The Japanese Government’s Offer of Assistance to Help Find Amelia Earhart, July 1937

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

Continuing their flight around the world at the equator, Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred J. Noonan, on July 2, took off in their Lockheed Electra from Lae, New Guinea. They were headed for Howland Island, a dot two feet above sea level in the Pacific Ocean some 2,550 miles away. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca was stationed just offshore the island to provide radio navigation and communication support to Earhart. The cutter was in contact with the Earhart plane after it departed New Guinea and intermittently thereafter. Radio reception was poor, but at 6:14 am July 2 the plane reported its position as 200 miles away from Howland.  Earhart contacted the Itasca at 7:42am indicating “We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.”

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Radio Log of the Last Communications of Amelia Earhart, 0330-0806 July 2, 1937 (NAID 6210268)

The ship tried to reply, but the plane seemed not to hear. Just before 8:00 a.m. the plane radioed they were circling and requested bearings. Earhart and Noonan reported they had received the cutter’s signals, but were unable to obtain a minimum for a bearing. At 8:43 a.m. the plane reported being on line 157-337 and running north and south with no reference point given. It was the last Itasca heard from Earhart and Noonan. With no sign of the plane, it was assumed it had gone down. Itasca got under way at full speed to commence a search. [1]

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Radio Log of the Last Communications of Amelia Earhart, 0805-1039 July 2, 1937 (NAID 6210268)

The news of the disappearance appeared in the media throughout the world.  Both the New York Times and the Washington Post on July 3 and 4 carried several stories about Earhart and Noonan being missing.

Upon hearing the news, undoubtedly the Roosevelts were most concerned. The First Lady, Eleanor and Earhart were close friends, and the aviatrix was a frequent visitor to the White House.  Likewise President Franklin D. Roosevelt was on good terms with Earhart.  In November 1936 she wrote him a lengthy letter explaining her plans for an around the world flight, as she had previously mentioned to him and the First Lady, and asked f or assistance from the Navy Department.  The President annotated the letter “Do what we can and contact Mr. Putnam” [Amelia’s husband].

On the night of July 3 President Roosevelt was kept advised of developments in the search for Earhart through an open line from Washington, D.C. to Hyde Park, New York.  He was advised that the Navy was doing all in its power to locate Earhart and Noonan. He also received information from the Coast Guard.  The White House asked The Washington Post to provide any news it had to the White House so that it could be passed on to the President. [2]

Prince Fumimaro Konoe, who had become Japanese Prime Minister on June 4, 1937, and Kōki Hirota, who had become Foreign Minister in the Konoe Cabinet, had served as Prime Minister (March 1936-February 1937), undoubtedly became aware of Earhart’s disappearance and most likely they were the persons that gave the approval to contact the American Government regarding providing assistance in the search for Earhart.  This could have been out of a humanitarian concern and the desire to remain on friendly terms with the United States at a time when there were increasing American concerns regarding Japanese activities in China. The Japanese leaders may have also been concerned about an American search possibly extending to the west, to the Marshall Islands, some 900 miles from Howland Island.  These islands and others of the Japanese Mandate Islands had become “closed territory,” with entry by Westerners restricted, when Japan withdrew from the League of Nations in 1935.   In any event, a telegram was sent from Tokyo to the Japanese Embassy in Washington D.C., offering Japanese assistance in the search.

On July 5, the Second Secretary of the Japanese Embassy, Tsuneo Hayama, telephoned Joseph W. Ballantine of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs of the Department of State  and informed him that the Japanese Embassy had received an urgent telegram from Tokyo asking that inquiry be made of the United States Government whether the Japanese Government could be of assistance in connection with the search for Amelia Earhart, in view of the fact that Japan had radio stations and warships in the Marshall Islands. Ballantine expressed his appreciation of the kind offer of the Japanese Government and said that he would refer it at once to the authorities of the American Government.  Ballantine got into touch with Stanley K. Hornbeck, Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs, who communicated with Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Naval Operations. Ballantine, after talking with Hornbeck about his conversation with Leahy, called Hayama the reply of Admiral Leahy.  Ballantine told Hayama that the Navy had received a faint message which offered a clue that Earhart’s plane might be down at a spot about 200 miles north of Howland Island, that the U.S.S. Lexington was then on its way to the spot from the Pacific Coast, and the U.S.S. Colorado from Honolulu, but that as the spot in question was some days sailing distant. If the Japanese Government had any vessels which could reach the spot earlier any assistance they could give would be appreciated. Ballantine told Hayama that the search was being directed by the Naval Commandant [of the 14th Naval District] at Honolulu, and suggested that the Japanese Navy get into touch with the Commandant for latest developments and in regard to arrangements for cooperation. Hayama responded that the Embassy would telegraph Tokyo immediately.[3]

The Associated Press reported from Tokyo on July 6 that the Japanese Government had radioed an appeal to all Japanese vessels in the South Seas to join United States naval vessels in the search for Earhart. It add that “Professional and amateur radio operators throughout Japan kept watch for a signal from the missing flier, believing that she might be on one of the Phoenix Islands south of Howland Island.” [4]

Hayama telephoned William T. Turner of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs on July 6 that the Naval Attaché of the Japanese Embassy had been informed that the Japanese Navy Department had instructed the survey ship Koshu, which was then somewhere in the South Seas, to take part in the search for Earhart’s airplane and to get into touch with Japanese vessels near the place where her airplane is reported to have been lost.[5]

President Roosevelt, at a press conference on July 6, expressed his concern for the safety of Earhart and that he was receiving frequent reports from the Navy Department on the progress of the search for her.  He said that the Navy and other government agencies were doing everything possible to find her and he had ordered the search to cover as much territory as possible. [6]

The Washington Post reported on July 7 that “the Japanese airplane carrier Kamoie and the Japanese survey ship Kooshuu began a search of the Marshall Island area…”[7] The latter was undoubtedly a reference to the Koshu and the former was most probably a reference to the Japanese seaplane tender Kamoi. The Kamoi, while on assignment to the Third Carrier Division, was apparently assigned to search for Earhart; however, the order was cancelled before she could start searching. [8]

At 2pm on July 10 the Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, sent a telegram to the Ambassador in Japan, Joseph C. Grew, that the authorities of the Navy Department and Earhart’s relatives expressed the opinion that if her plane was forced down on the ocean it may have drifted, because of the prevailing currents, in the general direction of the Gilbert Islands.  Hull wrote that in view of the urgency of the time element involved, asked Grew to endeavor to advise the appropriate authorities of the Japanese Government immediately of these facts and state to them that because of the generous offer of assistance tendered by the Japanese Government and because of the continuing interest which the Japanese Government had taken in the search for Earhart’s plane, the American Government suggested that if any suitable vessels or airplanes of the Japanese Government were located in or near the Gilbert Islands they may be asked to be on the lookout for her plane.  Hull requested Grew to telegraph such reply as may be made to him by the Japanese Government.  The next day Grew telegrammed Hull that the contents of Hull’s telegram had been communicated immediately to Senior Aide to the Navy Minister who stated that no Japanese aircraft were in that area but survey ship Koshu had proceeded toward Marshall Islands and should now be there. Japanese radio stations, Grew added, had been ordered to be on continuous watch for Earhart signals and many Japanese fishing craft in and to east of Marshall Islands had been instructed to be on lookout. The Senior Aide, Grew noted, expressed great willingness to cooperate. [9]

On the morning of July 12, the Secretary of State had a telegram sent to Ambassador Grew in Tokyo asking him to “convey immediately to whatever authorities you consider appropriate expression of your Government’s appreciation of Japanese Government’s cooperation.” [10]

The State Department of July 15 issued a press release that contained the text of a message that the Secretary of State had sent to the Japanese Ambassador that day.  It stated:

I have the honor to request that you convey to your Government the warmest thanks of the President and myself for the very kind assistance in the search for Miss Earhart which is being carried out at the instance of the Japanese Government.

This cooperation and this evidence of sympathy on the part of the Japanese Government and people are deeply appreciated, and I wish to assure you of the sincere gratitude of the Government and people of this country.

Accept, Excellency, the assurance of my highest consideration. [11]

Shortly before Hull had written his letter to the Japanese Ambassador, Congressman Allen T. Treadway (R-Ma), sent Hull a letter from an individual from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in which he suggested that the unfortunate Earhart incident “may offer an opportunity for strengthening the bonds of friendship between the United States and Japan.” Hull wrote Congressman Treadway that it was believed that “the Earhart disaster may serve, in demonstrating the sympathy of the Japanese Government and people towards the American people, to strengthen the bonds of friendship between the two countries.” As pertinent in this connection, Hull wrote, he was enclosing a copy of a press release of the Department dated July 15, which contained a copy of a note of thanks addressed by him to the Japanese Ambassador in Washington. [12]

At Honolulu on July 18 the Navy announced it was giving up the hunt for Earhart at sunset that day.  The naval authorities said the search had encompassed more than 250,000 square miles in every direction from Howland Island and that they believed they had exhausted every possible hope of finding Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.[13]

Although the formal American search for Earhart was ending by July 19, on that day the Secretary of State sent a telegram to Ambassador Grew that the “Navy Department this morning suggests that we ask the Japanese Government to suggest to any Japanese vessels plying in Marshall Islands or Gilbert Islands waters that they be continuously on lookout for any traces of Miss Earhart’s plane.” [14]

On July 20, the American Naval Attaché in Tokyo sent a message to the Navy Department that the Japanese Navy Department desires to release the Koshu from search duties if the American search for Earhart had terminated. Admiral Leahy responded, with a copy to the State Department, notifying the Naval Attaché that the Navy’s search for Earhart had terminated on the afternoon of July 18 and requesting him to convey to the Japanese Navy Department the appreciation of the American Navy Department for their action in making the Koshu available for the search. [15]

On July 20, the State Department received a message from the Japanese Ambassador (Hiroshi Saito) to Cordell Hull:

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge, with thanks, the receipt of your note of July 15, 1937 concerning the assistance which is being given by my Government in the search for Miss Earhart.

The Japanese Government and people will, I assure you, appreciate highly the kind sentiments of the President and yourself which you are good enough to convey in your note and which I have had the pleasure of transmitting to Tokyo.

I should like to take the opportunity of expressing the deep concern of the whole Japanese nation that no trace of Miss Earhart has yet been found.

Accept, Sir, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration [16]

AEarhart001

Letter No. 158 Japanese Ambassador Saito to Secretary of State Cordell Hull. File 800.79611 Putnam, Amelia Earhart/160; Central Decimal Files, 1930-1939 (NAID 302021) RG 59

By this time, the Second Sino-Japanese War, which had begun in early July, became the focus of the Japanese and American Governments and whatever good relations had been engendered by the search for Amelia Earhart soon began to end.

For more records at the National Archives relating to Amelia Earhart, please view the Amelia Earhart topics page, and the AOTUS Blog Searching for Amelia.


[1] Itasca and the Search for Amelia Earhart.

[2] “President Is Kept Advised on Quest for Miss Earhart,” The Washington Post, July 4, 1937, p. 1..

[3] Memorandum by Joseph W. Ballantine of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs of a Conversation With the Second Secretary of the Japanese Embassy (Tsuneo Hayama), Subject: Search for Plane of Amelia Earhart, [Washington,] July 5, 1937. File: 800.79611 Putnam, Amelia Earhart/140 , Central Decimal File, 1930-1939, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59.

[4] Associated Press, Tokyo, July 6, “Japanese Ships Join Search,” The New York Times, July 6, 1937, p. 2.

[5] Memorandum by William T. Turner of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs of a Conversation with the Second Secretary of the Japanese Embassy (Tsuneo Hayama), Subject: Search for plane of Amelia Earhart, [Washington,] July 6, 1937, File: 800.79611 Putnam, Amelia Earhart/141 , Central Decimal File, 1930-1939, General Records of the Department of State, RG 59.

[6] Associated Press, Washington, D.C., “Roosevelt Pushes Earhart Search,” The New York Times, July 7, 1937, p. 2.

[7] Associated Press, Honolulu, July 6 “Warship Shifts Search for Fliers to Islands Southeast of Howland,” The Washington Post, July 7, 1937, p. 1.

[8] Japanese seaplane tender Kamoi.

[9] Telegram, No. 107, The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Japan (Grew) Washington, July 10, 1937, File: 800.79611 Putnam, Amelia Earhart/143, Central Decimal File, 1930-1939, General Records of the Department of State, RG 59; Telegram, No. 188, The Ambassador in Japan (Grew) to the Secretary of State, Tokyo, July 11, 1937—11 a.m. [Received July 10—11:55 p.m.], File: 800.79611 Putnam. Amelia Earhart/144: Telegram, ibid.

[10] Telegram Sent, No. 109, Hull to Ambassador in Japan (Grew), July 12, 1937, File: 800.79611 Putnam. Amelia Earhart/149: Telegram, Central Decimal File, 1930-1939, General Records of the Department of State, RG 59.

[11] Department of State Press Release, July 15, 1937 containing text of letter signed Cordell Hull sent to Hirosi Saito, Japanese Ambassador, July 15, 1935, Division of Current Information, Press Releases Vol. 44, Jul.-Dec. 1937, Press Releases, 1912-1963 (NAID 1227139), (Entry A1 482), Records of the Department of State, RG 59

[12] Letter, Cordell Hull to The Honorable Allen T. Treadway, House of Representatives, July 19, 1937, File: 800.79611 Putnam. Amelia Earhart/181, Central Decimal File, 1930-1939, General Records of the Department of State, RG 59.

[13] Associated Press, Honolulu, July 18, 1937, “Navy ends Search for Miss Earhart,” The New York Times, July 19, p. 1.

[14] Telegram Sent, No. 117, Hull to Ambassador in Japan (Grew), July 19, 1937, File: 800.79611 Putnam. Amelia Earhart/159: Telegram, Central Decimal File, 1930-1939, General Records of the Department of State, RG 59.

[15] Copy, Message, ALUSNA Tokyo to [Navy Department], Washington, D.C., July 20, 1937, File: 800.79611 Putnam. Amelia Earhart/169, Central Decimal File, 1930-1939, General Records of the Department of State, RG 59; Copy, Message 1320, William D. Leahy to ALUSNA Tokyo, July 20, 1937, File: 800.79611 Putnam. Amelia Earhart/168, ibid.

[16] Letter, No. 158, The Japanese Ambassador (Saito) to the Secretary of State, [Washington, undated, received in the Department July 20], File: 800.79611 Putnam, Amelia Earhart/160,  Central Decimal File, 1930-1939, General Records of the Department of State, RG 59.

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4 Responses to The Japanese Government’s Offer of Assistance to Help Find Amelia Earhart, July 1937

  1. Greg Bradsher says:

    Readers should be aware of the International Date Line when reading this blog. When Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae it was July 2, but at Howland Island it was then July 1. (https://www.britannica.com/topic/International-Date-Line). Also, in 1960 the State Department again became involved with the Japanese Government regarding the fate of Earhart when it requested the Japanese Government to undertake an investigation. The Japanese Foreign office On July 15, 1960, informed the American Embassy in Tokyo that a “preliminary search of Japanese files has uncovered no indication Amelia Earhart was executed by [the] Japanese.” The Embassy informed the State Department “Check will be continued however, and GOJ [Government of Japan] has located eight persons who might have knowledge of case.” On September 10, 1960, the State Department informed Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, Chief of Naval Operations, that it had requested the Japanese Government to investigate the allegations that Earhart was executed on Saipan Island. Burke was informed that the Japanese Government had conducted such an investigation and, “after consulting all available records and interrogating several former officials who served on Saipan in 1937, the Japanese government has informed us that there appears no basis whatever to the allegations.” He was also informed that an independent investigation by the Saipan Administration proved to the satisfaction of those authorities that Miss Earhart was never on Saipan.” Thanks to David Langbart for bringing the 1960 State Department records to my attention (and to Erin Townsend who brought the records to David’s attention). The records are filed under decimal 200.113-Earhart, Amelia in the State Department 1960-1963 Central Decimal File (Record Group 59). It should be noted that the Japanese search into their records might have been somewhat problematic, given the fact that the bulk of the captured Japanese records were only returned to Japan in 1958 (see my article “A ‘Constantly Recurring Irritant’: Returning Captured and Seized Japanese Records, 1946-1961,” at https://www.archives.gov/files/iwg/japanese-war-crimes/introductory-essays.pdf pp. 169-195), and while in the custody of the National Archives the records were not organized or described by the staff.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Dr. Bradsher,
      Regarding the letter sent to the Second Secretary of the Japanese Embassy, Tsuneo Hayama, on July 5th. Please post what documentation the paragraph above is based upon, “Ballantine told Hayama that the Navy had received a faint message which offered a clue that Earhart’s plane might be down at a spot about 200 miles north of Howland Island, that the U.S.S. Lexington was then on its way to the spot from the Pacific Coast, and the U.S.S. Colorado from Honolulu, but that as the spot in question was some days sailing distant.”
      Which Navy ship received the faint message?
      How many hours or days AFTER the ITASCA’s last reported transmission from the call sign KHAQQ was this message received?
      What are the exact contents of this message received?
      Can you answer any of those queries that arise from your article and the paragraph referenced above.?
      Have the above documents been generally available before? or is this a direct reaction to the History Channel program on Amelia Earhart broadcast July 9, 2017 in the USA?

      Thank you for your answer in advance, — Jonathan Waggoner, Leitchfield, KY

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      • Greg Bradsher says:

        Mr. Waggoner. I do not believe a letter was sent to the Second Secretary. “Ballatine told” implies a telephone call, or perhaps a face to face meeting. The documentation is cited in footnote number 3. As to the faint message, Ballatine did not identify the ship. He could have been referring to the Coast Guard cutter off of Howland Island (see that ship’s radio log in the post and footnote number 1). As to the other questions regarding the messages, all I can do is to point you to the ship’s radio log (note that the times are given in the right hand column) and the blog cited in footnote number 1. The 1937 State Department records I used have been available for about fifty years, if not longer. In fact, the Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers 1937 in Volume IV The Far East, published by the U.S. Government Printing Office in 1954), reprinted on pp. 814-816, five of the documents I used. Hope this helps.

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  2. Brian Simboli says:

    Dr. Bradsher,

    Thought you might of interest the following blog posting. As a librarian, I reacted to the story that swept the news a few weeks ago about the alleged photo, discovered at NARA, of Earhart and Noonan. Incidentally, it links to a guide about researching the National Archives:

    July 13, 2017
    “The Alleged Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan Photograph: A Research Librarian Perspective”
    https://wordpress.lehigh.edu/inlulib/2017/07/13/the-alleged-amelia-earhart-and-fred-noonan-photograph-a-research-librarian-perspective/

    On a different matter, NARA really needs to put up scans of all those record group inventories that were published decades ago. They could go up at the NARA website where the systematic outline or index of the record groups appear.

    Liked by 1 person

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