March 29, 1941: From notes of a meeting between Ribbentrop and the Japanese Foreign Minister, Matsuoka, in Berlin:

The RAM (Ribbentrop) resumed, where they had left off the preceding conversation with Matsuoka about the latter’s impending talks with the Russians in Moscow. He expressed the opinion that it would probably be best, in view of the whole situation, not to carry the discussions with the Russians too far. He did not know how the situation would develop. One thing was certain, however, namely that Germany would strike immediately, should Russia ever attack Japan. He was ready to give Matsuoka this positive assurance so that Japan could push forward to the South on Singapore without fear of possible complications with Russia. The largest part of the German Army was on the Eastern frontiers of the Reich anyway and fully prepared to open the attack at any time. He (the RAM), however, believed that Russia would try to avoid developments leading to war.

Should Germany, however, enter into a conflict with Russia, the USSR would be finished off within a few months. In this case Japan would have, of course, even less reason to be afraid than ever, if she wants to advance on Singapore. Consequently, she need not refrain from such an undertaking because of possible fears of Russia. He could not know, of course, just how things with Russia would develop. It was uncertain whether or not Stalin would intensify his present unfriendly policy against Germany. He (the RAM) wanted to point out to Matsuoka in any case that a conflict with Russia was at least within the realm of possibility. In any case, Matsuoka could not report to the Japanese Emperor, upon his return, that a conflict between Russia and Germany was impossible. On the contrary, the situation was such that such a conflict, even if it were not probable, would have to be considered possible. ....

Next, the RAM turned again to the Singapore question. In view of the fears expressed by the Japanese of possible attacks by submarines based on the Philippines, and of the intervention of the British Mediterranean and home fleets, he had again discussed the situation with Grossadmiral Raeder. The latter had stated that the British Navy during this year would have its hands so full in the English home waters and in the Mediterranean that it would not be able to send even a single ship to the Far East.

Grossadmiral Raeder had described the United States submarines as so poor that Japan need not bother about them at all. Matsuoka replied immediately that the Japanese Navy had a very low estimate of the threat from the British Navy. It also held the view that, in case of a clash with the American Navy, it would be able to smash the latter without trouble. However, it was afraid that the Americans would not take up the battle with their fleet; thus the conflict with the United States might perhaps be dragged out to 5 years. This possibility caused considerable worry in Japan. The RAM replied that America could not do anything against Japan in the case of the capture of Singapore. Perhaps for this reason alone, Roosevelt would think twice before deciding on active measures against Japan. For while on the one hand he could not achieve anything against Japan, on the other hand there was the probability of losing the Philippines to Japan; for the American President, of course, this would mean a considerable loss of prestige, and because of the inadequate rearmament, he would have nothing to offset such a loss.

In this connection Matsuoka pointed out that he was doing everything to reassure the English about Singapore. He acted as if Japan had no intention at all regarding this key position of England. Therefore it might be possible that his attitude toward the British would appear to be friendly in words and in acts. However, Germany should not be deceived by that. He assumed this attitude not only in order to reassure the British, but also in order to fool the pro-British and pro-American elements in Japan just so long, until one day he would suddenly open the attack on Singapore. In this connection Matsuoka stated that his tactics were based on the certain assumption that the sudden attack against Singapore would unite the entire Japanese nation with one blow. ("Nothing succeeds like success," the RAM remarked.) He followed here the example expressed in the words of a famous Japanese statesman addressed to the Japanese Navy at the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese war: "You open fire, then the nation will be united." The Japanese need to be shaken up to awaken. After all, as an Oriental, he believed in the fate which would come, whether you wanted it or not. ....

Matsuoka then introduced the subject of German assistance in the blow against Singapore, a subject which had been broached to him frequently, and mentioned the proposal of a German written promise of assistance. The RAM replied that he had already discussed these questions with Ambassador Oshima. He had asked him to procure maps of Singapore in order that the Fuehrer-who probably must be considered the greatest expert on military questions at the present time-could advise Japan on the best method of attack against Singapore. German experts on aerial warfare, too, would be at her disposal; they could draw up a report, based on their European experiences, for the Japanese on the use of dive-bombers from airfields in the vicinity against the British Fleet in Singapore. Thus, the British Fleet would be forced to disappear from Singapore immediately. Matsuoka remarked that Japan was less concerned with the British Fleet than with the capture of the fortifications. The RAM replied that here, too, the Fuehrer had developed new methods for the German attacks on strongly fortified positions, such as the Maginot Line and Fort Eben-Emael, which he could make available to the Japanese.

Matsuoka replied in this connection that some of the younger expert Japanese Naval officers, who were close friends of his, were of the opinion that the Japanese Naval forces would need 3 months until they could capture Singapore. As a cautious Foreign Minister, he had doubled this estimate. He believed he could stave off any danger which threatened from America for 6 months. If, however, the capture of Singapore required still more time and if the operations would perhaps even drag out for a year, the situation with America would become extremely critical; and he did not know as yet how to meet it. If at all avoidable, he would not touch the Netherlands East Indies, since he was afraid that in case of a Japanese attack on this area, the oil fields would be set afire. They could be brought into operation again only after 1 or 2 years. The RAM added that Japan would gain decisive influence over the Netherlands East Indies simultaneously with the capture of Singapore. (IMT)

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