Oshima’s telegrams show blind faith in Germany
Concerning the Tripartite Pact, Konoe wrote some years later that Germany’s decision to go to war against the Soviet Union, thereby disregarding Japan’s advice, constituted Berlin’s second betrayal of Japanese interests, with the conclusion of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact in 1939 being the first betrayal. Japan was led by the Hiranuma Cabinet when the pact was signed.
On July 14, 1940, eight days before the inauguration of the second Konoe Cabinet, Vice Army Chief of Staff Shigeru Sawada reported on the prospects of war in Europe to the Emperor: “Germany’s attack against Britain will probably start in late July or early August, that is to say, within one or 2 months. This will have a profound effect on Britain’s place in the world.” Bewildered by the German blitzkrieg, or “lightening war,” he was convinced that Britain would lose the war. It was a fatal misjudgment.
On July 2, Hitler issued a directive ordering the German Air Force to destroy British air power and to launch an amphibious invasion of Britain. But faced with stubborn resistance from British air forces, the amphibious assault was repeatedly postponed. The invasion was postponed indefinitely just 10 days before the conclusion of the Tripartite Pact. In fact, Hitler gave up his obsession of invading Britain in late July, thinking instead of starting a war with the Soviet Union.
According to an expert on the diplomatic history of Nazi Germany, Hitler guessed that Britain would not surrender to Germany, probably because London was waiting for the Soviet betrayal of Germany despite Hitler’s nonaggression treaty with Moscow. If so, it was the Soviet Union that Germany needed to beat first. Yet Japan was slow to sense this.
Japanese Army Germanophile Hiroshi Oshima was a key figure in Berlin where he gathered information on European countries. Oshima, a gifted student educated in the German language from childhood, was assigned to work in Berlin as a military attach in 1934. With the support of War Minister Seishiro Itagaki, Oshima was promoted to Ambassador to Germany in 1938 and, disregarding instructions from the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, promoted negotiations for concluding the Tripartite Pact. Although he left the Ambassador’s job following the conclusion of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, Oshima resumed his post as Ambassador to Germany when Matsuoka assumed the post of Foreign Minister. According to Eizo Hori, a staff officer at the Army General Staff’s Intelligence Bureau, “When a wire came from Ambassador Oshima saying ‘[German Foreign Minister] Joachim von Ribbentrop explained this or that,’ the message was regarded as having unquestionably high value.”
Nonetheless within the Army, there were some who still managed to view the international situation more level-headedly. In mid-September, Major General Eiichi Tatsumi and Lieutenant Colonel Yoshio Nakano sent a wire from London, saying: “We would not say the invasion and occupation of Britain by German forces is impossible, but nonetheless it is deemed quite difficult.” Yet in a reply wire addressed to Tatsumi, the Intelligence Bureau wrote “Don’t send telegrams which are too weak-minded.”
When Germany launched its war against the Soviet Union, Oshima, in his telegram to Tokyo, wrote that “This campaign will probably end in four weeks. This should not be reckoned as a war but rather as police action. On November 11, 1941, Oshima wired: “We should say that the fate of Moscow has now been determined. Thus Germany will deal a devastating blow to the Soviet forces, as planned, before the onset of icy cold winter, putting the Soviet Union in an irretrievable situation...” Yet the day when Moscow would fall under the control of Germany never came. Japan’s military and diplomatic strategy had often been based on these telegrams sent by Oshima. According to Ichiji Sugita, a staff member of the European and American Affairs Section of the Army General Staff, “Foreign Minister Matsuoka and other pro-German elements in the Army, Navy and the Foreign Ministry blindly believed in German victory, leaving the fate of Japan in the hands of Hitler.”