General Douglas MacArthur, eager for glory after having been chosen to lead the invasion of Japan, tried to convince President Truman that it would cost "only" 500,000 causalities. But Truman had his own estimate, produced by former President Herbert Hoover. Hoover, using his old skills as an economist, and backed up by an independent study group, estimated the real cost would be closer to a million American dead and wounded. The U.S. Navy, doing their own independent estimate came up with the same numbers. With the examples of the death toll from Okinawa and Iwo Jima as supporting evidence, Truman became a believer in Hoover’s numbers. (In my opinion, that deceptive reduction in causality estimates justified Dugout Dug’s immediate recall. Only his political clout with Republicans in Washington saved his command until after another bloodbath.)
So the horrific casualty estimates for an invasion of Japan, plus the threat posed by the Soviet Union, which had promised to enter the Pacific War against Japan by early August, were both factors encouraging Truman’s decision to get out of this war as quickly as possible. This was what was driving America's half hidden compromise to Japan over the emperor. And these were the same factors driving the Japanese decision to finally offer negotiations. It had taken four years of horrible bloodshed (and the loss of influence of some monumental egos, i.e. Tojo and MacArthur) for Japanese and American politicians to come to the realization that they had some rather basic things in common.
Once the terms had been accepted the U.S. issued prompt instructions to the Japanese Government via through the Swiss. “Send emissaries at once…fully empowered to make any arrangements directed by the Supreme Commander….” And, as a sop for MacArthur’s deflated ego over the glorious Armageddon he would not get to oversee on the beaches of Kyushu, “…General of the Army Douglas MacArthur has been designated as the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers…” The universe had finally recognized Doug as a supreme being, and that was all that he really wanted – public genuflection. His mother must have been very pleased.
Contact was quickly made with the Japanese government via radio. First, General MacArthur ordered the immediate cessation of hostilities against the allies. MacArthur's staff designated the radio frequencies to be used in all future communications by the Japanese (13705 and 15965 kilocycles). Emissaries to negotiate the mechanics of the surrender should leave Sata Misaki, on the southern tip of Kyushu, “between the hours of 0800 and 1100 Tokyo time” on the morning of August 17th, in two Douglas DC-3 type transport planes, painted white with large green crosses on the wings and fuselage. In communications regarding this flight, the code designation "Bataan" will be employed.” (It was anticipated the Japanese would get the irony. They did not. But American voters certainly would.) The Japanese replied that the Emperor had ordered the ceasefire for all Japanese forces to begin at 1600 hours on August 16, so the Americans did the same.
There were, of course, sparks of flame that refused to die. Sixteen suicide bombers attacked U.S. warships off Japan hours after the ceasefire had been ordered. All were shot down. I wonder if their commander even told the pilots of the ceasefire order? In fact, Tokyo shamefacedly informed MacArthur that members of the royal family were being dispatched to deliver the cease fire order in person to military units. That admission told the Americans volumes about the volatility of the situation in Japan.
In fact, this post cease fire incident also highlights how important it was that the two sides were now talking, even by radio, and could thus explain events that previously could only have been interpreted in the most antagonistic way. If they had simply started talking earlier, even while the fighting continued, thousands of lives might have been saved.
Finally, on August 19th, the Japanese were able to notify the Americans, “The planes carrying the party of representatives have left Kisarazu Airdrome (in Tokyo) on 0718”. Again, there was fear on the Japanese side that a die hard might attempt to disrupt this mission for peace, so the planes took off secretly, with sealed orders. Only after becoming airborne was the flight plan revealed to the crews. Following the American instructions as closely as possible, the two aircraft, one a Mitsubishi G4M1-L2 (Betty) transport aircraft, and the other a Mitsubishi G4M1 (Betty) bomber (complete with a few bullet holes). Both had been hastily modified for seating the 8 emissaries that flew in each plane. Each aircraft had been painted white with large green crosses on the wings and fuselage. They were known hereafter in Japanese history as the Green Cross Flights.
They reached Sata Misaki on the southern tip of Kyushu at about 11 A.M, local time. They then flew, as instructed, south on a course of 180 degrees to a point 36 miles North of le Shima Island, off the western coast of Okinawa, and began to circle at about 6,000 feet.
Almost immediately the two Green Cross aircraft were intercepted by twelve Lockheed P-38 twin tailed fighters, from the 49th fighter group, led by Majors Jack McClure and Wendal Decker. The two Bettys called out to the Americans in English on the prearranged frequency of 6970 kilohertz, repeating the password “Bataan”. Jack McClure responded, “We are Bataan’s watchdog. Follow us.” As the 14 aircraft continued on toward le Shima, the P-38’s began doing acrobatics to thumb their noses at the defeated enemy.
On the way they were joined by two 2 B-25’s from the 345th bombardment group. The Americans were not going to let any die hard kamikazes or hot headed Americans, interfere with this operation. Jack McClure landed first at Birch Airstrip on la Shima, followed by the two Betty’s.
The first Betty landed safely, but the second made a rough landing on the crushed corral strip and ran off the end of the runway by several feet, damaging the plane's landing gear. Still the strange white machines with large green crosses were down safe, and immediately surrounded by armed guards.
On this tiny island, not much bigger than the airstrip that occupied it, men from both sides of the Pacific, who had spent three long years bathed in violence and fear, trained to despise and fear each other, would for the first time since Pearl Harbor physically touch each other in peace. One witness remembered how odd it was that the first Japanese out of the Bettys wore shorts.
Formalities were quickly performed, and 20 minutes later the 8 commissioners were guided up a ladder into a big four engine C-54 transport plane, a luxurious accommodation compared to the war worn Japanese Betty’s.
The C-54 climbed off the coral and headed for Manila while the Betty’s crew members were guided to a holding area.
On the flight to Manila the Japanese delegation was served box lunches with pineapple juice and coffee with sugar. It was a lunch America front line soldiers never saw, but it was common travel meal for senior American officers, and it had the intended effect upon the emissaries. They were impressed with the American determination to transfer their lifestyles even into a war zone. And like the Japanese visitors to my fourth grade class some fifteen years later, the emissaries offered to tip the American crew. They were politely refused.
After arriving in Manila, the delegation was driven through the streets of a still devastated city, to the Rosario Manor hotel, where General MacArthur waited. The Japanese were provided with a Turkey dinner; again an unexpected treat. Meat had been unavailable in Japan for over a year. And, wonder of wonders, the Japanese were each given a can of hard candies.What followed was a further surprise.
Taken next to the Manila city hall, the Japanese found that all the Americans were interested in was solving problems. Where were minefields in Tokyo Bay? Could they be quickly cleared? Could the American Navy help? Where were the American POW camps in Japan? Could we drop supplies to them? And where and when could the occupation troops arrive? There were problems, but most were quickly rectified by practical compromises. Nineteen hours later the emissaries left Manila, each with another can of hard candies. It had all be easier than they had worried. The Americans were firm but not gloating. And the emissaries returned with the message that, by and large, a defeated Japan was going to be treated fairly by the Americans. And the war was going to end as quickly as possible, because of it.
But it was after they returned to le Shima, that their mission of peace was almost derailed, right at the very edge of success.
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