740.0011 PW (Peace)/3–2348

Memorandum by the Special Adviser on Geography ( Boggs ), of the Office of Intelligence Research, to Mr. Maxwell M. Hamilton, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State


Subject: The Habomai Islands and Shikotan

You have several times requested further information and my views relating to the chain of small islands lying east of the easternmost tip of Hokkaido and parallel and to the southeast of the island of Kunashiri.

I understand that what you wish to have is simply a geographer’s viewpoint as to Whether these islands belong geographically to the [Page 688] Kuriles. In other words, how a geographer, using the data of geologists, physiographers, botanists and others, would classify and describe the islands, disregarding entirely their political history.

A somewhat comparable problem of classifying islands may be found in the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, adjacent to Venezuela and the southernmost islands of the Lesser Antilles. In that case Trinidad is geographically regarded as an island belonging to South America, and Tobago as belonging to the Lesser Antilles even though it does not belong to the main chain, the southernmost of which is Grenada. Trinidad and Tobago, however, are both British and administered together as “Trinidad and Tobago”.

Your question, as I understand it, is essentially whether the Habomais and Shikotan in their relation to Kunashiri and the main chain of the Kuriles are analogous to Trinidad and Tobago. We do not have as complete information regarding the geology, physiography, natural vegetation, etc., of the Habomais and Shikotan as we have of Trinidad and Tobago. But, on the basis of available information, it is my opinion that these islands may be properly classified as geographically separate from, and not a part of, the Kuriles. They appear to constitute an extension of the eastern peninsula of Hokkaido. They are geologically older than the Kuriles proper and a distinction can properly be made on the basis of physiography and surface relief. Shikotan and the smaller islands between it and Hokkaido are regarded as constituting the subdued remains of a “frontal zone” of late Mesozoic volcanic islands, and are thus in contrast with the Pleistocene and modern volcanism and the much bolder relief of the Kuriles proper. The Japanese geologist, Saso Yasuo, classifies the structures of Shikotan as effusive and intrusive rocks of two periods in the upper Cretaceous, with an intervening series of sandstones and shale; in some places, these bear a veneer of Pleistocene terraces and recent alluvium (*).

It is equally possible to regard the Cenozoic structures of the larger Kurile Islands as a northeastward extension of Hokkaido, or indeed as a south westward extension of Kamchatka.

I do not know how relevant this information is to the solution of the problem. I have been unable to find that any map was used at the Yalta Conference in connection with that part of the agreement relating to the Kuriles. From all that I have been able to learn, in talking with Mr. Bohlen1 and others, there appears to be no basis for believing [Page 689] or supposing that the Habomais and Shikotan were specifically in mind at the time.

  1. Saso Yasuo (of the Department of Geology and Mineralogy, Hokkaido Imperial University), “A Preliminary Note on the Geology of the Island of Shikotan,” Proceedings of the 5th Pacific Science Congress, vol. iii, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1934, pp. 2479–82. [Footnote in the original.]
  2. Charles E. Bohlen, Counselor of the Department, was Assistant to the Secretary of State for White House liaison at the time of the Yalta Conference, February 4–11, 1945.