Germany-Japan: Transportation

Transportation Problems

Just as Germany began to make sure of her sources of supply—with the aid of a better purchasing organization in Southeast Asia established after Wohlthat’s arrival in Tokyo in late April 1941—her road from the Far East was cut. As if to increase the irony, the supplies waiting for her at the end of the blocked road grew to enormous proportions after Pearl Harbor, when Japan put large quantities at Germany’s disposal out of the stocks and supplies she had conquered in the south. German raw-material stocks accumulated in Far Eastern ports and warehouses to the point where insurance and storage charges became a real burden. By December 1941 total German stockpiles in the Far East amounted to about 90,000 tons; a considerable portion of this amount probably consisted of soybeans and other oil-producing substances and oils stockpiled in Japan proper or in Manchuria. From 1942 on, extensive German stocks of some of the Southeast Asian raw materials accumulated in Japanese and Malayan warehouses. In July 1942 the German purchasing mission in Tokyo reported to Berlin that Japan had put a total of 60,000 tons of rubber from the 1942 harvest at Germany’s disposal. One thousand tons of tungsten had also been promised, though on the whole the procurement of tungsten still proved difficult even in Japanese-dominated Asia. In most other respects, German-Japanese competition for raw materials now gave way to an expansive generosity on the part of the Japanese, who had brought the produce of Malaya and the Dutch East Indies under their control and who, no doubt, also attempted to improve their own chances of obtaining German economic aid by making generous offers of raw materials.

With transportation a critical need by early 1942 and an overland route out of the question, Germany had to consider the possibilities of shipping by sea. French shipping had aided in the transport of Indo-Chinese raw materials to Axis Europe in 1940 and 1941 but seems to have played no role after Pearl Harbor. Japan had suspended shipping to Europe after August 1940 and was unable or unwilling to put vessels at Germany’s disposal for the purpose of blockade running. Germany therefore had to fall back on her own ships and a few that Italy made available. In addition, a number of German merchant ships had either been caught in Japan at the time the war broke out in Europe or had escaped to Japan from British and South American waters afterward. With that small fleet, the blockade was challenged.

German and Italian blockade-breakers operated during a total of four shipping seasons, one prior to the German-Russian war and the others in the three winter seasons that followed. For all practical purposes, blockade running was restricted to the period from October to March, when heavy fog and bad seas in the Atlantic, where interception was most effective, hindered the hunters more than the hunted.

Of the five ships that had started on their way to Europe before June 1941, three reached their destination.20 During the 1941-1942 season, eleven ships in all were sent from the Far East to Europe. All took the route through the South Pacific and around Cape Horn, with remarkable success. Nine ships reached Europe safely, one was intercepted by American forces in the Atlantic and detained, and only one was sunk—by a German submarine by mistake.

The departures from the Far East during the next shipping season were even more numerous, though the number remained behind earlier goals. Sixteen ships left the Far East, but only four reached Axis Europe. Among the other twelve, four returned to Japan or were recalled, two were sunk, and six scuttled themselves when they were intercepted by the Allied blockade. Most of these losses occurred in the North Atlantic or the Bay of Biscay when the ships had completed nine-tenths of their voyage. The route during the 1942-1943 shipping season was around the Cape of Good Hope, where Japanese control of the eastern Indian Ocean presumably gave the ships a certain measure of protection. The Allied occupation of North Africa after November 1942 and the consequent control of the sea approaches to southwestern Europe explained the drastic decline in successful blockade breaking from one year to the next. During the winter of 1943-1944, results were even more disastrous. Only five ships departed from the Far East, and only one of them reached Europe. Blockade breaking with surface vessels was therefore abandoned.

In spite of the tremendous losses sustained, especially after late 1942, the blockade-runners had contributed much to the German war economy. During the four shipping seasons from 1940-1941 to 1943-1944, more than 200,000 tons of cargo were sent to Germany from East and Southeast Asia and over half of it reached the Reich. Of that half, 44,000 tons were rubber, over 50,000 tons edible oils and fats, over 6000 tons metals and ores (an exact breakdown is not available), and the remainder minor quantities of mica, quinine, wood oil, tea, etc.

The heavy losses of the 1942-1943 season had already turned the German government’s attention to the possibility of blockade breaking by submarine. In January 1943, Hitler gave orders to build special cargo submarines with a loading capacity of 500 tons. Twenty boats were scheduled to be completed by mid-1944, after which, it was estimated, Germany might count on them to ship 20,000 tons from the Far East annually (20 boats times 2 annual trips times 500 tons). In the meantime, standard submarines with a very much smaller loading capacity (seldom much over 200 tons) had to be put in operation. The Italians, who had contributed four surface vessels to run the blockade, now made a number of submarines available. The Japanese, too, were prevailed upon during the latter part of 1943 to participate with two submarines in the blockade-running program.

Despite the apparent superiority of submarines on some counts—their ability to escape detection and sail year round—they fared badly. Allied radar had made such progress by the time the submarine program got under way in the second half of 1943 that the losses were almost as heavy as were those of the surface vessels. A large number of boats were lost on the way to the Far East. Many others could not make the return journey because of damages sustained en route or the need for extensive repairs. Of the twelve submarines that left Japan for Europe, only four reached their destination. Of the two Japanese submarines, only one reached Europe, and it was lost on the return voyage.

The results of the submarine transport program, if measured in bulk alone, can hardly have been large. The maximum cargo that could have reached Europe on the five boats which made the trip safely may have been around 1000 tons. To judge from the loading schedule of one of the boats, most of this tonnage must have consisted of rubber, with some tungsten and small amounts of quinine and opium.

Japan Formulates Her Demands

Germany’s aid to Japan differed only in kind, not in spirit, from Japan’s to Germany. While Japanese requests were presented in Berlin as urgently as were German demands in Tokyo—and frequently with as little appreciation of the ally’s own needs—Japanese demands were not primarily for raw materials, but for manufactured products, including capital goods, and for German production techniques, blueprints, designs, and samples. Little is known about Japanese imports from Germany through regular commercial channels during the first year of the war. Though there was some curtailment of deliveries, it is by no means impossible that some heavy German equipment reached Japan or Manchuria. Most of it would have come on orders placed before the war by private Japanese companies; the Japanese or Manchurian governments probably played only a small role, if any, in securing or contracting for any of these imports.

A Japanese government program for German aid to the Japanese economy was formulated only in the summer and fall of 1940 in the course of the negotiations and deliberations which preceded the Tripartite Pact. By this time it had proved impossible to negotiate a new economic treaty with the United States; furthermore, as America began to embargo a number of commodities which Japan needed for her war economy and which she had traditionally procured in the United States, the Japanese became increasingly dissatisfied with their economic dependence on that country. Closer ties with the one remaining industrial power which did not oppose her foreign policy became one of Japan’s chief objectives during the summer and autumn of 1940.

The Japanese thought of German economic and technological aid both in immediate and in long-range terms. Short-term aid, they expected, would be forthcoming in the shape of German machine tools, armaments, and a few critical raw materials. In the long run, they expected German technical know-how to benefit their own synthetic industries, thus lessening Japanese dependence on foreign supplies of strategic raw materials. German investment goods, particularly heavy equipment needed in such processes as the production of synthetic rubber and oil, and German aid in the development of the Japanese armaments and airplane industries, seem to have been under consideration in Tokyo in the fall of 1940.

Other Japanese officials thought that it was not too early to secure promises of future German investment in Greater East Asia so as to prevent German postwar capital exports from going to the Soviet Union alone.28 Some Japanese seem to have contemplated a fairly drastic reorientation of the Japanese industrial economy, so far largely patterned on and supplied by the American economy. As one foreign ministry official explained, in the jargon of another era which pitted the “have-not” against the “have” nations:

America’s heavy industry is rich in materials. In other words, it is a heavy industry of the rich—and Germany’s is that of the poor. As for Japan, it is necessary for her to learn Germany’s poor man’s heavy industry.

In pursuit of these goals, the Japanese secured a general German promise of technical assistance in the first secret annex to the Tripartite Pact. Simultaneously, the Japanese cabinet formally decided on September 27, 1940, to seek technological aid from the new ally; shortly, the Japanese began to survey specific needs and to formulate a program to be submitted to Berlin. To collect further information and present Japanese demands, the Japanese army and navy each dispatched a mission to Berlin in December 1940. The missions were headed by General Tomoyuki Yamashita (later to be known as the “Tiger of Malaya”), who stayed in Berlin from January to June 1941, and Admiral Naokuni Nomura, who stayed on there until 1943 and became the Japanese member of the Tripartite military committee. Shortly after their arrival in Berlin, the Japanese missions in early February 1941 presented their demands to the German government. The itemized lists have not been found, but the demands seem to have been substantial in the fields of artillery, radar and optical equipment, submarine and airplane models and parts, precision instruments and machine tools. Among the German services, only the navy’s response to the Japanese requests is known. In view of the navy’s close interest in strategic cooperation with Japan at this time, its reservations about the Japanese aid program are particularly interesting. The navy recommended that only those requests be granted which would enable Japan to take effective military action against the Anglo-American powers in the near future. Deliveries which would only strengthen Japan’s war potential some years hence ought not to be made, and all Japanese attempts at industrial “espionage” should be forestalled.

Similarly, German business was reluctant to turn over to the Japanese secret manufacturing techniques which, it feared, Japan might divulge to the United States or exploit to Germany’s disadvantage in the postwar market. Luckily for the Japanese missions, the doubts of the navy and of business circles were not shared by OKW and Hitler. Whatever their concern about the economic consequences of armaments aid to Japan, Hitler and the OKW were convinced that the military advantages of such assistance were on Germany’s side. They were convinced that Japan stood ready to strike at Britain in the Far East, and that assurance of German technical aid would embolden the Japanese to open hostilities. Whether the Japanese had intentionally fostered this illusion in Berlin to obtain deliveries or whether they merely failed to correct Germany’s misconception is not clear.

The connection between arms aid and the German hope for military cooperation against Britain can be traced in a number of statements which link the visit of the Japanese missions with the Fëhrer directive of early March concerning military collaboration with Japan, Reporting on the requests of Admiral Nomura for arms and technical aid, General Jodl informed Hitler on January 29, 1941:

The proposals of Admiral Nomura have raised the question of the German attitude towards military cooperation with Japan. One could deduce from them that Japan desired the formulation of joint operational plans of the three powers and intended to approach Germany and Italy with demands for materiel.

Two weeks later, Hitler similarly linked the two issues when he gave directions for the drafting of the directive on cooperation with Japan:

It was Germany’s aim to cause Japan to act decisively in the Far East at the earliest opportunity. . . . Japan would have to capture Singapore…. In return, Germany should allow the Japanese a generous look at German war and combat experiences, and should give her permission to copy modern weapons and implements. That the present Japanese government would change its course seemed unlikely to him.

The Führer directive on cooperation with Japan, issued on March 5, 1941, ordered the services to fulfill Japan’s demands generously and comprehensively and not to insist on reciprocal benefits. But despite the order from Hitler, the Japanese made little progress with their negotiations in Berlin. A host of German ministries and agencies managed to delay the Japanese program for reasons which had little military relevance.

German Hesitations

The foreign ministry insisted that negotiations with the Japanese be conducted through it. The ministry was just then dispatching the Wohlthat mission to Tokyo and was determined to use Japanese requests for technical aid as a bargaining point in the negotiations for the general economic treaties which Wohlthat was instructed to discuss in Japan. To be in a position where it could bargain most advantageously, the foreign ministry insisted that all Japanese demands for technical and armaments aid be consolidated in one list (the so-called Wunschliste) and that no orders be placed with individual German firms until the list had been approved by the German government. The Japanese services complied with the ministry’s instructions; yet negotiations still made little progress.

The delay had several causes. For one thing, the foreign ministry had to obtain the views and coordinate the decisions of a large number of agencies, both military and civilian, which claimed the right to be heard in the matter of deliveries to Japan. If Japanese specifications on the consolidated list were insufficient, time-consuming queries for clarification had to be dispatched to Tokyo. Whether the political estrangement of Germany and Japan in the spring of 1941—particularly the beginning of the Japanese-American negotiations in April 1941—had any influence on the treatment of Japanese demands is not known.

The original Japanese list had not been acted upon when the outbreak of the Russo-German war and the closing of the Siberian route changed some of the basic assumptions underlying the Japanese program. Certain items in the Japanese list would have to be dropped; for example, a large airplane factory which was to have been built in Manchukuo with heavy German equipment that could only be brought over the land route. Under the changed circumstances, the Japanese reapplied for single samples, designs, and manufacturing licenses for a large number of the items they had previously expected to import in quantity, planning to construct in Japan what they could no longer obtain from the Reich. At the same time, Foreign Minister Ribbentrop instructed the economic division of the foreign ministry to scale down the Japanese Wunschliste so that it might be fulfilled under existing limitations of transport, ability to pay, and German production capacity.

It took the German authorities from June to September 1941 to agree on a scaled-down Japanese list. The reasons for the delay were explained in a memorandum, submitted along with the revised list, by the director of the economic division of the foreign ministry to Ribbentrop. The memorandum also assessed the potential political-military returns for technical aid more realistically than the OKW had in the preceding spring:

The purpose of compiling [the reduced list] was to keep the Japanese on our side [bei der Stange halten] and to destroy any doubts they may have had concerning our readiness to support them, as far as possible, in the build-up of their armament and armaments industry.

My efforts in compiling this reduced list have met considerable resistance among the [German] internal agencies; the military authorities plead reasons of military secrecy of weapons and procedures; the Economics Ministry and the Four-Year-Plan object to the transfer of valuable German intellectual property to a competitor on credit and without sufficient quid pro quo; all agencies finally object on the grounds that German industrial capacity is fully employed for our own production and leaves no room for deliveries to Japan.

Though they realized that Germany’s raw-material imports and possibly Japan’s political friendship were at stake, the Germans continued to move slowly. The revised list was not even submitted to Japan before Pearl Harbor. Once Japan had come into the war, the Germans dropped some of their reservations about disclosing to her the latest German weapons developments. Yet the two countries remained far apart. A scaled-down German list (of 62 items) was finally presented to Japan in February 1942, only to be followed by a Japanese counterdemand for 216 items in early July 1942. When the Germans countered with still another offer in August, its size was shaped by German foreign exchange needs as much as by the military needs of Japan.

The Japanese would probably have been happy to purchase a sample or two of each of the items on the latest German list. With the help of such samples, they would start production in Japan. German industry and OKW, however, were reluctant to turn over samples of the most modern German equipment, unless Japan also purchased the expensive manufacturing licenses and technical data that went with each product. The Japanese, confident that they could start production without the German data, and reluctant to pay the high costs of the licenses, appealed the issue to Hitler. As usual, the Führer gave a more favorable decision than had lower German echelons. Japan was to be sold samples, even if she did not acquire the licenses. On the basis of Hitler’s decision, OKW now gave security clearance for the items on the German list and the Japanese began to work out conditions of payment and delivery with the individual German manufacturers.

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