- 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
Once more it became my job to manage and record voice communications. My place was in the CIC—the Combat Information Center—a gadget-packed room high in the superstructure. We had six separate voice circuits, each alternatingly coming up as Bonaparte. I never worked fewer than sixteen hours a day. What I mostly had to do was to see to it that every message transmitted by voice, incoming and outgoing, was typed in proper form and properly routed via the conference tables below. Every command or report concerning Task Force 31 clattered through me and my yeomen. My voice! My vocal cords grew nodes like Bing Crosby’s. Light bulbs rattled when I spoke.
L-day was postponed until the thirtieth, by orders of MacArthur. Task Force 31 milled around in Area Badger, agglomerating itself. About us were transports loaded with hastily extricated Marines, augmented by the landing parties recruited out of numerous big ships. By now we had with us the small attack transports (APDs)—converted destroyers. All around us was a swarm of minesweepers; we also were in company with landing craft, repair ships, ships full of vehicles, seabees, drinking water, fuel oil, and battle-ready Marines. Circling on the outskirts were the destroyers, without which a fleet is vulnerable from below and above. We had formed up as a long, strung-out array, a column of units perhaps twenty miles from van to rear; we went through maneuvers to find out how well we maneuvered. By noon of the twenty-sixth we were a thin dagger pointed in the general direction of Hirohito, approaching at about nine knots. It developed that we were ahead of schedule; we countermarched for two hours, then countercharged again. Except for the destroyer screen always just ahead, the San Diego was in the lead.
If you look at a map of Japan, you will see that Tokyo Bay is a deep little cavity in the southern coastline, connected to the Pacific Ocean by a narrow, crooked channel penetrating its southern rim. It somewhat resembles Narragansett Bay, just outside your windows, except that it’s about twice as big and is undoubtedly one of the greatest harbors on earth. Sagami Wan is a large bite out of the coastline just outside and to the west. It’s open to the sea and is thus a poor anchorage; there is no substantial industrial development along its bordering beaches. It was therefore presumed to be not well defended by coastal artillery or mines. Only a narrow strip of land to the east, however, separates it from teeming cities lining the sides of Tokyo Bay, full of ferocious defenses. Thus it was Sagami Wan that had been selected as the first-night focus for our avalanche now ready.
We anchored there, a mile or so offshore, late in the afternoon of August 27, Janie’s second birthday. As the hook went down and I stuck my head out to look at Fujiyama, I thought of you two and wondered about the party you had doubtless scheduled for later that day, so far away. Our task force kept arriving and anchoring, silently. There was very little to say over the radios. Japan lay solid, stolid, and mysterious before us.
At first we saw no lights on shore. Presently, however, tiny twinkles became visible along a sizable stretch of shoreline. Then, astonishingly, a strange little school of fisherman-sized motorboats appeared out of the darkness, heading slowly toward us. The San Diego’s five-inch turrets swiveled around to cover the cockleshell heading our way. We learned that these were conveyors of platoons of Japanese channel pilots, allocated two to each of our ships, expected and required to guide us through minefields in the channel into the bay! A squad of our Marines, rifles poised, stood waiting for a head to appear at the top of a rope ladder let down over the side. A terrified and shabby little man came slithering onto the deck and lay prostrate, awaiting what he surely thought would be his doom. He was vigorously encouraged to get himself up and was escorted belowdecks unceremoniously. Another one followed. We learned next day they spent that night in the brig.
Next morning the San Diego, with two destroyers capering purposefully ahead, minesweepers on our flanks, and loaded attack transports right behind, pulled out to sea again, to the southeast, to round the isthmus protecting the channel entrance.
Tokyo Bay is a picturesque, not to say a perfectly beautiful, harbor. Its banks are densely wooded, clear down to the water. From time to time I could leave my post and come out to peek at the Risen Sun. On one such visit I caught sight of a fluttering of small white things deep within the steep, forested hills. Binoculars disclosed them to be people waving handkerchiefs at us as we passed. They were either just welcoming us or surrendering; we knew not. The strangest thing was that there were no rifle shots or detonations, as surely there would have been had this been occurring almost anywhere else in the world.