Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Sasebo-Nagasaki Landings
Kyushu Occupation
Marine Withdrawl
Brigadier General William T. Clement
The Senior Marine Commanders
Special Subjects
The Invasion That Never Was
New 4th Honors Members of the Old 4th
Marine Corps' Demobilization Plan
Oldest Marine on Kyushu

SECURING THE SURRENDER: Marines in the Occupation of Japan
by Charles R. Smith

Sasebo-Nagasaki Landings

In the period immediately following the conclusion of the Luzon Campaign, the U.S. Sixth Army, under the command of General Walter Krueger, was engaged in planning and preparing for the invasion of Kyushu, the southernmost Japanese home island. The operation envisioned an assault by three Army corps and one Marine amphibious corps, totaling 11 Army and three Marine divisions, under the command of General Krueger. After more than three years, the major land, sea, and air components of the Central and Southwest Pacific forces were to merge in the initial ground assault against Japan itself.

In early August, with the destruction of Hiroshima and the Soviet Union's entry into the war, the possibility of an early surrender increased. Although planning for the invasion continued, General MacArthur directed Krueger to also plan and prepare for the occupation of Kyushu and western Honshu should the Japanese Government capitulate. General Krueger's initial plan for the occupation called for V Amphibious Corps, commanded by Major General Harry Schmidt, to land the 2d and 5th Marine Divisions in the Sasebo-Nagasaki area on 4 September. These landings were to be reinforced later by a 3d Marine Division seaborne or overland movement to the Fukuoka-Shimonoseki area. Major General Innis P. Swift's I Corps, consisting of the 25th, 33d, 98th, and 6th Infantry Divisions, was to land three days later in the Wakayama area of western Honshu and establish control over the Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe area. The X Corps, composed of the 41st and 24th Infantry Divisions and commanded by Major General Franklin C. Sibert, was scheduled to land in the Kure-Hiroshima area of western Honshu and on the island of Shikoku on 3 October.

On 14 August, the Sixth Army assumed operational control of V Amphibious Corps. After receiving official word of Japanese acceptance of the surrender demands the following day, the Corps' three divisions were informed that they should be prepared for an occupational landing in early September, and that "all units were to be combat loaded and alerted to the possibility of appreciable resistance to the occupation." The Fifth Fleet, under Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, would be responsible for collecting, transporting, and landing V Corps and other scattered elements of Krueger's army. Because of the wide dispersion of assault shipping and the magnitude of the minesweeping problem, the fleet could not move major units to their targets simultaneously and landing dates would therefore have to be postponed.

Rogers, Wolf, Ishii
In a conference held on board the Mt. McKinley prior to the landing, BGen William W Rogers, V Amphibious Corps Chief of Staff, left, stresses a point to his interpreter, Maj F. D. Wolf, as RAdm Keichi Ishii, Chief of Staff of Sasebo Naval Station and his vice chief locate a point under discussion. National Archives Photo 127-N-139194

At the time of surrender there were an estimated 20,000 allied prisoners of war in Kyushu and western Honshu. Sixth Army planners contemplated that recovery teams composed of American, Australian, and Dutch representatives would accompany the occupational forces and immediately evacuate prisoners in their respective zones. Following the surrender, the Japanese virtually freed all Allied prisoners by turning the prison camps over to them and allowing them freedom of movement. Taking full advantage of the situation, many former prisoners roamed the countryside at will, creating a situation that called for an immediate change in plans.

With the landing of the first American forces in Japan at the end of August, it became apparent that the evacuation of all Allied prisoners of war "must receive first priority as many of them were in poor physical condition." The revised Sixth Army plan allowed the Eighth Army to extend its evacuation program to the west and to evacuate prisoners through Osaka to Tokyo until relieved by Fifth Fleet and Sixth Army units. Prisoners on Shikoku were to be ferried across the Inland Sea to the mainland and then transported by rail through Osaka to Tokyo. The Fifth Fleet and Sixth Army immediately organized two evacuation forces consisting of suitable landing craft, hospital ships, transports, Army contact teams, truck companies, and Navy medical personnel. One force, under the command of Rear Admiral Ralph S. Riggs, landed at Wakayama on 11 September and by the 15th had completed the processing of all prisoners in western Honshu, a total of 2,575 men. The other force, commanded by Rear Admiral Frank G. Fahrion, landed at atom-bombed Nagasaki, after Fifth Fleet mine sweepers had cleared the way, and by 22 September had evacuated all 9,000 remaining prisoners on Kyushu.

Preliminary examination revealed that there were no serious epidemics in the camps except for a few cases of typhoid and dysentery. Malnutrition was common and the most serious cases of beriberi and tuberculosis required immediate hospitalization. The initial processing revealed many instances of brutality. However, as it was reported at the time, "close questioning often disclosed that the prisoners had been guilty of breaking some petty but strict prison rule. A considerable number of the older men stated that the camp treatment, although extremely rugged, was on the whole not too bad. They expected quick punishment when caught for infraction of rules and got it. All complained of the food, clothing, housing, and lack of heating facilities." Except for a few stragglers, the release, medical examination, delousing, processing, and screening of Allied prisoners of war in southern Japan was completed on 23 September.

While the Eighth Army extend ed its hold over northern Japan, and the two evacuation forces rounded up and processed Allied prisoners, preparations for the Sixth Army's occupation of western Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu continued. The occupation area contained 55 percent of the total Japanese population, including half of the Japanese Army garrisoning the homeland, three of Japan's four major naval bases, all but two of its principal ports, two-thirds of all Japanese cities with a population in excess of 100,000, and three of its four main transportation centers. The island of Kyushu, which was to be largely a Marine occupation responsibility, supported a population of 10,000,000 spread amongst its 15,000 square miles of mountainous terrain. The southern and eastern parts of the island were chiefly agricultural areas, producing large quantities of exportable rice and sweet potatoes. The northwestern half of the island contained almost all of southwestern Japan's coal fields, the nation's greatest pig iron and steel district, and many important shipyards, in addition to a host of other smaller industries.

8th Service Regiment
Marines of the 8th Service Regiment crowd the rail of their transport as its ties up to the dock at Sasebo Naval Base. National Archives Photo 127-N-136032

On 1 September, Major General Harry Schmidt opened his command post on board the Mt. McKinley (AGC 7), flagship of Amphibious Group 4, off Maui in the Hawaiian Islands and sailed to join the 5th Division convoy, already enroute to Saipan. The remainder of V Corps' troops, including several Army engineer augmentation units, with the exception of rear echelons, continued loading and, on 3 September, departed Hawaii for Saipan on board 17 LSTs. Schmidt's forces also carried more than 300 tons of "Military Government" or relief supplies consisting of rice, soy beans, fats and oils, salt, canned fish, and medical equipment.

During the voyage to Saipan planning for the occupation continued in light of changes to the original concept of operations allowed by favorable reports of Japanese compliance with surrender terms in northern Japan and alterations in the troop list. However, every effort was made to salvage as much as possible of the content of the Olympic plans for the assault landing. On 5 September, the 3d Marine Division was deleted from the Corps' occupation force and the 32d Infantry Division substituted. To guard against possible treachery on the part of thousands of Japanese troops on bypassed islands in the Central Pacific, the Navy tasked the 3d Division, then on Guam, with preparing for any such eventuality. Meanwhile, the 2d Marine Division and additional Corps units began loading in the Marianas. "Someone at higher headquarters apparently made a gross error," noted Lieutenant Colonel Jacob G. Goldberg, the division's logistics officer. "For the first time since the war began we were assigned enough shipping to lift the entire division, and by entire division I mean 100% personnel and equipment. VAC was very much surprised that we were able to do this, and I freely admit it was a hell of a nervous strain on me up until the last ship was loaded."

Early on the morning of 13 September, the various transport groups rendezvoused at Saipan. The 2d Marine Division almost was loaded and the 32d Infantry Division on Luzon was preparing to move to staging areas at Lingayen for loading on turn around shipping of the 5th Marine Division. Because of continuing indications that the landings would be unopposed, the number of air and fire support ships assigned to accompany the transport groups was reduced.

The following day, General Schmidt held a conference of his subordinate commanders on board the Mt. McKinley to clarify plans for the operation. He stressed "the importance of maintaining firm, just, and dignified relations with the Japanese . . . [and] responsibilities of commanders of all echelons in following the rules of land warfare and the directives of higher authority."

In view of the cooperative attitude of the Japanese thus far, permission was requested and granted to send advance parties to Nagasaki and Sasebo. Their missions were "to facilitate smooth and orderly entry of U. S. forces into the Corps zone of responsibility by making contact with key Japanese civil and military authorities; to execute advance spot checks on compliance with demilitarization orders; and to ascertain such facilities for reception of our forces as condition and suitability of docks and harbors; adequacy of sites selected by map-reconnaissance for Corps installations; condition of airfields, roads, and communications."

The first party, led by Colonel Walter W. Wensinger, VAC operations officer, and consisting of key Corps and 2d Division staff officers flew via Okinawa to Nagasaki, arriving on 16 September. A second party of similar composition, but with underwater demolition teams and 5th Division personnel attached, left for Sasebo by high speed transport on 15th. After meeting with local officials, spot checking coastal defenses, and arranging for suitable barracks, warehouse, and command post sites, Colonel Wensinger and his staff proceeded by destroyer to Sasebo where they made preliminary arrangements for the 5th Division's arrival. On 20 September, the second reconnaissance party arrived at Sasebo where it was met by Wensinger's party, and completed preparations for the landing.

Marines move from the naval base into Sasebo. From Sasebo 5th Division would move out into the countryside to ensure Japanese compliance with the surrender terms. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 140484

At dusk on 16 September, Transport Squadron 22 bearing the Corps headquarters and 5th Marine Division slipped out of Tanapag Harbor bound for Sasebo. The landing ships carrying elements of the 2d Marine Division left Saipan for Nagasaki the next day. During the eventful voyages, Marines received refresher training in military discipline and courtesy and got their initial briefs on the Japanese people, customs, and geography.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division