- Historic Sites
Landing At Tokyo Bay
Two letters from a Navy lieutenant to his wife tell the story of the last hours of World War II
August/September 1985 | Volume 36, Issue 5
Within the next few days the character of our admiral’s prospective duties assumed some kind of shape. At first the idea of “preparing to occupy Tokyo Bay” seemed ludicrous. But then, as you simultaneously learned back home, the atomic bombs did start to fall, and the Russians did “come in,” and on August 14 the Japs did crumble. On that day the Navy’s bomb-filled planes were recalled, victory flags went up all over the fleet, and from Halsey’s flagship, the South Dakota, a flag hoist was raised proclaiming an illegal order, “Splice the main brace.” Do you know what that means? The onboard pharmacies knew; their whiskey stores soon ran out. All of a sudden our mighty Task Force 38 had nothing to do! The hints and glimpses a few of us had had of Badger’s instructions and plans were the only available outline of the prospective strategies of the United States Navy.
Admirals Badger and Halsey—and doubtless, somewhere, Chester Nimitz—were laying their bet that they could beat the Army to the goal line. Thus the original plans seemed to exclude the Army and its mighty Air Corps. Each ship of cruiser size or larger in the fleet about us was ordered at once to organize large landing parties of bluejackets and fleet Marines. Rifles and pistols were broken out of lowest-deck storage lockers. Machine guns were stripped from aircraft, tripods for them being improvised by shipfitters out of water pipe. On the fantail of the Iowa from morning to night we watched the designated men drilling and practicing, shooting their unaccustomed weapons at targets thrown into the sea. A more astonished collection of sailors never existed in military history. To assault the Empire with landing forces of raw sailors was sheer lunacy. How could we expect no opposition? We had seen the enemy dive-bombing the Wasp a mile away, the afternoon of the morning when the emperor said he was throwing in the towel. But orders from a rear admiral are to be complied with—and behind him sat Halsey.
The heretofore placid routines in flag plot were thrown into convulsions of activity. There was where the core of the new volcano was hottest. Up from the conference rooms below us came an endless stream of dispatches to be transmitted: to our ships nearby; to Guam, Ulithi, Eniwetok, Pearl Harbor; to ships a thousand miles away. Our voice circuits became overloaded; new circuits were added, increasing what was already bedlam. Our coding officers hunched over the keyboards in their locked room for five hours at a stretch. A great new naval task force was being created, and the race was against time—against time and the Army. Commanders and captains joined our staff, experts in this or that, fliers and submarine men and photo interpreters and mine guys—all manner of gold braid. Admirals visited the Iowa daily. Sometimes the destroyers that serve as seagoing taxicabs would be lined up on our flanks three deep, to take on or discharge high-ranking couriers. I was directed to create a chart of the western Pacific and devise arrangements of pinup cards to show the names and locations of every ship eventually to marry into our hastily nominated family. I never did get it finished: too many ships; not enough chart.
Otherwise my own humble part in the maelstrom was always the same. During my time on watch I tended the voice circuits, writing down the messages as they came tumbling in to us and reading out the queries, the replies, the orders composed in the conference room. Our voice call was “Bonaparte,” and as Bonaparte I broadcast until I was hoarse. Off watch I would fall asleep with the clamor of loudspeakers ringing in my ears, and persistently the word Bonaparte shouted through my dreams. We thought then we were under pressure; afterward the frenzy increased until it seemed likely that hell is cacophony.
A million Japanese prints are all honest about Fujiyama; surely this is the most beautiful mountain on earth.
It was only about then that we learned that one General MacArthur was to be supreme commander of the Allied powers, and of us too, responsible for directing all phases of the forthcoming occupation. But by the time General MacArthur had the burden of planning fairly upon him, the emergence of Task Force 31 was so well advanced there could be no notion of an Army alternative. And that same delay served the Navy well, for while we were awaiting MacArthur’s commands, the ships were pouring pell-mell from all directions into a large portion of the western Pacific now identified as Area Badger.
The timetable for the program was announced. Normandy had had its Dday; Japan was to have its L-day (the L for landing), and at first it was set for Wednesday, August 28. On Thursday the twenty-second, Admiral Badger and most of his staff transferred to the light cruiser San Diego, which he had selected as his flagship, for the critical approach into the tiger’s mouth. On the twenty-third my orders reached me to go aboard the San Diego.