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

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

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.

*** *** ***

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.

Entry filed under: Aircraft, Asia-Pacific, National Security and Defense, Naval Warfare, Photos, SHAKO, Technology, Traditions, U.S. Navy, Weaponry and Equipment, World War II. Tags: , , , , , , , .

FRIDAY FOTO (August 28, 2020) FRIDAY FOTO (September 4, 2020)

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