Aboard the U.S. Carrier Shangri-La July 14, 1945

On this date and the next in 1945, less than four months after the start of the joint U.S. air and naval effort to strangle Japa­nese mari­time traf­fic by the aerial mining of Japan’s har­bors and straits, aptly named Opera­tion Star­va­tion, Navy air groups destroyed over half the train ferries between the north­ern Japa­nese island of Hok­kaido and the main island of Honshū. The largest, most populated of the Home Islands, Honshū was the center of Japan’s indus­try and the site of most of the coun­try’s rail lines. Almost over­night the amount of Hok­kaido coal delivered to Honshū fac­tories dropped more than 80 percent, seriously crippling Japanese industry.

Literally between a rock and a hard place, Japan saw its imports of selected com­modi­ties, in­cluding coal and food­stuffs, which totaled over 20 mil­lion tons in 1941, cut in half in 1944 and plum­met to 2.7 mil­lion tons in June 1945. Japa­nese censors blocked deli­very of letters to service mem­bers over­seas on account of civilians com­plaining bitterly about the lack of food, water, petro­leum pro­ducts, and just about every­thing else back home. Vice Admiral Paul Wen­neker, German naval attaché in Tokyo (1940–1945), believed it was sub­marine war­fare that brought island inhab­i­tants to their knees. Wen­neker had per­sonal know­ledge of the U.S. sub­marine block­ade of Japan, for he was in charge of the blockade-running naval opera­tion that brought German goods such as opti­cals, machine tool equip­ment, special service personnel, and plans for air­planes to Japan in return for vital Asian mate­rials like qui­nine and tin. “But this was not so easy an arrange­ment because of the Amer­i­can sub­marines on the route between Japan and the south,” by which he meant Penang or Sin­ga­pore on the Malay Penin­sula. “It was ter­rible,” he told his Amer­i­can inter­ro­gator. “Some­times the entire convoy including all my mate­rial would be lost. It seemed that nothing could get through.”

Yes, the U.S. submarine blockade had been respon­sible for the drop in imports through the early part of 1945; how­ever, it was the B‑29 air-dropped mines of Opera­tion Star­va­tion, over­seen by Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay, that provided the tip­ping point. By August 1945, the month in which LeMay’s 509th Com­pos­ite Group, part of the U.S. Twen­tieth Air Force, vapor­ized Hiro­shima and Naga­saki, the coun­try had less than half the food and raw mate­rials needed to con­tinue the fight. Reports surfaced of hungry civil­ians reduced to eating saw­dust while Japan’s fleet of war­ships rusted at anchor due to lack of fuel, and while Tokyo’s mili­tary rulers dithered over accepting the Allies’ demand for unconditional surrender as expressed in the Potsdam Declaration of July 26, 1945.

After the bombing of Hiro­shima and Naga­saki Japan’s Emperor Hiro­hito (post­humously referred to as Emperor Shōwa) person­ally had no fight left, which made all the differ­ence. In a royal under­state­ment, Hiro­hito told his sub­jects in a radio broad­cast on August 15: “Despite the best that has been done by everyone . . . the war situ­a­tion has devel­oped not neces­sarily to Japan’s advan­tage.” To con­tinue the fight would “result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation.”

Grabbing Japan’s Attention: Operation Starvation

Operation Starvation: B-29 aerial mining of Japanese waters, 1945M26 sea mine used by Operation Starvation

Left: Beginning on March 27, 1945, four-engine B‑29 Super­for­tresses assigned to Opera­tion Sta­rva­tion dropped 1,000 para­chute-retarded influ­ence mines with mag­netic and acous­tic exploders. The initial sortie of heavy bombers was followed up by 1,528 more. Some models of mines had water-pres­sure-dis­place­ment exploders. Aerial mining proved the most effi­cient means of destroying Japa­nese shipping during the war. In terms of damage per unit of cost, it sur­passed the stra­tegic bombing and the U.S. submarine campaigns.

Right: A 1,000 lb M26 sea mine being dropped by a B‑29, 1945. The Twen­tieth Air Force laid 12,135 mines in 26 fields on 46 sep­a­rate mis­sions. Even­tually most of the major ports and straits of Japan were repeatedly mined, severely dis­rupting Japa­nese logis­tics and troop move­ments for the remainder of the war. The mines sank or damaged 670 ships totaling more than 1,250,000 tons.

Hirohito’s surrender rescript, August 1945U.S. leaflet airdropped over Japan, August 1945

Left: Imperial rescript from Emperor Hirohito ordering Japan’s capitu­la­tion and the end to World War II. It was written by the Japa­nese govern­ment on August 14, 1945, in response to the Allies’ Pots­dam Declara­tion of July 26, 1945, sanc­tioned by the emperor, signed by the cabinet, and recorded by Hiro­hito on a phono­graph record. Then at noon on August 15 the rescript was broadcast to the nation. In his Gyo­kuon-hōsō (lit. “Jewel Voice Broad­cast”), Hiro­hito admonished his sub­jects to “endure the unen­dur­able and bear the unbearable.” Click the audio bar to hear Hirohito read the Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War. 

Right: A leaflet dropped from a B-29 on Japan after the bombing of Hiro­shima. Trans­la­tion: Notice to the Japa­nese People! Evacu­ate the city immedi­ately. What this leaf­let con­tains is extremely impor­tant, so please read care­fully. The Japa­nese peo­ple are facing an extremely import­ant autumn. Your mili­tary leaders were pre­sented with thir­teen articles for sur­render by our three-coun­try alli­ance to put an end to this unprof­it­able war. [The refer­ence here was to the Pots­dam Declara­tion issued by the U.S., Great Britain, and Nation­alist China on July 26, 1945.] This pro­posal was ignored by your army leaders. Because of this the Soviet Republic inter­vened. In addi­tion, the United States has devel­oped an atom bomb, which had not been done by any nation before. It has been deter­mined to employ this fright­ening bomb. One atom bomb has the destruc­tive power of 2000 B‑29s. This fright­ening fact should be under­stood by you by observing what kind of situ­a­tion was caused when only one was dropped on Hiroshima.

1945 U.S. Army Air Forces Strategic Bombing of Japan

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