EXHAUSTED from his climb up Mount Lasso, in the northern part of Tinian, Chief Warrant Officer Kizo Imai, Imperial Japanese Navy, lay flat on the moist jungle carpet of rotting leaves and fungi, face close to the earth, frayed cap pulled down over his forehead.
From this vantage point on the highest hill on the island, the thirty-three-year-old Imai could see many of the compounds where the Americans on Tinian were billeted. More important, he could watch where they dumped their garbage. They constantly changed the sites —to make it more difficult, Imai supposed, for him and the other Japanese troops in hiding on Tinian to scavenge for food. Starvation had made them desperate. Even when the garbage was dumped in the treacherous currents around the island, the Japanese plunged into the sea at night to grub for it.
Imai's home on Tinian was a cave, "a hole in hell," where bats and rats added to the misery of life. Unshaved, unwashed, he and others like him seldom dared light fires lest they give away their positions. In his cave Imai had left behind eighteen soldiers —all who survived of the forty-eight men he had led into hiding when the Americans overran the island eleven months before.
Imai had come to Tinian in March 1944 to help build airfields; three runways had been completed and a fourth was under construction when the Americans struck three months later.
Air attacks and naval bombardments had softened up the Marianas for six weeks. After Saipan was overrun, fighters swooped low over Tinian, dropping napalm bombs —the first time they were used in the Pacific. On the fortieth day of the siege, Imai had watched the U.S. battle fleet slowly circling the island, pumping thousands of shells on the ravaged landscape. Opposite the heavily fortified town, also called Tinian, on the southwest coast, the armada had halted and lowered its landing craft. The Japanese began firing their six-inch guns. The Americans quickly re-embarked, The Japanese were delighted. But the attack had been a ruse. The bulk of the American forces had landed on the rugged, rocky north side of the island, which the Japanese had thought unassailable. With a foothold established, the U.S. Marines had stormed inland and quickly captured the island. Four hundred Americans were killed; over eight thousand Japanese died.
Imai had fled to the jungle, along with some seven hundred other Japanese survivors. In the months since then, that number had been whittled away to less than five hundred hunted men.
Now, on Mount Lasso, waiting for the garbage trucks to appear, Imai faithfully noted down how the American forces were deployed, a task he performed in preparation for the invasion by Imperial forces that he expected would arrive "at any moment." When that day came, Imai hoped to lead his men in a banzai attack against the Americans.
Through his binoculars he could survey almost the whole island, from north to south about ten miles long, its width never more than five miles. Gently undulating, the island, a plateau, jutted up from the Pacific, most of its coastline consisting of sheer cliffs of rusty brown lava rising from the sea. Scanning the horizon to the north, Imai could see the coast of Saipan, less than four miles away. As usual, the intervening sea was busy with American ships. Some were making their way to the American navy anchorage at the town of Tinian, three miles southwest of where Imai lay.
Inland from the town, the Americans had completed the work the Japanese had begun: clearing away jungle to make runways. Paved roads led to bomb dumps, workshops, and warehouses. There was a growing number of hospitals. Imai concluded that the Americans must be expecting heavy casualties in some impending battle; his belief in the imminence of a Japanese assault on the Marianas grew. But, in fact, the hospitals were being readied to receive the casualties expected from the invasion of Kyushu.
Surveying the countryside, Imai saw, below him and to the northwest, gangs of soldiers completing the fencing in of a rectangular compound, a half-mile long by a quarter-mile wide, tucked away in a low-lying area near the coast. Behind the wire were Quonset huts, which, until this morning, had been occupied by army construction gangs working on the giant airfield. Now they were vacating these quarters.
In the center of the compound thick coils of barbed wire surrounded a group of windowless huts. Armed guards stood at the only gate to this area. There were also several guards at the main entrance to the compound.
Imai felt uneasy. The compound looked like a prison camp; the inner area could be a punishment block. Perhaps the Americans were planning a new drive to round up the remaining Japanese on the island.
Imai touched his long ceremonial sword and his pistol. He didn't know if the damp had made the bullets useless, but he was sure the sword blade, made by the same secret process that fashioned ancient samurai swords, was as sharp as the day he had received it. Peering down on the strange new compound, Imai was determined about one thing: he would die rather than surrender and end up imprisoned there.
He was fascinated by the continuous procession of trucks now driving up to the main entrance gates. Guards stopped and checked every vehicle. As one of the trucks pulled up, two men got out and removed a large board from the back. Imai focused his binoculars on the board. He could read and speak a little English and was able to distinguish:
509TH COMPOSITE GROUP
A feeling of relief filled Imai. It was not, after all, a prison camp. But the compound was clearly different from all the others; this one "must be very important."
So intent had Warrant Officer Imai been on watching the activity that he had neglected to note where the American garbage trucks had emptied their loads. He and the men waiting back in his cave would have to forage in the darkness among the trash cans—a risky business in view of the patrols that guarded each compound. Nevertheless, his time on Mount Lasso had been worthwhile. Careful not to leave any trail, Imai hurried back to the cave.
Inside, it was filthy, the ground littered with old food tins and other flotsam scavenged during night forays throughout the island. Stacked in a corner were rifles and a few cases of ammunition. Beside them was a radio receiver.
The last message it had received was on the night, a year ago, when Tinian fell and the commander in chief of the Japanese fleet had sent word that help would be coming. Imai wished they had a transmitter, so that he could send a message to headquarters in Tokyo about the strange new compound on the island.
COLONEL Tibbetts HAD flown in from Wendover to inspect the compound to ensure it would be a suitable final home for the 509th. Because Tinian was roughly the same shape as Manhattan, the principal roads had been named after New York City streets. Broadway was the longest thoroughfare, running from North Field past the foot of Mount Lasso toward the town—a splendid highway over six miles in length, lined with living and working quarters. Parallel to Broadway was Eighth Avenue, running from the beachhead the U.S. Marines had established when they invaded Tinian, down past the second-largest landing strip, West Field. Hugging the west coast was Riverside Drive. Forty-second Street was at a busy crossroads in the southern section of Tinian, close to Wall Street, Park Row, and Canal Street.
The 509th were presently in temporary quarters just east of Broadway, near Eighty-sixth Street. Tibbets wanted the 509th to have "the best going," and not even Groves's personal representative on the island, Colonel E. E. Kirkpatrick, who was accompanying him on the inspection, could hurry him.
Kirkpatrick thought Tibbets a "bit cocky"—a view he would express to Groves in a secret memo—"inclined to rub his special situation in a bit, but smart enough to know how far he can go. He plays his cards well."
On this second visit to the Marianas, Tibbets detected opposition—muted but discernible—behind the glad-handing. Some of it came from the Seabees, who were being moved from the most comfortable quarters on the island to make room for the 509th. Tibbets sympathized with them. They were all Pacific veterans, many of whom would be called upon to shed more sweat and blood in the invasion of Japan.
Tibbets knew that the invasion would be costly. The long and bitter campaign to secure Okinawa had just ended. It had taken over half a million troops three months to subdue the Japanese garrison of 110,000 who had fought fanatically and died almost to a man. If the American casualty figures for Okinawa were any guide—49,151 dead and wounded, 34 warships sunk and 368 badly damaged—the resistance to be expected on the main islands would be formidable.
Latest American intelligence reports indicated that some of the two million battle-hardened Japanese troops were being brought back from China to help defend the homeland. Already in Japan were another two million soldiers eager to fight. The vast mass of the imperial forces had not been beaten.
Tibbets had expressed to LeMay the hope that the atomic bomb would make them "see sense," and avert unnecessary bloodshed. LeMay concurred. The meeting between the two men at the general's Guam headquarters at the end of June had been cordial enough, and LeMay told Tibbets the 509th fliers should get some experience by dropping practice bombs on the nearby island of Rota, still in Japanese hands.
As their meeting ended, LeMay remarked, "Paul, I want you to understand one thing. No flying for you over the empire."
Tibbets was stunned.
Puffing on his ever present cigar, LeMay explained, "We don't want to risk losing you. You know more about this bomb than any flier in the air force. You'd better stay on the ground."
LeMay's order made sense; if Tibbets fell into Japanese hands, the entire project would be jeopardized. But Tibbets was determined to fly the first atomic strike, "come hell or high water."
Having completed his inspection of the new compound's living quarters, Tibbets examined the "inner sanctum," the Tech Area workshops where the bomb would be assembled. He wished he could remain on Tinian to see things through, but his presence was required as an observer during the critical test-firing of the plutonium bomb at Alamogordo.
His tour completed, Tibbets expressed himself satisfied and began the long plane journey back across the Pacific.
After two weeks of study, the army intelligence chief, Major General Arisue, had assessed Japan's internal politial situation: it was desperate.
The battles between the militarists and the moderates threatened to shake the Imperial throne. In his heart Arisue believed the diehards would even kill the emperor if he resisted their stated intention to lead Japan to victory or to fight until not a single person was left alive in the country.
Opposing these fanatics were the moderates, led by the Marquis Koichi Kido, lord keeper of the privy seal, the man the emperor trusted above all others. It was Marquis Kido who had kept peace when the two factions had confronted each other at a conference early in June. But he had been unable to keep the members from deciding to continue the war to the bitter end.
At a meeting of Japan's Inner Cabinet called by Prime Minister Suzuki, the war minister and representatives of the army and navy—three hard-liners—had agreed on one important concession. While they still opposed direct negotiation to end the war, they had no objection to talks starting after the army had dealt the enemy a crushing blow on the invasion beaches.
To Arisue the fact that the three had been moved this far from their previous position was a "major victory for reality."
On June 22 Emperor Hirohito requested the Inner Cabinet to initiate peace negotiations, using, if possible, the good offices of Russia. To this end, on June 24 a former prime minister, Koki Hirota, called upon the Soviet ambassador in Tokyo, Jacob Malik, who correctly saw the move as an attempt to keep the Russians out of the war. The effort came to nothing.
Arisue had increasing evidence that Russia was bent on war. A formidable Soviet force was being assembled near the Chinese border, probably preparing to attack Japanese troops facing them in Manchuria. Arisue believed that an attack would not be so much for the purpose of helping the Allies as for establishing Soviet influence in the Pacific. The thought of a Soviet-dominated Japan chilled him. The intelligence chief felt it was more urgent than ever to come to terms with the United States. The one pipeline he had was the Office of Strategic Services in Bern. Arisue again cabled his agent, Lieutenant General Okamoto, in the Swiss city, requesting he find out the minimum conditions that America would accept for a Japanese surrender.
NEVER HAD THE monitoring room of the communications bureau, he nerve center of Field Marshal Hata's headquarters at the foot of Mount Futaba, been so busy as in the past few weeks, following the transfer to Hata's staff of Lieutenant Colonel Kakuzo Oya General Arisue's specialist in American affairs.
Monitors there kept an around-the-clock watch on the airwaves of the Pacific and beyond. Special landlines linked the communications bureau to General Army Headquarters in Tokyo; other lines ran to military centers on Kyushu, to the bases at Kure and Ujina, and to Hiroshima Castle.
The monitoring room could provide the first indications that an actual landing on Kyushu was about to take place. Hata hoped to have sufficient warning for Kyushu's kamikaze planes and suicide motorboats to attack the invasion armada.
In eight-hour shifts operators—either too old or otherwise unfit or combat service, and with an excellent command of English—sat, writing pads at the ready, listening to an endless stream of words relayed from as far away as Washington, D.C.
The busiest time was from midday to midnight, with half the radio sets tuned to transmissions from Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and the. Marianas. Many were in code, but a sufficient number provided the monitors with information that could be acted upon speedily. These intercepts included brief radio tests made by B-29 radiomen just before takeoff.
There was an hour's time difference between Hiroshima and Tinian, and if the radio tests were made around 3:00 to 4:00 p.m., Hiroshima time, then the monitors knew that a raid could be expected that night. The number of tests picked up served as a rough aide to the number of aircraft to be expected. The monitors passed their notes to supervisors who, in turn, sent the information to the central communications room. From there the entire air-raid alert system of western Japan was informed. The whole operation took only minutes.
As the bombers entered Japanese airspace, the monitors again picked up snatches of conversations between aircrews, enabling supervisors to estimate which areas of Japan the planes meant to attack. The information, along with the intercepts of radio messages to and from ships at sea, helped Hata and Oya to gauge the enemy's strength and intentions with remarkable accuracy. Oya regularly visited the monitors, hoping his presence would inspire them—an indication of the importance he placed on their work.
But his real specialty was interrogation. It was Arisue's boast that if Oya couldn't make a man talk, then nobody could. Oya regretted having arrived in Hiroshima too late to be the first to interrogate the ten American fliers who had been shot down over Okinawa and brought to the city before the island fell. So far, they were the only American POWs in Hiroshima. They were kept at the headquarters of the Kempei Tai—the dreaded military police—on the grounds of Hiroshima Castle.
THE sun was still a glowing ball skimming the horizon on July 12 when Charles Perry, the mess officer, rose from his bunk and stepped gingerly onto the floor. The 509th had moved into their new quarters on Tinian four days before, and in spite of the rats which roamed the compound, the consensus was that this time "the Old Man has done us proud."
Perry hoped that when Tibbets returned from the States, he would bring a few "presents"—liquor and cigarettes. In Perry's deft hands these items were valuable commodities to barter. Because of his efforts, the 509th enjoyed a selection of dishes not available to the other Americans on Tinian. It was Perry's boast that "in the 509th a PFC eats better than a five-star general."
This morning, as usual, Perry was thrilled to watch other squadrons returning from fire-bombing raids on Japan. The more than two hundred B-29s were "like beads on a string. As soon as one landed, another made its approach. There was always the same number of planes in sight."
The last of the bombers landed. The weary crews had been almost thirteen hours in the air. As they went to bed, some of the 509th's crews were preparing for a practice bomb run. None of them had yet been allowed to fly over Japan.
Their B-29s were parked in segregated areas on North Field and guarded around the clock, a security measure that had already attracted the curiosity of other squadrons. But their questions remained unanswered. Now, as planes from the 509th took off for a sortie against a tame target—the Japanese on Rota—catcalls and jeers from a group of combat veterans drifted across North Field.
The muted resentment, which Tibbets had detected, was out in the open; the 509th had become an object of derision. The taunts were turned into verse, penned by a clerk in the island's base headquarters:
Into the air the secret rose,
Where they're going, nobody knows.
Tomorrow they'll return again,
But we'll never know where they've been.
Don't ask us about results or such,
Unless you want to get in Dutch.
But take it from one who is sure of the score,
The 509th is winning the war.
Six weeks had now passed since the ground echelon had arrived on Tinian. For them in particular, the weary waiting, the relentless, sniping questions—all had served to dent their pride. Some of the 509th even wondered if their compound, with its tough-talking guards, was fenced in not as a security precaution but because they needed "baby-sitting."
Unknown to them, security was becoming even more crucial. In the Tech Area workshops where the atomic bomb would be assembled, Second Lieutenant Morris Jeppson—a reserved young physicist who was a specialist on the proximity-fuze mechanism—and five other members of the 1st Ordnance Squadron were preparing for the arrival of the bomb's component parts.
ON JULY 15, over breakfast, Swedish banker Per Jacobsson explained to his old friend Allen Dulles that all the terms of surrender were negotiable—except the clause relating to the emperor.
Twelve days before, Lieutenant General Okamoto had received instructions from Arisue to determine the probable minimum surrender terms the Allies would accept from Japan. Okamoto had discussed the matter with the Japanese ambassador to Switzerland. They had called in two officials of the Bank for International Settlements, to which Jacobsson was financial adviser.
For several days this consortium debated what surrender terms they believed would be acceptable to Japan, having received no guidance or encouragement from Tokyo. The group had devised a ploy so daring that even the conservative Jacobsson thought it had a good chance of success. If the American government would accept the terms of surrender that the consortium had devised and believed the Japanese government would agree to, then the United States should publicly advance those terms as emanating from Washington. In this way, Japan would be offered a face-saving opportunity to surrender.
Jacobsson had brought the proposals to Dulles' current headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany. The suggested terms were: unconditional surrender, but modified to include a guarantee of the continuing sovereignty of the emperor; no changes in the Japanese constitution; internationalization of Manchuria; continuation of Japanese control over Formosa and Korea.
Roosevelt had given Dulles a free hand; Truman had shown himself unwilling to grant such latitude. Dulles was not authorized to speak for Truman or the U.S. government. Yet Jacobsson's view, that if the Japanese could keep their emperor they would probably surrender, interested Dulles. He would talk to Stimson.
The Russians were planning to attack Japan's northern flank in August—less than a month away. But Dulles believed Russia would not stop there. Once she was in the Far East, she would stay there—permeating the whole area with her influence.
Now Dulles suggested a counter-proposal to Jacobsson. It was carefully couched in lawyers' language, but what Dulles was saying was that there was a good chance America would let the emperor stay, provided Hirohito took a public stand now to help end the war.
Dulles' counter-proposal was at least something, and Jacobsson hurried back to Bern.
Dulles began to make plans to report to Stimson, who was due in Berlin shortly to take part in the upcoming Big Three Conference, between Truman, Churchill, and Stalin, at the nearby city of Potsdam.
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