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

Marine Withdrawl

By late November, only about 10 percent of the Marines in General Schmidt's command had been returned to the United States, although more than 15,000 men were eligible for discharge or rotation. The divisions were under orders to maintain their strength at 90 percent of personnel allowances, which severely curtailed the number of men who could be released. Replacements were almost nonexistent. The 2d Division, for example, had received only 45 officers and 130 men during the first two months of the occupation as replacements for the approximately 8,000 officers and men who were entitled to be released from active duty. To solve this problem, V Amphibious Corps ordered an interchange of personnel between the 2d and 5th Marine Divisions. The exchange was to be carried out by battalions, beginning with the separate battalions, followed by battalions within regiments, and concluding with clerical personnel in the division headquarters.

Those men of the 2d Division eligible for discharge under current directives and those having 24 or more months overseas would be transferred to units of the 5th Division, while men not yet eligible for discharge or rotation would move from the 5th to the 2d Division and Corps troops. Almost half of the 2d Division and 80 percent of the 5th Division, in all about 18,000 Marines and corpsmen, were slated for transfer. At the same time the personnel exchanges were taking place, elements of the 2d and 32d Divisions would occupy the 5th Division zone of responsibility so that the occupation missions of surveillance, disposition of materiel, and repatriation could continue with out interruption.

On 24 November, control of Saga and Fukuoka Prefectures passed to the 2d and 32d Divisions, respectively. In the first of a series of troop movements, the 2d Battalion, 6th Marines boarded trains for Saga to take over the duties and exchange personnel with the 2d Battalion, 27th Marines. The 6th and 10th Marines occupied other areas of the 5th Division zone, relieving units of the 13th, 27th, and 28th Marines and effecting the necessary personnel transfers. The 2d and 8th Marines sent their returnees to Sasebo, the 5th Division's port of embarkation, and joined new men from the 5th's infantry regiments, as did the separate battalions and division troops.

The 5th Division began loading out as soon as ships became available at Sasebo, and on 5 December, the first transports, carrying men of the 27th Marines, departed for the United States. The division gradually reduced its zone of responsibility and on 8 December, the 2d Division relieved the 5th of all its remaining occupation duties. Eleven days later, seven landing ships with the last elements of the 5th Division on board departed Sasebo.

The Marines of the 5th Division had accomplished much during their few months of occupation duty. Within the division's zone, the remaining Japanese armed forces were almost completely demobilized; a majority of the military facilities razed; a large percentage of ordnance, aircraft, and weapons destroyed; and war materiel and equipment in useable condition turned over to the Japanese Home Ministry for conversion to peacetime use. In addition, the Marines had begun the task of reconstruction by clearing debris, reinforcing roads and bridges, and establishing rudimentary clean water, sewage, and communications systems. Although most enjoyed their stay and left with a greater appreciation of Japanese customs and culture, all looked forward to their return home.

Beginning on 20 December, with the arrival at San Diego of the first troopships carrying the 27th Marines, a steady stream of division officers and men passed through reassignment and discharge centers at Camp Pendleton. Those men to be shipped elsewhere for discharge were put on their way as rapidly as possible, and those to be reassigned quickly moved out to their new jobs or to furloughs. Those to be discharged were assigned to the separation battalion — which had a highly streamlined discharge process:

He hears lectures on the favorable aspects and the pitfalls of civilian life, has his uniform pressed and all decorations and insignia added. A physical examination is taken and he has an opportunity to file a disability claim with the Veterans Administration with the help of Red Cross field assistants. The U.S. Employment Service also informs him of the prospects of a job. In the meantime, his records are being examined, completed and closed out. At the end of five days, he and his records meet for the final pay-off and he receives his discharge.

The process returned more than 200 Marines per day to civilian life. During January, most of the component elements of the division were skeletonized and then disbanded. On 5 February 1946, the Headquarters Battalion followed suit, and the 5th Marine Division, after two years of service, passed into history.

On the same date that the 2d Marine Division took over the duties of the 5th, V Amphibious Corps received a dispatch directive from Sixth Army stating that the corps would be relieved of all occupation duties and missions when the Eighth Army relieved the Sixth on 31 December. With reorganization of U.S. Army Forces, Pacific, and subsequent plans to reduce American military strength to only those units considered essential to a peacetime establishment, Eighth Army was designated to assume command of all allied occupation troops in Japan. I Corps, headquartered initially at Osaka and then at Kyoto, would take over V Amphibious Corps' area and troops.

Major General Schmidt's command spent most of its remaining time in Japan conducting routine reconnaissance and surveillance patrols, disposing of an increasing amount of war materiel, supervising the transfer of low-point men to 2d Division units, and preparing to turn over its area to I Corps. On 31 December, I Corps relieved V Amphibious Corps of all occupational operations in Japan, and corps troops began loading out the following day, some units for return to the United States and others for duty with Marine supply activities on Guam. On 8 January, the last elements of the Marine amphibious corps, including General Schmidt's headquarters, left Sasebo for San Diego. On 15 February 1946, the V Amphibious Corps was disbanded.

With the departure of V Amphibious Corps, the 2d Marine Division became responsible for the whole of what had been the corps zone and moved its headquarters from the Nagasaki area to Sasebo. In addition to the Sixth Army, the 32d Infantry Division, a former Michigan Wisconsin National Guard unit, also was slated for deactivation early in 1946. In preparation for taking over the 32d Division duties in Yamaguchi, Fukuoka, and Oita Prefectures, the 2d Division moved the 6th Marines north into the Army zone and increased the size of the areas assigned to its other regiments. On 31 January, when Major General Hunt's division formally relieved the 32d Division, the zones of responsibility assigned to each of the division's regiments were: 2d Marines, headquartered at Miyazaki, Oita and Miyazaki Prefectures; 6th Marines, at Fukuoka, Yamaguchi, Fukuoka, and Oita Prefectures; 8th Marines, whose command post was at Kumamoto, Kumamoto and Kagoshima Prefectures; 10th Marines, Nagasaki Prefecture. Areas that had been covered by battalions were now assigned to companies and detachments.

In early February, when Major General Roscoe B. Woodruff, Commanding General, I Corps, returned to the United States on temporary assignment, Major General Hunt, as the region's senior division commander, assumed command of the Corps, a position he held until General Woodruff's return on 5 April. The corps zone of responsibility underwent one more change during this period. On 4 February, advance elements of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force began moving into Hiroshima Prefecture and formally took control from the 24th Infantry Division on 7 March. Later in March, the British force relieved the 6th Marines in Yamaguchi Prefecture, therefore reducing the 2d Marine Division zone to the island of Kyushu.

Except for the movement of the 2d Marines' command post from Miyazaki to Oita, the constant shifting of units was largely over and the division could concentrate on routine occupation missions and on reinstituting regular training schedules. In late February, in order to reduce the division to peacetime strength, infantry regiments were instructed to relieve respective third battalions, and the artillery regiment the last lettered battery of each battalion, of occupation duties. The battalions and batteries were assembled at Ainoura, moved to Sasebo and boarded transports for the United States where the units would be disbanded. The remaining units were assembled in battalion-sized camps which served as centers for the daily reconnaissance, surveillance, and intelligence patrols. As occupational duties permitted, training in basic military subjects, firing of individual and crew-served weapons, and exercises in combat tactics filled increasing amounts of the Marines' time. An extensive air courier service, operating from Omura, linked the scattered battalions and enabled the division and regimental commanders to maintain effective control of their units. Other than fielding special unarmed election patrols during national elections in April, most of the disposition work had been completed and the flow of Japanese repatriates had slowed, and the Marines settled into a weekly routine of patrols, training, and liberty.

Soon after General Hunt returned from Kyoto, word was received from Eighth Army that the 2d Division would be returned to the United States and the 24th Infantry Division would move to Kyushu and take over the Marine zone. Preparations for the movement got underway before the end of April, as reconnaissance parties of the relieving Army regiments arrived to check their future billeting areas. General Hunt planned to relieve the outlying units first and then gradually draw them into Sasebo until the last unit had departed. On 24 May, the 19th Infantry Regiment, under operational control of the 2d Division, relieved the 2d Marines and assumed responsibility for Oita and Miyazaki Prefectures. The regiment left Sasebo on 13 June bound for Norfolk; the 8th Marines was relieved by the 21st Infantry and followed two days later; and the 10th Marines departed on the 23d. On 15 June, as all scheduled courier flights ended and Marine Air Base, Omura, was secured, Major General Hunt turned over responsibility for the island of Kyushu to the 24th Division and the 19th and 21st Infantry Regiments reverted to control of 24th Division. General Hunt and the Division headquarters boarded the Rutland (APA 192) and departed Sasebo on the 24th. Before leaving, however, the division transferred more than 2,300 men to the "China Draft" as replacements for the 1st Marine Division. The 6th Marines, slated to sail for the West Coast, and service troops and unit rear echelons needed to load out heavy equipment, remained behind. By mid-August, the 2d Marine Division had completed its move from Japan and settled in at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. How well the division had done its job was attested to by I Corps' commanding general, Major General Woodruff: "Today the 2d Marine Division comes to the end of its long trail from Guadalcanal to Japan. Its achievement in battle and in occupation: 'Well done.' The cooperation and assistance of your splendid Division will be greatly missed."

burning Japanese airplanes
Japan's air might is finally destroyed. More than 200 planes, including bombers and Zeros, are set afire at Omura Air Base. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 139991

The first Marines to set foot in Japan after the war landed at Yokosuka expecting to meet the same implacable foe they had encountered in years of bitter fighting across the Pacific. Instead they were confronted by a docile people anxious to cooperate. As a result of their acceptance of defeat, General MacArthur found it unnecessary to institute complete military rule. His program of demilitarization and democratization was implemented through the Emperor and the machinery of the Japanese Government, which disarmed and demobilized the country's military forces and reformed and modernized the political and economic structure without incident.

While the Marines on Kyushu stood by as observers and police men during many phases of the occupation, they were direct participants in others. They supervised the repatriation of thousands of foreign civilians and prisoners of war and handled the flood of returning Japanese. Using local labor, they collected, inventoried, and disposed of the vast amounts of munitions and other war materiel that had been stockpiled on Kyushu in anticipation of the Allied invasion. In addition, they used their own men and equipment to repair war damage and to assist in reestablishment the Japanese economy.

Within three months after landing on Kyushu, V Amphibious Corps had established effective control over the entire island and its ten million people. By the beginning of 1946, the tasks of repatriation and disposition had progressed to such an extent that responsibility for the whole island could be assumed by one division. The occupation not only exposed the Marines to a different culture and its customs, but also provided them experience not gained from their normal peacetime routine of training and guard duty. Faced by heavy responsibilities, Marines at all levels quickly learned to be kind but firm in handling the extremely delicate political, cultural, and economic problems which confronted them daily. "Their general conduct," as General MacArthur recalled, "was beyond criticism. . .They were truly ambassadors of good will."

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