It was a great pleasure for us to be able to be together at all times with you and your boat, whether in life or death.

                  But because of fate, about which we can do nothing, it has become a necessity for us to separate ourselves from you and your boat.

                  We thank you for your constant companionship and request the following of you:

1. Let us die quietly.  Put the corpses in the high sea.

2. Divide our private possessions among your crew and please take the largest part yourself also.

3. Inform Japan of the following as soon as possible:

"Cmdr (Freg. Kapt) Genzo Syozi

 "     ”      "   Hideo Tomonaga

committed suicide on     May 1945 on board U-234."

                  In closing we express our gratitude for the friendliness of you and your crew and we hope that everything will go well for the Commanding Officer and all of you.

                                             (signed) Genzo Syozi

                                             (signed) Hideo Tomonaga


                 Fehler expected that when U.S. Navy officers came aboard they would try to revive the Japanese officers, so he ordered the ship's doctor to make sure they died in peace.  The bodies were sewn into weighted hammocks, Tomonaga's with his Samurai sword strapped to his chest, and committed to the deep at dawn on May 17 as a destroyer, the U.S.S. Sutton, stood a mile off.  The Americans had seen a passenger list from Kiel, and the officer in charge of the boarding party asked about Syozi and Tomonaga.  "They have gone to Davy Jones's locker," Fehler replied.

                                 * * * * * *

                 The U-234 was taken into custody and escorted to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, arriving there on May 19.  A translation of the ship's manifest, dated May 23, clearly identified ten cases of uranium oxide weighing 560 kilograms, but what little was revealed about the shipment merely raised questions: What was the exact composition of the material?  How did the Japanese intend to use it?  How was it eventually disposed of?  Granted it was wartime, and if there was a single most sensitive military secret in May 1945, it was the atomic bomb.  But the U-234 uranium shipment was still shrouded in secrecy fifty years later, and what had been learned from official release of information conflicted with on-the-scene reports.  A secret memo from the office of the chief of naval operations, dated May 27, described the cargo as "uranium oxide loaded in gold lined cylinders"; and in the minutes of a Manhattan Project meeting on July 2, it was described as "526 kilos of 77.4 percent uranium oxide,... now being held in New York City."  Yet in an account based on Hirschfeld's personal observation, it was not until July 24 that the vertical steel tubes in the foredeck, in which the uranium was stowed, were extracted by a crane and examined by technicians with Geiger counters.

                 Hirschfeld's book, published in 1996 by the Naval Institute Press, was written with help from Geoffrey Brooks, whose own book, Hitler's Nuclear Weapons, was published in 1992.  Brooks's analysis appeared as an appendix in Hirschfeld's book:

                  We know from the declassified archive material that what the Germans sent was a small quantity of uranium oxide ore (U3O8) in ten metal cases of 560 kilos total weight ....  Wolfgang Hirschfeld described these as resembling modern radioisotope shipment containers.  From his additional hearsay evidence it would appear that they were emitting gamma radiation when examined at unloading and radioactive contamination was detected on all six steel cargo tubes which had been located in the forward mineshafts of U-234 during the voyage.  Uranium oxide ore is inert unless it has been subjected to neutron bombardment in a nuclear reactor.  If it has been in a reactor core, the isotopes of plutonium are bred in the ore.


                 Brooks went on to cite a statement by the Manhattan Project's security chief, John Lansdale, who recalled in 1996 that U.S. military authorities "reacted with panic" when they discovered the U-234's cargo of uranium.  It was an understandable reaction if what was thought to be inert uranium oxide was emitting gamma radiation, implying in turn that German scientists had a working atomic pile.

                                 * * * * * *

                 Establishing a link between the I-52 and the uranium shipment was a matter of recognizing names and grasping sufficient detail from intercepted radio traffic.  Tomonaga, as the more visible of the two Japanese officers, was easier to trace -- from his arrival in Europe in 1943 on the U-180, following a transfer at sea from the I-29, to his presence at Lorient in July 1944, awaiting I-52's arrival.  Both Tomonaga and Syozi were in Milan in June 1944, as was the paymaster, Commander Inaba, negotiating with an Italian manufacturer for a one-man submarine; then there was the priority list of officers seeking passage to Japan by U-boat if it became necessary to acknowledge the loss of the I-52: one, two, three -- Inaba, Syozi, Tomonaga.  So when Syozi and Tomonaga showed up on the U-234 as custodians of a certain cargo shipment (uranium oxide, 560 kilograms), item 13 of the I-52 loading list (______ oxide, 500 kilograms) was no longer a mystery.  The missing word was the clincher: it is not possible to encipher a blank, so the word was not missing in the June 22, 1944, radio message, and the only oxide listed on the U-234 manifest was uranium oxide (560 kilograms, a slight discrepancy from the loading list).  It is safe to say that in the process of deciphering and translating the original message, the word "uranium" was stricken by U.S. censors for the obvious reason that its isotope U235 was potentially the key to bringing World War II to an end.

                                 * * * * * *

Evidence of the critical nature of the U-234 voyage was the presence of Oshima at the reception in honor of Syozi and Tomonaga.  This was March 1945, when the ambassador was reporting to Tokyo on the "danger of Berlin becoming a battlefield" and revealing a fear "that the abandonment of Berlin may take place in another month."  By traveling to Kiel, which like Berlin was being reduced to rubble by Allied bombers, Oshima was expressing hope -- on behalf of the emperor and the Japanese people -- that the U-234 mission would rescue Japan from a similar fate. 

A month later, on April 13, Oshima met with Foreign Minister Ribbentrop -- for the last time, as it turned out -- and vowed to stand with the leaders of the Third Reich in their hour of crisis.  "I do not wish to be treated in the same manner as other diplomats merely by reason of great danger from the ravages of war,..." he announced in typically dramatic fashion.  But he was informed that evening by the Foreign Ministry's chief of protocol: all diplomats were to leave Berlin at once -- Hitler's orders.  Oshima had sent his wife to Bad Gastein, a mountain resort in Austria, and the next day was on his way to join her, accompanied by the Army and Navy attachés, General Komatsu and Admiral Kojima, and most of the embassy staff.  Abe, too, had planned to follow the ambassador, but he stayed behind to attend to an order from Tokyo that required meetings at the highest level: Doenitz, Keitel, Ribbentrop, even Hitler, if an audience could be arranged.  Contained in Serial 244, this order would put to a test Abe's ability to articulate strategy; it would also delay his departure and lead to a narrow escape from a defeated Germany.

                 "An interview with Hitler is difficult," Abe advised the navy vice minister, "but I am still proposing a visit,... accompanied by [Embassy Counselor] Kawahara.  In view of this, I have decided to remain in Berlin for the present."              Abe anticipated a precarious situation for himself and a retinue of three -- Captain Yasumori Taniguchi, an aide, Professor Samejima, a historian, and a clerk.  Their eventual evacuation took into account the closing of routes to the south.  Serial 244 had directed Abe to propose moving German naval forces, submarines in particular, to bases in East Asia.  Even if he failed to make a convincing case, he hoped to return to Japan by U-boat.  For that reason, he told Tokyo on April 18: "I intend ultimately to follow Admiral Doenitz's movements."

                 This was not the first attempt by the Japanese, or by Abe himself, to convince the German Navy of the advantage of operating from Far East bases.  It had been resisted for several reasons, not the least of which was national pride, and now that the issue of a German surrender could not be ignored, it was all the more difficult for Abe to press the point.  Ribbentrop had created an opening over tea with Oshima and the Japanese army and navy attachés in early April, suggesting that Germany might yet win the war by vastly increasing the role of submarines.  Abe thereupon proposed sending submarines to East Asia, where the Kriegsmarine might unveil advanced techniques of undersea warfare for the mutual benefit of the Axis partners.  Ribbentrop saw the point and asked if the new XXI-class U-boats were operating in Asia.  Not at present, Abe replied, recalling it had been nearly a year since Doenitz briefed him on the electro boats, but he appreciated Ribbentrop's indulgence.

                 A meeting with Hitler was out of the question for reasons Abe would soon understand, so he settled for discussions at the very next level of command.  Mutual admiration was a consistent theme of the talks, and still there was a determination to persevere and seek a glorious victory.  But when Abe made a case for moving naval operations to East Asia, the response was invariably negative.  Keitel extolled a "spirit of comradeship" and praised the Japanese Navy for "trying to the very last to maintain close cooperation," but as to the immediate situation: "Germany intends to use all possible strength in defending the homeland, especially the naval bases along the coast."        Doenitz was equally blunt when he met with Abe on April 15: "It is a long distance to cruise to the Far East by sea, and during that time the submarines would consume fuel and time to no purpose."

                 Ribbentrop deferred to Doenitz and Keitel, as this was a military matter, and he assured Abe that his proposal had been conveyed to Hitler.  The foreign minister then lapsed into a lengthy recitation of hopes and promises:

                  Germany is determined to fight to the end and has by no means given up hope ....  The great Russian offensive ... was expected, and we had made full preparation against it.  We are confident of the success of our surprise attacks, by means of which we shall stabilize the central front; then,... it will be possible to drive out the invading American and British armies.  We are making an all-out effort ....   Hence,... we want every ship,... and ... I would even have the naval forces now in East Asia return to Germany.  Operations in the Baltic and North Seas and in the Atlantic Ocean will be strengthened ....  We shall try to turn the tide of battle.


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