Kyūshū Island, Japan August 25, 1945

On this date in 1945, ten days after Japanese Emperor Hiro­hito had announced his agree­ment to sur­render his nation uncon­di­tionally, two U.S. Army pilots flying P‑38 Lightnings on armed recon­nais­sance landed at Nitta­ga­hara Air­field 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 Naval Air Base 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 887‑ft, 45,000‑ton “Mighty Mo” lay exactly four and one-half miles north­east of the spot where, on July 8, 1853, Com­mo­dore Matthew Perry had anchored four small 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 (known as an ensign) was on promi­nent dis­play when an 11‑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. It was a thunderous and fitting conclusion to the proceedings.

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

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

Left: The 11-member Japanese delegation of civilians and mili­tary offi­cers shortly after their arrival on board the USS Missouri, Sunday, Septem­ber 2, 1945. Leading the dele­gation was Foreign Affairs Minis­ter Mamoru Shige­mitsu (top hat with cane). Signing the Instru­ment of Sur­render for the Japa­nese mili­tary was Gen. Yoshi­jirō Umezu (to 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 Coun­cil for the Direc­tion of the War (Saikō sensō shidō kaigi), 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. In 1951 Japan con­cluded a peace treaty with the U.S. and other Allied nations and the following April the country formally regained its independence.

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

Left: Dressed in khaki and an open-neck shirt, General of the Army Douglas Mac­Arthur, Supreme Allied Com­mander, opened the 20‑minute sur­render cere­mony on the star­board veran­da deck of the USS Missouri precisely at 9 a.m. Forty-three high-ranking offi­cers from eight Allied powers (United Nations) are lined up behind him. Mounted on the bulk­head behind the rows of men is the 31‑star ensign (the blue canton displayed correctly) 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 Missouri. Also present were the Stars and Stripes that had flown over the U.S. Capitol on Sunday, Decem­ber 7, 1941. Just before closing the pro­ceed­ings, Mac­Arthur intoned, “Let us pray that peace now be restored to the world, and that God will pre­serve it always.” Victor in war, Mac­Arthur stayed on in Japan to manage the peaceful seven‑year U.S. occupation of that country.

Right: Some 1,900 Allied bombers and carrier planes fly in precise for­ma­tion over the U.S. and British fleets assembled in Tokyo Bay, Septem­ber 2, 1945. The USS Missouri is at left. On the battle­ship’s sur­render deck were over 130 offi­cial guests, or dele­gates—Amer­i­can, British, Chi­nese, Soviet, Aus­tra­lian, Cana­dian, French, Dutch, and New Zea­land offi­cers—who were invited to wit­ness Japan’s formal capit­u­la­tion. The impres­sive U.S. dele­ga­tion included 39 gene­rals and 34 admirals, among them Lt. Gen. Jona­than M. Wain­wright who surren­dered the belea­guered Philip­pines to the Japa­nese invaders, Lt. Gen. James H. Doo­little, and Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, the later two gene­rals having famously brought the war home to main­land Japa­nese. The British dele­ga­tion was headed by Gen. Arthur Perci­val, who relin­quished Singa­pore to its fate. The ship’s comple­ment of 3,000 offi­cers and blue­jackets, plus media peo­ple, watched the sur­render cere­mony and flyover from atop gun turrets and walkways.

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