- 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
I’ve already mentioned the steep cliffs and wooded mountains surrounding the piers and buildings. Tunnels penetrate them by the score. Deep within them they open into labyrinths of rooms and corridors carved from solid rock. Nothing could better persuade one that the Japanese had prepared for this war—or for some war—for generations. The catacombs are loaded with supplies and equipment in enormous variety—mountains of things, deep under mountains. The entrances are protected by series of steel doors, some of them eight inches thick. I am convinced this dragon’s lair could not have been taken by violence.
The largest and most marvelous system of tunnels I have seen appears to have constituted the central air raid warning system for the Empire. Intricate beyond description, we found it abandoned and intact. It included room after room of radio equipment, transmitters, and receivers. One chamber alone had more than forty duty stations set up side by side. The largest single room was a veritable auditorium for display of a giant map of Japan and its neighboring islands, studded with countless little electric lights.
Opposite it, like seats for looking at a stage production, were rows and tiers of observing stations, each complete with desk, chairs, and transmitting apparatus. It is to be assumed that here the American air raids were analyzed as they converged on the Empire. Any approaching aircraft could be spotted when it was still a hundred miles away, appearing as a light on the map. The observers in that particular room were thus able to alert the appropriate defenses. Mysterious devices that our technicians do not yet understand make this great mechanism work. I’ve been told that in general their radio instruments appear to be inferior to ours. Here and there, however, are examples of the most advanced sorts of devices our people know about. Every door was open; the inhabitants had left suddenly, as if they were fleeing a volcano, taking no time to destroy anything. Who can imagine Americans of any description evacuating such a place without recourse to hand grenades or sledgehammers? Some of the Japanese technicians who worked in the place have been located and, with the help of a beaming interpreter, are busy explaining how everything operated.
I save until last the best news of all! Censoring has ceased! We can seal our own envelopes now! The Iowa is nominated to be returning to the States by Navy Day! I shall be home to you and the baby, somewhere, within weeks!
I have just returned from an all-day pilgrimage to Tokyo, and I must tell you about it at once so my mind will rest better as I try to sleep tonight. I have seen such filth, and wretchedness, and destruction, and remembrances of past horrors as to sicken and exhaust me. Square miles of the great cities of Yokohama and Tokyo are leveled, white with ashes, emptier than deserts, cluttered with shards of smashed machinery, littered with burned rubble. Hundreds of chimneys—thousands—survive in the shattered areas, standing tall and white like skinny ghosts, where once the wooden houses filled the crowded settlements. They are almost all that does remain, after the fire bombing some months ago. At first I was puzzled by what looked like scattered dozens of bunged-up sheds, maybe dog kennels, clumsily fastened together and made from fragments of rusty corrugated sheet iron or pieces of other kinds of junk. Then it became clear that they were houses, with people living in them.
Of course, it was not pure ordeal throughout. Getting to Tokyo proved to be no trick at all. I simply played hooky from ship—which is overflowing with idle officers—and seem not to have been missed. Yesterday my blithe companion Ensign Engle and I laid our plans for the escapade. He’s one of our communications officers, as am I, but he is frequently called upon to make guard mail trips and has a jeep to command. In midafternoon we jeeped over to the Yokosuka railroad station to get our tickets. We checked out .45-caliber automatics from our well-stocked little armory on board—not so much for protection, we told ourselves, as to provide more insignia. This morning, when we boarded the train, there was no one sufficiently courageous to ask for anything. We just walked on.
The train was nothing exotic, very much like one of our interurban electrics, six or seven cars long. We had seats as far as Ofuna, just south of Yokohama, but there we had to change trains. From there on we stood. The whole trip took about an hour and a half. The service is excellent, trains in both directions every few minutes, every car crowded. We were the objects of much concentrated observation. Occasionally we were bowed to or even saluted. Nowhere was there evident a trace of hostility or resentment. This seems unaccountable to us. There were other Americans on the train, in uniform, most of them unarmed. If lurking dangers do exist among these ragged little people, they do not appear.