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

Early on 22 September, the transport squadron carrying Major General Thomas E. Bourke's 5th Marine Division and corps headquarters troops arrived off Sasebo Harbor. They were met by Colonel Wensinger and members of the advance party together with Japanese pilots who were to guide the ships into their assigned berthing and docking areas. The advance party representatives were transferred to their respective unit command ships where they made their reports which required changes in billeting plans, making it necessary that 3d Battalion, 26th Marines remain afloat. At 0859, after Japanese pilots had directed the transports to safe berths in Sasebo's inner harbor, the 26th Marines, less the 3d Battalion, landed on beaches at the naval air station. Advancing rapidly inland, the Marines moved to areas tentatively selected at Saipan from aerial photographs and verified by the advance party. Unarmed Japanese naval guards on base installations, arms, and stores were relieved and Japanese guides arranged for by the advance party directed the Marines to pre-selected billeting areas. Ships carrying other elements of the division then moved to the Sasebo docks to begin general unloading. The shore party, reinforced by the 2d Battalion, 28th Marines, was ashore by 1500 and began cargo unloading operations which continued throughout the night.

1st Battalion, 27th Marines
Elements of the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines check their amphibious trucks following the six-and-a-half hour trip from Sasebo to secure Omura airfield. Later occupied by MAG-22, the airfield would become the main air base for southern Japan. National Archives Photo 127-N-135624

The remainder of the 28th Marines, in division reserve, remained on board ship. The 1st Battalion, 27th Marines landed on the docks in late afternoon and moved out to occupy the regiment's assigned zone of responsibility. During the afternoon, Generals Bourke, Schmidt, and Krueger inspected the occupation's progress with tours of the naval station, city of Sasebo, and naval air station. Before troop unloading was suspended at dusk, 1st and 2d Battalions, 13th Marines had landed on beaches in the aircraft factory area; 5th Tank Battalion had come ashore at the air station; and the assistant division commander and his staff had established an advanced division command post at the Sasebo Fortress. The main division command post remained afloat to control unloading better. All units ashore established guard posts and security patrols, but the division's first night in Japan was uneventful.

Sasebo, the home of the third largest naval base in Japan, was a city of more than 300,000 prior to 29 June 1945. That day, the city suffered its only B-29 raid of the war which destroyed a large portion of the city's shopping and business districts. The naval area was largely undamaged. More than 60,000 were made homeless and approximately 1,000 people were killed. The Marines saw very few of the remaining 166,000 inhabitants. "There wasn't a damn soul in town except those black coated policemen," General Ray A. Robinson later noted, "and there was one of those on every intersection. There wasn't another person in sight and it was very eerie." The few policemen and naval guards were described as being "acquiescent and docile with little expression of emotion or show of interest."

two Marines on hill overlooking Sasebo
Two Marines of the 2d Battalion, 27th Marines, view the ruins of Sasebo while standing guard on a hill overlooking the suburb of Tahjma. National Archives Photo 127-N-136772

The city was described as unbearable due to the stench rising from refuse piled high throughout. But as Bourke's Marines began the arduous task of cleaning up, Sasebo and the attitude of its inhabitants changed, as Marine Lieutenant Edwin L. Neville, Jr., later recalled:

Gradually young children would appear as scouts to see what the American were up to. Tremendous propaganda by the Japanese government about the treacherous Americans who would kill, mutilate, torture and rape the Japanese population if they ever won the war had instilled fear in the Japanese, who were petrified. What happened blew away these fears. The Marines gave the kids candy, chewing gum, food, whatever they had instantly at hand. They showered them with love and attention. The kids went back and told their folks that these were the good guys. Gradually, the citizens of Sasebo returned from the countryside or from behind the shutters of their houses that still stood. . . . Moreover, many Japanese were starving, and the Marines fed them and gave them food to prepare at home. The change in attitude in a short period of time was startling.

On 23 September, as most of the remaining elements of the 5th Division landed and General Bourke set up his command post ashore, sanitary squads prepared billeting areas and patrols started probing the immediate countryside. Company C, 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, was sent by amphibian trucks to Omura, about 22 miles southeast of Sasebo, to establish a security guard over the aircraft assembly facilities and repair 2 training base "to prevent further looting by Japs." Omura's 5,000 by 4,000 foot, "cow-pasture variety" airfield had been selected as the base of Marine air operations in southern Japan.

buldozer unloading from LST
Marines of the 2d Division watch as a bulldozer clears an area for an LST to pull into shore at Nagasaki on the second morning after the division arrived. National Archives Photo 127-N-136276

A reconnaissance party, led by Colonel Daniel W. Torrey, commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 22 (MAG-22), had landed and inspected the field on 12 September, and the 600-man advance echelon had flown in from Chimu on Okinawa six days later. The echelon found a considerable number of enemy planes ranging from beaten up "Willows," the Japanese version of the Boeing-Stearman Kaydet trainer, to combat aircraft consisting of "Jacks," "Georges, and "Zekes," all lacking just enough parts to be inoperable. Twenty-one Corsairs of Marine Fighter Squadron 113 reached Omura on the 23d, after a two-day stop-over at Kanoya airfield on Kyushu due to bad weather. The rest of the group's flight echelon, composed of Marine Fighter Squadrons 314 and 422 and Marine Night Fighter Squadron 543, arrived before the month was over. Each squadron was assigned two hangars, one for storing and servicing its planes and the other for quartering enlisted men and messing facilities. MAG-22's primary mission was similar to that of MAG-31 at Yokosuka — surveillance flights in support of occupation operations.

As MAG-22 began flight operations from Omura and the 5th Division consolidated its hold on Sasebo, the second major element of Schmidt's amphibious corps landed in Japan. The early arrival of the ships of Transport Squadron 12 at Saipan, coupled with efficient staging and loading, had enabled planners to move the 2d Marine Division's landing date forward three days. When reports were received that the approaches to the originally selected landing beaches were mined but that Nagasaki's harbor was clear, the decision was made to land directly into the harbor area. At 1300 on 23 September, the 2d and 6th Marines, in full combat kit with fixed bayonets and full magazines, landed simultaneously on the east and west sides of the harbor. Nagasaski, as one Marine observed, "can be described very easily: It is a filthy, stinking, wrecked hole, and the sooner we get out the better we'll all like it."

ruins of Nagasaki
Fields of rubble greeted Marines as they made their way into central Nagasaki, site of the second atomic bomb dropped on Japan. The Nagasaki Medical Center was the only building left standing near ground zero. Norman T. Hatch Collection, MCHC

Relieving the Marine detachments from the cruisers Biloxi (CL 80) and Wichita (CA 45), which had been serving as security guards for the prisoner of war evacuation operations, the two regiments moved out swiftly to occupy the city. Their second objective was to cordon off the area devastated by the atomic bomb. As Lieutenant Colonel George L. Cooper later recalled: "Ground zero appeared to have been a rather large sports stadium, and all of us were categorically ordered to stay out of any place within pistol shot of this area. The result of this order was that everybody and his brother headed directly for ground zero as soon as they could, and in no time at all had picked the area clean of all moveable objects." Later, ships were brought alongside wharfs and docks to facilitate cargo handling, and unloading operations were well under way by nightfall. A quiet calm ruled the city, auguring a peaceful occupation.

8th Marines
The 8th Marines, the last 2d Marine Division elements to land, passed through Nagasaki on 24 September and moved northeast to Isahaya. Having seized control of the area the Marines raise the Stars and Stripes. Norman T. Hatch Collection, MCHC

On 24 September, the rest of Major General LeRoy P. Hunt's 2d Division landed. The 8th and 10th Marines, the last of the division's regiments to land, and Marine Observation Squadron (VMO) 2, passed through Nagasaki, moved northeast to Isahaya, and seized control of the area. Once it had completed its movement into Nagasaki and Isahaya, the 2d Marine Division dispatched reconnaissance patrols to check the road conditions from Isahaya through Omuta to Kumamoto. The same day, the corps commander arrived from Sasebo by destroyer to inspect the Nagasaki area. General Schmidt had established his command post ashore at Sasebo the previous day and taken command of the two Marine divisions. The only other major allied unit ashore on Kyushu, a reinforced Army task force that was occupying Kanoya airfield in the southernmost part of the island, was transferred to General Schmidt's command from the Far Eastern Air Force on 1 October. This force, built around the 32d Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 127th Infantry, had flown into Kanoya on 3 September to secure an intermediate airstrip for staging and refueling aircraft enroute from the Philippines and Okinawa to Tokyo.

General Krueger, satisfied with the progress of the occupation on Kyushu. assumed command of all forces ashore at 1000 on 24 September. The following day, Headquarters I Corps and the 33d Infantry Division, the first major elements of Sixth Army's other corps, arrived and began landing operations at Wakayama. Head quarters Sixth Army landed with Major General Swift's troops and on the 27th opened at Kyoto. At Sasebo, Nagasaki, and Wakayama, there was ample evidence that the occupation of southern Japan would be bloodless.

Occupation duties included countryside surveillance patrols, supervising the inventory and destruction of ammunition, weapons, and other war material, and keeping order, all to insure strict adherence to surrender terms.
When not on duty, Marines on Kyushu either "sacked out" in make-shift barracks, visited one of the many tea houses while on liberty in bombed-out Sasebo or Nagasaki, organized basketball games, or attended a local Japanese wrestling match.

Like the Marines and sailors of General Clement's command at Yokosuka, those under the command of General Schmidt expected the worse. The only experience most had was in battle, during which the Japanese often refused to surrender and were annihilated. But like Clement's, Schmidt's forces were amazed at what they encountered. "We couldn't believe the Japanese could previously fight so ferociously and then be so completely subservient, without a murmur," Brigadier General Joseph L. Stewart later recalled. "Not once did I see any Japanese who acted or looked with disrespect toward occupation forces . . . . We were overwhelmingly surprised by the cooperative reception we had from the Japanese."

Next Page Document Cover Next Page
MARINES The Few. The Proud.
Back to Top
Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division