Exploitation of Captured Japanese Documents by the Far Eastern Section, Foreign Intelligence Branch, of the Office of Naval Intelligence (OP-16-FE), 1944-1946

Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

Most researchers dealing with the translation of captured and seized Japanese records are familiar with the primary organizations translating those records.  These would include the Pacific Military Intelligence Research Service (PACMIRS), the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS), the Joint Intelligence Center Pacific Ocean Area (JICPOA), and the Washington Document Center (WDC).  Few researchers are aware that the U.S. Navy’s relatively small intelligence unit,theFar Eastern Section, Foreign Intelligence Branch, of the Office of Naval Intelligence (OP-16-FE), located in Washington, D.C., also translated captured and seized Japanese records.

During the first six months of 1944, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) received approximately 130 large cases of Japanese records from JICPOA. In addition, ONI’s Far East Section received many documents for translation from the Hydrographic Office, the Naval Research Laboratory, the various Navy bureaus, and other offices.  The records included blueprints of Japanese equipment, charts, logs, war diaries, field manuals, and codebooks. The backlog of untranslated material accumulated rapidly.  The Navy responded in May 1944 by ordering approximately twenty recent graduates of the Navy School of Oriental Languages (at University of Colorado at Boulder) to report for temporary duty to work on translating the materials.  In September 1944, thirty more language officers, mostly WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), were assigned to permanent duty in the Translation Unit of Far East Section of ONI (OP-16-FE).  By February 1945, the unit consisted of ninety-five personnel.  Even with this large staff, it was insufficient to keep up with the task of processing, translating, evaluating, and disseminating the captured Japanese records.

The Far East Section (OP-16-FE) began publishing translations on June 10, 1944.  Twenty copies of these translations were distributed, with seven going to the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department, two to the Director of Naval Communications (OP-20), and one to ATIS.  The number of copies distributed would increase.  By the end of the year well over 100 translations had been published.  By April 1945 OP-16-FE had published well over 200 translations.  Given ONI’s naval interests it is not surprising that many of the translations related to Japanese naval and merchant vessels. There were translations related to warships and other craft, organization and personnel of the Japanese Imperial Navy, addresses and code addresses of naval units, naval regulations, naval construction, mine warfare, naval ordnance, and anti-submarine and aircraft defensive measures.  Many of the translations related to the Japanese merchant marine and convoys including anti-submarine measures, sailing directions, and Notices to Mariners.  There was even a translation relating to the German Submarine U-188 operating in the Indian Ocean.

Many of the translations related to airplanes, airfields, ordnance, and Kamikaze [Special Attack Units] operations, as well as to technical matters, including radar, echo-ranging gear, radio homing gear, direction finders, and range finders, communications equipment, and cameras and optical instruments.  Numerous translations related to gasoline and gasoline additives, engines, carburetors, fuel injector systems, magnetos, oils, and greases.  Weather data and forecasts and meteorological material made up a handful of translation.  Japanese air defense preparations, units, equipment, procedures and activities, were the source of numerous translations.  There were also translations relating to the Japanese population, including Korean residents; the Japanese character; evacuation of Japanese urban communities; railroads and transportation; factories and supplies, including supply methods, units, and shortages.

In addition, there were also translations relating to underwater obstacles for use against landing craft and amphibious tanks; poison gas warfare; disposition of Japanese forces; handling of Army secret documents; defects in the training of soldiers facing the Soviet Army; and, methods for the disposal of code books and code machines of the 3rd Southern Expeditionary Fleet.  Other translations included those of Japanese documents relating to Japanese views of American strength, plans, and tactics.  OP-16-FE also produced numerous translations of Japanese intelligence reports regarding Russian military matters, including military operations on the Eastern Front and at the Manchurian-Soviet border.

During the summer and fall of 1945, OP-16-FE began receiving captured records from the WDC and it was during the latter half of that year its translation work shifted dramatically to focus on occupation-related documents.  During the August 25-October 1 period it published numerous translations relating to prefecture information and government officials in different parts of Japan.  It also produced, during the late August-mid November period, translations related to the structure of the Japanese government and the various ministries.  Also translated were documents related to the emperor and his household estates and accounts.

The translation activities of OP-16-FE trailed off after mid-November 1945. On December 13, 1945 it published a translation related to the Japanese Special Naval Police Force and on January 2, 1946 it published a list of intelligence reports issued by the Japanese Naval General Staff.   Four more translations were issued in February and March and the last on April 1.

Altogether OP-16-FE (and its successor OP-23-F141) between June 1944 and April 1946 published 398 numbered translations of Japanese documents.  They can be found in boxes numbered 1-12 of the series Foreign Document Translations and Related Records, 1944-1948, Entry UD-8 (NAID 6789380), Far Eastern Section, Foreign Intelligence Branch, Office of Naval Intelligence, Records of the Chief of Naval Operations, Record Group 38.  The first box contains a numerical index to the translations.

The thirteenth box of the series contains two special translations based on documents acquired in Germany. They were published in July 1945. One was a 122-page report, dated February 26, 1945, by Vice Admiral Katsuo Abe (1891-1948) in his capacity as Japanese representative on the Tripartite Naval Affairs Commission to the Minister of the Japanese Navy and to the Chief of the Naval General Staff. The other was a 17-page report, dated December 31, 1944, from Baron Lt. Gen. Hiroshi Oshima (1886-1975), Envoy Extraordinary and Ambassador Plenipotentiary of the Japanese Empire in Germany to Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu.

The Abe report is a compilation of daily and monthly reports covering conferences with the highest German and Italian state and military leaders over the period extending from May 1943, when he was assigned to duties in Germany, until the end of January 1945.  Especially interesting, are some of Abe’s accounts of meetings with Hermann Goering, Benito Mussolini, Alfred Jodl (Chief of the Operations Staff of the German Armed Forces High Command), and other prominent Axis leaders.

Along with two military attaches, Abe met with Hermann Goering at Carinhall (his estate near Berlin) on the afternoon of January 13, 1945.  Abe reported two days later that Goering’s “complexion was good, he was less fleshy than formerly, and appeared in unusually good health.”  Goering told Abe the reasons why he believed the large Allied bomber formations were able to operate over Germany for long periods of time and expressed high praise for “the brave and incomparable deeds of the Japanese Army, and expressed great admiration for the planes used by our Special Attack Units, and for the effectiveness of their attacks.”  In the “Opinion” section of his report, Abe wrote:

The fact that the Marshal has completely changed at this time from his former appearance of importance with his big stomach, and presented the humble attitude described above, can only be viewed as showing his respectful admiration for the spiritual strength of our army. We easily perceived his intense feelings about Japanese cooperation, which pleased us.

The Marshal’s popularity has been reported as considerably weakened since the incident of 20 July, and news of his loss of position has been widely circulated. However, judging from the official treatment of him as a leader at this time and from other actual facts, his position remains unchanged, and particularly, his hold over the air force is considered to be exceptionally strong.

With regard to the state of the air force, it is a fact that his characteristic despotic tendency is strong, and the staff is extremely ineffectual; so that in the handling of important problems and the expression of opinions, it is difficult for us to accomplish anything unless we can influence the Marshal directly.

Abe met with Benito Mussolini at Gargnano, Italy, on December 29, 1943.  During of the course of this meeting Abe asked Mussolini about his thoughts about the Allies opening a Second Front in France.  Abe reported Mussolini’s response:

In view of the appointment of Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, it seems certain that the enemy will establish a second front in France.  Moreover, it will probably come in February or March of next year, somewhere in the English Channel area. The landing will be accomplished with the cover provided by an umbrella of a large number of aircraft and a great amount of bombs.

However, Germany is fully prepared, and should smash the enemy’s landing plans. Moreover, once such a landing operation has failed, it is practically impossible to make all the preparations again and carry it out a second time, so that this should bring about the ultimate defeat of England and America.

Germany is preparing secret weapons, and although I do not know for sure what they are, according to the information I have, they are along the line of rocket bombs…

Already thousands of rocket launchers have been constructed on the French coast of the English Channel, and tens of thousands of rockets can be launched in one night. However, Germany is evidently waiting until the assembly of American troops in England has been completed.

The Oshima report relates to the contributions made by the staff of the Imperial Japanese Embassy in Germany to support the Greater East Asia War.  Oshima’s report covers the period from February 1941 till the end of 1944.  He began his report discussing the duties of the embassy in Germany and followed with discussions about the duties and activities of the Political Affairs Division; the Commerce and Economic Division; the Culture and Propaganda Division; the Subcommittees on Education, Publications, and, Propaganda; and, the General Affairs Division.  After providing information about the divisions and subcommittees, Oshima reported on the activities of some forty-five individuals associated with the embassy.   Of interest are Oshima’s observations on the fallout caused by the British Royal Air Force’s attacks on Berlin in November 1943 and the destruction of the embassy and the embassy’s dealings with Indian Nationalist Chandra Bose.