Read 1945 Online

Authors: Robert Conroy

Tags: #World War; 1939-1945 - United States, #Alternative histories (Fiction), #World War; 1939-1945, #General, #United States, #Historical, #War & Military, #World War; 1939-1945 - Japan, #Japan, #Fiction

1945 (34 page)

BOOK: 1945
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"General Bradley, where do you intend to exercise command?"

Bradley had given that a lot of thought on the flights over. "I've sent orders that MacArthur's staff is to move to Okinawa immediately. The Philippines are just too far away from the war. Lord, in Europe I thought a hundred miles behind the lines was a long ways, but the Philippines are thousands of miles from Japan. I can't command from that far away. As there is no real central point where land forces for the next phase of the operation are gathering, there's no reason not to be closer."

Nimitz chuckled. "The concept of distance is radically different in the Pacific. Are you keeping all of Mac's staff?"

The question was a careful reference to the problems Nimitz and his people had had dealing with MacArthur's arrogant chief of staff, Gen. Richard K. Sutherland, and the arguments over intelligence estimates with his intelligence expert, Gen. Charles A. Willoughby.

"Willoughby and Sutherland are gone. Willoughby was wounded in the attack on the
Augusta
, and I'm having Sutherland reassigned stateside. As to the rest of his staff, I don't think it's wise to change too many horses in midstream, so I'm just going to keep his people for the time being and see how they work out. If people need replacing, it will be done on an individual basis. I'm not planning any housecleaning. Willoughby and Sutherland will be replaced by their immediate subordinates, although I am bringing Matt Ridgway in from Europe with an open-ended assignment to assist me."

"Makes sense." Nimitz did not add that Willoughby and Sutherland's absence might improve the army's willingness to accept intelligence estimates from sources other than their own. The choice of Lt. Gen. Matthew Ridgway as an apparent liaison to serve where needed was wise as well. The fifty-year-old Ridgway had distinguished himself in the European theater and would be well placed to step in if any field commander faltered.

"Mac's staff should be arriving in a steady stream over the next several days," Bradley said. "I can't imagine they'll all be thrilled to leave the relative comforts of Manila for the tents and huts of Okinawa, but I think it best."

Nimitz smiled at the thought of some of Mac's staff actually having to rough it a little. So far, he was pleased with the army's new commander. Bradley was living up to his reputation for common sense and plain dealing.

"Admiral, in a little while I plan on visiting Krueger on Kyushu, along with Eichelberger and Hodges, and getting some real up-to-date information on the army. But what about the navy's situation?"

Nimitz sighed. "We have suffered more losses at the hands of the Japs than we did in any battle or campaign all throughout the war. The kamikaze aircraft in particular have been devastating. We haven't lost any major ships— no battleships, fleet carriers, or heavy cruisers— but a score of small carriers have been sunk along with a number of light cruisers and destroyers. At least a hundred transports have gone to the bottom, which is causing real problems in supplying the army. Many, many ships, including an additional number of transports as well as the largest warships in our fleet, have been struck and damaged to some degree. A number of them have had to leave Japanese waters for repair.

"We are fairly safe here on Okinawa, but the ships off Kyushu live in fear twenty-four hours a day. The attack on the
Augusta
seems to have energized the Japs. From a manpower standpoint, the navy's suffered more than thirty thousand casualties with half of them killed, and many of the wounded very seriously so. Our only hope is that the Japs will soon run out of planes and suicide boats."

"How many of their planes have been shot down?" Bradley asked, recalling that the Japs had an estimated ten to twelve thousand planes when the invasion started.

Nimitz laughed. "If you believe my pilots and gunners, then all of them and at least twice over. Realistically, we may have shot down five thousand, but more than eight hundred have struck their targets. Based on intelligence estimates and message intercepts, another thousand or so never got near the fleet and crashed because of mechanical problems or other defects. However, a good estimate is that there are somewhere between three and six thousand planes still waiting in Japan for us. Good news is that we seem to have the submarine threat under control, and other types of suicide craft— small boats, divers, and such— have been pretty well eliminated. All that remains are the darned planes."

To Bradley it sounded as if the navy was taking a beating. Yet the fleet was still close to Kyushu and naval planes continued to fly close cover for the men on the ground. If the navy gave up, it would be impossible for the men on the ground to sustain their slow but steady advances. The kamikazes would also be free to find targets of opportunity on Kyushu, with supply and fuel depots being particularly vulnerable.

"Admiral, I understand that you made an offer to share the facilities on the command ship
Wasatch
with General MacArthur, and he, uh, did not think it appropriate."

Nimitz grinned at the memory of it. MacArthur had been polite but there was no misinterpreting his feelings that he would be subordinate to Nimitz if he and his staff were on the
Wasatch
. "That's one way of putting it," Nimitz said drily.

"Well, if the offer still stands, I'd like to take you up on it and move myself and a few key people onto the
Wasatch
."

Nimitz beamed. "That would be excellent!" The two cocommanders could talk to each other face-to-face and solve problems without being separated by thousands of miles of ocean.

Sometimes Nimitz wondered how America's army and navy had done as well as they had with the prevailing arrangements.

"Say, General Bradley," Nimitz said teasingly. "May I presume you'll be our guest for dinner and possibly permit us to celebrate your well-deserved promotion in a traditional manner? Alcoholic beverages may be forbidden on ship, but it appears that we are on land at the moment."

"Delighted, Admiral. And when I am on board the
Wasatch
, I'll be certain to designate a portion of it army territory so we can get around that little prohibition."

Better and better, Nimitz thought. "And one other thing. Do you play horseshoes?"

Horseshoes, which Nimitz loved, had been prescribed for him as a means of alleviating the stress of his position. "Admiral Nimitz, I would be delighted to take you on in horseshoes."

 

Chapter 48
The Straits Between
Honshu And Kyushu

 

On a normal evening, the rugged coastal hills of the nearby island of Kyushu would have been plainly visible from the equally harsh coast of Honshu. But this, Field Marshal Shunroku Hata mused happily, was not an ordinary evening. This was a wonderful evening. It was one of those nights when the marriage of the cold wind from the north and the warm sea from the south had turned the night air into a dense fog that would last for many hours.

If he was shrouded in the fog, the American bombers and fighters would be blind to his actions. All along the shore, a mighty host had assembled, and its crossing of the mile-wide straits separating the larger island of Honshu from the smaller island of Kyushu would be a military triumph that would ring through Japanese history. Hata mentally compared it with Hannibal's crossing the Alps against the Romans. In this case, it would be the arrogant and supposedly invincible Americans who would be shocked to find that the battle-torn army on Kyushu had been so stunningly reinforced by two fresh and well-equipped infantry divisions.

For weeks he had planned, hoarded, and hid his thousands of men in places along or near the coast. Patiently, he had waited for the right weather conditions that would ensure that the two reinforced divisions of infantry would be able to cross that maddeningly narrow body of water without great harm.

Along with men, Field Marshal Hata had used his skills and power to accumulate hundreds of small boats that could hold anywhere between ten and fifty soldiers each. They were filling with men and would soon rush across the straits. There they would unload their human cargo and return for another trip. Hata's staff had felt it would take only two or three trips to complete the transfer. Thanks to the weather, it would all occur this one evening. The two divisions, thirty thousand men, would be safely across and inland on Kyushu before the weather changed. They would swarm the narrow straits like locusts crossing a field.

Japanese weather forecasters along northern Honshu and Korea were confident that the bad weather would hold at least throughout the night. Hata laughed silently at the term
bad weather
. He considered it marvelous weather. Some other day he would appreciate the sun and the blue sky; tonight he adored the gloom and fog. If the kamikazes were the divine wind, then tonight was the night of the divine mist.

The sixty-six-year-old Field Marshal Hata was in overall command of three area armies: the Sixteenth on Kyushu, which was currently fighting the Americans; the Fifteenth, which was based on the part of Honshu facing Kyushu; and the small Fifth Area Army, which was based on the northernmost island of Hokkaido. While the Sixteenth and Fifteenth faced the Americans, the Fifth looked nervously across the waters toward Sakhalin and Siberia, where the Soviets lurked.

At least he did not have to worry about the Red Army at this time. He had been assured that the Soviets would not move against Hokkaido or anywhere else. This enabled him to strip garrisons and exchange units without fear of the Russians stabbing him in the back.

The Russians might be a threat in the future, but the immediate problem was the American invaders, and an additional force of thirty thousand men might be enough to tip the scales in the favor of Japan.

The signal was given. As far as his limited vision would allow him, Hata could see hundreds of men pushing off into small boats while their comrades cheered them on, exhorting them to move more swiftly so they could make the journey themselves. It was glorious and made him think of a medieval pageant as the little boats disappeared into the fog.

Under normal circumstances, having so many men gathered in ranks along the beaches would have been suicidal, an invitation to the Americans to bomb and strafe, but this night the mist cloaked them. Hata's two divisions would go ashore and head inland, skirting the radioactive ruins of Kokura as they began their trek to the front lines.

"Banzai!" someone yelled, and a thousand nearby throats repeated the cry. Hata's chest nearly burst with pride and an unbidden tear swelled in his eye. These were good troops, the best Japan had left, and they would stop the Americans.

Field Marshal Hata walked the rocky beach, letting his men see him. They saluted and cheered him, and he saluted back with an uncharacteristic broad smile on his face. He knew it pleased them to know that he shared the night with them. Not many generals, much less field marshals, got this close to the men who would die for them. Hata knew it would further inspire the brave young soldiers in their fight for Japan's survival.

He checked his watch. It had been more than an hour, and the first wave should be across the straits. He received confirmation of this from a radioman, who said that many were already unloading and the men were heading inland. Some of the swifter boats had already made it back to Honshu and were loading again. He squinted out into the dark waters and wished he could see more clearly.

And then he could.

There was no mist. For a fraction of a second, he could see every small craft that bobbed on the waves and the dark columns of infantry beyond that snaked into the hills of Kyushu. Then a light brighter than a thousand suns washed across him, baking him. A second later, a shock wave blasted across the straits and blew his charred body into a thousand pieces. The shock wave continued up the hills of Kyushu and Honshu, draining the life from many of those who had not been killed by the fire of the initial blast.

Those who survived the heat and shock wave watched in agony as the evil-looking mushroom cloud lifted toward the heavens. At its base, a massive tidal wave formed and hurled itself onto the land, washing away further thousands of those who had lived through the first seconds of the explosion and dragging their bodies down to the sea.

When it was over, few remained to tell of the catastrophe, and most of those who did live were sickened and later killed by the rain of radioactive water and debris that blanketed the area. Had more been alive when this deadly torrent occurred, the deaths from radiation poisoning would have been greater. As it was, only a handful were left to sicken and die.

As the angry wave receded back into the churning straits, the mist soon returned and covered the water. If someone had walked into the scene and not known the truth, it would have appeared peaceful and serene with only a moderate rain falling to mar the night. No one would have believed that the thirty thousand men of the Japanese 81st and 214th Infantry Divisions had been there and then ceased to exist.

 

Chapter 49
Miyakonojo, Kyushu

 

It seemed like a miracle, or maybe several miracles, 1st Lt. Paul Morrell thought. Their ordeal at the front was over, at least for a while. The entire regiment had been rotated out of line for rest and refit and sent to a camp near the undistinguished town of Miyakonojo, about fifty miles inland, while some other poor slobs took over the thankless task of climbing hills the Japs didn't want them to.

As an example of their new status as temporarily rear-echelon, they'd had the opportunity to wash their uniforms and shower. An astonishing amount of dirt had run off Paul's body, and he was surprised at how skinny he'd become. He weighed himself and found that he'd lost fifteen pounds and that his body was mottled with bruises and laced by scratches. He looked at himself in a mirror and saw a gaunt-looking stranger with deep-sunk and fatigued eyes. What the hell had happened to the young man he'd once been? He wondered if he could ever go back to his prior life.

They ate hot meals topped off with a dessert of cold ice cream, and so what if they ran out of chocolate— everything was delicious. They had cots in tents that actually kept out the wind and the rain. Paul vowed that he would never again think of a tent as a primitive place to live. Compared with the previous weeks of living in rain, mud, and squalor, a tent was luxury beyond compare. The Waldorf-Astoria in New York would not have been better, he thought. Then he laughed at himself. Of course it would be better.

BOOK: 1945
8.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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