Tuesday, August 30, 2011

From the Pages - Japanese Surrender and the USS Missouri

Aerial demonstration over Missouri, September 2, 1945. U.S. Navy
On September 2, 1945, the USS Missouri culminated her World War II service by hosting the surrender ceremonies between the Allied powers and the Empire of Japan.

The  following brief history of that momentous day is excerpted from USS Missouri at War by Kit and Carolyn Bonner.
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With the horn blowing and the Missouri’s whistle also on full, Admiral Halsey had his four-star flag was broken out on the mast. Unfortunately, the whistle was somewhat corroded, and its deafening noise would not stop for two minutes. The significance of the flag was that it was rarely flown, so as not to alert wary kamikazes that the Missouri had high-ranking staff aboard.

At 11:11 a.m., the noise died down as the actual belief that it was true began to sink in: forty-four months and seven days of war were finally over. This meant not being frightened every day, even if it was a latent fear.

The war in the Pacific should never have taken place. It was the brainchild of Imperial Japanese Army hotheads against conservative civilian leaders and many high-ranking naval officers. It was also in retaliation for perceived racial discrimination by America and the Washington Naval Arms Limitation Treaty. That treaty did treat the Japanese military in a very cavalier fashion.

Yet, once the Japanese decided upon war with the West, it was too late to fight the inevitable. There was the issue of cowardice and violating the national spirit, so all who once opposed that concept of attacking the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor quickly changed and jumped on the bandwagon. For the Japanese military and civilian population, it was a horrible and devastating decision that left the nation nearly in complete ruin. However, the twin nuclear explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, plus the B-29s that roamed the skies at will, convinced cooler heads that the war was lost. It was not just the horror of the atomic weapons that tipped the balance toward surrender. The aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy roamed at will around the home islands, and their air groups could bomb and strafe any target without real fear of reprisal. The Japanese military and civilian population were in essence held prisoner day and night by heavily armed aircraft. The Japanese were still building 1,700 aircraft per month, but this was of no value when every movement had to be preceded by a quick look to the sky. No amount of fanaticism or supreme belief in the power of the emperor would reverse complete and utter defeat that was just weeks away.

The battleship USS Missouri had been chosen virtually by groundswell in the United States as the ship destined to host the surrender activities. Washington insiders, reporters, columnists, and such printed or stated that the Missouri was to be the ship where it would all end. Men aboard the ship received letters from loved ones plus press clippings that seemed to confirm that the Missouri would be the location of the surrender and, as such, the site of one of the greatest diplomatic events in the history of mankind.

The ceremony is now over, and the Japanese delegation is leaving the Missouri to board their transportation ashore. 
The war was over. U.S. Navy.

To this end, two hundred officers and men had been transferred to the battleship Iowa from the Missouri to act as a landing party, as part of a naval expeditionary force to occupy the giant naval base at Yokosuka, the air station at Atsugi, and other important installations in the Tokyo region. Battleships Indiana, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Alabama made similar manpower contributions for the first landing party in Japan. This also freed up space aboard the Missouri for the large number of visitors expected.

When men at war were used to seeing sights rarely seen elsewhere, it was quite a surprise to see a beautiful, hand-tooled saddle sent over by high-line from the high-speed transport USS Gosselin (APD-126). The Chamber of Commerce of Reno, Nevada, had sent it as a gift to Admiral Halsey to ride the emperor’s legendary white horse. Bales of hay were sent over as well.

On August 14, President Truman received a formal confirmation from the Japanese emperor that all of the demands in the surrender package were agreeable, with minor changes. The time in Washington, D.C., was 1550. General Douglas MacArthur was to be supreme commander of all Allied powers. Japanese representatives were to meet him in Manila to establish the process for the surrender. Two aircraft painted white with green crosses flew the Japanese delegation to Ie Shima to transfer to an Army Air Force transport plane. In Manila, the dates and times were settled upon for the formal capitulation and the surrender of the Japanese military. Still, there were those Japanese who could not stomach the thought of surrender and on VJ Day alone, combat air patrols from the carriers and destroyer antiaircraft gunfire knocked down thirty-eight attacking Japanese aircraft,

The USS Missouri would host the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay adjacent to Sagami Wan with other capital ships; however, the aircraft carriers would remain at sea to provide air cover in the instance of any difficulties. They were also going to provide a demonstration of Allied air power over the Missouri, which included B-29s from the U.S. Army Air Forces.

Of course, safely entering Tokyo Bay necessitated information from local Japanese naval officers and harbor navigation pilots. The Japanese destroyer IJN Hatsuzakura brought the officials out to the destroyer USS Nicholas (DD-449) and then by highline to the Missouri. After the transfer was made, the little Japanese ship made a minor error in where it was to take station. The Missouri’s commanding officer convinced the Japanese captain by training ten 5-inch guns and 40mm mounts on his ship to encourage compliance.

It was only natural that many felt that the surrender was an elaborate ruse to destroy the Allied fleet. Certain Imperial Army staff generals and Admiral Toyoda of the Naval Ministry were not convinced that the damage done by the Atomic blasts was that critical, and that the Allies had no other similar weapons. Even one of the imperial family, Prince Takamatsu, had to visit Atsugi Airfield to keep the remaining kamikazes from attacking the Missouri when she entered Tokyo Bay. The pilots had been boasting of this plan and could not subject their nationalistic fervor to the emperor’s directives until confronted by the imperial family. Fortunately, nothing happened, and the surrender ceremony proceeded as planned. After all, treachery had happened before, so every precaution possible was being taken.

To prepare for the ceremony, scores of sailors from the Missouri’s crew were pressed into acting roles to practice the entrance and exit of all of the high-ranking officers and the Japanese representatives. After all, this was something that none of the participants had ever done in the past, and there was a certain theatrical flair to it. It had to be the height of officialdom, and the seriousness of the occasion could not in any way be marred. So, practice went on until it was nearly perfect. Actually, during the proceedings, there was only one noticeable mistake in protocol. A Russian photographer attempted to sneak into a forbidden area to capture the moment on film. A rather burly chief boatswain’s mate prevented this from happening.

Personnel aboard nearby ships were aghast when they saw a nineteen-year-old seaman climb up the accommodation ladder to the Missouri’s deck, and a flag officer’s gun salute was fired, and a four-star army general’s flag was hoisted. This went on for hours until the entire process was fine tuned.

Souvenir card given to all who witnessed the ceremony. U.S. Navy
The surrender document was drawn up on parchment paper well over a century old, located in a monastery in Manila. The ceremony was quite brief as the signers from the Allied powers stepped forward and the Japanese signers did likewise to end the war formally. The sole speech was by General MacArthur, and brief at that. The instrument was an unconditional surrender with some modifications to enable future governance by the supreme commander, who would be MacArthur. It had been worked out and agreed upon before this formal gathering took place. The emperor would not be present, as he was a godlike figure to his people.

Promptly at 0900 hours on September 2, the Allied and Japanese dignitaries and others gathered aboard the Missouri to carry out this final task. A U.S. destroyer brought them to the battleship. A small table from the crew’s mess was set up on a veranda for the actual signing, and level of importance dictated where a guest would be allowed to participate or view the proceedings. After General MacArthur signed for the Allies (using five pens), he gave souvenir pens to Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright and Lt. General Arthur E. Percival, and the rest for family and U.S. archives. The two generals had been the commanders of the Philippines and Singapore, respectively, who were forced to surrender in 1942 and spent the war in captivity.

First, the Japanese signers affixed their names to the documents, one in English, the other in Japanese. Next came the Allied powers:

  • General MacArthur, supreme allied commander (first before the Japanese or Allied powers)
  • United States of America: Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz
  • China: Gen. Hsu Yung-chang
  • United Kingdom – Adm. Sir Bruce Fraser
  • Soviet Union – Lt. Gen. Kuzma Derevyanko
  • Australia – Gen. Sir Thomas Blamey
  • Canada – Col. Lawrence Moore-Cosgrove
  • France – Gen. Jacques Le Clerc
  • Netherlands – Adm. C. E. L. Helfrich
  • New Zealand – Air Marshal L. M. Isitt

In just twenty-five minutes, it was over, and the Japanese delegation left the Missouri for the mainland of Japan.

Five days after the surrender had been signed, General MacArthur went ashore to the American embassy and hoisted the American flag. It was the same flag flown over the United States Capital on December 7, 1941.

Victory in war and in the Pacific had been achieved by the grace of God and the sacrifice of thousands of Allied military personnel. For a brief period, there was a euphoria that assured the world that there would be no more wars.

On September 5, the USS Missouri left for Guam on her way back to the United States. Her role in history had been assured for all time.

The plaque that now is attached to the spot where the surrender occurred states:

U.S.S. Missouri
Latitude 35 degrees 21 minutes 17 seconds North
Longitude 139 degrees 45 minutes 16 seconds East


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