Coalition unites against Tojo
In September 1943, Italy surrendered to the Allied Powers. On the Pacific front, Japan’s defeat by U.S. forces in several key battles in the Solomon Islands made Japan’s defeat in the Pacific War a distinctly possible outcome.
Around that time, former Prime Ministers Keisuke Okada, Fumimaro Konoe and Kiichiro Hiranuma planned to meet with Tojo to charge him with failures of the war effort. After much stalling, Tojo eventually met with them the next year. Behind-the-scene maneuvering by the jushin in this period would give rise to an anti-Tojo campaign.
Okada was in a position to know exactly how the tide of war was flowing. His eldest son, Sadatomo, was a naval officer working at the Naval General Staff; Hisatsune Sakomizu, who married his daughter, worked for the Cabinet Planning Board; and Lieutenant Colonel Ryuzo Sejima, who belonged to the Army General Staff, often visited him. Sejima married a daughter of Denzo Matsuo, Okada’s brother-in-law who was killed in the February 26 Incident of 1936 by officers who mistakenly took him for Okada due to their remarkably similar appearances. Okada was convinced that bringing down the Tojo administration was the first step necessary for ending the Pacific War.
In August 1943, Okada used Sakomizu to urge Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal Koichi Kido to move Tojo from the post of Prime Minister to that of Chief of Army General Staff.
In November that year, he told Kido via Rear Admiral Sokichi Takagi to replace Chief of Army General Staff Hajime Sugiyama and Chief of Naval General Staff Osami Nagano. However, Kido, who recommended Tojo as Prime Minister, was reluctant to do so.
In February 1944, Tojo tightened his grip on power by taking on the additional post as Chief of Army General Staff. However, Kido was far from pleased with Tojo’s appointment and made his feelings known to the Prime Minister. “That is not some simple job that involves working as Chief of the Army General Staff for one hour in the morning and working as War Minister for the rest of the day,” Kido said.
On June 16, Okada, an admiral-turned politician, demanded that Navy Minister Shigetaro Shimada, who was a Tojo yes-man, resign. Shimada refused to step down; Tojo also was furious at the demand. Prince Fushimi also urged Shimada to resign, but Shimada instead compelled the prince to retire into Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture.
On July 7, 1944, Saipan fell to the Allied Powers. Members of the Twentieth Group in charge of war coordination in the Army Department of the Imperial Headquarters then decided “the Empire should plan to end the war quickly because it has no possibility of regaining an even footing with the enemy. Like Germany, our general situation will slide in a gradual decline.”
Many lawmakers of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association-related party sternly criticized Tojo at a July 6 meeting. However, Tojo was unbending. “The beauty of the Japanese people is that they are not afraid to die,” he said, as he became increasingly emphatic about his arguments for instilling a “suicide squad spirit.”
On July 13, Tojo visited Kido and said, “I request that you put aside the question of my responsibility for Saipan’s fall for now, I have decided to work toward a successful conclusion of the war at this juncture.”
However, Kido left no doubt of his position toward Tojo by making three demands: separation of War and Navy Ministers from General Staff Chiefs; replacement of Navy Minister Shimada; and bringing jushin and leaders of other sectors into his government.
With pressure mounting, Tojo hinted he might resign when he returned to the Prime Minister’s Official Residence. “The conditions would force me to resign,” he said. “The Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal has changed his attitude completely. His confidence in me has evaporated.”
Kenryo Sato, Military Affairs Bureau chief of the War Ministry, and others pushed Tojo to ask the Emperor about his true feelings on the war situation. Tojo had an audience with the Emperor, at which he reportedly advised Tojo to replace Shimada.
However, Tojo refused to buckle. He tried to reshuffle his Cabinet to meet Kido’s three conditions. His plan to force State Minister Nobusuke Kishi, in charge of military demand, to resign and bring former Prime Minister Mitsumasa Yonai into the Cabinet failed as they both refused.
Tojo was Chief of Staff of the Kwantung Army when Kishi was a top bureaucrat in charge of economic policy in Manchukuo. Since taking office, Tojo had appointed Kishi to important posts such as Commerce and Industry Minister and State Minister in charge of military demand.
However, Kishi delivered a fatal blow to the Tojo Cabinet.
Okada thought that Tojo would urge Kishi to resign to open up a vacancy in his Cabinet. He sent Hisatsune Sakomizu to Kishi in advance and lobbied him to refuse to step down, even if Tojo insisted.
As anti-Tojo forces started encircling the Prime Minister, clandestine plans to assassinate him also were brewing. One such plan was hatched by Rear Admiral Sokichi Takagi and others intent on toppling the Tojo government.
On June 22, 1944, Captain Shigenori Kami secretly met former Navy Sub-lieutenant Suguru Mikami, a mastermind of the May 15, 1932, Incident and discussed a plan to assassinate the Prime Minister.
Notes left by Takagi detailed the plan to be carried out by seven perpetrators. The assassination would be carried out on an intersection in front of the Navy Ministry. The assailants would wait in three cars parked within the ministry, alongside a moat of the Supreme Court and alongside the Home Affairs Ministry. When the signal was given after Tojo’s convertible came into view, the three cars were to simultaneously ram into his vehicle, trap it and then gun down Tojo.
After the killing, Takagi would remain at the scene to take responsibility while the six others would escape to Taiwan in a Navy airplane.
Another assassination plot was recorded in Morisada Hosokawa’s diary. The plan was made while Tojo had his hands full trying to satisfy Kido’s three conditions.
When Hosokawa visited the residence of Prince Takamatsu (Takamatsu-no-miya Nobuhito) on the morning of July 15, 1944, the younger brother of Emperor Showa said, “The Tojo Cabinet is a regime of terror that will stop at nothing...Under the current circumstances, there’s no option but to kill Tojo. Is there someone who can kill him?”
Hosokawa told the Prince, “You should never say such a thing.”
That night, Hosokawa talked with Kenji Tomita, Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Konoe Cabinet, and asked him for help. “To save the country, please sacrifice your life and lend us your support to punish Tojo,” Hosokawa pleaded.
A group led by Army Major Tomoshige Tsunoda who was strongly influenced by Kanji Ishihara, also planned to assassinate Tojo by throwing a grenade into his convertible on July 15.
However, all these plans came to nothing. The Tojo Cabinet resigned en masseon July 18, 1944.