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Japan's Atomic Bomb and the Secret Voyage of U-234 in 1945

Updated on May 2, 2012
U-234 upon capture
U-234 upon capture

Even until 1985, the story of Japan's near successful creation of 1-2 atomic bombs during the Summer of 1945, remained secret. America was worried. We thought Hitler had some development but too far away. Japan was also feared. They had already determined the feasibility of making them, what they lacked was uranium. Like Germany, neither got "serious" about the bomb until the last year out of desperation.

Japan had the capability. They had their research facilities. So, they spent 25 million yen in 1945 to buy up all available uranium sites in countries they occupied still. In the days just before Germany surrendered in early May, Japan contacted their ally. Germany had 1235 lbs. of pure uranium (77%) oxide and agreed to pack it into small gold plated cigar size boxes, along with two disassembled Me-262 jet fighters and other items into one of their most sophisticated submarines, the U-234, for transport to Japan. Meanwhile, the Japanese search for uranium for their bombs continued and a equal amount had been found in Shanghai, which they controlled. The problem was mining it. The uranium from Germany came fromJoachimsthal, in Nazi occupied western Czechoslovakia and would be subsequently used in later atomic bomb tests after WW2.

Germany's last two transport U-boats would reach Jakarta in November 1944(U-195 & U-129) and between themselves carried 12 V-2 rockets in disassembled fashion. These were the rockets able to reach outer space.

The rockets were for Japan's Unit 734 , which wanted to spread biological warfare on the US Leyte Gulf landings in the Philippines. Unit 734 was based in Manchuria. Luckily, they arrive much too late.

Other German U-boats also carried uranium disguised as mercury to Japan such as U-859, sunk in the Straits of Malacca. This was revealed in 1974 when Germany tried to retrieve the containers.

The Japanese embassy in Berlin began to request uranium from in July 1943, after the German A-bomb laboratory was destroyed by the Hamburg bombing raids. The Germans had developed a gas centrifuge technology to refine bomb grade uranium in 1942 that did not require heavy water reactors. Germany transferred this technology to Japan during 43-44.

When U-234 sailed from port, WW2 for German was still on. By the time they reached a midway point in the Atlantic, the sub got a weird message stating Germany had surrendered. Their captain did not believe it and contacted another German sub, when the message was verified, U-234 decided to sail for Virginia. When the

U-234 (294 feet long and 22,000 tons fully loaded) landed at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, US officials were shocked to its size, but still unaware of its atomic bomb material. Two of its Japanese passengers, one a atomic bomb specialist, both had committed suicide and were buried at sea.

Based on the cargo list, the cigar shaped boxes seemed to be mysterious upon discovery and had to be blow torched to be opened. Present at the time for content confirmation was atomic physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Los Alamos laboratory, who was developing America's first bombs.

For Japan, had they received in the uranium in time, most historians are certain America would have been hit first with the atomic bomb, Most likely, Honolulu, SF or LA. However, America did so in August 1945, ending the whole world war.

After being a POW, the 2nd captain of U-234, went back to Germany, got married, and returned to America in 1951 to live his life and raise an American family.


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    • kschang profile image

      kschang 6 years ago from San Francisco, CA, USA

      There was even a rumor that Japanese Navy actually detonated a test bomb. Later historians dismissed his report as possible embellishment by his source(s).

    • perrya profile image

      perrya 6 years ago

      I was quite shocked to find out myself.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      I had no idea Japan was working on the atomic bomb. This is a great article, perrya. If Japan had the bomb, would they have used it? I'm thinking yes, they would have. That puts a slightly different light on the US's use of Little Boy and Fat Man, doesn't it? Voted up, awesome and interesting.


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