Germany-Japan: The Dimensions of German Aid

To give a quantitative picture of German assistance to the Japanese is impossible. It is clear that German deliveries were drastically limited by the shipping problem, just as were shipments from the Far East to Europe. The chief means of transport, in the absence of Japanese vessels, were the German and Italian blockade-breakers which went to the Far East to pick up raw materials for Germany. There is evidence that some of these ships departed for the Far East without being fully loaded. Presumably, the delay in negotiating the Japanese requests in Berlin or in obtaining delivery from the German manufacturer explained this situation. Since the ships were German and Italian and not Japanese, it is understandable that they followed a shipping schedule determined by German rather than Japanese needs and departure times.

During the 1941-1942 shipping season, eight ships reached the Far East; they carried a total cargo of 32,500 tons. During the 1942-1943 season, another eight ships reached the Far East, with a total cargo of 24,447 tons. No tabulation of losses incurred en route to the Far East is available. Originally, seven ships were slated to leave for the Far East during the 1943-1944 season, but in view of the heavy losses of ships returning from Asia during the previous shipping season and the general hazards of blockade breaking at the time, it is unlikely that more than one or at most two ships left. Whether any arrived is not known.

After the second half of 1943, a total of twenty submarines reached the Far East in order to take cargo back to Europe. As some of the boats carried out assignments in the Indian Ocean before going to Japan, they could not have carried a full load of cargo. Nor did any of the Japanese submarines used in blockade breaking succeed in making the return trip to Japan. The total number of boats being limited, their capacity small, and the imports desired by the Japanese difficult to crate and pack on a submarine, Japan must have derived little benefit from this phase of blockade breaking.

The maximum freight that reached Japan by sea during the period 1941-1944 was therefore in the neighborhood of 60,000 tons, roughly two-thirds of the amount that reached Germany on the more numerous voyages from the Far East. How much Germany had sent to Japan over the Siberian route prior to its closing is not known, but the amount probably did not match what the Germans received, since the Japanese government’s program was only presented in early 1941 and not acted upon for another fifteen months.

Because of the kind of commodities acquired by the Japanese, a description in terms of amounts would be less informative than similar information about the German imports. A full description by type, though it would mean more, cannot be given, since the German and Japanese data are incomplete. It is possible, however, to indicate the general areas in which Japanese purchases were strongest, to list some of the more important German products disclosed and sold to the Japanese, and to indicate in very general terms the value which these purchases seem to have had for the Japanese war economy.

The Germans shared with Japan a number of manufacturing techniques useful to the Japanese war economy—such as a special Krupp process for making cartridge steel and methods for the construction of barrel linings and for electric welding in the construction of naval vessels. Among finished war implements, the Japanese requested and obtained several pieces of artillery—the 10.5-centimeter and the 12.8-centimeter antiaircraft guns, Germany’s famous 8.8-centimeter antiaircraft and antitank guns, and a 7.5-centimeter antitank piece. Some lighter artillery, including two types of machine guns, was also acquired by the Japanese. In view of Japan’s general inferiority to Germany in artillery, all these acquisitions had great potential value to Japan. The value of the 10.5-centimeter antiaircraft gun was enhanced when Germany made available to her ally the combination radar-optical range finder and director which went with this caliber and which the Japanese could not match in quality.

Though it is not known what use Japan made of them, articles from the German optical industry must have been of great value to her. The German records disclose that numerous Leica cameras were given to the Japanese for reconnaissance, especially air reconnaissance, though manufacturing licenses and blueprints seem not to have been divulged, at least not by Leitz. The Japanese acquired a bombsight (specifications unknown), which was probably better than their own, though not as good as American models. A German stereoscopic range finder was also of great potential value.

Germany shared with Japan some of her developments in the radar field and in anti-enemy radar devices. Copies of the Würzburg and Rotterdam sets were turned over to the Japanese as was a homing device (unidentified).

In 1944, a Tiger tank was sold to Japan. The ‘Japanese Tiger’ got as far as Bordeaux. Then it was given to sSS PzAbt. 101 in late 1943/early 1944 and was lost in the Normandy campaign. In view of Japan’s inferiority in armor, reproduction of the Tiger tank in Japan might have become significant in the event of an Allied landing and protracted fighting on the Japanese home islands.

Among items for the Japanese navy, the Germans turned over a gun stabilizer for surface ships. This should have been very beneficial to the Japanese, who, though generally competent in gun control, were outclassed in this respect by the Germans. For that reason, too, the Japanese may have benefited from a torpedo fire control unit for surface ships which should have enabled them to make better use of their already excellent torpedoes. Further, Germany made available a 750-ton submarine hull, which probably aided Japanese ship designers since the German model was more pressure-resistant than any Japanese design. Finally, the Japanese acquired the German navy’s automatic E-switch, a control device for computing and adjusting fire against enemy aircraft. Its use would have remedied a pronounced Japanese weakness.

Equipment for the Japanese air force would seem to have been of less value. Japan acquired specimens of the fighter planes Me-109 and FW 120, which probably were better than her own comparable types, although the United States had learned halfway through the war to cope with these planes on the European theater. A pursuit plane, the Me-163, and the jet Me-263 were also given to Japan. However, like Germany herself, Japan did not obtain and produce the jet early enough in the war to enable its superiority to offset the enemy’s greater numbers.

During the early war years, the Germans released to Japan only those items which had passed beyond the development stage. Japan was offered access to V-l and V-2 data but refused the latter. Whether she acquired data on the submarine Schnorchel is not known.

It is difficult to measure the benefit which Japan derived from the German samples she acquired and the occasional manufacturing data she procured. Reproduction of the German-made items in Japan seems to have presented greater difficulties than either Germany or Japan at first expected. Possibly this was because Japanese engineers were not skillful enough and German technicians were sent to Japan only in rare cases. Shortages in labor and raw materials may also account for Japan’s failure to make better use of the German samples and data.

Two examples illustrate this point. In 1943 Germany had presented Japan with two submarines. These were to be examined and copied to enable Japan to wage a more effective warfare against enemy merchant shipping, presumably mainly in the Indian Ocean. Of the two boats one was lost en route to the Far East, the other one was gratefully received, and even acknowledged in a personal telegram from Hirohito. Production of the boat, however, was never begun in Japan.

Another notable example of the failure of technological assistance is the case of the German jet plane Me-263, then the only military jet in the world. A specimen of the Me-263 was acquired by the Japanese in 1944. When the plane and the accompanying Messerschmitt technicians were lost en route from Singapore to Japan, the Japanese tried to construct the plane from the blueprints, which had been flown ahead. Numerous delays occurred and instead of having the plane in production by March 1945, as they expected, the Japanese only flight-tested the first craft in July. It crashed. The story is told best in the words of the director of Mitsubishi’s aircraft production division:

Investigation disclosed that the engine failure was due to fuel feed stoppage. This was explained as follows: Because of the need for hurrying the test, Yokosuka airfield was used. This was known to be too small for safety so a minimum of fuel was loaded. So small an amount was loaded that, with high acceleration and steep angle-of-climb soon after take-off, the fuel surface dropped below the outlet level and the flow of fuel failed. As a result of this finding the whole fuel system had to be redesigned. The drain part was relocated and enlarged and a jet pump was installed. Before the next prototype engine could be built, however, the Japanese surrender occurred.

Perhaps the Japanese were more successful in copying German products of less revolutionary design. Their representatives in Berlin certainly continued right up to early 1945 to send samples and blueprints to Japan—either by submarine or eventually by military courier via Turkey and the Soviet Union. Since the Japanese did not have to pay for manufacturing licenses and data after March 1944, however, it may well be that their sustained interest in German manufacturing methods reflected what the Germans chose to call “industrial espionage” rather than the expectation of concrete military benefits.

If German technical aid was of limited value to the Japanese services and Japan’s wartime industry, one explanation can certainly be found in the lateness of the aid. The attempt to make up for lost time played a fatal role in the crash of the test jet. Loss of time and delay of negotiations in Berlin also meant that the German designs reached Japan when she was no longer able to take full advantage of them. By 1944, when many of the most important German designs reached Japan, her industry was already too badly disrupted by her disastrous supply situation and the massive American air raids to permit her to put German-made items into serial production.

Private Benefits and Public Vices

The delays may reflect certain inadequacies in Japanese planning procedures, as the German authorities complained from time to time. More often, they resulted from the inability of the Nazi regime to subordinate private or militarily irrelevant interests to the major objective of winning the war. Even after Hitler had promised generous support of the Japanese aid program in the spring of 1941, subordinate German government agencies invoked nonmilitary considerations, including pleas from industry to protect future profits, to delay or subvert a program which ought to have been of vital interest to the Nazi regime. The interplay between private and public interests can be illustrated by certain aspects of the German-Japanese negotiations about manufacturing licenses (Nachbaurechte).

When the revised list of items was cleared by Hitler in August 1942, Japan was free to enter into direct negotiations with the German manufacturers about samples and manufacturing licenses, technical data (Erfahrungen) and know-how. Although Hitler had ruled that Japan need not purchase a license for every sample she acquired, the Japanese apparently found it in their interest to acquire numerous licenses. Presumably only the sale of a manufacturing license would Induce the German manufacturer to surrender the technical data and blueprints which would make production in Japan feasible at an early time.

As soon as the Japanese approached the German companies about the sale of manufacturing licenses, disagreements over prices arose. The Japanese complained that they were being overcharged and insisted that the German prices would soon exhaust the one billion yen (586 million Reichsmark) credit Japan had obtained in January 1943. The Japanese accusations seem to have been justified in a number of instances. In fact, there is evidence that the German government had instructed German patent-holders to increase their charges in order to compensate for the rubber prices in Asia which Germany thought had been artificially raised by the Japanese.

By February 1943 some German authorities suggested that the Japanese submit the matter to Hitler for reconsideration and determination of a fair price. The Japanese, however, raised a more radical demand. They insisted that the profit motive should not enter the relations between allies at all and that Germany should turn her manufacturing licenses and designs over without compensation. Among the German governmental agencies who dealt with the Japanese and among the interested German companies there was considerable opposition to this demand. The ministry of economics rejected the Japanese argument, and insisted on “sufficient export prices” (“auskömmliche Exportpreise”) . The military admitted that Japan was being charged many times what some of Germany’s present enemies had paid for identical licenses before the war. They recommended that a new and fair price be decided upon by OKW.

In May 1943 Hitler handed down the basic decision. As usual, it was more favorable to the Japanese point of view than had been the preliminary decisions of lower German echelons. Hitler decreed that wherever feasible Japan ought to be given manufacturing rights and relevant designs immediately. Terms of payment should be worked out as speedily as possible, but delivery should not be made dependent on a settlement of the financial question. Only “moderate export prices” were to be demanded, and in no case should disagreement over terms prevent the dispatch of the item in question by blockade-breaker.

In the interpretation of the order, subordinate agencies reserved sufficient flexibility to insure that German economic interests would not be damaged by Hitler’s generosity. OKW instructed the German firms that if time were needed to “complete the data” for delivery to the Japanese it might be exploited (ausnutzen is the term) to press German price demands on the Japanese. In addition, OKW insisted that the Führer’s terms should apply only to those German manufactures which were “war implements” under German terms of classification. Whenever the copying of a war implement involved disclosure of techniques and procedures which were of more than strictly military relevance, the manufacturing rights should be granted and the data made available only after Japan had made satisfactory arrangements about payment.

It is not surprising that the Japanese had further occasion to complain of overcharging and deliberate German delays. In June 1943 they renewed their request to obtain manufacturing licenses and data free of charge for the duration of the war. The German government took the matter under advisement. After much soul-searching by the lower echelons and several alternative proposals, Hitler decided in early 1944 to accede to the Japanese request. On March 2, an agreement was concluded between the two governments, under which both nations would put important war materials at each other’s disposal without payment. The financial settlement would be determined “after the final victory” and in the meantime the German government undertook to compensate the German patent-holders for any licenses and techniques that Japan was given.

It is instructive to compare the Axis settlement of this question with the solution of similar problems among their wartime opponents. The practice at which the Axis finally arrived in early 1944 seems to have been adopted between the United States and Britain as early as the fall of 1940. No royalties were charged to Packard by the British, who in the fall of 1940 permitted the American company to produce for the United States Air Corps the battle-proven Merlin engine, a product of Rolls Royce. Whether the British government undertook to reimburse Rolls Royce or whether the British company waived all royalty rights in the interest of the war effort (a practice later adopted by some American companies in the synthetics field) is not known. In either case, the Allies had proved capable of subordinating private gain to the common national purpose much earlier than their opponents, even while Axis propaganda concentrated on the enemy’s addiction to “plutocracy.”

Under the Lend-Lease Act, a slightly different arrangement was adopted. Governments receiving lend-lease shipments from the United States agreed to reimburse any American citizen whose patent rights had been adversely affected by the transfer of a defense article or information under the lend-lease agreement. Perhaps this comparison is not quite so apt, however, since lend-lease involved mainly the transfer of manufactured items or raw materials or services, rather than the disclosure of industrial processes and know-how.

In addition to the irritation and delay caused by haggling over prices, the German government bound procedures in red tape by requiring the Japanese to purchase all equipment through the old German trading companies in East Asia, the Ostasienhäuser. The Japanese, using an extensive staff in the attachés’ offices in Berlin, would have preferred to purchase directly from the German manufacturers, many of whom had not been in the Far Eastern business before. To protect those firms which had been in the Asian market and perhaps to compensate them for the losses suffered earlier from Japanese commercial practices in China and Manchuria, the German Ministry of Economics decreed that unless a company had had a branch office in the Far East before the war it could not sell to the Japanese directly but would have to transact its business through one of the established firms. Although the requirement would not slow down negotiations in the same way that the financial disagreements did, it could not but add to the cumbersome and time-consuming procedure which had already hamstrung Germany’s aid to Japan.

There was a third major difficulty in the transfer of manufacturing licenses, which even Hitler’s decision of early 1944 did not solve. It concerned the protection of German patent-holders against Japanese competitors, should the information given to Japanese companies for wartime purposes be used after the war to infringe on German markets. Whether paid by the Japanese or compensated by the German government, the German patent-holders were determined to deny Japan any such advantage. The German companies therefore drew up elaborate clauses for insertion in the licensing contract, by which Japan promised not to use the German techniques except for production on government orders and during the war. This led to considerable unpleasantness between the German patent-holders and the Japanese services, who were the formal recipients of the licenses. The clauses, which seemed to the Germans a protection of their intellectual property, appeared to the Japanese as an insult to their honor. The matter no doubt was complicated by the differences in German and Japanese patent law and the lack of a German-Japanese patent agreement.

Eventually the German government drafted at Japan’s request a model license contract which all German patent-holders might follow. There is evidence that the contracts concluded between the Japanese services and individual German companies followed this government draft almost verbatim. By the fall of 1943 the guarantee it contained had become a standard feature of all German-Japanese licensing contracts.

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