I have to wonder what the thoughts were of the Japanese emissaries, as they arrived back in le Shima Island. Were they seeing their lives as sacrificed in the service of their country? Were they daunted by what the future might hold for Japan, for themselves? Were they encouraged by the firm courtesy they had found in Manila? The long flight back to la Shima must have been a flight in the dark, across the sunny western Pacific.
Then, upon landing back at le Shima, there was bad news. The Betty damaged upon landing was not yet ready for a return flight to Japan. Within the delegation suspicions were raised about possible American sabotage. Quietly, all documents related to the surrender arraignments were divided between the two aircraft, for safety.
Late in the afternoon the single Betty carrying the head of the delegation, General Torashiro Kawabe (above), and seven other members of the group, lifted off from the le Shima airstrip.
They were accompanied by American fighters for a short time before continuing the flight back to Japan alone. It had been an emotionally exhausting forty-eight hours. They had been, and remained, in constant fear of being shot down – by fanatics from both sides. And then there had been the uncertainty of what to expect from the enemy, along with the shame and humiliation of having to help their nation surrender to the hated Americans. It is no wonder that shortly after the plane left the ground General Kawabe and the other passengers fell asleep.
And then, just after midnight, August 21, one the pilots woke up his passengers to inform them that a fuel tank had sprung a leak, and one engine had begun to miss...and they were losing altitude and were about to crash into the dark ocean. Life jackets were quickly pulled on. The half of the surrender documents on board were given to Foreign Ministry representative, Katsuo Okazaki, because he had been a swimmer in the Olympics (in 1924!).
Then, before they were really ready, the plane slammed into the ocean. The passengers were thrown about the cabin as the plane bounced, and again, off the wave tops, until suddenly it stopped, and seemed to settle for a moment into the waves. Both pilots rushed from the cockpit, and while one tried to calm the passengers, the other ripped opened the rear door. Water rushed into the cabin and the pilot jumped out…into waist deep water. Somehow the crew had managed to bring their injured aircraft back right to the shore line of Japan.
Through twenty feet of surf was the beach in front of the tiny village of Hamamatsu, about 130 miles south of Tokyo. The passengers quickly waded to dry land. A fisherman was rudely awakened and reluctantly enlisted to show the soaked delegates to a telephone. A call to a nearby air base provided transport back to the capital, where, at last, half of the required documents arrived just seven hours behind schedule.
The next morning the second Betty, carefully repaired by the Americans, made an uneventful flight back to Japan with the other half of the surrender documents.
And on September 2nd , 1945, crash survivors General Kawabe and Katsuo Okazaki stood on the deck of the USS Missouri to sign the surrender documents, another emotionally exhausting day.
What had been settled in Manila, in simple direct conversations, was that all Japanese soldiers would be disarmed by their own officers all across China and Burma and Japan, before Allied troops arrived in their area; another compromise. But when the Americans (or British or Australians) arrived, the arms were then turned over to them; another compromise.
It was not the draconian surrender required in the Potsdam Statement, but rather a compromise, because suddenly peace was more important than complete and unconditional surrender.
The Russians had not agreed with the terms of the American/Japanese ceasefire. They were still grabbing Japanese territory, right up until the occupation had begun. Their occupation of the Northern Japanese islands was the event, not the atomic bombs, that shook both the U.S.'s and Japan's narrow view of the conflict. and the compromise by the two enemies stopped the Soviets before they could grab a share of the main home Japanese islands. Both partners in the Pacific bloodbath came to the realization that the issue was not just victory and defeat, but what sort of victory, and what sort of defeat.
So the speedy U.S. occupation of Japan was now the allied interest of both winner and loser. The entrance of a third party - The Soviet Union - had broken off the blinders. On the American side the hunger to humiliate the Japanese was sublimated by the practical pragmatic desire to end to the killing and stabilize Japan as quickly as possible.
And at 9AM, on August 28, an advance party of 150 communications engineers had landed at Atsugi Naval Airfield, 20 miles southwest of Tokyo. They were the first Americans to land in Japan, and they were met by disarmed and obedient Japanese soldiers and sailors. Three hours later 38 C-54 transports arrived with security forces, supplies and equipment required to prepare the airfield for the arrival of U.S. forces. And then, on August 30th, the main occupation began. One C-54 carrying 44 men landed every three minutes, bringing in over the course of that day over 4,200 combat ready troops of the 11th Airborne division. At the same time men of the 6th Marine division landed without opposition at Yokosuka Naval base. The entirely peaceful occupation of Japan had begun two days before the peace treaty was signed aboard the battleship. It would continue, peacefully, until 1951.
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