fuel, arms and personnel shortages. Lacking battleships and carriers, the Navy intended opposing the invasion with 3,300 kamikaze craft, some 2,400 of which were small crash boats and the balance midget submarines and manned torpedoes.

In the air, the Japanese anticipated numerical equality with the Allies but had no illusions about the comparable quality. Japan expected to have more than 10,000 planes to use against the invaders. Equally divided between kamikaze and conventional aircraft, they were largely obsolete types. A considerable number were trainers sketchily modified for suicide attack. The pilots in the main were no more battleworthy than the planes they would fly. Most of Japan's experienced pilots had already perished and the shortage of aviation fuel limited the training of the new ones to the barest essentials of suicide attack.

Despite the appalling lack of conventional weaponry, Japan's military leaders expected to inflict grievous losses on the enemy. And hopeful that those losses would be stunning enough to force the enemy to accept their minimum surrender terms:

The Emperor's status to be inviolate.

The Japanese would disarm their own troops.

The Japanese would try their own war criminals.

Japan would not be occupied.

 

Page Two, The Bomb — Demon or Angel?>>


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