5-164 Editorial Note on Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting, June 18, 1945

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: June 18, 1945

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting

June 18, 1945

ON June 18, 1945, President Truman hosted at the White House a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of the Navy Forrestal, Secretary of War Stimson, and Assistant Secretary of War McCloy in order to learn the details of the proposed assault on Japan. The minutes of the meeting are summarized below. (Minutes of Meeting held at the White House on Monday, 18 June 1945 at 1530, NA/RG 165 [OCS, CCS 334, JCS Minutes]. A version of these minutes containing three omissions is in Department of State, Foreign Relations: The Conference of Berlin [The Potsdam Conference], 2 vols. [Washington: GPO, 1960], 1: 903-10.)

Marshall did a majority of the talking. “The present situation with respect to operations against Japan,” he noted, “was practically identical with the situation which had existed [in early 1944] in connection with the operations proposed against Normandy.” He read a staff précis of J.C.S. Memorandum 1388, which had been prepared for the president.  No further operations to seize positions south of Japan were needed since U.S. naval and air power had already greatly reduced Japanese ship movements and would further reduce them in the next few months.  The Pacific commanders (MacArthur and Nimitz) and the Joint Chiefs agreed on November 1 as the target date for the Kyushu assault.

The Kyushu operation is essential to a strategy of strangulation and appears to be the least costly worth-while operation following Okinawa. . . . [It] is essential, both to tightening our strangle hold of blockade and bombardment on Japan, and to forcing capitulation by invasion of the Tokyo Plain.

We are bringing to bear against the Japanese every weapon and all the force we can employ and there is no reduction in our maximum possible application of bombardment and blockade, while at the same time we are pressing invasion preparations.  It seems that if the Japanese are ever willing to capitulate short of complete military defeat in the field, they will do it when faced by the completely hopeless prospect occasioned by (1) destruction already wrought by air bombardment and sea blockade, coupled with (2) a landing on Japan indicating the firmness of our resolution, and also perhaps coupled with (3) the entry or threat of entry of Russia into the war.

Marshall knew that the president was very concerned with U.S. casualties in the nearly completed Okinawa campaign (i.e., about seventy-five thousand battle and nonbattle at this time, including over twelve thousand killed in combat).  Moreover, Truman had recently circulated to Secretary of War Stimson and a few others a memorandum by former president Herbert Hoover suggesting that an assault upon Japan might cost a half million to a million U.S. casualties.  (Army planners thought this estimate too high, given their assumptions about the size and quality of the defending forces and their expectations about the development of the battle.  See the various memorandums in NA/RG 107 [SW Safe, Japan (After Dec. 7, 1941)].)  Marshall observed that “our experience in the Pacific war is so diverse as to casualties that it is considered wrong to give any estimate in numbers.”  Consequently, he sought to establish a likely ratio of American to Japanese casualties.  The ratios for the four most recent Pacific campaigns were:  Leyte—1:4.6; Luzon—1:5; Iwo Jima—1:1.125; Okinawa—1:2.  Marshall thought that “the first 30 days in Kyushu should not exceed the price we have paid for Luzon” (i.e., a 1 to 5 casualty ratio).  “It is a grim fact that there is not an easy, bloodless way to victory in war and it is the thankless task of the leaders to maintain their firm outward front which holds the resolution of their subordinates.”  Marshall made it clear that he was referring to Prime Minister Churchill’s attitude in 1943 and 1944, “which clouded and hampered all our preparations for the cross-channel operation.”

The Kyushu operation “was the only course to pursue,” in Marshall’s opinion, and MacArthur agreed.  Moreover, “air power alone was not sufficient to put the Japanese out of the war,” just as it alone had been insufficient to defeat the Germans.  He believed that the Kyushu operation “offered the only way the Japanese could be forced into a feeling of utter helplessness.  The operation would be difficult but not more so than the assault in Normandy”—i.e., 42,000 U.S. casualties in the first thirty days.

Admiral King “agreed with General Marshall’s views and said that the more he studied the matter, the more he was impressed with the strategic location of Kyushu, which he considered the key to the success of any siege operations.”  Admiral Leahy observed that casualties among U.S. troops on Okinawa had been 35 percent.  The total assault forces (i.e., the number of men landed within the first forty-five days), Marshall noted, would be 766,700.  Japanese troops on Kyushu were estimated to be about 350,000.  “Divisions were still being raised in Japan and reinforcement from other areas was possible but it was becoming increasingly difficult and painful.”  President Truman thought that the Kyushu operation “was practically creating another Okinawa closer to Japan, to which the Chiefs of Staff agreed.”  Air casualties, according to General Eaker, who was substituting for General Arnold, were “averaging 2 percent per mission, about 30 percent per month.”  (Nonbattle casualties, which could easily exceed 25 percent of battle casualties, were not included in the discussions.)

Secretary of War Stimson said he thought that invasion was the only choice, but he warned that the Japanese masses, who did not favor the war, would “fight tenaciously if attacked on their own ground.”  Secretary of the Navy Forrestal agreed that the Kyushu operation was a “sound decision.”

The group briefly discussed the merits of the “unconditional surrender” policy.  Marshall briefed them on the situation in China.  Marshall and King agreed that there was little possibility of appointing an over-all commander in the Pacific.  President Truman concluded by saying that he had called the meeting “to know definitely how far we could afford to go in the Japanese campaign.  He had hoped that there was a possibility of preventing an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other.  He was clear on the situation now and was quite sure that the Joint Chiefs of Staff should proceed with the Kyushu operation.”  Consideration of Japan ended with a discussion of “certain other matters”—i.e., the atomic bomb project.


Recommended Citation:  The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens  (Lexington, Va.:  The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981– ).  Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 5, “The Finest Soldier,” January 1, 1945–January 7, 1947  (Baltimore and London:  The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 231–234.



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