Chapter 12: Occupation in Japan
IN the final thrust against Japan MacArthur, who assumed command of all United States Army Forces in the Pacific on 6 April 1945, and Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of all naval forces, prepared plans for an amphibious assault of immense proportions on the mainland. The first phase of this assault, known as Operation Olympic, provided for a landing by 6 US Army on the southern coast of Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan, in the autumn of 1945. Nine infantry divisions were to be employed, with a floating reserve of three divisions which were to make a feint attack off the island of Shikoku. The second phase, designed to take place four months later, in the early spring of 1946, required a landing on the coast along the Kanto Plain, east of Tokyo. This was given the code-name Operation Coronet, for which nine infantry divisions, two armoured divisions, and three Marine divisions of 8 and 10 US Armies were to be employed, with a floating reserve of eleven divisions of 1 US Army which was to follow the first two armies ashore. These two landings were to be supported by fifty air groups and the Third and Fifth Fleets of the United States Navy and the British Pacific Fleet, as well as a strong British aircraft carrier task force as part of the Fifth American Fleet. The whole armed might of America, built up through the war years and perfected by battle experience, was to be employed in the final subjugation of the Japanese mainland.
While these plans were being worked out in detail, the results of the experimental atom bomb, detonated in a desert area of New Mexico, were revealed to Truman, Churchill and Stalin, then meeting at Potsdam. An immediate decision instructed Lieutenant-General Carl Spaatz, commander of the United States Strategic Air Forces, to use the bomb on the industrial installations of one of four selected Japanese cities any time after 3 August. The bomb was dropped on the military city of Hiroshima on 6 August and another on the port of Nagasaki, in the south of Kyushu, on 9 August, both with devastating results. The smoke from the Nagasaki bombing rose to a height of 175 miles. Both cities were practically wiped out. On 14 August Japan surrendered
unconditionally. Long before the new atomic weapon was used, however, every large industrial city in Japan had been bombed into such impotence that the country was incapable of fighting other than a suicidal war, which her service leaders were still prepared to do. The formal surrender was signed on board Halsey's flagship, the United States battleship Missouri, in Tokyo Bay at 0908 hours on 2 September 1945, after being delayed for two days by a hurricane. Air Vice-Marshal L. M. Isitt1 signed for New Zealand. He had with him as personal assistant Lieutenant I. D. Allingham, RNZNVR, from the Gambia, New Zealand's cruiser, commanded by Captain R. A. B. Edwards, CBE, RN, then serving with the British Pacific Fleet under Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser.
Units of the British Commonwealth sea, land, and air forces were included in the American armies detailed for the final assault before Japan's surrender removed such operations from the planning table. New Zealand was prepared to send a land force of 16,000 men, consisting of a headquarters and two infantry brigades, as part of a combined British Commonwealth organisation. She also agreed to the despatch of 8320 all ranks of an air component made up of eight fighter squadrons, two bomber reconnaissance, two flying boat and two transport squadrons, with one half-strength bomber reconnaissance and two fighter squadrons in reserve in New Zealand. Final details were never reached, but the broad outline assumed that army units were to be assembled and trained in the Middle East and despatched from that theatre. Surrender, however, turned negotiations to the preparation of forces to assist with the occupation of Japan, which the United States began immediately after 14 August.
Discussions regarding the size and task of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force were long delayed and the subject of lengthy political exchanges beginning in the middle of August 1945, but it was not until 18 December that agreement was reached with the United States Government. Even then no public announcement was made, as the role of the British Commonwealth Force and the appointment of its commanders, the countries accepting responsibility, and the size of their respective components had all to be finalised and approved. On 8 January 1946 a statement was released to the New Zealand press stating that a force representing the Dominion would probably sail from Italy about the middle of February, but an agreement signed in
Tokyo between MacArthur and Lieutenant-General John Northcott of the Australian Military Forces, the first Commander-in-Chief of the British force, covering details of the occupation, was not confirmed by the Government of the United States until late in January, thus delaying official announcement of New Zealand's participation. Finally, on 31 January, Northcott announced that a force of 40,000 all ranks representing Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and India (then still one country and part of the Commonwealth) would take part in the occupation of Japan. In February components of the force began to arrive at Kure, the former Japanese secret naval base on the south coast of Honshu, and for the first time in history an integrated force from British Commonwealth countries assembled in a conquered country. Northcott's force consisted of one brigade each of United Kingdom, Australian, New Zealand and Indian troops, and a large headquarters and base organisation, as well as an air component consisting of three squadrons of the Royal Australian Air Force, three squadrons of the Royal Air Force, one squadron of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and one of the Indian Air Force, with a separate headquarters under Air Vice-Marshal C. A. Bouchier, RAF, who was second-in-command to Northcott, and later to Lieutenant-General H. C. H. Robertson when he became Commander-in-Chief. There was also a small naval port detachment, but destroyer units of the Royal Australian and Royal Indian Navies, though based from time to time on Kure, remained under operational command of the Fifth United States Fleet.
Component countries were each required to supply their quota of officers and other ranks from the three services for the headquarters of the force. It was the first experiment of its kind and a pointer to future operations requiring small units from the Commonwealth to be co-ordinated under one commander. This took time to reach a workable basis, until the difference between integration and co-operation was understood. Part of the trouble was due to individual directives from governments which were sometimes at variance with the wishes of the BCOF commander, or to the vigorous nationalism which sometimes mitigated against the success it finally achieved.
Australia was selected as the principal supply base for the force in Japan, and the initial planning was done from Melbourne by a group of senior officers of the three services, representing the four respective countries, known as JCOSA—Joint Chiefs of Staff in Australia. Delays in reaching decisions with this organisation added to the early difficulties of the force, which moved into areas completely destroyed by fire and bomb. The country itself,
exhausted by years of war, was completely without European amenities except in some of the larger cities. It took years of building to overcome the early disadvantages in the BCOF area, and only when some of the components of the force began to withdraw at the end of the first year were the amenities reaching a desirable state of comfort.
Under the original agreement only one prefecture, that of Hiroshima, was allotted to the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, with American forces taking over the remainder of Japan. Soon after his arrival, however, Northcott was requested by MacArthur to take over further territory until finally the force, with the approval of each Commonwealth government concerned, occupied nine prefectures—Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Tottori, Shimane and Okayama, which made up the whole of the south of Honshu, and the four prefectures of the island of Shikoku. New Zealand's ground forces were assigned to the prefecture of Yamaguchi, an area of 2000 square miles containing 1,376,000 Japanese, on the southern tip of Honshu. No. 14 Squadron RNZAF, New Zealand's contribution to the air component of BCOF, reached the Inland Sea in the aircraft carrier HMS Glory on 23 March and flew its planes into Iwakuni, a large Japanese aerodrome on the shores of the Inland Sea, later moving to Bofu, terminal in Japan for regular air services from Australia and, for a time, from New Zealand. Squadron Leader J. J. de Willimoff, DFC,2 commanded the squadron until April 1947, when he was succeeded by Squadron Leader D. F. St. George, DFC,3 who retained command until the unit returned to New Zealand in November 1948. During the New Zealand component's tour of occupation duty a remarkable record was achieved by No. 41 Squadron which, with Dakotas, maintained a weekly service between New Zealand and Japan using the route Whenuapai-Brisbane-Cloncurry-Darwin-Morotai-Manila-Okinawa to Bofu or Iwakuni. Not one machine was lost in two years of flying over this unpredictable route.
Because of the legal aspect of an occupation force and the powers of the commanding officer, the New Zealand component of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force was known officially as 2 NZEF, Japan, and familiarly as J Force during the period of organisation. It was commanded by Brigadier K. L. Stewart, CBE, DSO, and built round 9 Infantry Brigade Group. The force, commanded before Stewart took over by Brigadier
W. G. Gentry,4 was assembled and trained at Florence throughout October and November 1945 from elements of 2 NZEF remaining in the Mediterranean theatre after the end of the war in Europe. It consisted of a brigade headquarters and the following units and services:
|Chief Administrative Officer||Lt-Col W. S. McKinnon|
|2 Divisional Cavalry Regiment||Lt-Col D. MacIntyre, DSO|
|22 Battalion||Lt-Col W. B. Thomas, DSO, MC|
|27 Battalion||Lt-Col G. P. Sanders, DSO|
|25 Field Battery||Maj J. F. Spring|
|5 Engineer Company||Maj D. A. Hudson|
|Signal Company||Maj V. P. Missen|
|19 ASC Company||Maj H. W. Barnett, MBE|
|16 Workshops||Maj J. M. Wilson|
|6 General Hospital||Lt-Col K. R. Archer|
|Nursing Services||Matron A. G. Shewan|
While the units and services were assembling, Stewart flew to New Zealand for political and service consultations, leaving Sanders in command and to accompany the force to Japan by sea. The majority of the men were non-volunteers of the 14th and 15th Reinforcements who had reached Italy as hostilities in Europe ended. Leave had been generous at New Zealand clubs established in the best hotels, discipline was relaxed, and the interminably delayed departure from Italy only lowered morale and added to a feeling of indifference in the expedition. Stewart had endeavoured to overcome the impatience of delay by issuing a reasoned statement to all ranks of the force, part of which read:
After the surrender of Japan, New Zealand was asked by the British Government to furnish a brigade group as part of the British Commonwealth force for the occupation of Japan. Our country is much concerned in Pacific Ocean affairs and for this reason, and also as its contribution towards the Empire post-war commitments, the New Zealand Government agreed to the British request. Jayforce was accordingly formed and preparations made for its despatch to Japan. The occupation of Japan has hitherto been an American responsibility, with General MacArthur as the Supreme Allied Commander. For some time there has been an agreement in principle that a British force would share in the occupation. Agreement as to details took longer to reach than was anticipated. There was further delay waiting for the formal approval of the USA Government. This has now been given and the British Empire forces are moving to Japan.
The force sailed from Naples in the Strathmore on 21 February 1946 and reached Kure, the BCOF port and base in Japan, on 29 March, where it disembarked two days later. Because of an
outbreak of measles no leave was permitted at Colombo, Singapore, or Hong Kong, where some of the patients were put ashore for hospital treatment. Stewart flew to Japan from New Zealand to meet the force and established his headquarters at Chofu, near the sea port of Shimonoseki, in former Japanese barracks adjoining a large steel works, with almost half the force ultimately quartered in the town of Yamaguchi itself, some miles away. Until quarters were available to them, hospital units and the Divisional Cavalry remained on the island of Etajima, in buildings of the Japanese naval academy, finally taken over as headquarters of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force when a move was made from Kure the following May.
Yamaguchi, an old university town of some historical interest, contained flimsy Japanese barracks which were reconditioned to house the units stationed there. It also accommodated a large Education and Rehabilitation service under Major K. I. Armour, and later a radio station serving the New Zealand area. Units were at first widely scattered throughout the prefecture, with detachments quartered at vital points on an operational basis. New Zealand also took over two of the Japanese repatriation centres, one at Senzaki and the other at Otake, and also maintained posts at selected coastal towns in an effort to prevent the infiltration of Koreans moving into Japan by sea under cover of darkness. Through these two posts, and a small one at Shimonoseki, New Zealand units supervised the repatriation of almost 300,000 Japanese soldiers and illegal Korean immigrants. Strong patrols combed the whole prefecture, uncovering stores of hidden arms and reporting any war supplies for destruction, since one of the major objectives of occupation was to remove all war potential. Another important patrol task was to ensure that occupation directives were enforced, particularly in schools, and to supervise local body and parliamentary elections.
The majority of the first New Zealand component of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force consisted of non-volunteers, who were not vastly interested in demonstrating to a conquered people the democratic way of life, another of the objectives of the occupation policy. Circumstances helped to provoke this attitude. Conditions at first were not all the men had been led to believe by some ill-advised advance publicity, and the drab and dreary barracks and camp areas, after the delights of Italy, caused a slump in morale which was not overcome until the first troops were relieved by volunteers from New Zealand the following June, July, and August. As in all other areas occupied by the British Commonwealth force, that allotted to the New Zealand component
was devastated by years of war and there were no amenities of any kind. It was a difficult period. Supplies were short, Japan was far from the principal Commonwealth centres, and there was little shipping to spare. The Japanese economy also aggravated the situation. Troops could not enter public restaurants or hotels as they had done so freely in Italy to add change to a monotonous army diet, and for their own protection they were forbidden to buy Japanese foods, of which the Japanese themselves were acutely short. Apart from that the Japanese method of using human excreta as fertiliser for all growing crops made the purchase of fresh vegetables most undesirable, consequently there was little variety in the army diet, bulky and sufficient though it undoubtedly was.
There were no leave centres ready, though such organisations as the YMCA, under Mr. A. K. Thompson, the acting commissioner, did what they could to meet the needs of those not interested in the Japanese landscape or arts, and they made up the majority. One of the controversial problems was fraternisation. Northcott never issued an order against fraternisation with the Japanese, but he did issue a directive which threw the responsibility for behaviour on the individual. All members of the occupation force were asked to be firm but just and decent, and to maintain the dignity and honour of the British Commonwealth.5 In general, the adoption of this attitude developed among the Japanese a respect for the members of the force, and New Zealanders rarely departed from it.
Some thousands of Japanese, both men and women, employed by the force as servants and labourers, watched closely the bearing and conduct of the men of all ranks, and it was this personal behaviour which conveyed the idea of democracy to the Japanese as nothing else did among the masses. Close contact with the Japanese people was difficult for a number of reasons and in many instances undesirable. One of the factors was the insuperable language barrier; another was the high incidence of venereal disease and tuberculosis among the poorer farming, labouring, and artisan classes which constituted the majority of the people in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force area. These were the greatest arguments against fraternisation, but healthy contacts were made with Japanese employees, shopkeepers, and
dealers and officials, and an undefined working arrangement was ultimately achieved which had the desired results and at the same time overcame a tortured problem. But for constant vigilance on the part of authority, the health of the occupation troops would have suffered more than it did. The venereal disease rate caused considerable concern. It was highest among the Maori members of the New Zealand force, their percentage being eight times greater than among European members.
Soon after settling in, and in conformity with the other components of the force, 2 NZEF, Japan, embarked on an ambitious programme of building new barracks and reconditioning old ones, as well as providing buildings for clubs and recreation centres. All such supplies were provided from Japanese sources, paid for by the Japanese Government and obtained under procurement—a system which led to irritating delay, since all projects had first to be forwarded to BCOF Headquarters for consolidation. They were then passed on to American Eighth Army Headquarters for processing, as all service units in Japan, American and British, had embarked on similar programmes. This called for immense quantities of materials of all kinds, from timber to household furnishings. Ultimately, however, the programme began to take shape. Hotels were taken over as leave centres in some of the most interesting and attractive parts of Japan; gift shops for the purchase of souvenirs of Japanese origin were opened, as well as generously stocked canteens which ended the era of rationing such goods; clubs were established in each centre, and touring concert parties provided entertainment, in addition to the ubiquitous film. Unfortunately, this programme was not fulfilled until some of the earlier arrivals had returned to their respective countries, including the first New Zealanders, and the initial shortages led to inevitable comparisons with the apparent plenty to be seen in American organisations.
In an effort to provide some relief from camp life, 2 NZEF Headquarters selected a beautiful stretch of sandy beach backed by pine trees and established among them a tented rest centre, which was named Waikuku. It was only a few miles from Chofu and enjoyed a deserved popularity. Further relief came later when a scheme was inaugurated whereby one battalion from the British Commonwealth Occupation Force took over guard duty in Tokyo, units succeeding each other in rotation. Troops were quartered for their month's tour of duty in Ebisu Barracks, in the city, and were able to see something of the Japanese capital and neighbouring scenic resorts and tourist attractions during their periods off duty. This periodical move to Tokyo, which also
enabled them to meet men from other components, prevailed until the New Zealand component was withdrawn, and in that short time they established a reputation for smartness and efficiency which was rarely equalled, and against whose neatness and precision of movement the corresponding American guards looked careless and a little weary.
One of the most disturbing features of the occupation, particularly during its early period, was the operation of the black market, which was partly the fault of an unfair rate of exchange—a rate so low that servicemen were unable to purchase anything other than a few necessities at their own canteens. The Japanese, so acutely short of such essentials as clothing, sugar, tobacco, matches, soap and bread, willingly gave more than the market value for these commodities, which brought one hundred times their value when sold surreptitiously. Officers were not exempt from such transactions. Periodical increases in the rate of exchange eased black market traffic in canteen supplies, but never entirely wiped it out, even when the yen rate was raised from 60 to more than 1000 to the £ sterling.
In accordance with prior planning, the men who arrived from Italy were replaced as soon as possible by volunteers recruited in New Zealand. The first relief of 1605 all ranks reached Japan in June 1946 in the Empire Pride and the remainder in the Chitral in August. By 18 August, except for volunteers who remained from the original force, the change-over was complete. At the end of June Brigadier L. Potter reached Japan to take over command from Stewart, which he did on 6 July and, with the exception of a leave period in New Zealand when he was relieved by Brigadier S. H. Crump,6 retained command until the force was withdrawn.
Originally 2 NZEF, Japan, was organised for an operational role, but conditions were such, with an almost hearty acceptance by the Japanese of the occupying forces and their regime, that a revision of establishments was necessary to conform to a static role and the regrouping of units in concentrated areas. This revision was done by Lieutenant-Colonel R. A. Hogan,7 who was sent to Japan by Army Headquarters in August. At no time was the New Zealand component called upon to subdue or prevent uprisings or demonstrations of force against the occupation, one of the more impressive achievements of which, in the New
Zealand as in other areas, was the work of the Provost Courts. These were established to try Japanese who had committed offences against the force, most of them petty and concerned with theft. Japanese offenders were permitted to have members of the force as defending counsel, and in these concrete demonstrations of British justice the democratic ideal was conveyed to them so that they could readily understand it. New Zealand also carried democracy a little further by the institution of children's sessions in the courts, and by setting up committees of parents to exercise some control over child delinquents.
With the change-over to young and enthusiastic volunteers, a different atmosphere pervaded the force and prevailed until it was withdrawn. This was confirmed by a senior battalion commander in his evidence during a court of inquiry in September 1946, which fully investigated complaints, the state and behaviour of the force and its clothing and equipment, much of this last brought from Italy and in poor condition after years of use. ‘The dogged determination to do as little as possible and to be as troublesome as possible has disappeared,’ he said. The later arrivals, as is inevitable in such circumstances, enjoyed the benefits and comforts which had been planned earlier and which permitted regular periods of leave at such holiday resorts as Kawana, Kobe, Kyoto and Chuzenji. Among its many commitments New Zealand was responsible for the staffing of a series of hotels which were taken over in the thermal seaside city of Beppu, on the island of Kyushu, and for providing certain staff members, both men and women, for other leave centres and clubs throughout Japan. Competitive sport was encouraged and enabled members of the New Zealand component to meet teams from other components in Rugby, tennis, swimming, and athletic championships.
After almost two and a half years as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, the New Zealand component was withdrawn in September 1948. By that time there had been many changes in command and numbers of replacements among unit personnel. Headquarters closed at Chofu on 7 August and moved to Camp Wellington in readiness for departure. This was a new camp, only recently completed, and was handed over to an American detachment.
The Air Force representatives remained with BCOF until 31 March 1949, when No. 14 Squadron vacated Bofu, to which it moved when the air units were reorganised after the departure of the United Kingdom and Indian air force squadrons. All United Kingdom units, both army and air, were the first to be withdrawn; India followed soon after her division to two separate
states was achieved. When New Zealand withdrew only the Australian component remained of the original force to represent the British Commonwealth.
In addition to 2 NZEF, Japan, and No. 14 Squadron RNZAF, New Zealand was represented in all branches of the headquarters of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force by officers and other ranks. A small sub-base organisation established in Tokyo in Empire House, opposite the Imperial Palace, to watch the interests of the Commander-in-Chief there and maintain close liaison with the headquarters of the Supreme Commander, also became a New Zealand responsibility, its first commander being Colonel L. W. Thornton, OBE.8
The New Zealander, with few exceptions, made a reliable soldier for occupation duty—a duty which carried with it immense privilege and power among a people to whom obedience was implicit. He rarely departed from an attitude of fairness and decency and controlled with ease a population among which, in the Yamaguchi prefecture, he was outnumbered by 343 to one.