GENERAL ARTICLES

The Battle We Didn’t Have To Fight

5,000 square miles of Jap mountains were jammed with ammunition dumps, factories, offices—even a spare palace. Here’s the fantastic story of a last stand that didn’t come off

WILLIAM D. BAYLES June 1 1946
GENERAL ARTICLES

The Battle We Didn’t Have To Fight

5,000 square miles of Jap mountains were jammed with ammunition dumps, factories, offices—even a spare palace. Here’s the fantastic story of a last stand that didn’t come off

WILLIAM D. BAYLES June 1 1946

The Battle We Didn’t Have To Fight

GENERAL ARTICLES

WILLIAM D. BAYLES

TOKYO—We were on the track of a rumor. The war had been over for months, but we were just beginning to hear whispers of gigantic Japanese preparations for a mountain last stand. And before us, in this press conference, was a Japanese lieutenantgeneral we thought could tell us. But he didn't respond to our questions until a correspondent asked, with something like a sneer: "Did you copy your plan for the mountain redoubt from the Germans?" General Wakamatsu didn't like the inference. "We copied nothing," he hissed, "nothing!" And once started off, he added an idea of his own: The Germans may even have copied from the Japs! Though we didn't think so at the time, perhaps he was right. I was in Germany about the time of the surrender, and I never saw anything there to come even close to the 5,000 square miles of ammunition dumps, government offices, factories-even a spare Imperial palace-I found within the next few weeks in Japan. My tips all came from this little general we were prodding now. He still wouldn't respond to direct questioning, even after his first outbreak, but when we scoffed that the plan would have been hopeles.s he reached for a map and stabbed his gold toothpick at mountain ranges, passes, valleys and villages, arguing we were wrong. Here was the plan, he said: The American invasion of Jap4n's home islands was expected to strike at either Honshu or Kyushu. Japan's Air Force had volunteered to make suicidal attacks on troop transports and landing craft. The Navy was to ram and shoot until it was sunk. And this, according to Jap plans, would repel the first wave of invaders. Then, while part of the Army, plus civilians armed with swords and bamboo pikes, threw themselves on the second Allied wave, selected troops and a few airmen would be withdrawn to the mountains. Here, the general said, they would fight for perhaps a year, costing the invaders so many lives, such oceans of blood, that they would abandon the attack and negotiate for peace. And-the general had a curious idea here-if the Japanese made a good showing in the mountains, they might get support from the Russians and the anti government Chinese. I looked closely at the little marks left by his tooth pick on the map of Honshu. A few days later I left Tokyo, by jeep, with an interpreter, driver, and trailer loaded with camping equipment.

Searching for a Fortress MY FIRST stop was the small mountain village of Karuizawa, reached after travelling through about 125 miles of rice paddy land, then climbing 4,000 feet up a mountain road with turns so sharp that I could reach out and touch the trailer as the jeep edged around them. The first person I saw in Karuizawa was a fullbosomed young blonde in a Continued on page 32

5,000 square miles of Jap mountains were jammed with ammunition dumps, factories, offices—even a spare palace. Here’s the fantastic story of a last stand that didn’t come off

Continued from page 9

ski suit who turned out to be a German. This remote mountain village was the Japanese internment spot for the sizeable German colony in Japan: for the diplomats, an admiral, the Gestapo pressure lads, German businessmen and their families—and the Jewish refugees! There was also a Romanian general.

I decided to spend a night there, and called on the German admiral. He turned out, to be Admiral Wennecker, commander of the pocket battleship, Deutschland, in the early part of the war and later commander-in-chief of the German submarines and surface raiders operating in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. He was pathetically glad to have someone from the outer world to talk to. The Germans, he said, were tolerated in Japan after the other western nationals had been imprisoned, but were kept under constant police surveillance. His first news of the German capitulation was brought by the Japanese police who came at 3 a.m. to arrest him. After being interned in various places, all were finally sent to lonely Karuizawa.

Later, in Tokyo, I learned that one phase of the Japanese last stand plan was the extermination of the Karuizawa internees. Had Japan won the war, no explanation would have been necessary or forthcoming. Had they lost—the military would have been blamed. But I’m sure the German colony in Karuizawa did not know that their lives were saved by the atomic bomb and invading Americans. In fact they knew nothing of the Japanese last stand preparations. They had been closely confined in the village for six months, and their chief worries were the uncertain food supply, the gloomy future, and the fearsome volcano— Asamayama—which towered over the village, rumbling constantly and often shaking the houses.

I left Karuizawa the next morning and headed into the mountains indicated by the general as the last stand terrain. A dirt road, less steep than the climb to the village, wound several miles between wild crags and slopes, then entered a picturesque ravine. There, on both sides of the ravine, was the first evidence of extensive excavations. Sandstone had been poured into the ravine in thousands of tons, and well-worn dirt trails threaded its sides.

I left the jeep and followed one of the trails up among the scrub pine trees and undergrowth. Soon I came to a cave with an opening perhaps 10 feet square. Inside was a large cavern extending about 200 feet into the solid rock. It was dry and neatly formed, the pick and drill marks on the walls and ceiling indicating that it had been dug by hand—probably by Chinese and Korean coolies brought into Japan as slaves. The cave was filled with neat rows of boxes containing, small-arms ammunition. I continued along the trail and came to another similar cave about 100 feet farther on. On the opposite side of the ravine I could see numerous other cave openings—scores of them as far up the ravine as I could see. This was undoubtedly a storage depot, one that even the atomic bomb could not have destroyed.

But this ravine had been discovered a few days before by an Army search unit. I learned this when I came upon a G. I. guard sitting in a cave entrance warming his hands over a fire he had built in the brass case of a 25 cm. shell. He was burning the stocks of Japanese rifles which he had broken off by smashing against a boulder. Behind him was a cave filled with rifles and 25 cm. shells.

1,500 Caves

Following his directions I drove about three miles up the ravine to a camp where I found a lieutenant. He had spent several days exploring the caves, and estimated that the entire valley contained about 1,500, each the size of the vaults I had visited. A partial inventory plus a few records found in the caves indicated that they contained, among other supplies, 18,000 tons of ammunition, about 10,000 barrels of gasoline and oil, bombs of all sizes up to 1,750 pounds, clothing, rifles and machine guns by the thousand, and general supplies.

A question that occurred to me was how the Japanese had transported heavy supplies such as 25 cm. shells and 1,750-pound bombs up to the caves. Some of these were 500 feet above the floor of the ravine, with no approach except steep footpaths that had to be climbed on all fours. The only method we could think of was inching each bomb, shell and heavy ammunition case up the steep side of the ravine with ropes and tackle. Another question, one I am still unable to answer, is why supplies were stored in such inaccessible places. But Continued on page 34

Continued from page 32 these were only the first of many unanswerable questions that confronted me during the following days.

Toward noon I left the ravine to look at some other storage depots the lieutenant indicated on a terrain map. One was a wooded plain dotted with large flat humps. These turned out to be trenches about 50 feet long, 10 feet deep and 10 feet wide covered with logs laid crosswise and piled with mounded earth. The trenches were filled with barrels of oil and gasoline and cases of canned goods. I counted 150 mounds, then stopped, but there were many more.

By late afternoon, having meanwhile ascended higher into what are called the “Japanese Alps,” and having seen many more caves and tunnels, I realized that the general had not exaggerated the extent of the mountain war preparations. The Japanese mountain redoubt certainly could not be classed with the puny Nazi preparations.— But I had not seen anything yet.

With the driver pushing the jeep so that it leaped and bounded over pathways strewn with boulders shaken down from the hillsides by the earth tremors that occur several times a day, we reached the small village of Matsushiro just as darkness was falling. The general had repeatedly jabbed his toothpick into this spot on the map, and the few American soldiers I met in the hills all said they had heard there was “something cooking” there.

Matsushiro turned out to be a dirty little mountain village strewn along a dirt road. I found a warehouse where we moved in, cooked our rations and slept.

Looking around next morning I realized that Matsushiro was an important spot. It. was the hub from which four deep valleys extended outward. Even an amateur strategist would have chosen this spot as the centre of a mountain defense system.

Employing a usually effective method of getting information, I called on the village chief of police, always the man in the know in any Japanese locality. He was a standard model Japanese police chief—a compact little terrorist in black-and-gold uniform, escorting a heavy sword that could be used either to slash or bash. He was surly and unresponsive, but spoke halting English, which was fortunate.

1 did not expect him to volunteer information, but had other plans. Showing him a map, and making some general guesses to indicate that I already knew the principal secrets of the area, I requested him to join me in the jeep for a tour of the valleys.

We drove through the village with the chief in the back seat. A cart hitched to a bull obstructed our way, but before my driver could sound his horn the chief let go with a shout that startled us and threw the dozing peasant into such a panic that he, the bull and the cart plunged into the ditch in a terrified huddle. By that the chief let us know that he was a real policeman—Nip style.

“Underground” Government

I told the driver to proceed up the most likely looking valley, not caring to ask the chief for directions but hoping he would volunteer some. He remained silent, but my choice was fortunate, because signs of excavation soon became apparent. The valley sides were dotted with cave openings as far as one could see.

Compared with the caves I had already explored, these were super jobs. Yet the entrances were ordinary, unadorned holes simply boarded up. With

jeep tools we pried a few boards loose and entered one. Fifty feet back the cave opened into an elaborate system of spacious chambers and connecting corridors. The floors w’ere of hardwood, the walls were panelled in red pine similar to American redwood, and the ceilings were covered with woodwork and plaster. There were miles of chambers, suites and connecting corridors, sufficient for housing the population of a small town.

We explored for two hours, passing through exquisitely finished rooms and hallways that were obviously not intended for storage but for human habitation. Except for tiers of bunks along some of the corridors, and lighting fixtures, the rooms were unfurnished.

“Is this the military headquarters?” I asked the chief as he trotted beside me, poking his head into rooms and occasionally expressing his feelings in odd sucks and clucks.

“No,” he replied. “This government headquarters. All ministries here.”

The place was indeed roomy enough for all the offices of a government, and could also provide living space for thousands of clerks. The entire maze covered not less than three square miles, with over a square mile of floor space!

“We see military headquarters next, also Imperial palace, yes?” the chief suddenly asked with a note of childish eagerness in his voice. I realized then that even he had probably not dared visit these fabulous places before, and saw my presence as an opportunity to inspect them.

We left the government caves, and the chief climbed back into the jeep, no longer a sullen Japanese official but a talkative little fellow eager to explore farther. He directed us up another ravine to another series of caves.

The others I had seen all began as simple tunnels dug into the bare rock. But these opened off a gallery cut into the base of a rock slope. The gallery was of heavy reinforced concrete with a roof three feet thick which extended out several feet from the face of the slope. Steps led from the valley floor up to the gallery level. There were heavy steel doors, but several were open and we entered a subterranean system even more elaborate and larger than the government quarters.

Underground De Luxe

Lofty conference rooms, suites of offices and living quarters were built on three levels, with connecting staircases. The living quarters ranged from apartments, with walls gaudily panelled in red cloth for generals, to endless tunnels filled with bunks in four tiers for low-ranking officers and clerical workers. The plumbing, ventilation and lighting were more modern than any I had seen above ground in Japan. Certainly there was ample space for little men to direct a big war. The rooms were unfurnished except for lighting fixtures and built-in cabinets.

The police chief was really having a fine time, and repeatedly called my attention to examples of craftsmanship represented in the attractive woodwork of some of the rooms. I asked what he supposed the rooms would now be used for, and suggested that the whole village of Matsushiro move in.

“No,” he answered with considerable firmness. “Army property. They may not approach.”

So perhaps the underground government and military headquarters will remain for possible use the next time the Japanese war lords feel up to conquest.

“Now weJl have a look at the Imperial palace, yes?” I suggested, and the chief nodded happily and went trotting off toward our “jeepu.” We drove a few hundred feet back into the valley, and he signalled the driver to stop in the middle of a little farming settlement of thatch - roofed houses, barns and shrines.

Pointing to a somewhat larger farmhouse built in the Japanese style—a series of connected one-story buildings around a central courtyard—the chief said, “Imperial palace.”

I was surprised, and asked /whether it was not disrespectful to expect the Son of Heaven to live in a peasant house.

“No disrespect,” the chief said. “It is made only of the finest wood.”

So we pried open the sliding panel of the front door—a nail driven into the groove held it — and entered Hirohito’s mountain hide-out.

The chief was right; the woodwork was exquisite, with beautifully harmonizing tones and occasionally a bright lacquered surface. We came first into an antechamber with a concrete floor and shelves for the Imperial shoes. A corridor led along the inside wall of the main building, with a series of rooms opening off it. Each room— about 20 feet square—was constructed Japanese style, with the floor elevated several inches and laid with the customary straw mats. The usual alcoves were provided for displaying Japanese “culture.” The partition walls were sliding panels, each beautifully painted or embroidered.

At one end of the corridor was the Imperial toilet, which, to my amazement, was built with simplicity. It consisted of an oblong hole in the polished hardwood floor of a small celllike room and a lacquered backboard attached to a base at one end of the hole.

One end of the quadrangle of buildings nestled against the side of the mountain, and here a tunnel connected the palace with military headquarters. The second long wing contained many small rooms, and a special “L” wing housed the kitchen and pantries. Aside from a series of sinks along one wall, with only cold water, the kitchen was as devoid of modern plumbing as the toilet. The stove was built of bricks and mortar, with two open, claylined fire pits in which charcoal or coal would be used. No oven, no grill, no broiler, not even a toaster. The smoke from the open fires apparently would find its way out of a window or stay in. A trap door in the centre of the floor opened to a coal and charcoal bin below. The wing which completed the quadrangle contained about a dozen small cell-like rooms which were evidently servant quarters.

Community Tub

The “palace” hud its own electric power plant for lighting and a water cistern. In the cellar one small dark room contained a tile-lined tub about four feet square and three feet deep, a small wooden bench and two small wooden pails. A system of heating pipes lined one side of the tub. The Son of Heaven would bathe Nip style—first sitting on the wooden bench and having his back scrubbed out of one of the small pails, then soaking in the near-scalding water in the tub until he felt “done.” As it was the only tub I found in the “palace,” I assumed that the fairly numerous family of the Son of Heaven would have to line up and take turns.

There was no heating system in the house and no fireplaces or stoves. The Emperor was apparently expected to warm his hands over a charcoal bra-

zier while he shivered and sniffled in common with all his uncomfortable countrymen.

Leaving the “palace” and inspecting the settlement more closely, I saw one of the neatest camouflage jobs this war has produced. Not only was the “palace” madeto resemble a farmhouse, but every other building in the settlement was also deceptive. Ramshackle barns with dilapidated thatch root's contained modern offices and guard quarters. Under the thatch of an apparently abandoned house was a neat officers’ canteen with clubrooms, a library and snack bar. The numerous little white shrines had walls about two feíit thick and openings for machine guns. The little police station was a pill box.

Above and around the settlement were numerous caves. Some were gun emplacements for light artillery pieces that could be withdrawn into the cave. Others were storage caves.

“Incompleted. Peace interfere,” the chief said repeatedly as we finished our inspection arid I took some final photos.

We drove back to the village, and I invited the chief to share C-rations and coffee w ith me. He and two associates accepted and contributed the inevitable green tea and some apples that taste like pears.

As I was preparing to leave he led me around a corner and into a yard flanked by two large storage sheds. There, gleaming with brass, was the equipment of the Imperial Household Cavalry—-saddles, beautifully monogrammed blankets and saddlebags, helmets, gaudy uniform parts, weapons, harness and neat rows of small articles. Even in his mountain snuggery the Son of Heaven would have lived amid pomp and ceremony. Only the horses and men were lacking.

From Matsushiro I went to Nagano, a larger town and headquarters of a U. S. artillery battalion. Comparing notes with the commanding officer, I was able to tell him ubout the Imperial hide-out, and he told me more about the scope of the last stand preparations.

Search groups from his battalion were finding more and more supplies. They had even found a cave filled with silver bullion, which, unfortunately, was cast in 60-pound ingots—too heavy to slip into an inside pocket.

Death Ray

When I arrived at Matsumoto, across a mountain range, the vicinity was already being “cased” by a U. S. Army search unit. Matsumoto had been chosen as the Fortress production centre. The new Mitsubishi jet plane, an excellent machine, was to he turned out in a huge underground plant about four miles from town. The “death ray” equipment and development laboratories had been installed nearby. Unusual quantities of chemicals used in the production of jet and rocket fuel were stored in numerous caves in the vicinity; a large rocket laboratory was housed in a sehoolhouse with adjoining underground chambers, and a large lens manufacturing plant was practically complete — to produce gun sights and optical goods for the myopic Japanese warriors.

I first visited the Mitsubishi factory, housed in dozens of huge caverns and camouflaged hangarlike buildings. Some of the caves were so large that double railway tracks had been laid into them. Very little equipment had been installed, though a nearby, above-ground Mitsubishi factory was turning out a night fighter that was to have been Japan’s answer to the B-29.

The Chinese and Korean slaves used to dig the tunnels were still there,

having taken over the military barracks. Unlike the Japanese, who in this area had seen so few American uniforms that they either scurried for cover or stared sullenly, the Chinese and Koreans created major problems by blocking the road with enthusiastic welcomes, wavingtheirhats and shouting “Good-by!” as we approached.

A Korean, born in Seattle, who spoke fair English, attached himself as guide, and my inspection tour of the Mitsubishi underground works was accompanied by about 2,000 noisy allies. After causing several serious traffic tangles, 1 learned not to reverse myself sharply on leaving a cave but to proceed with spacious turns so that my retinue could follow without becoming fouled. Three hours of this made me sympathize with Frank Sinatra, who must also think at times that too many admirers can he a nuisance.

The death ray equipment was impressive in the size of its transformers, tubes, and reflector, and I regretted exceedingly my ignorance of the workings of this unique lethal gadget. A Japanese scientist, who had been left in charge, insisted that it was only “a pleasant experiment” that killed rabbits and chickens when the rays were shooting and the victim was in position in front of the reflector.

“It still has many bugs,” he said, and smiled happily over his knowledge of colloquial American scientific slang.

The most interesting product of the rocket laboratory was a small rocket about an inch in diameter with a plasiic nose and vents in its tail bored at an angle to give it rotary motion in the air. Fragmentation was apparently not desired, nor was accuracy, because a Japanese military officer at the laboratory assured us that it deviated over six feet in 80 yards.

In addition to the usual hoards of foodstuffs, ammunition, small arms and military gear, one group of searchers found a cave filled with silk Japanese flags and small pinewood boxes— to enclose and wrap the ashes of anticipated casualties in the final operations. Another party found 200 heavy bronze temple bells from Chinese temples and several tons of copper coins. A series of barracklike buildings and connected caves contained a vitamin factory, its raw material stores including several tons of sugar, the only supply of this commodity 1 had seen in Japan.

One search group following a railway into the mountains came to a blocked tunnel, and on dynamiting the rocks away from the entrance they found the entire tunnel packed with ammunition and bombs. Working their way through this tunnel the searchers continued

along the tracks and soon opened up a second and third tunnel, each similarly stocked.

For three more days I continued to roam through the mountains, inspecting underground barracks, mountain observation posts, communication and command centres, fuel dumps and colossal quantities of expensive, dangerous equipment stored in caves, tunnels, school houses, trenches, public buildings and camouflaged farmhouses.

In addition to making discoveries myself I discussed their daily finds with the few officers and men who are searching the valleys and crags of this mountain fortress. They know that they have one of the most interesting assignments of any group in the Pacific, hut daily repetition even of exciting discovery makes it commonplace.

A captain remarked to me that when lie and his men first started to work in the mountains, every day was like a new Arabian Nights episode, with surprises in every valley. “Now,” he said, “we’re just bored. Why, if they found Hirohito up there in some cave and brought him in here, the sergeant there wouldn’t be interested enough to get up to look.”

“Naw,” the sergeant grunted from deep in his chair before a wood fire burning in a large bomb casing, “I’d jest tell ’em to dump him hack there with them old temple bells and them dirty old silver bricks.”

The last stand country in Honshu, which is the central and principal Japanese island, covers at least 5,000 square miles of high mountains and steep valleys. Months of searching will he required before the bulk of the hidden supplies are found. Much will still remain hidden when the last U. S. soldier has left Japan. In addition to finding it there is also the problem of getting it out of the hills or destroying it. To empty a single ravine would require, according to an estimate of the U. S. commanding officer at Nagano, 10 trains a day for 30 days. But the U. S. Army is not particularly worried about how to remove the hoarded war material. The Japs got it up there, and they’ll get it back down. The first signs of removal activity are already evident. Droves of Japanese workmen are carrying cases and rolling barrels out of caves and stacking them in long rows at the entrances.

On one thing every officer and G.I. in the Honshu mountains is in complete agreement; It is lucky that the war ended without our having had to fight the final battle with the Japanese last stand fanatics. It would have been costly.