Archive for September, 2020

SHAKO: Guadalcanal Redux?; Congress Honors Merrill’s Marauders; RIP Ed Bearrs

The Next Pacific War.

The challenge a peer competitor like China poses for the U.S. military in a future conflict across the Indo-Pacific region bears striking similarities to the war between the United States and the Empire of Japan in the same battlespace more than 75 years ago. And two top Marine Corps planners say American forces today have to prepare for a fight unlike anything they’ve seen since the Gulf War, your 4GWAR editor writes in Seapower magazine.

The United States pursued a two-pronged offensive across the central and southwest Pacific to roll back the Japanese advance. (Image: The National WWII Museum.)

Like the Marines who landed on Guadalcanal in August 1942, today’s Marines will face the same sweeping distances of the world’s largest ocean, on scattered, remote islands of steaming jungle or barren volcanic rock. As in the early days of World War II, U.S. naval and Marine forces will have to deal with vulnerable supply lines, and sea, air and cyberspace contested by one of the largest and best armed militaries in the world. That’s the framework for the next conflict,” Major General Gregg Olson, director of the Marine Corps Staff, told the virtual Modern Day Marine Exposition on Sept. 23.

Japan in 1941 was a near-peer adversary of the United States, with advanced technology, expansionist policies and a bullying attitude toward neighboring countries, Olson, notes.  While the foes and times have changed “the concepts and realities of war in the vast distances that occur in the Pacific remain the same,” he added.

U.S. Navy and Marine Corps F4F Wildcat fighters lined up on Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, January 1943. (National Archives)

Victory on Guadalcanal and the rest of the Pacific came “at the cost of capital ships and thousands of lives,” Olson pointed out. Another speaker at Modern Day Marine, Major General Paul Rock, director of Marine Corps  Strategies and Plans, said high casualties could be likely again. “Attrition is going to be a factor in a future fight,” Rock said.

While that may prove true, the Marines are not resigned to taking the same heavy casualties they suffered in the Pacific island-hopping campaign of World War II, General David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, insisted a day later at a State of the Marine Corps event livestreamed by the Defense One website.

For a closer look into Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands campaign click here and for an even deeper dive (if you like historical records)  click here. It’s all your tax dollars at work.

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Remembering Merrill’s Marauders.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill September 22 that would award the Congressional Gold Medal to members of the famed World War II special operations Army unit, the 5307th Composite Unit, better known as Merrill’s Marauders.

The Senate passed a version of the bill late last year, and supporters say they expect President Donald Trump will sign the legislation, the newspaper Stars and Stripes reports. Created as a long range, light infantry unit trained in jungle warfare, the 5307th, code-named Galahad, was tasked with penetrating deep into Japanese-held territory to disrupt communications, cut supply lines and capture an airfield.

Merrill’s Marauders crossing Tanai River, Burma, on March 18, 1944  with pack animals. (U.S. Army photo)

The volunteer unit was formed in 1943, with more than 900 jungle-trained officers and men from Caribbean Defense Command, 600 Army veterans of Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands campaign, a few hundred more from Southwest Pacific Command, veterans of the New Guinea and Bougainville campaigns, and another 900 jungle-trained troops from Army Ground Forces stateside. Fourteen Japanese-American (Nisei) Military Intelligence Service translators were also assigned to the unit. In just five months in 1944, the Marauders fought often larger Japanese forces in 32 engagements including five major battles across some of the toughest conditions of the war: the disease-infested jungles of Burma and the rugged foothills of the Himalayas. “I fought in World War II, in Korea in the Pork Chop Hill sector and did two combat tours in Vietnam. But the worse fighting I experienced was in Burma with Merrill’s Marauders,” said Gilbert Howland, 96, one of eight still living members of the nearly 3,000-man outfit.

Dubbed Merrill’s Marauders after their commander, then-Brigadier General Frank Merrill, the men were tasked with a “dangerous and hazardous mission” behind Japanese lines in Burma, where the fall of the country’s capital of Rangoon had severely threatened the Allied supply line to China. In their final mission, the Marauders were ordered to push enemy forces out of the town of Myitkyina, the only city with an all-weather airstrip in Northern Burma, according to Military Times.

Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill, commander of “Merrill’s Marauders,” poses between Japanese-American interpreters, Tech/Sergeant Herbert Miyasaki and Tech/Sergeant Akiji Yoshimura in Burma, May 1, 1944. (National Archives and Records Administration.)

Weakened by disease, malnourishment and enemy attacks during the march, the Marauders, effective force dwindled to 1,500. However, the reduced numbers of the 5307th were still able to take the airfield on May 17, 1944, but the nearby town of Myitkyina proved to have a larger Japanese garrison than intelligence reports indicated. It was only with Chinese reinforcements that the town fell to Allied troops on August 3. After five months of combat, 95 percent of the Marauders were dead, wounded, or deemed no longer medically fit for combat.

Distinctive Unit Insignia of the 75th Ranger Regiment

Although operational for only a few months, Merrill’s Marauders gained a fierce reputation for hard fighting and tenacity as the first American infantry force to see ground action in Asia. Considered a forerunner of today’s Special Operations troops, the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment’s distinctive unit insignia honors the legacy of the Marauders by replicating the design of their shoulder shoulder sleeve insignia.





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Ed Bearrs: Leatherneck, Civil War Historian.

We recently learned that respected Civil War historian Ed Bearrs passed away on September 15 at the age of 97. Among historians, military students and Civil War buffs Bearrs was highly regarded, especially for his guided tours of historic battlefields. But he is probably best known as one of the historians explaining the War Between the States on the landmark 1990 PBS documentary, “The Civil War,” by Ken Burns.

Ed Bearrs in Ken Burns’ landmark documentary “The Civil War” on PBS.

One thing we didn’t know here at 4GWAR until we started reading the obituaries and recollections of Bearrs’ long career was that he was a World War II veteran, a Marine severely wounded by machine gun fire in early 1944 on the island of New Britain.

Bearrs spent 26 months in military hospitals recovering from his wounds at a place fellow Marines dubbed Suicide Creek. Numerous surgeries saved his shattered arms but he was left with permanent nerve damage that affected his dexterity. Following his discharge from the Marines in 1946, Bearrs went to college on the GI Bill, earning a bachelors degree at Georgetown University and and a master’s degree in history from Indiana University.

He  began working for the National Park Service in 1955 at Vicksburg National Military Park, where he served as the park historian. While there he was instrumental in locating the resting place of the Union gunboat Cairo. He was also a tour guide of historic battlefields for The Smithsonian Associates and served as Chief Historian of the National Park Service from 1981 to 1994. In 1995, after his retirement, he was named Chief Historian Emeritus, a position he held until his death. But he was best known for his dramatic commentary on Civil War battles in the 1990 PBS documentary, that sparked renewed interest in the Civil War.

Corporal Ed Bearrs, USMC with Purple Heart medal.

Bearss wrote numerous books and articles about the Civil War, including a three-volume history of the Vicksburg campaign. Bearss started interpretative tours as part of his official duties in Vicksburg. Even after he was promoted and became heavily involved in battlefield preservation efforts across the country, Bearrs kept giving tours as an avocation on weekends. He attracted ROTC classes, active-duty military officers and VIPs — and other historians.

The Civil War Preservation Trust created the Ed Bearss Award for achievements in historic preservation and made him the first recipient in 2001. Other awards and honors include: the 1962 Harry S Truman Award for Meritorious Service in the field of Civil War History; Distinguished Service Award from the Department of the Interior in 1983 and the American Battlefield Trust’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.


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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

September 26, 2020 at 12:00 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (September 25, 2020)

Resistance Training.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka A. Woolever)

Is this how they walk dogs in the Air Force?

Actually, No. This photo shows Air Force Staff Sergeant Jason Taylor, a military working dog handler with the 31st Security Force Squadron,  and his K-9 counterpart, Ben. If this is resistance training, it’s hard to determine who’s resisting who.

According to the Air Force caption that came with this photo, Taylor was using a dog toy during basic obedience training at Aviano Air Base in Italy on August 18, 2020.

September 24, 2020 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (September 18, 2020)

Different Perspective.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brandon Salas)

At 4GWAR Blog, we’re used to seeing Marines, Army Rangers and other frontline troops fast rope out of a hovering helicopter, but from, a different angle — usually a long camera shot, far enough away to see the hovering aircraft, and the troops sliding down the rope, and sometimes the view from the aircraft, looking down. But here we see things from the deck of the amphibious assault ship USS America looking up at a MV-22B Osprey’s tail section and the sky above.

These Marines are with the Maritime Raid Force (MRF) of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). They’re fast roping onto the America’s deck from an Osprey assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262 (Reinforced) — another part of the 31st MEU.

The Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is the smallest Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF), a combination of air, ground and support assets. Together, with Sailors and Navy ships they serve as the nation’s forward deployed, quick response team, capable of accomplishing numerous missions around the globe.

The MEU, commanded by a Marine Corps colonel, comprises approximately 2,200 Marines and Sailors based aboard three or four amphibious ships. These ships are manned by another 2,000-plus Sailors and Marines, and as a group are designated as an Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) commanded by a senior Navy Captain. Joined together, the MEU and PHIBRON are designated as an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG). The America, flagship of the America Amphibious Ready Group, operates in the 7th fleet area of operations in the Indo-Pacific region.   The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ only continuously forward-deployed MEU. ,

The fast rope sustainment training prepares the MRF for specialized insertion methods in support of a variety air-to-ship operations, including visit-board-search-and seizure (as seen in this photo), maritime interdiction and specialized limited scale raids.

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION, click on the highlighted links.

September 18, 2020 at 12:06 pm Leave a comment

Robots, Droids & Drones: Fighter Jets and AI Wingmen; Expanding Drone Warfare in Africa; SeaGuardian Maritime Tests

Artificial Intelligence in the Cockpit.

Recent developments in artificial intelligence (AI) doesn’t mean AI will be replacing fighter jet pilots anytime soon, say Pentagon officials.

“I don’t see human fighter pilots being phased out. I see their effectiveness being enhanced by cooperation with artificial intelligence systems,” says Dr. Mark J. Lewis — the Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Seapower magazine reports.

An AI algorithm developed by Heron Systems defeated an experienced F-16 fighter pilot in all five rounds of virtual air combat on August 20 at the Alpha Dogfight Trials. It was the culmination of a year-long competition — originally involving eight teams — in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Air Combat Evolution program (ACE). The ACE program seeks to increase humans’ trust in combat autonomy through human-machine collaborative dogfighting.

Heron Systems’ artificial intelligence algorithm defeated an experienced F-16 fighter pilot in five straight virtual dogfights.

“The key takeaway was the artificial intelligence system did so well because it wasn’t so concerned about self-preservation.  It was willing to do things that a human pilot wouldn’t do and that’s the advantage of artificial intelligence,” Lewis told a virtual conference on technology and strategy in the era of Great Power competition presented by Defense News.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper was so impressed by the Alpha Dogfight results that he announced at the Pentagon’s AI Symposium on September 9th that the ACE program will proceed to testing AI against humans flying actual fighter aircraft in 2024.

However, Esper was quick to assure a world increasingly nervous about armed automatons, Breaking Defense noted. “To be clear, AI’s role in our lethality is to support human decision-makers, not replace them,” Esper said, adding, “We see AI as a tool to free up resources, time, and manpower so our people can focus on higher priority tasks, and arrive at the decision point, whether in a lab or on the battlefield, faster and more precise than the competition.”

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Drones in Hot Pursuit.

U.S. Africa Command wants the authority to carry out armed drone strikes targeting al Qaeda-linked al Shabab fighters in portions of eastern Kenya, the New York Times reported September 15. American officials say that could expand the war zone across the border from Shabab’s sanctuaries in Somalia.

The push for the expanded authority traces back to a January  2020 Shabab attack on a military base in Kenya that housed U.S. troops. The attack on the airfield at Manda Bay killed three Americans and caused millions of dollars in damage. Since 2010, al-Shabab has killed hundreds of innocent people outside the borders of Somalia.

The eastern border of Kenya with Somalia on the Horn of Africa.

The attack caught American and Kenyan forces by surprise, but Marine Raiders — the Special Operations unit of the Marine Corps — were in a base about a mile away and led the counter attack,  Marine Corps Times reported at the time. About a dozen Marines from 3rd Marine Raider Battalion, based out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, led Kenyan commandos against the Islamic militants in an intense firefight with the Shabab militants, ultimately pushing the Islamic fighters out of the military base. However, the attackers eluded pursuers and fled back to Somalian territory.

As they confronted the fallout from the debacle, officials recognized that they lacked guidelines to conduct drone strikes in Kenya should Shabab attack there again, the Times noted.

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SeaGuardian Shows Maritime Capabilities

An MQ-9B SeaGuardian. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA‑ASI) has concluded a set of maritime test flights over the sea-lanes off the coast of Southern California, using the MQ-9B SeaGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), the company announced September 14.

It was the first MQ-9B to be configured for surveillance operations over open-water and the flights demonstrated MQ-9B capabilities in the maritime environment, Seapower magazine noted.

SeaGuardian is an MQ-9B SkyGuardian configured for maritime ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) mission. The SkyGuardian, itself, is a variant of General Atomics’ venerable Predator B large surveillance and attack drone.

The Southern California test flight demonstrated how SeaGuardian can be used for a variety of maritime missions, including surface search, subsurface search, littoral surveillance, anti-piracy and search and rescue.

September 17, 2020 at 3:55 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (September 11, 2020)

Let the Sparks Fly.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Taylor DiMartino)

They may look like golden sequins, but those are sparks flying as a Marine with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) uses a welding torch to simulate breaching a sealed access during a  boarding, search and seizure exercise aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown.

An MEU, consists of about 2,200 Marines and Sailors under the command of a Marine Corps colonel. The MEU is built around a 1,200-Marine infantry battalion, armed with medium and heavy machine guns, mortars, combined anti-armor teams and scout snipers. It’s backed up by light armored reconnaissance vehicles, tanks, artillery, combat engineers and amphibious assault vehicles. MEUs also have a mixed aviation element of helicopters and fighter jets that can land vertically on an amphibious assault ship’s flight deck.

The Germantown is part of the America Amphibious Ready Group assigned to Amphibious Squadron 11, along with the 31st MEU. They all serve in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility in the Indo-Pacific region.

September 12, 2020 at 12:05 am Leave a comment


Due to technical difficulties, the September 11, 2020 FRIDAY FOTO will be delayed until 12:05 a.m. Saturday, September 12, 2020.

Sullivan Cup

Your 4GWAR Editor

September 11, 2020 at 11:28 pm Leave a comment

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: Medal of Honor for Ranger (Updated); Al Qaeda Threat in Africa

Army Ranger Awarded Medal of Honor

Army Sergeant Major Thomas “Patrick” Payne conducting a security patrol while on a mission in northern Afghanistan in 2014. (Courtesy photo via U.S. Army)

Army Sergeant Major Thomas “Patrick” Payne — a Ranger in the U.S. Army Special Operations Command — received the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on Friday (September 11, 2020) for heroics in 2015 when he and others rescued some 70 hostages facing imminent execution by Islamic State (ISIS) fighters.

Payne, then a Sergeant 1st Class, was the assistant team leader of a group of operators with the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta. They joined Kurdish commandos on the October 22, 2015, nighttime raid to free Iraqi hostages from the ISIS prison compound in the northern town of Hawija.

Payne will become the first living Delta Force member to receive the Medal of Honor, according to Army officials have identified Payne as a Ranger, but they have not publicly confirmed his affiliation with the elite and highly secretive Delta Force, the website noted.

Intelligence reported the hostages were being housed in two buildings inside the heavily-fortified compound. Payne’s team would be responsible for clearing one of them. The raiders arrived by CH-47 Chinook helicopter, but a complete brownout ensued as the helicopter rotors stirred up dust. Using their night vision googles, Payne and others navigated to the wall of the compound as enemy gunfire erupted, according to an Army report of the incident.

Patrick’s team met light resistance as they cleared their assigned building. Once inside, they used bold cutters to break thick locks on two rooms with steel prison doors, releasing nearly 40 hostages. There was still an intense firefight going on at the other building. The other team radioed for assistance.

Under heavy machine-gun fire Patrick and others climbed a ladder to the roof of the one-story building, where they engaged the enemy with hand grenades and small arms fire. Insurgents below them detonated suicide vests, causing the roof to shake. At the same time, smoke billowed out from the roof and enemy gunfire targeted Patrick’s team.

They moved under heavy fire back to ground level and breached windows and walls to enter the building. Once inside, the fighting was intense and the Kurdish commandos began taking casualties.

In order to release the remaining hostages, Patrick reentered the flaming structure with bolt cutters despite heavy gunfire fire. Flames touched off ammunition from a nearby weapons cache. Amid the smoke and chaos, Patrick twice more entered the burning building and with the Kurds, helped release about 30 more hostages.

Patrick and the others did not learn that one of their team members Master Sergeant Josh Wheeler, had been killed in action, until they returned to base.

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Why Africa Matters.

The head of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa says the continent is important in the effort to counter violent extremist organizations.

“Al Qaeda and Islamic State have both stated that they intend to attack and undermine the United States,” says Air Force Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, adding that both groups have found a safe haven in Africa. In Africa, Anderson told an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) virtual conference on countering violent extremism, “they can establish themselves, they can develop their means ,and then they can eventually establish — whether it’s a caliphate or their area of control that will give them resources” to undermine the international order and attack the United States and Western allies and partners.

The Sahel Region of Africa. (Wikipedia)

Having lost its caliphate in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State has been West, with the Islamic State Grand Sahara in the Mali region and the Islamic State West Africa, in Northeastern Nigeria. Even more disturbing, Anderson said, “we’re seeing them as they expand down the eastern coast, the Swahili coast of Africa. And so we see them established in Somalia. We see them going down into Mozambique, in Tanzania. And we see that these affiliates continue to expand and leverage each other.”

Meanwhile, Al Qaeda has been more patient, avoiding attention while it created two big affiliates — al Shabaab in Somalia and AQIM, al Qaeda Islamic Maghreb. 

“This is not a threat that one nation can take care of on its own. It’s not a United States problem. It’s an international problem,” Anderson said.

Special operations troops have long trained their counterparts in Somalia, Kenya, Niger and other countries, while civil affairs units have supported local goodwill projects, in countries like Cameroon, where Nigeria-based Boko Haram encroaches, notes Military Times.

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Silver Stars for Heroism.

Two Green Berets and an Air Force pararescueman were awarded Silver Star medals for their heroism during a nearly eight-hour firefight last year after the Special Forces team stumbled upon an elite Taliban force in a small Afghan village, according to Stars and Stripes.

All three Silver Stars were awarded at a small ceremony in the Rock Garden on the 7th Group compound at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida., in August, along with six Bronze Star Medals with Valor devices, three Army Commendation Medals with Valor devices and four Purple Hearts earned over the six-month deployment last year of the 7th Group’s 1st Battalion.

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SOCOM Modernizes Small Craft Fleet.

The small surface craft fleet that supports the clandestine operations of Navy SEALs and Marine Raiders is undergoing a modernization program, according to Seapower magazine.

The SEALs use special operations craft, to approach shores and insert and extract teams of special warfare operators. These craft are fast, quiet, capable of shallow-water operations, and armed with machine guns for use if their cover is blown. The small craft also can be used for coastal patrol missions and to interdict hostile craft and conduct visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) missions.

Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC) operate the Special Operations Craft Riverine (SOC-R), which is specifically designed for the clandestine insertion and extraction of U.S. Navy SEALs and other special operations forces in shallow waterways and open water environments. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jayme Pastoric)

Navy Special Warfare Command, the parent unit of the SEAL teams, as a component of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), receives much of its equipment not through normal service acquisition channels but through SOCOM. SOCOM is a combatant command but is unusual in that it has its own acquisition budget and programs.

The special warfare community nearing completion of recapitalization of two classes of small boats and well along in a modernization program that will increase the capabilities of its special operations craft. See details here.

September 11, 2020 at 2:11 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (September 4, 2020)

Battle tested.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.)

Two World War II era warbrids fly in formation over the Hawaiian island of Oahu on September 1, 2020, for the 75th Commemoration of the End of WWII.

In the foreground is a restored Grumman TBM Avenger, a torpedo/bomber flown off U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. Future President George H.W. Bush piloted an Avenger in the Pacific. During a bombing run on the Bonin Islands in September 1944, his plane was hit by antiaircraft fire. The engine caught fire but Bush completed his bomb run before heading out to sea and bailing out. Two other crew members did not survive. Bush was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In the background of the photo is a North American B-25J Mitchell medium bomber, a much upgraded version of the 16 B-25B bombers that flew from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet for an April 1942 air raid on Japan. The attack was in retaliation for the December 1941 sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. While the raid — led by the legendary pilot James “Jimmy” Doolittle — did minimal damage to Tokyo and other Japanese targets, it had major psychological effects. It raised morale in the United States and also raised doubts in Japan about military leaders’ ability to defend the home islands. For originating, planning and leading the daredevil mission, Doolittle was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award for bravery.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Rodriguez Santiago/Released)

Fourteen World War II-era warplanes were transported from San Diego to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in early August on the amphibious assault ship USS Essex. They were transferred by cranes from the ship to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, two weeks before they were to take to the sky for a series of flyovers to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the war’s end, according to Stars and Stripes.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jaimar Carson Bondurant)

September 4, 2020 at 6:51 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: The End — Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945

The Final Act

Seventy-five years ago, on September 2, 1945, the Second World War came to an end, after six and a half horrendous years of destruction and slaughter.

Sailors aboard the battleship USS Missouri watch the signing of the Instrument of Surrender, Sept. 2, 1945 in Tokyo Bay.  Photographed looking forward from USS Missouri’s superstructure.  (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives)

The ceremony in Tokyo Bay aboard the jam-packed battleship USS Missouri on the morning of September 2, was the culmination of a hectic and brutal month of developments. Following the bloody battles to capture the Japanese outer islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in early 1945 — both resulting in spectacular carnage, according to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans — the allies were preparing for the invasion of the Japanese home Islands and even more casualties, perhaps as many as 1 million American and allied soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

At the Potsdam Conference in Germany, following the defeat of the Nazis in Europe, U.S. President Harry Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (who was about to be replaced by Clement Attlee) and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin issued a declaration July 26, demanding Japan’s “unconditional surrender.” Back channel negotiations failed to move the Japanese despite continued bombing raids that shattered or incinerated Japan’s cities.

Unwilling to negotiate terms for a conditional surrender and convinced that the Japanese would not surrender before a final, apocalyptic battle, Truman authorized the world’s first atomic attack.  On August 6, the American B-29 Superfortess bomber, Enola Gay, dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima, killing as many as 140,000 people. Two days later, August 8, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, pouring 1 million troops into Manchuria. The next day, August 9, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb over Nagasaki, ultimately killing approximately 70,000. A 2015 article in Stars and Stripes reveals Truman’s thinking before and after making this shattering choice in two diary entries and other writings.

President Harry S. Truman announces Japan’s surrender on Aug. 14, 1945, a little more than a week after an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, followed by a second atomic bombing of Nagasaki. (U.S. National Archives)

Truman announced on August 14, that Japan had surrendered unconditionally, and war-weary citizens around the world erupted in celebration. The next day in his first ever radio address to the Japanese people, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan had surrendered. While most hostilities stopped (it took a while to get the word out to Japanese troops in far flung parts of Asia and the Pacific), it was decided that the official Victory over Japan Day (V-J Day) would officially be celebrated in the United States on the day formal surrender documents were signed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay: September 2, 1945.

Japanese delegation on board the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945. (U.S. Army Signal Corps photo)

The 11 Japanese delegates assigned to make the surrender arrived at 8:56 a.m. local time, led by Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and representatives of the Japanese military. Assembled around them were thousands of American sailors as well as representatives of all of the Allied nations—and, of course, dozens of journalists, for this ceremony would be broadcast across the world. “A million eyes seemed to beat on us with the million shafts of a rattling storm of arrows barbed with fire,” recalled Japanese diplomat Toshikazu Kase. “Never have I realized that the glance of glaring eyes could hurt so much. We waited . . . standing in the public gaze like penitent boys awaiting the dreaded schoolmaster,” the National WWII Museum recounted.

Five-star General of the Army Douglas MacArthur signed the document as the supreme commander in the Pacific Theater of War. Five-star  Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz signed it as the chief U.S. representative. In addition to the Japanese delegation, the instrument of surrender was signed by representatives of China, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the Soviet Union (which declared war on Japan in the final days of the conflict.) Japan had invaded British, French and Dutch Far East colonies in 1941-42 and bombed northern Australia, as well as attacking the Philippines — then a U.S. Territory — along with Guam, Wake Island, Midway and the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Japan went to war with China in 1937.

In addition to the dignitaries from nine countries on the Missouri that day was the American flag flown in 1853 by Commodore Matthew C. Perry (see in the background of the photo below) when his four-ship squadron arrived in Japan. Perry flew the flag on the first of his two expeditions to Japan, which resulted in the Convention of Kanagawa, that  forced the Japanese to open the country to American trade.

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander, reading his speech to open the surrender ceremonies, on board USS Missouri. Commodore Perry’s 1853 flag hangs in the background.

Perry’s successful mission was the first time American military might forced the Japanese Empire to do something it didn’t want to do. We wonder if the flag display in 1945 was meant to be ironic, spiteful or simply triumphant.

That night, at 9:56 p.m., Truman addressed the American people about the surrender terms in a broadcast over the Columbia Broadcasting System. Click on the link to hear his remarks to a war weary, but grateful, nation — and its forces overseas.

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

September 2, 2020 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment


September 2020


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