IRVING* reveals  that the Allies were aware
of Japanese attempts to surrender before Hiroshima. The
Japanese were not the first to find that it is easier to
get into a war than to get out.
FORMERLY SECRET FILES in London and
Washington now reveal that Japan was trying to surrender,
and had put out the most serious peace messages, three
weeks before the atomic bombs were dropped; and that
Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and the other Allied
leaders were aware of this.
In December 1946 a Liberal Member of Parliament
challenged the British government to admit it. Internal
documents of the Foreign Office show that they deduced
that the M.P. knew the truth, but although the F.O. felt
it was time to come clean ("it would be unwise to
continue unofficially to conceal the fact") prime
minister Clement Attlee fobbed off the M.P. with
evasive answers, out of deference to the feelings of U.S.
President Harry S Truman.
I was drawn into investigating this Hiroshima mystery by
two seemingly routine radio messages that I found twenty
years ago among low-level In and Out files kept by
Truman's staff, now archived in a neat building at
first, dated July 12, 1945, over three weeks before
Hiroshima, merely referred to an Ultra-secret message
identified as OUT-105.
OUT-105 itself was missing, and that intrigued me.
The second was IN-178, dated nineteen days later. It
was a bland two-line reply sent by Truman, then returning
to Washington from the Big Three summit conference at
Potsdam, Germany, to Henry L Stimson, his elderly
Republican Secretary of War (right).
"Suggestions approved," it said. "Release when ready
but not sooner than 2 August."
Release whom or what? A public declaration? An officer
from service? There was no clue, and the rest of the file
was pretty routine stuff.
JAPAN'S military position was already hopeless. Her oil
stocks were running low, and American air raids and naval
bombardments were wrecking her war economy. A fire raid
in March 1945 had already killed over 100,000 civilians
in Tokyo. During May and June the bombing had reached a
crescendo with individual raids by B-29 Superfortresses
cascading seven thousand tons of bombs into Japanese
For Tokyo the writing was on the wall. On June 18,
Truman's chief of staff Admiral William D Leahy
voiced the opinion that a surrender could be arranged
"with terms that can be accepted by Japan."
By that time Japan had begun running discreet
surrender flags up the flagmasts of several of her
diplomatic missions around the world, particularly in
messages radioed to ambassadors in Moscow and Stockholm.
They were using, intriguingly, a code --
PURPLE -- which they knew both the
Americans and British were capable of reading.
It was a neat way of doing things. They could inform
London and Washington indirectly yet swiftly of their
earnest desire to throw in the towel, while still saving
face. By mid-July the emphasis of these messages was on
obtaining Moscow's assistance in negotiating peace.
There were however snags. The Japanese ambassador in
Moscow was an indolent, opinionated diplomat who felt it
useless even to put such proposals to the Russians. The
Soviet Union was not at war with Japan; Stalin had no
interest whatever in promoting an early peace in the
Pacific, and was about to declare war on Japan
Washington too decided to squelch every sign that
Japan was trying to quit. When the International News
Service wired on July 7, 1945 that three influential
newspaper publishers captured in Okinawa had confirmed
that Japan would surrender immediately provided that the
United States put in only a token occupation force, the
State Department forbade publication of the news.
On July 8, the Department learned that the Japanese
military attaché at Stockholm had told Count
Bernadotte over dinner that the Emperor
Hirohito would ask Sweden's King Gustav to
contact the Allies when the right time came, and that he
had stated only one Japanese condition of surrendering:
namely, that the Emperor himself remain in office. (This
term was subsequently adopted by the Allies).
So even on this date it was plain that all American
talk of a million soldiers losing their lives in an
invasion of Japan was at best ill-informed, and at worst
a deliberate deception of the British and American
publics. It was obvious that there was not going to be
any opposed invasion.
It was now that the Japanese diplomatic traffic being
routinely deciphered by the British and Americans began
to yield its extraordinary content: Tokyo's foreign
minister had begun booting his sluggish ambassador in
Moscow into action, demanding that he ask for an
interview with Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav
Molotov. Typical of Tokyo's new urgency was the tone
of these messages, for example that on July 9: "Your
opinions notwithstanding, please carry out my
Two more days of catastrophic American air raids
followed. On July 11 Tokyo revealed that Emperor Hirohito
himself was behind an Extremely Urgent and Strictly
Secret message, deciphered by the Americans and British
as MAGIC intercept No. H-1961505:
Since we are secretly
giving consideration to termination of
war . . . you are . . . to
sound out the extent to which it is possible to make
use of Russia with regard to ending the war as
After listing various concessions which Japan was
willing to make as a price to Russia for this service,
the telegram directed the ambassador to secure an
interview with Molotov at once, "since this is a matter
about which the Imperial court also is tremendously
The U.S. Navy codebreakers deciphered further
instructions on July 12 urging the ambassador to inform
Molotov immediately of "the Imperial will concerning the
end of the war," using these precise terms:
His Majesty the Emperor,
mindful of the fact that the present war daily brings
greater evil and sacrifice upon the peoples of all the
belligerent powers, desires from his heart that it may
be quickly terminated.
While the Anglo-American insistence upon Unconditional
Surrender left no alternative to the Japanese but to
fight on, the instructions however continued: "His
Majesty is deeply reluctant to have blood lost among the
peoples on both sides for this reason, and it is his
desire, for the welfare of humanity, to restore peace
with all possible speed."
Hirohito proposed therefore that Moscow immediately
accept Prince Fumimaro Konoye, a former Japanese
prime minister, as high-ranking special envoy.
By this time Truman had left with a large entourage
for Potsdam; the significance of this latest intercept
was not lost on the few Americans privileged to read it,
among them Navy secretary James V Forrestal. (The
pages of his diary relating to it were removed after his
death and classified top secret for the next thirty
THIS intercept, it now transpires, was OUT-105, the
signal missing from the file in the Truman archives.
It was rushed to Potsdam on July 13, 1945 in a locked
pouch. Over the high-speed teletype from Washington a
Major Putnam urged a Colonel Bowen of the advance staff
in Potsdam: "When party arrives be sure to see Map Room
Bowen telexed back from Potsdam, curious about the
contents of "105".
The White House replied,
"'105' is one of the
messages that we get by locked pouch and cannot be
transmitted from here."
In Moscow meanwhile the Soviet foreign minister
Molotov was cannily refusing to see the Japanese
ambassador. His deputy did so at five P.M. on July 13: he
listened to the Emperor's offer of a special envoy and
languidly -- and wholly untruthfully -- apologised that
his superiors were leaving for Potsdam that very night.
The Japanese ambassador, frantic to fulfil his mission,
suggested the Russians contact Potsdam by phone. (His
despatch on all this, radioed to Tokyo, was also
intercepted by the Allies.)
Tokyo's urgent telegrams, attempting to surrender,
continued for the next two weeks. The American government
many years ago released these intercepts, buried among
half a million others, to the National Archives in
Washington, DC. Although the British codebreakers
obtained the whole series, the British government has
only recently confessed to their existence and even then
-- in a fit of limited openness -- recently only two of
those telegrams revealing Japan's surrender attempts,
those dated July 24 and 25, 1945, to the Public Record
Office, where they can be found in Class HW.1. The fact
that Whitehall was aware of Japanese surrender attempts
ever since July 13 is still concealed from British
As though unaware of them, on July 26 the British and
Americans issued from Potsdam a proclamation calling on
Japan to surrender unconditionally. They threatened: "The
alternative for Japan is prompt and utter
Only two days later did Joseph Stalin pass on to his
Allies across the Potsdam conference table the Japanese
was the personal desire of the Emperor," Stalin
accurately quoted, "to avoid further bloodshed.
. . . Our answer of course will be
A deadpan Harry S Truman (left) -- to
whom all this was known from the codebreakers anyway --
said merely, "I appreciate very much what the Marshal has
SO why was the Bomb dropped?
In my view the billion-dollar "Manhattan Project" had
gathered a momentum of its own. It was unstoppable. Too
many people had an interest in seeing it used,
particularly the statesmen who had pushed it and the
technicians who had built it. The latter wanted it used
on an as yet undamaged target, to calibrate its infernal
power against real flesh and blood, against buildings and
The private diary of General "Hap" Arnold,
chief of the U.S. Army Air Forces, shows him on July 22,
23, and 24 in hour-long sessions with Secretary Stimson,
conferring about the Super Bomb -- about "where, why, and
what effects," as Arnold pencilled in his notes. Stimson
did not tell him of Japan's surrender attempts.
It was Stimson who formally suggested employing the
Bomb. The body-count would be Japanese, but it was the
effect on the Russians that counted on him and other
As early as May 14, 1945, after talking over this "hot
potato" with General George C Marshall, he had
dictated into his files an opinion that the way to deal
with Russia now was to "let our actions speak for
The Russians, he felt, would understand actions better
than anything else. "We (Americans) have got to regain
the lead and perhaps do it in a pretty rough and
This time, he had reminded Marshall, Washington held
all the cards -- "a royal straight flush," was how he put
"We mustn't fool about the way we play it," he had
said. "We have coming into action a weapon which will be
© David Irving, 1995
volume of David Irving's controversial biography
Churchill's War, entitled Triumph in
appears this autumn [1995: in fact 2000]. It
was his first volume which started the current debate
among British historians on Churchill's war aims. He
also published the first history of Nazi Germany's
atomic effort, The
(Simon & Schuster).
Irving's attempts to have this article published in
leading British newspapers on the fiftieth anniversary of
the Hiroshima bombing, were unsuccessful. On August 7,
1995, the day after the anniversary, he wrote to Max
Hastings, Editor-in-Chief of The Daily
Telegraph: "I sent you in the mail to your office a
week or ten days ago an article offered for publication
on the Hiroshima bomb, and Tokyo's attempts to surrender.
I was mortified to receive neither an acknowledgement nor
a reply; did it reach you, or is your mail insecure? As
of yesterday, the article is of course obsolete." Again
Hastings, an old friend, did not reply.