Privately-comissioned 3rd class Rising Sun order of Colonel Onodera Makoto (2024)

Krämer’s telegram confirmed the report he had sent on 8 February about the change of the Soviet Union’s Japan policy. However, there is a crucial difference compared to his previous report. He could now present a trustworthy evaluation of what had taken place at the conference. Source 10, representing official Swedish views, supported by sub-sources 11–14, reports from the Swedish legations in Madrid, Moscow, Paris and London, was of the view that the Japan policy of the Soviet Union had fundamentally changed. This conclusion was based on the Swedish view that such a change was a fundamental prerequisite for resuming the Lend-Lease deliveries to the Soviet Union as had been decided at the conference. Following the information he received from Swedish sources, Krämer discarded the claim by the White House that the war against Japan had not been discussed at the conference. He also reported that President Franklin D. Roosevelt was said to have made far-reaching concessions in Europe to the Soviet Union to bring it into the war against Japan. Krämer added that according to the German embassy in Tokyo, the Japanese foreign ministry did not believe that there would be a renewal of the non-aggression treaty.

Krämer’s report presents a reliable analysis concluding that a change of Soviet policy towards Japan had taken place. Exactly what it meant in practice was, however, uncertain. It was not known, in particular, whether the change meant that the Soviet-Japanese non-aggression treaty would not be renewed or that the Soviets had promised to join the war against Japan militarily.

On 23 February, two days after Swedish police officers observed Krämer carrying a large envelope from Onodera’s office to the German legation, he filed no less than five reports to Berlin. The first two were based on information provided by Onodera, who was forwarding information supplied by Haifisch, the Army General Staff in Tokyo. The first report was about US forces in the Philippines.22 The second concerned Soviet-Japanese relations:

According to information from Haifisch, the report of the embassy in Moscow about the Crimea Conference [gives] no significantly different impression than messages from Berlin also given by us, information about the change of SU policy. The foreign ministry is also of the view that SU has in principle changed its policy towards Japan, as a result of which [it] is still open in which way SU will act.23

Thus, the Japanese foreign ministry was of the view that the Soviet Union had in principle changed its Japan policy. This was probably based on a report to the ministry by Japan’s ambassador to Berlin, Ōshima Hiroshi, on 15 February. At the conference, ‘Stalin agreed to change his policy towards Japan and in particular granted the use of air bases in the Far East.’24 However, Ōshima said nothing was said about a Soviet military attack against Japan. This telegram ended essentially Krämer’s reports about the Yalta Conference. Henceforth, the conference figures only occasionally as a peripheral matter in his telegrams to Berlin.

The Kotani-Yoshimi Findings

Yoshimi Masato discusses the ‘lost’ Yalta telegram in Shūsenshi [A history of the end of the war] (2012). His examination is based on the decrypts of Onodera’s telegrams traced in TNA by the intelligence researcher Kotani Ken. While Kotani was unable to locate the telegram, Yoshimi takes into account two other telegrams discovered by Kotani in TNA. Onodera sent the first to the Army General Staff in Tokyo on 19 February:

Please send me information on the following points:

1. Changes in the dispositions of Red Army (and Red Air Force) in Eastern (and Central) Europe.
2. Russian strategic reserves.
3. Intelligence material on the three power conversations.25

The second telegram is a response from the Army General Staff dated 21 February. The response to the third point raised by Onodera is:

With reference to the Three-Power Conference, there is little change to report apart from information which is available at your post, but we are carefully watching the frequent tendency of enemy comment to suggest that Russian policy towards Japan is taking a more positive line, and you are asked to report in particularly full detail in this connection.26

The key phrase in the Staff’s telegram is ‘there is little change to report apart from information which is available at your post’. This passage implies that the Staff’s knowledge was based on information ‘available at your [Onodera’s] post’, that is, the information provided by Onodera. This strongly suggests that he had submitted a previous report about the conference. His telegram of 19 February was thus a query on what others had reported.

Based on this exchange between Onodera and the Army General Staff, Yoshimi argues that Onodera must have sent the famous Yalta telegram that somehow got lost (Yoshimi 2012, 83). However, this conclusion is speculative and unsupported by available archival evidence. From 1983 onwards, Onodera claimed that the telegram he had sent shortly after the Yalta conference contained the very specific information that the Soviet Union had agreed to attack Japan three months after the German surrender. It would be strange indeed if such upsetting information would not have merited a specific comment from the Staff. Instead, they just responded that ‘we are carefully watching the frequent tendency of enemy comment to suggest that Russian policy towards Japan is taking a more positive line’. This statement is hard to reconcile with a message that Moscow had promised to join the war against Japan.

As Yoshimi points out, the telegram indicated that the Army General Staff was dissatisfied with the lack of detail in Onodera’s report and therefore asked him ‘to report in particularly full detail’. More importantly, the existence of this telegram refutes Onodera’s claim that he had not received any response from the Staff about the Yalta telegram (Yoshimi 2012, 83). That the reaction in Tokyo was one of dissatisfaction is easy to understand: the report was uncertain and therefore of limited value to the Staff. It is clear that Onodera had informed them of the change in the Soviet Union’s Japan policy without clarifying the nature or form of this change. The lack of precise information contradicts the contention that he had sent a message with information as unambiguous as ‘the Soviet Union is going to join the war against Japan three months after the German surrender’.

One passage of Krämer’s report sent to Berlin on 23 February resembles the telegram from the Army General Staff to Onodera on 21 February 1945. Compare ‘there is little change to report apart from information which is available at your post’ (Tokyo 21 February) and ‘the report of the embassy in Moscow about the Crimea Conference [gives] no significantly different impression than messages from Berlin also given by us, information about the change of SU policy’ (Krämer 23 February). This is a strong indication that Onodera had informed Krämer of the telegram from Tokyo when they met on 21 February. With the eight-hour time difference between Tokyo and Stockholm, Onodera would have had plenty of time to study the message before he met Krämer at 4 o’clock that day.

If Onodera learned in mid-February 1945 that the Soviet Union had committed itself to join the war against Japan three months after the German capitulation, it would have been strange if he had not informed his key collaborator Krämer for whom this information would have been vital. If he had received this information, he would have immediately reported it to Berlin. No such telegram is found among his telegrams in the MUST archive.

Contemporary Statements by Onodera Confirm the Analysis

After 1983, Onodera spoke repeatedly of the Yalta telegram. His claim that he had sent this telegram warning of a coming Soviet attack is contradicted by statements of his that are recorded in wartime documents. They show that he did not believe the Soviet Union would attack Japan—thus confirming the above analysis—except on one occasion when he had good reason to have a different view.

In August 1944, Onodera told the Hungarian assistant military attaché in Stockholm Lázló Vöczköndy with whom he collaborated closely that all of Europe would be exposed to the dangers of Bolshevism after the Allied victory. Having assessed Soviet needs for rehabilitating her industrial and agricultural systems, he was firmly convinced that the Soviet Union would not attack Japan.27 In February 1945, the Home Section received a report from one of its agents that a person in Onodera’s neighbourhood (the name is deleted in the declassified document) was of the same view.28 Onodera also expressed this sentiment on 30 March 1945 to the Finnish intelligence officer Otto Kumenius whom Onodera had recruited as an agent in October 1944. What Onodera did not know was that Kumenius the same month had been recruited as an agent for the Home Section and in early 1945 had also begun to work for the Americans. Kumenius reported to the Office for Strategic Services (OSS): ‘Subject [Onodera] maintained that Russia would never fight Japan but that [a] break between Russia and her Allies was imminent.’29 In mid-April 1945, an agent reported to the Home Section that ‘Onodera’s assistant’ Inoue Yōichi had said Japan was going to continue to fight for another two years despite its knowledge that the United States was eager to attain peace. Inoue was convinced that ‘the Russians will not start a war against Japan’.30 Three weeks later, the Home Section received another agent report that a well-informed source (the identity is masked in the declassified copy) claimed Japan was now concentrating its efforts on not having to capitulate: ‘As the Soviet Union has considerable problems behind its own front, he did not believe that the Soviet Union will enter the war against Japan.’31

The most detailed presentation of Onodera’s view of the Soviet threat is found in a report to the Home Section by an agent who had a meeting with Onodera on 30 May 1945. This agent was most probably Otto Kumenius. He reported that Onodera was dismissing Europe as completely ruined and facing its inevitable end which, in other words, meant that within two years at the latest Europe would be totally Bolshevized. He explained: England is war-weary and its war industry is unable to work any good; the German war industry is completely ruined and whatever the mighty US war industry manages to produce has to be shipped overseas, which is difficult. […] Russia is now very powerful, which has aroused tremendous nervousness mainly in England. […] France is completely Communist and did not enter the war against the Soviet Union. […] Added to this is the fact that the Soviet Union has the Red Armies from Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia as well as red Germany. […] Russia will probably not enter the war against Japan, nor has the Soviet Union any interest in running errands for the Allies. Everything the Soviet Union wants to have or achieve the Allies will concede to—His final remark was that the Soviet Union is now very powerful and dangerous. […] Tokio is wholly bombed out, and when I started to talk about it, he shifted to completely different subjects.32

As seen here, Onodera rejected the notion that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan in a statement that is strikingly similar to the view he had expressed at the end of March. Thus, Japan’s status as the sole remaining enemy of the Allied powers after Germany’s surrender had not influenced Onodera’s view of the likelihood of a Soviet attack. His general view of the situation was far from alarmist, although he predicted that all of Europe would be ‘totally Bolshevized’. This assertion resembles that which he made to Vöczköndy in August 1944. It also mirrors the message he sent in mid-July 1945 to Japan’s military attaché in Berne, Okamato Kiyotomi, who had asked for Onodera’s ‘views of recent Russian policy (especially vis-à-vis Japan)’. Onodera told Okamoto that the United States and the United Kingdom were in unfavourable positions because they were devoting their national strength to the war against Japan, while ‘Russia is going ahead whole-heartedly with the accomplishment of her plans for the domination of all Europe by means of a political offensive.’33 Nothing is said about a future Soviet attack on Japan. If such an attack was planned, it should be a vital part of the Soviet Union’s Japan policy.34

Another document throws light on how Onodera viewed the Soviet attack on Japan immediately after it had been launched. It came in the form of an interview that the UP news agency had with him. This interview was published in The New York Times on 12 August 1945 and in the Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter the following day. According to Onodera, peace negotiations sped up because of the dropping of the atom bomb, not because the Soviet Union had entered the war. Thus, in the moment of defeat, he did not place much weight on the Soviet Union’s entrance into the war.

Only on one occasion did Onodera argue differently. Since autumn 1944 two of Onodera’s acquaintances, the Swedish businessman Eric Erickson and Prince Carl Junior, a nephew of the Swedish king, and the two Japanese legation employees Homma Jirō and Satō Kichinosuke had been discussing peace options for Japan. Onodera had flatly rejected joining them. On 7 May 1945, he expressed a change of mind regarding the state of Soviet-Japan relations and his previous refusal to participate in a peace effort that the four had been discussing for months. According to Erickson, the Japanese believed ‘Russia would soon declare war’.35

There were two weighty reasons for Onodera’s shift away from what he is reported to have consistently said before and after 7 May, and they all pertain to this particular day being one of considerable disquiet for him. Firstly, Japan’s ally Nazi Germany capitulated on that day after a long-drawn-out journey towards an apocalyptic end. Secondly, he had just experienced his most devastating personal setback while in Stockholm. In the final moments of the Nazi German regime, Onodera spotted an opening for taking over the German espionage organization in all of Europe and submitted a plan for such an action to the Army General Staff in Tokyo on 1 May 1945. In its response two days later, the Staff disavowed his bold plan (Edström 2021, 205–209). In light of these circ*mstances, it is not surprising that Onodera should reassess some of his most dearly held convictions. This shift was only momentary, however. He had returned to his previous outlook by the end of the month when the Swedish agent visited him only to find him stating once more that a Soviet attack on Japan was unlikely.

There are no indications in wartime documents that Onodera had informed Tokyo in mid-February 1945 of the Soviet Union’s intention to join the war against Japan three months after the German capitulation. In several cases, he shared information about the Yalta Conference with Krämer, who forwarded it to Berlin, but none of his many telegrams to Berlin brings up anything even remotely similar to what Onodera claimed he had telegraphed to Tokyo. Instead, except for 7 May, Onodera maintained repeatedly during the final year of the war that the Soviet Union was unlikely to join the war against Japan.

Had Onodera perhaps misremembered when this information had reached him? His interrogators at Sugamo were given an account of what happened in the aftermath of Germany’s capitulation. He had received occasional personal letters from Michał Rybikowski in London and two messages from Rybikowski’s superior, Colonel Stanisław Gano. One of Gano’s messages announced the impending Russian declaration of war against Japan.36 However, this information reached Onodera after the German surrender in May 1945— much later than mid-February 1945 when he claimed he had sent the now famous and enduringly elusive telegram.

Concluding Remark

In my search for wartime documents in Swedish and other archives about Onodera’s activities as the Japanese military attaché in Sweden, contemporary documents surfaced that make it possible to give the final word to Onodera himself about the possibility of a coming Soviet attack on Japan. In these documents, it is not the elderly former general pondering over his wartime deeds several decades after the events, but Japan’s eminent intelligence officer who comments on the prevailing situation in the still ongoing war. Onodera is quite outspoken about the low likelihood of a Soviet attack on Japan.

References

‘Agreement Regarding Japan’. 1945. In United States Congress, House Committee on Foreign Affairs. 1953. World War II International Agreements and Understandings Entered Into During Secret Conferences Concerning Other Peoples, 83rd Congress, 1st Session. Washington: Government Printing Office: 30–49.

Dagens Nyheter. 1945. ‘Golfpartier, inga krig, i framtiden’ [Golf parties, no wars, in the future]. 13 August.

Doerries, Reinhard R. 2009. Hitler’s Intelligence Chief Walter Schellenberg: The Man Who Kept Germany’s Secrets. New York: Enigma Books.

Edström, Bert. 2021. Master Spy on a Mission: The Untold Story of Onodera Makoto and Swedish Intelligence 1941–1945. London: Amazon.

Flyghed, Janne. 1992. Rättsstat i kris: Spioneri och sabotage i Sverige under andra världskriget [The crisis of the rule of law: Espionage and sabotage in Sweden during World War II]. Stockholm: Federativ.

Gueldry, Michael R. 2001. France and European Integration: Toward a Transnational Polity? Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.

Kotani Ken. 2012. ‘Interijensu-ofisā to sh*te no Onodera Makoto’ [Onodera Makoto as an intelligence officer]. Jōhōshi kenkyū 4 (May): 107–117.

Kotani Ken. 2020. ‘Japanese Military Attachés during the Second World War: Major General Makoto Onodera as a Spymaster’. In Defence Engagement Since 1900: Global Lessons in Soft Power, edited by Greg Kennedy, 142–157. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas.

Krebs, Gerhard. 1997. ‘Aussichtslose Sondierung: Japanische Friedensfühler und schwedische Vermittlungsversuche 1944/45’. Viertelsjahrhefte für Zeitgeschichte 45, no. 3 (July): 426–448.

McKay, C.G. 1989. ‘The Krämer Case: A Study in Three Dimensions’. Intelligence and National Security 4, no. 2 (April): 268–294.

McKay, C.G. 1993. From Information to Intrigue: Studies in Secret Service based on the Swedish Experience, 1939–1945. London: Frank Cass.

Okabe Noboru. 2012. Kieta Yaruta mitsuyaku kinkyūden: Jōhō shikan-Onodera Makoto no kodoku na tatakai [The lost emergency telegram about the secret Yalta agreement: The lonely fight of the intelligence officer Onodera Makoto]. Tokyo: Shinchōsha.

Plokhy, S.M. 2010. Yalta: The Price of Peace. New York: Viking.

Pryser, Tore. 2010. USAs hemmelige agenter: Den amerikanske ettertrettningstjenesten OSS i Norden under andre verdenskrig [German secret agents: The US intelligence service OSS in the Nordic countries during World War II]. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

The New York Times. 1945. ‘Japanese Leader sees Sport in War: Gen. Onodera says the Allies should shake Japan’s Hand as if after Tennis Match’. 12 August.

United States Department of State. 1955. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1945, Diplomatic Papers vol. 5: The Conferences at Malta and Yalta 1945. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Yoshimi Masato. 2012. Shūsenshi: Naze ketsudan dekinakatta no ka [A history of the end of the war: Why couldn’t a firm decision be taken]. Tokyo: NHK Shuppan.

Notes

1
‘Agreement Regarding Japan’. For details on the way in which the agreement concerning Japan in the Yalta Conference came into being, see Plokhy (2010, 222–228).

2
‘Agreement Regarding Japan’, 45.

3
Ibid. The agreement was released to the press by the Department of State on 8 March 1946. See United States Department of State (1955, 984).

4
Onodera makes this claim in the Sendai Cadet School Bulletin, Yama murasaki ni mizu kiyoki, 28 (May 1986), quoted in Okabe (2012, 19).

5
Some contributions to the discussion are Krebs (1997), Okabe (2012), Yoshimi (2012) and Kotani (2012, 2020).

6
‘German minister, Stockholm, reports impending Soviet rupture with Japan’, Auswärtiges Amt, Berlin, to All Stations, 14 February 1945, HW 12/309, TNA. British decoders sometimes failed to completely decode a telegram and then added their guesses of the non-decoded parts within square brackets. These guesses by decoders have been kept in the quotations.

7
Otto Danielsson, ‘Krämer-affären’. Promemoria angående förhör med tyske medborgaren Karl Heinz Krämer den 25 mars 1946’, Memo, 3 April 1946, Karl Heinz Krämer, P4478, The archive of the Swedish Security Service (henceforth SÄPO), The Swedish National Archives (henceforth RA), 23.

8
Strategic Services Unit, War Department, ‘Japanese Wartime Intelligence Activities in Northern Europe’, 30 September 1946, RG 228 Entry 212 Box 5–6, NARA, 28.

9
‘Uppgift från Utlänningskommissionen betr. Krämers resor’, Karl Heinz Krämer, P4478, SÄPO, RA.

10
‘Japanese M.A. Stockholm reports on the German Western offensive’, Japanese Military Attaché, Stockholm, to (Summer) Tokyo, Serial No. 244, 21 December 1944, HW 35/75, TNA.

11
E. Sahlin, ‘Sammanställning av ärendet Hd. 3825/41’, 21 February 1946, Makoto Onodera, P4867, SÄPO, RA.

12
Note on an index card on Onodera declassified by the CIA, Onodera, Makoto 201-0000047, vol. 1_0007.pdf, CIA, 5; available online at the CIA’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Electronic Reading Room (henceforth CIA), accessed 10 June 2020.

13
‘Löp nr 1, sid 1-100’, and ‘Löp nr 2, sid 101-’, Karl Heinz Krämer, P4478, SÄPO, RA, 53, 97, 114.

14
‘Three power conference: Japanese minister, Stockholm, forwards agent’s report on the agenda’, Japanese minister, Stockholm, to Foreign Minister, Tokyo, 13 January 1945, HW 12/309, TNA.

15
‘Betrifft: Dreier Konferenz’, 15 January 1945, Underrättelsetjänst och sabotage. Telegram och meddelanden, FVIIIe, vol. 58, The archive of the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST) (henceforth vol. 58), 169.

16
‘Betrifft: Pol. Einstellung der Bevölkerung in USA Kriege’, 17 January 1945, vol. 58, 179–180.

17
‘Betrifft: 18te USA – AF’, 2 February 1945, vol. 58, 238.

18
‘Betrifft: Sowjetpolitik gegen Japan’ (8 February 1945), vol. 58, 423. The same telegram in Enskilda personer: Krämer, FXf, vol. 86, MUST, 505 lacks the source and the wording and title differ slightly.

19
‘Betrifft: Drei-Mächtekonferens’, 12 February 1945 vol. 58, 63. The same message, worded slightly differently, is found in Underrättelsetjänst och sabotage. Telegram och meddelanden, FVIIIe, vol. 57, MUST (henceforth vol. 57), 196.

20
‘Betrifft: Anglo-Amerikanische Luftzusammanarbeit mit Sowjet’ (undated, but sent between 16 and 18 February 1945), vol. 58, 58. This telegram is found also in Karl Heinz Kraemer, KV 2/157:3, TNA, 9. The telegrams before and after are dated 16 February 1945 and 18 February 1945, respectively.

21
‘Betrifft: Russlands Japan Politik’, 21 February 1945, Memo, vol. 57, 78–79.

22
‘Betrifft: Dislozierung USA-Truppen auf Fillippinen’, 23 February 1945, vol. 58, 311.

23
‘Betrifft: Russland–Japan’, 23 February 1945, vol. 58, 312.

24
‘Japanese Ambassador, Berlin, reports (1) Interview with Steengracht, (2) Crimea Conference’, Japanese Ambassador, Berlin, to Foreign Minister, Tokyo, Telegram, 15 January 1945, HW 12/309, TNA.

25
‘Japanese M.A. Stockholm asks for information about Russia’, Japanese Military Attaché, Stockholm to Summer Tokyo, Serial No. 351, 19 February 1945, HW 35/83, TNA.

26
‘Tokyo replies to questions about Russian strength in the Far East’, Tokyo (NERNS) to Japanese Military Attaché, Stockholm, Serial No. 947, 21 February 1945, HW 35/84, TNA.

27
Paul Kubala, ‘Brig Gen Makato Onodera, Imperial Japanese Military Attaché, Stockholm’. Seventh Army Interrogation Center, US Army APO 758, 28 May 1945, Ref No SAIC/29, Cornell University Law Library, Donovan Nuremberg Trials Collection, vol. 099, 4. Available online, accessed 18 December 2014.

28
Agent report, 22 February 1945, Uppgifter om flertal länder, FVIIIe, vol. 53, MUST (henceforth vol. 53), 258. Although the date is not found on the declassified copy, it has been specified by an archive official.

29
Navy Department Intelligence Report, Serial 12-S-45, Stockh., 7 April 1945, Index Guide, No.101-700, note on an index card on Onodera declassified by the CIA, Onodera, Makoto 201-0000047, vol. 1_0007.pdf, CIA, 8.

30
Agent report, 17 April 1945, vol. 53, 266. The agent gives only the family name of the assistant, Inoue. He must be the legation official Inoue Yōichi, as he was the only Inoue working at the Japanese legation, see ‘Japanese Intelligence Activities in Scandinavia’, 30 January 1945, RG 263 Entry A1-87 Box 4, NARA, 20. Moreover, no other Inoue left Sweden in January 1946 when the Japanese living in Europe were repatriated, see ‘Passeport Collectif, Collective Passport for a group of Japanese citizens, travelling from Sweden directly to Naples, Italy’, Utlandsrelationer, legationer, personal, JWK 180:0004, Japan, SÄPO, vol. 1994, RA.

31
Agent report, 10 May 1945, vol. 53, 270. Although the date of the report is not found on the declassified copy, it has been specified by an archive official.

32
Agent report, 31 May 1945, vol. 53, 277f. It is noted on the document that it deals with ‘General Onodera’. An archive official has confirmed that the speaker is Onodera.

33
‘Views of Japanese M.A. Stockholm on Russian foreign policy’, Japanese Military Attaché, Berne to Japanese Military Attaché Stockholm, Serial No. 102, 14 July 1945; and Japanese Military Attaché Stockholm to Japanese Military Attaché, Berne, Serial No. 958, 18 July 1945, HW 35/99, TNA.

34
In his analysis of this telegram, Yoshimi reaches a similar conclusion (Yoshimi 2012, 91f).

35
Eric Erickson, ‘Memorandum–dictated at the American Legation on may 7th 1945’, as reproduced in Eric S. Erickson, ‘Work with OSS Washington 1939–1945’, [n.d., n.p.], Eric S Ericksons arkiv, vol. 4, RA.

36
‘Interrogation report of General Makoto Onodera (Chapter 6, Polish I.S.; 20 July 1946)’, 10 September 1946, Onodera, Makoto 201-0000047, vol. 2_0016.pdf, CIA, 14.​

Privately-comissioned 3rd class Rising Sun order of Colonel Onodera Makoto (2024)

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