And So To Tokyo

After General Douglas MacArthur had made his triumphant return to the Philippines at Leyte in October of 1944, it was followed up by further landings at Lingayen Gulf the following January, the Japanese were then effectively beaten in this theatre by June 30th. 1945 when MacArthur declared that the islands of the Philippines were secure, but some fighting did continue until Japan surrendered on the 15th. of August.

Iwo Jima invasion.
This small island squats between Tokyo and the Marianas, about 670 miles in either direction. Allied forces, the majority of them from the United States were closing relentlessly upon the Japanese mainland, and it was decided to invade Iwo Jima to provide a base for fighter aircraft so they could escort the long range bombers that were pounding the major cities of Japan.

This invasion would be the first Japanese owned and held territory to be attacked, all other Pacific campaigns were to retake islands or areas occupied by the Japanese in their mad rush southwards in WW2.

This tiny island, about 1/3 the size of Manhattan, for 36 days from the 19th. of February 1945 became the scene of one of the bloodiest and most costly battles of the Pacific war. 70,000 US Marines were involved, as 110 bombers added their bomb loads to the ever falling Naval bombardment. Lookouts in ships scanned the horizon for the approach of the dreaded Kamikaze which had made its debut at Leyte in October of 1944.Sailors skilled in radar were glued to their scopes for any sign of approaching Zombies, the nick name given to Kamikaze's by those in the Navy.Ashore, 21,000 Japanese had burrowed themselves below the volcanic rock into caves below ground. For each Marine carrying a 100 pound pack, the volcanic ash made any forward movement a nightmare, it was well nigh impossible to cope.

The burdened Marines above ground were fighting an unseen enemy hidden below ground, and it took flame throwers, napalm, hand grenades to prize the Japanese out, as inch by inch the Marines battled over 36 days.

Flame throwers at work on Iwo Jima
Flame throwers at work on Iwo Jima

At sea, the Escort Carrier Bismark Sea was sunk after a Kamikaze attack, and the Carrier Saratoga collected a bomb, now the weather played a role, a violent storm left the cruiser San Fransisco and five destroyers damaged.

Famous Photograph of Raising Old Glory on Iwo Jima.
This battle resulted in one of the most famous photographs to come out of WW2, the raising of OLD GLORY, it was taken by photographer JOE ROSENTHAL.

The raising of OLD GLORY at Iwo Jima.

One of the most famous photographs of WW2 in the Pacific.
The raising of OLD GLORY at Iwo Jima.
Photographer Joe Rosenthal.

A Dreadful Death Toll.
Death took a frightful toll at Iwo Jima, the Japanese suffered a 95% death rate here, of 21,000 defenders, only 1,083 became Prisoners of War. For the US, 6,821 dead, 19,213 wounded, thus almost 1/3 of US personnel involved in this invasion were to wind up dead or wounded.

What a dreadful price to pay for a small volcanic outcrop stuck out in the Western Pacific. One must ask "Was this invasion really worth the paid price?" and most likely respond with " NO!"

The Battle for Okinawa.
Okinawa is the most important island in the Ryuku group, a scant 360 miles from Kyushu. If the US forces thought that Iwo Jima was a tough assignment, it was a mere Sunday School picnic when compared to Okinawa.The US Fleet lost 763 aircraft, and had 5,000 personnel killed, the Army lost almost 8,000 troops.

Sheer enormity of the Logistics.
It was April Fool's Day 1945, when the Marines and their Army mates stormed ashore at Okinawa. 100,000 from the 32nd. Japanese Army awaited, dug into caves and tunnels mainly on the high ground where the Naval bombardment was largely ineffective.Here, it was more of everything that had obtained in any other Pacific engagement, troops used and landed, supplies provided, naval bombardment, bombs dropped, ships used ( 1,300 ) Japanese aircraft destroyed ( 7,800 ) ships sunk, and more people dead than from the two dropped atom bombs. Horrific statistics!

Japanese dead.
From the Japanese and Okinawa conscripts, something of the order of 107,000 died, plus 100,000 civilians slain, the mind boggles at the scale of the death and destruction level, all in only 62 days of fighting from the 1st. of April.

The Kamikaze Campaign.
Over the 6th./7th. of June, the first massed attacks from formations of hundreds of Japanese aircraft started, named KIKUSAI, or FLOATING CHRYSANTHEMUM, after the Imperial Symbol of Japan. The US Navy off Okinawa was surely in dire peril. The use of suicide aircraft to attack the bombarding and escorting Naval ships during a seaward invasion had its inception at Leyte Gulf in October of 1944, with the RAN heavy cruiser HMAS Australia their first victim.

Damage to a US Navy ship at the invasion of Okinawa by Kamikaze aircraft
Damage to a US Navy ship at the invasion of Okinawa by Kamikaze aircraft

In the following January, at the Lingayen Gulf landings, the Allied Fleet was to suffer many of these vicious attacks, over 6 weeks I saw 180 ships hit, and Australia was to have another five crash onboard her. HMAS Shropshire was the subject of attack on a number of occasions, it was a frightening experience, very sapping of morale, it became a matter of shooting down the attacking Kamikaze or collect it onboard. We despatched some 11 Japanese aircraft and shared 8 more, to fortunately remain immune from having any aircraft actually become unwelcome guests inboard.I can still vividly recall the sheer terror of seeing a Japanese aircraft diving out of the sun at the bridge of Shropshire, when I was her Officer of the Watch, diving on the deck and thinking my time had come. But the Captain of our port Pom Pom with a quick burst shot it in half, on the bridge some 60 feet above sea level I got wet from the wreck crashing alongside, I thought it was petrol, until I tasted only salt water, a very close run thing.

By the time the Okinawa campaign was over, 1,485 Kamikaze flights out of Kyushu had attacked the US Fleet, sinking 30 ships, and damaging 164 others.

The cruiser HMAS Shropshire bombarding Japanese positions at Balikpapan, Borneo, on 30 June 1945
The cruiser HMAS Shropshire bombarding Japanese
positions at Balikpapan, Borneo, on 30 June 1945

Huge Japanese Battleship Yamato sunk.
The huge 72,000 ton Japanese battleship Yamato on the 6th. of April was despatched to Okinawa on a one way ticket, not having enough fuel to return home, she was escorted by the light cruiser Yahagi, plus 8 destroyers. Her orders, beach yourself at Okinawa and fight to the finish. Hackleback, the US submarine tracked her movements, and alerted US carrier borne bombers.

Vice Admiral Marc Mitcher in his carrier Task Force at 1000 ( 10 AM ) on the 7th. of June, launched air strikes, and planes from USS Bennington claimed the first hits upon Yamato. Aircraft from USS San Jancito with both bombs and torpedoes accounted forthe Japanese destroyer Hamakze, the light cruiser Yahagi was stopped dead in the water through bombing.

Over the next two hours, th Japanese Naval force was under constant attack, Yamato taking 12 bombs and 7 torpedoes, all this was too much, she blew up and sank. Three destroyers were too badly damaged to save, and were all scuttled, the remaining destroyers could not return to Japan. From the crew of 2.747 in Yamato, only 23 Officers and 246 sailors survive. The cruiser Yuhagi had 446 killed, Asashgi lost 330, and the other destroyers 391 men.

Thus, it was a total decimation of these Japanese naval ships, with the US losses light.

The huge Japanese battleship Yamato blows up after being attacked by US carrier aircraft
The huge Japanese battleship Yamato blows up after being attacked by US carrier aircraft

The Big E collects a Kamikaze.
On the 13th. of May, off Okinawa, the Big E, the carrier USS Enterprise, just after 0700 ( 7 AM ) was hit by a diving Japanese bomber on her flight deck, just aft of the forward elevator, the impact sent this 15 ton elevator skywards some 400 feet, killing 12, and wounding another 72 sailors. This carrier was withdrawn from service, never to fight again.

Two major events during the Okinawa struggle.
On the 12th. of April 1945, the US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died, and the habadasher from Missouri Harry S. Truman succeeded him as President. On the 8th. of May the war in Europe came to an end, leaving the Allies to concentrate on the defeat of Japan.

Conclusion about the Okinawa campaign.
Okinawa was the scene of death and destruction on a huge scale, in two short months the war was finally over, in hindsight was this costly campaign really necessary? The immense loss of life and property does appear to be all out of proportion to the gains, once more I suggest it was all hard to justify, but then, how does one justify WAR ANYWAY?

Australians at Borneo.
MacArthur kept Australian land forces out of the limelight, namely in the Philippines operations, and I believe his decision to use Australian forces exclusively in the Borneo campaign of 1945 was largely for political reasons. It would make our Armed forces visible again as the Allies pushed onwards to Tokyo.

The Japanese had taken Borneo back in 1942, it had been mostly part of the Netherlands East Indies, but the North and North West had been British territory, and the oilfields there were important, but the US submarine force had sunk most of the Japanese tankers, and choked off any oil coming from the Borneo fields to the Japanese homeland.

During 1942/43 many POW'S including Australians had been sent off to Borneo, and in 1944, Australian Special troops from the Services Reconnaissance Department, Z Force were despatched to Borneo to prop up the Dyak villagers in their guerilla war against the Japanese invaders, and 2,000 Japanese died as a result of their actions.

Disembarkation from HMAT Manoora, Douglas Watson, May 1945.
Troops of the 2/48th Battalion leaving the Landing Ship,
Infantry (LSI) HMAS Manoora to enter a landing craft for the
assault on Tarakan, Borneo.

[Oil on artist board with some scratching in, 50.6 x 35.6cm. AWM ART22476]

Army Divisions.
The well trained and tested 7th. and 9th. Divisions of the Australian Army were involved in Borneo. The RAAF 1st. Tactical Airforce was committed in support of the Army, and the Royal Australian Navy were there in force with naval ships and the three landing ships infantry Manoora, Kanimbla and Westralia lifted in the army.

Three landings in Borneo.
Three distinct operations took place here, the first at Tarakan, off the NE coast of Borneo, with landings under way on the 1st. of May 1945. 200 Australians died here including the VC winner Lieutenant Diver Derrick.

One of the main objectives at Tarakan was to build and repair airfields here so that air cover for the two future landings might be provided.However the boggy terrain, and the badly damaged airstrips proved more difficult than was anticipated, and thus the full utilization of these facilities was never realized.

Fighter aircraft did start to provide cover at later landings from the airfields here from late June.

The second landing was made at Labuan Island in Brunei Bay on the 10th. of June when the 9th. Division swarmed ashore, and they went on to lose 100 troops killed.

Finally, the operation at Balikpapen in the South East of Borneo where 33,000 troops landed on the 1st. of July was to be the largest amphibious assault by Australian forces in the Pacific, and when the war came to a sudden halt on the 15th. of August, all major objectives had been achieved.

A tragic footnote must be added to these Borneo operations, and that is the sad fate of many of the Australian and British POW's held at Sandakan in North Borneo. From 1942/43, 2,000 Australian and British POW's came here from Singapore, and by 1945 many had died from starvation or disease. 1,000 were ordered to march off into the mountains, to an isolated base at Ranau, nearly 300, too sick to march either died or were killed at Sandakan, of those who did march, only 6 , all Australians survived, to escape and be rescued by Australian forces.

Serving in HMAS Shropshire, I was involved in both the Labuan and Balikpapen landings.

At the fag end of WW2, the Borneo campaigns really did little to advance the Allied cause in its push towards the Japanese mainland and the defeat of this enemy, we no doubt could have saved many of our servicemen's lives by not carrying out the three landings here in Borneo.

Bypassing this area would have proved equally effective in the long haul, but it is so easy to be tactically right in hindsight.

The use of the Atomic Bomb.
We must now turn to the deciding factor in ending the war in the Pacific, and that of course was President Truman's decision to use the devastating newly developed weapon: THE ATOMIC BOMB.

The Potsdam meeting.
On the 16th. of July 1945, Churchill, Truman, and Stalin met at Potsdam to formulate the Potsdam Declaration issued on the 2nd. of August, the Allies promised Japan if she did not surrender unconditionally she could expect "Prompt and utter destruction."

It was here at Potsdam that almost as an aside, President Truman sidled up to Stalin and casually confided that the US had developed a new weapon of unusual destructive force. ( he was of course referring to the Atom Bomb ) However the Russian Premier played out his hand cunningly, and seemed to show little interest, but did comment that he hoped the US would make good use of it against Japan. Stalin's spies in the US had made him well aware of the final tests the US had just conducted with this new and terrifying weapon.

USS Indianapolis transports Little Boy from the US to Tinian.
On the 15th. of July USS Indianapolis slipped out of San Fransisco harbour bound for Tinian Island in the Pacific, she carried a secret 15 foot wooden crate on board, it contained the main section of Little Boy, an atomic bomb, less the second lump of uranium that B 29's later flew in.

Indianapolis sailing alone from Guam to Leyte, and not zigzagging was sighted by theJapanese submarine I-58, the Captain lined her up and fired his spread, the cruiser sank in only 12 minutes to give the Captain his one and only success in the war, which had but 2 weeks to run.

The ship was not missed, no search set up, and survivors fell prey to marauding sharks, it was not until the 2nd. of August that a patrolling aircraft sighted survivors and raised the alarm, it was almost too late, from a crew of 1,199 only 318 were rescued including Captain Charles B. McVay USN.

An unusual court martial.
Admiral King Chief of Naval Operations decided to Court Martial Captain McVay for not zigzagging and endangering his command. Never in the history of the Western Navies had a Captain been so arraigned, and to add salt to the wound, King ordered that the enemy Japanese Submarine CO be found in Japan, and brought to the US as a witness for the prosecution.

What gall! I was appalled at such treatment, as were many Naval Officers at the time, the war was over, and this farce was drawn out, and McVay was found guilty.

He eventually committed suicide by shooting himself, his faithful dog at his side. In October of 2000, following years of effort by the survivors and their supporters, legislation was passed in Washington and signed by President Clinton expressing the sense of Congress, among other things, that Captain McVay's record should now reflect that he is exonerated for the loss of Indianapolis and for the death of her crew who were lost. In July of 2001, The Navy Department announced that Captain McVay's record had been amended to exonerate him for the loss of Indianapolis and the lives who perished as a result of her sinking. The action was taken by Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England who was persuaded to do so by New Hampshire Senator Bob Smith, a strong advocate of McVay's innocence.

Unfortunately, the conviction for hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag remains on McVay's record. Never in the history of the US Military has the verdict of a Court Martial been overturned, and there is no known process for doing so.

Dropping of Atomic Bombs on Japan.
On the 6th. of August 1945 the B-29 Enola Gay named after the pilot Lt Colonel Paul Tibbit's Mother rumbled down the runway at Tinian Island to stagger into the sky and head for Hiroshima Japan.

B-29 Enola Gay, carried the first atom bomb dropped on Hiroshma on the 6th. of August 1945.
B-29 Enola Gay, carried the first atom bomb dropped
on Hiroshma on the 6th. of August 1945.

At 0815 ( 8.15AM ) the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima with devastating effect, it changed the world, making history.

Several C-54's had flown to Tinian to deliver Fat Boy, and the components for the second A Bomb which was dropped on Nakasaki on the 9th. of August. On this day, a fast moving Soviet invasion of Manchuria was under way, and Stalin declared war on Japan, he wanted to be in for his share of the spoils when Japan caved in.

Tinian Island with its 4 runways. From this strip the aircraft carrying the two Atomic Bombs took off.
Tinian Island with its 4 runways.
From this strip the aircraft carrying
the two Atomic Bombs took off.

Japan on the 14th. accepted the Allied terms of unconditional surrender, and the next day it was at last all over, and WW2 came to an end.

Little Boy, the first atomic bomb, dropped on Hiroshima.
Little Boy, the first atomic bomb, dropped on Hiroshima.

Whatever may be argued about the moral rights or wrongs about the use of the Atom Bomb, in my ship at that time, the heavy cruiser Shropshire, we were aware that our next operation was to be against the mainland of Japan. We had been subjected to the horrors of the dreadful Kamikaze attacks, we had taken part in many landings as we pushed North towards Japan, we were both an efficient and lucky ship and company.

To date, we had not lost one man to enemy action, but our morale was slipping, one asked oneself, how much longer can we fight without collecting a Kamikaze? Can I keep facing these dangers without cracking? In the final push how many men will the bombardment ships, the invading force and their escorts lose? I can assure you all, it was with a great dead of trepidation that we all faced that next and final operation.

So, when two atom bombs dropped ending it all, I, and all my shipmates cheered and were most thankful that Harry Truman made the decision he did.

I still feel the same way today, some 60 years on!!

Shropshire sails from Subic bay.
My ship, Shropshire set off from Subic Bay for Tokyo Bay via Okinawa, to drop anchor in Japanese waters on the 31st. of August, we are here for the official surrender of Japan on Sunday. Other RAN ships here are: Hobart, Warramunga, Bataan, Napier, Nizam, Ballarat, Ipswich, Cessnock and Pirie.

On the day before the surrender was signed I went ashore in Yokahama and requisitioned a bicycle and rode south to Kamakura to visit the huge bronze Buddha there, cast in 1252, it stands 38 feet tall and weighs in at 93 tons. You can enter into the body of this statue, inside a feeling of space and immense peace, a serenity about the whole atmosphere I found quite unusual. I rode back to Yokahama, returned the bike, and went back on board my ship.

General Douglas MacArthur orchestrates the Japanese Surrender.
On Sunday the 2nd. of September 1945, th day I had waited for just on 6 years at last dawned, on board the huge US battleship Missouri were gathered the representatives of the Allied powers. The Japanese delegates came on board before 9 AM, to their chagrin they were searched and left standing for some time. MacArthur controlled this historic ceremony as delegates signed the document bringing WW2 in the Pacific to an end.

450 Carrier borne aircraft roared overhead, to be followed by US Army B-29's, what a spectacle!, by 9. 30 AM it was all over as the Japanese were hustled ashore.

What a wonderful morning, a day I will never forget, a feeling of utter relief washed over me, the war was at last over, I had survived 6 years of it at sea or overseas, and NOW I WOULD BE GOING HOME.

Here is the actual moment, all of us had fought and longed for,
in the case of the Pacific war, since Pearl Harbor on
Sunday the 7th. of December 1941. The signing of unconditional surrender
by Mamora Shigemitsu, the Japanese Foreign Minister ( he had a wooden leg ),
on behalf of the Emperor and the Government of Japan.

It was 0904 on Sunday the 3rd. of September 1945, on the surrender deck of the Flagship of the US Third Fleet the battleship USS Missouri Tokyo Bay.
As a 23 Lieutenant RAN, I was there in the heavy cruiser HMAS Shropshire, a truly joyous moment, at last it was all over, and we would be going home.

Bad weather in Tokyo Bay.
Well into September we were hit by bad weather at our anchorage in Tokyo Bay, we had both anchors down, and our prudent Captain had ordered steam maintained on our boilers, so that in an emergency we might steam to our anchors. Some large US Navy ships who had shut down their boilers were caught as their anchors dragged, and off they went backwards in the violent storm.

Shropshire had acquired a US landing craft with a ramp that was used to ferry our sailors ashore, the next morning after the big blow it had sunk on its 6 inch grass line whilst moored astern, and had to be abandoned by cutting its mooring line.

The Commander told me to go ashore and obtain a replacement craft, I muttered "Not an easy order to carry out Sir!" to be admonished "To use my initiative" So I picked up two bottles of Scotch Whiskey from the Wardroom Wine Store, duty free at that time each worth about 45 cents, and took two Petty Officers with me and a boat to go ashore.

Finding a depot crammed with craft, we approached an Army Sergeant with our request for a Landing Craft, " Hard to come by are Landing craft Sir" was his response.

Well I say, " How about a bottle of Scotch for one?"

"My God! You can have one, and a spare engine too for a bottle of Scotch." is the reply.

" I don't want a spare engine, but I have a second bottle and want a Jeep for that."

"Well take the landing craft to the next bay, run up on the beach, drop the ramp, and when I drive in the Jeep, pull up the ramp, back off and do it in a hurry as the Jeep will be brand new and hot from an MP area."

And so it happened, we painted the Jeep Shropshire Blue, and both the craft and the Jeep came home to Sydney.

Before entering Sydney heads on our return at the end of November, the Jeep was loaded with loot, lowered into the landing craft which ran up the beach at Bondi, dropped the ramp, and when we secured at Garden Island the Jeep, now empty waited on the Wharf.

I share the Nippon Times with Wal Grant in Tokyo
I share the Nippon Times with Wal Grant in Tokyo

Full Circle.
Only last September, my wife Denise, and I were invited by the USS Missouri Memorial Association to be on board the Might Mo at Ford Island Honolulu, to attend the 60th. Anniversary of the signing of the Japanese Surrender in Tokyo on that day back on the 2nd. of September 1945.

With some 200 veterans in this battleship, and another 2,000 on the pier, we celebrated that great event, which came to an end, with the replaying of a recording of General Douglas MacArthur's final words, it was indeed eerie to hear that speech boom out again across the deck of this fine ship. A fitting end to a memorable and historic occasion.

My thanks for both your patience and attention.


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