Battle of Britain from a Japanese perspective.
These notes are derived from a chapter in the book the Burning Blue. The detail came from a member of the Japanese Embassy in the UK plus comments some discussion he had with the Japanese Embassy in Berlin.
I have split the posting into various stages and there is a bit more to go on but that will have to be done later. Please be patient and I hope you find it of interest.
In 1936 the Japanese signed up to the Anti-Comintern pact allying itself to Italy and Germany in a number of areas. The Ambassador in Britain Yoshida Shigeru argued that this could only lead to disaster.
His argument was that Japan had overestimated the military Power of Germany. That only 20 years after the end of WW1 in which Germany had been comprehensively beaten and economically weakened, no matter how great a nation Germany was, it could not be considered the equal of the UK or USA.
He appealed to his political masters that the Military leaders who said the pact was only to stop communism were not being completely honest about the detail of the pact.
Mr Shigeru urged that Japan should sign an alliance with the Anglo American alliance and show diplomatic flexibility re the issues of Indo-china. The political leaders were also reminded that the Military leaders had led to the conflict with Russia in Nomonhan and at a cost of 20,000 casualties could show no gains. It was also implied that if the Military leaders couldn’t gain over a small conflict against a ravaged, politically unstable, Russia, should their views be given such a hearing when talking about Britain and the USA.
In view of the above you will not be surprised to hear that he was removed from his office and sent back to Japan in disgrace. In the end he did have the last word as post war he became a very important Japanese Prime Minister who had much to do with the rise of Japan from the ashes of war.
Had he been listened to, its safe to say the war would have taken a very different path.
Watching the War
Japanese Imperial General Headquarters demanded analyses of the strategic situation from their attaches in Europe. After several months of war a summary or round up was requested. The Attaché in Britain Colonel Tatsumi Ei’ichi and Berlin, Okamoto Kiyotomi agreed to meet in Brussels in May 1940 and much to their surprise the British agreed to let Tatsumi make the trip. Thy met on 9th May had dinner and went back to the hotel. That night the Germans started their invasion and Okamoto was furious as the Germans had assured him that it was safe to travel. No doubt this was a co incidence but the Japanese took it badly, considering it a loss of face.
On May 17th despite his workload Churchill had lunch at the embassy and the Japanese were most impressed. His self evident authority, strong nerves, determination, humour and detailed knowledge greatly impressed the Japanese and was compared favourably by those who had met them, with the German leadership.
As you would expect, the British didn’t give the Japanese any assistance with understanding the military state of affairs, but the Japanese did what they could.
Most of their information came from observing things themselves and questioning civilians.
This was the only time the Japanese in Britain thought that the islands were open for invasion. They saw the troops arriving at the railway stations and considered them pitiful with torn uniforms and almost no weapons. The troops didn’t hide their happiness at being home.
What did impress them was the urgency and organisation with which the British were reorganising things. Camps were set up to retrain and reorganise the troops and in some cases help them recover to face the Army and civilians. This was unheard of in the Japanese forces.
Watching the Air Battle
The travel limitations put on the Japanese made this more difficult than you might imagine.
They were aware of the battles of course and soon felt that the British were able to defeat the more numeric German forces.
An urgent report was prepared for transmission home which identified three key areas for this confidence.
1) The Spitfire
As an interceptor they considered it to have no equal. Its Speed, Climb, Manoeuvrability and firepower were ideal characteristics, they were very impressed.
2) Co-Ordinated Attacks
It was clear to the Japanese that the British had a defensive information system capable of tracking incoming raids enabling them to take advantage of any weakness.
3) Aircraft production
The rapid increase in aircraft production was a major surprise in particular of the Spitfire with its complex construction.
The Japanese embassy was first hit on the 7th September by two incendiary bombs which did no damage and were easily put out.
On the 16th October it was hit again by a 500KG bomb that didn’t explode. The building was evacuated in case of a delayed fuse and a bomb disposal team arrived to deal with the bomb. His words are interesting:-
They first removed the fuse and then dug out the bomb itself. They were quite splendid, calm and brave. When they removed bombs one by one they would put up a rope to keep the civilians away but they wanted to see these scary things, so they crowded around. These units were in good humour and would respond with banter to the civilians around. I was impressed by how humorous they were.
In late autumn the Military Attaché sent an analysis of the situation to the Japanese General Staff. Its main summary was: -
The Luftwaffe had failed to establish any preconditions for an invasion. Daytime facility bombing of the British Airforce ended in failure due to the hard struggle of the British fighter command units and Germany was unable to achieve control of the air.
It was noted that the victory in the air battles had improved the fighting spirit of the British people and despite hardships they, were demonstrating their will to fight on. We estimate that an invasion of the British Homeland by Germany whilst not absolutely impossible will be extremely difficult.
As you would expect, this negative report shortly after Japan signed a military alliance with Germany didn’t go down well.
Okamoto, who had in the meantime been promoted from Berlin Attaché to Head of the Second Department of the General Staff, even questioned the resolve of the British Attaché, almost accusing him of cowardice. Tatsumi the attaché in London was enraged but insisted that judgements made in London should be passed to the General Staff even if it risked his career.
Indeed, his view was that if the Japanese were to find itself at war with Britain it was even more important that Japan should be aware of why the Blitz had failed. Quoting If Japan was going to fight, we had to determine what were the conditions for victory. When war should be begun, or be avoided, we had to clarify this situation. Located at the very site of the battle between Britain and Germany and being attacked by Germany in the Capital of Britain, we were naturally sending information that had a different perspective from the information available from the Germans who were attacking.
What the book doesn't say is if this honest review was passed to the High Command.