Japan, the Surrender
By LtGen Louis Metzger, USMC(Ret)
The author recalls his experiences as a participant in one of the century's most dramatic and emotional events.
Originally published in the August 1995 Marine Corps Gazette
One of the great advantages of being a Marine is the opportunity to take part in historical events. I have been more fortunate than most, as I was present for the surrender of Japan in World War II, and later for the surrender of Japanese forces in north China. What follows are my memories of the initial landing in Japan, August 1945.
Several weeks after the end of the fighting on Okinawa, the 6th Marine Division (reinforced) embarked and returned to Guam. After 2 years as a battalion commander, and now a member of the division staff I could not get accustomed to how well we lived. On Guam, our camp overlooking Pago Bay was sheer luxury. Two of us shared one tent, a wooden deck, electric light, and unbelievably an electric refrigerator stocked with soft drinks.There were nightly movies and, for the field, good food. On the same side of the island was the camp of the 3d Marine Division, now rehabilitated from the rigors of Iwo Jima and combat ready. In fact, that division along with other units was just about to depart for the initial landing on Kagoshima near the southern tip of Japan.
Replacements of men and equipment were flowing in, and we were resting after the intense combat on Okinawa. We heard that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan but were not familiar with the weapon. Then we heard about the second atomic bomb and Japan's surrender. Knowing the first troops had sailed for landings in Japan, and knowing we were scheduled to land several months later on the Kanto Plains in the Tokyo area, we were happy in the extreme. Okinawa had convinced us that fighting on the Japanese homeland would be bloody indeed.
To my surprise, although I was the assistant division G-3 (operations), I found that I had been selected to be the chief of staff of Task Force A, Third Fleet, the designated initial landing force. The major element was to be the 4th Marines, reinforced with the normal supporting units. The old 4th Marines had been captured in the Philippines, so it was fitting that the reconstituted 4th Marines should take the surrender in Japan. A hastily assembled staff of young officers sailed on the USS Ozark. We were commanded by the assistant division commander, a brigadier general. Initially no specific mission was assigned; that would come later. The 4th Marines were embarking to follow us.
We joined up with the Third Fleet, got together with the amphibious force commander, a Navy commodore, and planning started. We found our objective was the main Japanese Navy base at Yokosuka, and that the Army would be landing airborne troops at Atsugi Airfield. We also found that a provisional Navy regiment and another Marine regiment (composed of Marines from ships' detachments), both assembled from the ships of the fleet, plus a British landing force of some 450 Sailors and Royal Marines would take part in the landing. Although the 4th Marines and the British Marines were well trained and combat hardened, the remaining units from an assortment of ships were neither trained nor properly equipped for land combat or landing operations and were of limited value. However, everyone wanted to be represented at this historic event. An unusual aspect of this operation was that officers attending the various staff conferences, and all the Sailors and Marines in the provisional regiments, were transferred at sea, by breeches buoy (high line transfer) with the ships underway. It was a thrill to be swinging on a line between two large ships "steaming" at some 20 knots.
Two landing plans were developed; one called for a landing at Zuchi, (across the peninsula from Yokosuka) with a subsequent move overland to seize the naval base at Yokosuka. The other was to risk the minefields, move the amphibious force into Tokyo Bay, and land directly on Yokosuka. Because of the fear of Japanese treachery, the logistics of the overland move, and the fact that landing at Zuchi would require our forces to pass through a series of tunnels, which could easily be destroyed, Plan Two was adopted. Again, because of fear of Japanese treachery, plans for naval gun fire and air support were developed in the event the landing was opposed.
On 30 August, guided by Japanese pilots, we sailed into Sagami Wan (Bay) with the entire Third Fleet (less carriers which remained at sea in order to provide air cover if needed), plus a British Fleet, and anchored in the shadow of Mount Fuji. Sagami Wan was filled with an assortment of battle ships, cruisers, and destroyers, the greatest fleet the world has ever seen, all anchored in the shadow of Mount Fuji. One cannot describe the emotions of those present, who after 4 years of a deadly and costly war were privileged to be present at the surrender. The Japanese had been ordered to place a white flag on each fortification and gun position, and we were impressed by the number and depth of the defenses. The hills overlooking Tokyo Bay were covered with white flags. An assault would have been costly indeed. That night the order was issued for the ships to "illuminate", i.e., turn on lights; few, if any, did. Four years of training not to disclose one's location was deeply ingrained.The order was issued a sec ond time and this time the ships one by one turned on their lights. In war time the colors are never lowered, the sign of surrender. In addition to the colors, which normally flew at the stern of each ship, that night every ship flew a large national flag from the fore truck (mast), which was illuminated. Anchored in the bay were the battleships Iowa, Missouri, and Wiscousin, surrounded by cruisers, destroyers, amphibious and service ships, literally hundreds, stretching as far as the eye could see. I have never seen anything so impressive. After 41/2 years of war and thousands of casualties, we were finally going to accept the surrender of Japan.
A typhoon had damaged many of the airplanes that were scheduled to lift the 11th Airborne Division (Army) to Atsugi Air Field, the U.S. Army's contribution to the effort. The result was that the amphibious force was kept at anchor in Sagami Wan and the scheduled landing was delayed. One can only conclude that Gen MacArthur, the designated Supreme Commander, did not want the naval forces to land first.
On August 30th the order came to "Land the Landing Force"; L-day, had arrived. Under the weak pretense that the forts located both in and flanking Tokyo Bay were still functional (which they were not), Marine forces landed at 0550, thus beating the Army into Japan by several hours. At H-hour (0930) the two assault battalions from the 4th Marines landed at the main naval base of Yokosuka and on the airfield to the north.They were followed by the provisional Marine and Blue Jacket regiments. The British landing force landed between the two main elements and seized the petroleum and stores area. Both before and during the landing, Navy fighter planes were swooping down and running their wheels on the airfield in order for their pilots to claim they were among the first to land on Japan.
Much to everyone's relief, the Japanese, as they had been ordered to do, cleared the landing area and had ringed the designated area with police brought down from Tokyo, augmented by the dreaded Kempai Tai (Thought Police). At every building and installation, there was a Japanese present with a complete set of keys and a list of all the contents of the building written in both English and Japanese. The landing went without a hitch and at 1015 the American flag was raised over the Japanese headquarters building. The flag was the same one which had been raised over Guam by the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, and over Okinawa by the 6th Marine Division, our parent command.
The landing force settled into the Japanese structures and remained within the designated area. There were few, if any, incidents. As the 4th Marines had just come off Okinawa after a bloody 83-day battle, it was feared the Marines would be too aggressive-no problem. Task Force A Headquarters was moved into the old Japanese Navy Headquarters, along with the Navy Headquarters, Task Force 31. The general and his staff moved into the row of beautiful Japanese houses lined up behind the headquarters; the Navy commander and his staff preferred to be housed aboard ship. Behind each house was a cave dug into the hillside, attesting to the efficiency of our air attacks. The houses were typical, Japanese, with tatami mats on the floor, hot tubs, screen separations, etc. Being "conquerors," we brought in beds and field furniture and settled in.Japanese house boys were hired and to their horror we used the Japanese tubs incorrectly. Instead of soaping up and rinsing off before entering the tub, the Japanese way, we got right into the hot water and washed in the tub. Not only was that highly improper in their eyes, but it meant the tub had to be emptied and cleaned after each bath. So be it, we had won the war, and things were going to be done our way. The Marine units were housed in old Japanese barracks that soon looked much more American. Until the field kitchens were ashore and working we ate field rations but soon were fed hot chow. We were amazed at the Japanese officer's club, furnished half Japanese and half "western." One suite, reported to belong to a prince, was purely Japanese with stones and old wood set in the flooring. It was beautiful.
Two days later the formal surrender by the Japanese was held aboard the USS Missouri. After 41/2 years of war we were at peace.
An interesting sidelight-several days after the initial landing and when the flagship was alongside of the dock, several Russian officers arrived in a chauffeur-driven Zis (imitation Packard) sedan and requested to come aboard. This was surprising as Russia and Japan were at war, yet these officers seemed to travel freely about Japan. Again to my surprise, the senior U.S. officers refused to allow them to come aboard, even though they were our wartime allies.
Our mission was to demilitarize the various installations, disarm the Japanese military, collect all civilian weapons, and ensure control was maintained. Considering only the 4th Marines and the 11th Airborne Division were ashore among millions of Japanese military and civilians, it was interesting. It must be said the Japanese maintained strict control and kept us fully informed of possible problems. On one occasion the Japanese Navy requested we provide a destroyer to meet a Japanese submarine that was about to enter Tokyo Bay and remove its commanding officer, who was a known "hot head." They were correct, he committed suicide before our ship met his submarine.
We sent daily patrols to collect weapons and take the surrender of Japanese units. Our pile of enemy and civilian weapons grew and each member of the U.S. Forces was allowed to select one as a souvenir. I selected a beautiful old shotgun with its barrels decorated with gold and silver, however it "disappeared" from my office closet so I selected as a replacement a less glamorous weapon that I was able to bring home.
The Navy elements of the occupation force were busy taking over Japanese warships and submarines and the extensive navy yard. The last battle ship afloat, His Imperial Majesty's Ship (HIMS) Nagato was one of the ships, later sunk in an atomic bomb test.
It was a very busy time. Intelligence officers were prowling the area and examining equipment, I suppose trying to find out just how correct we had been in our estimates of enemy capabilities.There were lines of midget submarines almost ready for sea, and on the airfield baka (Fool) bombs to be manned by kamakazi pilots on their last ride. Most interesting to me were the amphibian vehicles not too unlike our own. They were designed to be carried on the deck of a submarine and, when launched, to crawl over the protecting reefs of our western Pacific anchorages to attack our ships. I was told of an underwater kamakazi corps that was assigned to our landing beaches to place shaped charges on the end of long poles against the hulls of our landing craft and vehicles, thus destroying the attacking elements and themselves.
The largest hill in the center of the navy yard had been hollowed out and in the center was a chamber several stories high that was used as a command center. It has been used by the U.S. Navy for the same function ever since. Along the foot of the same hill were numerous caves filled with military and hospital equipment. Some of the latter had markings that indicated they had been donated by the United States to Japan as earthquake relief in 1923.
Taking some time off, and with an interpreter, I drove through Yokohama to Tokyo and did some sightseeing. Both large cities had been leveled to the ground by fire and bombs as far as the eye could see. They were completely devastated. All that was standing were chimneys and an occasional safe sticking up through the rubble. The Diet (parliament) building and the Imperial Palace seemed untouched by the war, but the Ginza, the principle downtown area of Tokyo, was filled with tall buildings, all just empty shells, burned out. It was much worse than the pictures I had seen of Europe at the same time period. It was a sobering experience.
I was not the only one interested in sightseeing. We had a flood of senior officers, and it was my lot to take several on a conducted tour of the Yokosuka area. Without exception they were interesting and pleasant.
All American and Allied prisoners of war (POWs) were being evacuated by the Army on hospital ships through the port of Yokohama. We were able to bring about 120 members of the old 4th Marines, and other Marine POWs to Yokosuka for a parade and dinner. We did not have uniforms to issue them but each was presented with a Marine Corps emblem. It was startling to see brave men with tears in their eyes. Some few wanted to reenlist on the spot to serve with the occupation forces. As they had been released by the Japanese many days before and had traveled unmolested about Japan, able to get food from U.S. air drops they did not look too bad, most with a false fat from eating adequately for the first time in years. We served them a steak dinner and beer. For some it was too much; they became ill. After the ceremony they were returned to Yokohama for medical evacuation to the states.
Occupation turned into a routine. The Japanese cooperated perfectly. I was interested that in our first contacts with Japanese officers, they wore campaign ribbons on their uniforms. As we did not, they wore none in subsequent meetings.We took over all their transportation for our own use, leaving very senior officers to come to our headquarters on foot.
It was also party time; the war was over and we were alive. Adm William F. Halsey had some great parties in the Yokosuka Officer's Club. I think I was the most junior officers present at the gathering of Allied brass. Where the liquor came from I will never know, but it was there in quantities. The women were Red Cross workers and nurses from the hospital ships. Much to the consternation of the Army, which had the responsibility of evacuating POWs, Halsey regularly ordered the hospital ships to move from Yokohama to Yokosuka for his soirees. As Adm Halsey had vowed to ride the Emperors white horse, in symbolism and fun he rode a small white rocking horse about the Officers Club. A talented Navy captain entertained us with his rendition of the song 4he had written, "BY NIMITZ-AND HALSEY,-AND ME, "an ode to the accomplishments of the U.S. Navy. At one party, someone stole Halsey's hat. Correctly or not, he thought it was a British officer. There were no "Brits" at subsequent parties.
There was also a good bit of collecting or "liberating." All hands, following an old American custom, were after souvenirs. In addition to the one Japanese weapon everyone was authorized, there was a frenzied rush to gather whatever else came to hand. The British forces were assigned to land and secure the central area that contained the warehouses. They expertly cleaned out the area, their ships riding lower and lower in the water as the loot was carried aboard.
Stability was established and the need for our headquarters was past. Leaving the 4th Marines and some of our staff behind as part of the occupation force, we departed. We flew back to Guam to rejoin the division not knowing we were off for China and another look at history. But that is another story.