Kyūshū Island, Japan · August 25, 1945

On this date in 1945, ten days after Japan had agreed to uncon­di­tional sur­render, two U.S. Army pilots flying P‑38 Lightnings on armed recon­nais­sance landed on Kyūshū Island, the southern­most Japa­nese Home Island, after one of the P‑38s ran low on fuel. The two pilots became the first Amer­i­cans to land in defeated (though not yet occupied) Japan. An hour later, in the pre­sence of Japa­nese Army per­son­nel, a B‑17 Flying For­tress landed on the same air­field to assist the two pilots in refueling the plane for its return flight to Okinawa.

The Japa­nese recep­tion was friendly, even for­mal—the local mayor appeared in top hat and tails. All three crews were three days ahead of Gen. Douglas Mac­Arthur’s advance team, which landed at Japan’s largest air­field, Atsugi out­side Tokyo, to coor­di­nate the offi­cial signing cere­mony in Tokyo Bay on Septem­ber 2. To wel­come the advance team, a mis­chievous naval fighter pilot from the USS York­town, which was pro­viding cover for the forces occupying Japan, landed his plane at Atsugi on August 27 and ordered the Japa­nese to erect a ban­ner wel­coming the Army gene­ral on “on behalf of the U.S. Navy.” Ban­ners on Tokyo streets pro­claimed: “Wel­come the American victories all over the world.”

On Septem­ber 2, six years and a day after Ger­many precip­i­tated the global con­flict by invading neigh­boring Poland, Mac­Arthur headed the Allied dele­ga­tion on board the battle­ship USS Missouri that brought World War II to an end by accepting Japan’s for­mal sur­render. The Missouri lay exactly four and one-half miles north­east of the spot where, on July 8, 1853, Com­mo­dore Matthew Perry had anchored four ships of the U.S. Navy’s Far East Squad­ron, which flew an Amer­i­can flag of thirty-one stars. Ninety-two years after the “opening of Japan,” Perry’s flag was on promi­nent dis­play when a nine-mem­ber Japa­nese dele­ga­tion, traveling through burnt-out cities, arrived at its des­ti­na­tion. The Japa­nese signed the sur­ren­der docu­ment at 9:05 a.m. Gen. MacArthur signed for the United Nations and U.S. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, who had directed much of the Paci­fic War, signed for the United States. Minutes later, in a show of the mas­sive air power that had ended the Pacific War, 1,500 car­rier air­craft and 500 B‑29s flew over the armada of U.S. and British ships that filled Tokyo Bay.

Japanese Sign Instrument of Surrender Aboard USS Missouri, September 2, 1945

Japanese surrender delegation, September 2, 1945Japanese Instrument of Surrender

Left: The Japanese delegation shortly after arrival on board the USS Missouri, Sun­day, Septem­ber 2, 1945. Leading the dele­gation was Japa­nese Foreign Affairs Minis­ter Mamoru Shige­mitsu (with cane). Signing the Instru­ment of Sur­render for the Japa­nese mili­tary was Gen. Yoshi­jirō Umezu (on Shige­mitsu’s left). In 1948 Shige­mitsu was sen­tenced to seven years im­pri­sonment by the Inter­na­tional Mili­tary Tri­bunal for the Far East. Paroled in 1950 Shige­mitsu became Deputy Prime Minis­ter of Japan in 1954. Umezu, final Chief of the Im­perial Japa­nese Army General Staff and a mem­ber of Emperor Hiro­hito’s Supreme War Council, was tried as a war crimi­nal by the same tribunal, which sen­tenced him to life imprisonment. He died in prison in 1949.

Right: The Japanese Instrument of Surrender was the written agree­ment that enabled the sur­render of the Empire of Japan, marking the end of World War II. It was signed by repre­sen­ta­tives from Japan, the U.S., China, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, Aus­tra­lia, Canada, France, the Nether­lands, and New Zea­land aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Septem­ber 2, 1945. The Allied copy was pre­sented in leather and gold lining with both coun­tries’ seals printed on the front, where­as the Japa­nese copy shown here was bound in rough canvas with no seals on the front.

MacArthur opening surrender ceremony, September 2, 1945U.S. Navy flyover, September 2, 1945

Left: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Com­mander, opened the 20‑minute sur­render cere­mony on the veran­da deck of the USS Missouri. Repre­sen­ta­tives of the Allied Powers (United Nations) are lined up behind him. Mounted behind the rows of men is the 31‑star flag (displayed back­ward) that Com­mo­dore Matthew Perry had brought ashore to Japan in 1853. The fragile flag was retrieved from the Naval Aca­demy’s museum in Annap­o­lis, Mary­land, and delivered on August 29, 1945, to Adm. William “Bull” Halsey, Com­mander of the U.S. Third Fleet, whose flag­ship was the USS Missouri. Victor in war, Mac­Arthur stayed on in Japan to manage the U.S. occupation of that country.

Right: U.S. Navy carrier planes fly in formation over the U.S. and British fleets in Tokyo Bay during the sur­render cere­mony. The USS Missouri is at left. On the battle­ship’s surr­ender deck were over 130 offi­cial guests—Amer­i­can, British, Chinese, Soviet, Austra­lian, Cana­dian, French, Dutch, and New Zea­land offi­cers—who were invited to witness Japan’s formal capitulation.

Contemporary Newsreel Accounts of U.S. Forces Landing in Japan, August 1945