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Operation BRUTUS, also known as the Ides of March Plan or The Great Revenge, was a broad assassination initiative against the Japanese Empire authorized by President Joseph Robinson in 1927 that was carried out on March 15, 1928. While five out of six targets were killed, many of the American assassins were caught and executed and the ensuing debacle was a major stain on Robinson's record in an election year, despite the success of the assassinations in crippling the Japanese war effort. The operation was named after Junius Brutus, the assassin of Caesar, and was planned for March 15 to coincide with the death of Caesar. The term "Great Revenge" refers to the notion that the assassination was authorized to exact revenge for the murder of Robinson's predecessor, President Al Smith.
The assassination of Al Smith in June of 1927 had stunned the nation occurring during a picnic to commemorate veterans of the Hawai'ian campaign in Chicago. Five assassins had gunned down Smith as his car left the picnic in Chicago's Michigan Park. Along with Smith, Chicago Mayor Frank Wright and Wright's wife Dolores had been killed.
With Robinson's inauguration following later in the day, many began to immediately suspect the Japanese of orchestrating the attack as an effort to cripple the American war effort. While some suggested that the assassination was an effort by Chicago mafiosos to punish Smith for his "draconian" anti-crime measures, Robinson and his closest advisors on the Cabinet dismissed those rumors and instantly described to a stunned nation "an intricate wave of Japanese seditionists" who had orchestrated the plan.
In October of 1927, Robinson invited Charles Herbert Shaw, the head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to discuss the possibility of instituting a similar measure against the Japanese. With the war in a bloody stalemate in the Pacific, the suggestion was made by Robinson that "dire measures" would be required to end the war. Among those measures: a broad and wide disposal of critical Japanese leadership in order to bring less hawkish leaders into power. The plan especially sought to capitalize on the wishes of the young Emperor Hirohito to exercise more authority over his Shogun, Yobura Ikenara, who was one of the Japanese leaders most responsible for the war. The belief shared by Robinson and Shaw was that if Ikenara and several other key leaders were removed, then more moderate leaders aligned with Hirohito would replace them and a ceasefire agreement could be reached.
Planning and Execution
Shaw developed, along with Horace Greenberg and Henry C. Randon, a plot to recruit a number of foreign-born American citizens to pose as French, Irish and English businessmen seeking to trade in Japan. Due to Japanese hegemony in the Indian Ocean and Yellow Sea, trade with Japan was still relatively uninterrupted through most of 1927 and early 1928 from Europe. Sixteen men were chosen from the ranks of the OSS and United States Army to execute this plan.
Greenberg then identified the "Six Little Pigs," as they were code named in the OSS - Shogun Yobura Ikenara, Rear Admirals Hirotaka Suzuki, Yohei Usaga and Takahashi Asato, Defense Minister Hinechi Kosaga, and Commander of Imperial Land Forces in Asia, Juinichiro Yokomura. All six men were considered the leading proponents of continued war with the the Allies. While Yokomura was not as hawkish as the other five, his role as commander of Japanese and Chinese armies in Siberia and Alaska was seen as a target too important to miss. Shaw and Randon presented the basic details of what they called "Operation Ides of March" to Robinson in late October 1927, and Robinson instantly approved the measure. The name and date were selected due to the connotations the assassinations would carry to that of Caesar.
In December, the sixteen assassins were sent from Sicily and Turkey to Japan in different ships, with a variety of identities. Each carried a separate package with a fruit - Carrot, Apple, Orange, Banana, Plum, Pear - that corresponded to their target. Once in Japan, they would rendezvous with deep cover OSS agents who had been operating in the Japanese Empire since before the war.
On March 1st, the assassins received the weapons they were to use two weeks later. One of the assassins, codenamed Dwarf, was captured by Japanese policemen in Nagasaki on March 7th on smuggling charges, but it is unknown if the policemen ever discovered his true role.
March 15, 1928
The assassins had agreed to execute their targets around noon, so that there would be an instantaneous wave across the country of Japan. With both Usaga and Asato in Edo for a summit of military leaders, it was seen as the biggest target.
Three assassins assaulted the car of Ikenara at 11:47 north of Edo, gunning down two of his bodyguards. Ikenara allegedly attempted to escape the gunfight but was shot twice in the back before being evacuated. He succumbed to his wounds later in the day after losing significant blood. Two of his attackers were killed and another captured.
A bomb exploded at the conference attented by Usaga and Asato at 12:03, before news of Ikenara's attack could reach downtown Edo. Three admirals were killed besides Usaga, but Asato managed to survive the assassination attempt.
During an inspection of a new naval vessel, two sharpshooters shot Rear Admiral Suzuki, one of them hitting him in the forehead for the fatal wound. The attack, occuring at 12:17, was the last one pulled off before news of the violence spread through Edo and its suburbs like wildfire.
The escape methods for numerous assassins were collapsing and one of the would-be killers of Defense Minister Kosaga was apprehended on his way to the Defense Ministry. However, his comrade managed to fire three shots blankly into Kosaga's car as the Defense Minister was being hurried away, fatally wounding Kosaga, who would die three days later. His assassin was gunned down shortly thereafter, and some believe that Kosaga, who suffered multiple gunshot wounds, may have been struck by gunfire from his own bodyguards on accident.
Yokomura, having been told of the four previous attacks, admitted he needed to leave Osaka at once in case he was also a target. He was shot by a sniper as he left his home in Osaka, and managed to survive for a week before finally succumbing to his wounds.
Of the sixteen assassins, only three managed to escape Japan alive. It did not take long for the Japanese to uncover that the Americans were the culprits behind the attacks.
Hirohito called an emergency meeting in the evening of the 15th of his closest advisors, and found that the leadership of Japan had hidden itself around the country out of fear of further attacks. The military and navies of Japan had no contact with superiors who could instruct them of how to react in the crisis and chaos broke loose in many theaters of the war. Rumors spread that even the Emperor had been assassinated.
Hirohito appointed his longtime political ally Umura Rogoda shogun in the wake of Ikenara's assassination, and the ascension of Rogoda was seen as an important one for the moderates. Rogoda managed to instill a sense of security in Japan in the wake of the horrific attacks and appointed a slew of new, moderate generals to important posts. The new Defense Minister, Hataka Sato, was one of Rogoda's strongest confidants.
In the United States, news of the assassinations were met with jubiliation, but upon news of the capture of the assassins and the rage of the Japanese, Robinson's unpopularity only grew, especially after documents surfaced in early May revealing that the OSS had "no contingency plan" for what happened after the attacks and had essentially sent thirteen men to their deaths knowingly.
Robinson delivered a famous speech in June where he avoided assuming responsibility for the attacks, but his famous line, "the ends justify the means," became one of the most lasting quotes of his administration.
Herbert Hoover would defeat Robinson in the election that November, largely on a platform of ending the war with the new Japanese leadership. Sato, who referred to Hoover as "a clever fellow," suggested a nominal ceasefire on June 17th, 1929, which led to the successful Hilo Accords that same November.