The Very Unofficial Surrender of Japan

By Clay Tice (USAF ret)

If you are a WW2 history buff, you probably know that General MacArthur landed in Japan on 30 Aug 1945 and accepted the surrender of Japan on 2 Sep on the battleship Missouri. And according to William Manchester's American Caesar - Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964 ... "Japan, the only major power whose soil had never been sullied by the boot of an enemy soldier, lost that distinction at dawn on Tuesday, Aug 28, when Colonel Charles Tench, a member of MacArthur's staff, stepped from a C-47 and set foot on Atsugi's bomb-pocked runway."

History is in error on two counts. MacArthur was not the first to take the surrender of Japan, nor was Tench the first to sully the Japanese soil.

This is a verbatim copy of my report:

APO 337

26 August 1945

The following is a statement of Lt. Col. CLAY TICE, JR., 0-421355, Commanding Officer, 49th Fighter Group, in regard to the emergency landing on the Japanese homeland on 25 August 1945.

I was the leader of Jigger Red flight on 25 August 1945 when two planes of that flight landed on the mainland of Japan. Our mission was a combat sweep around KYUSHU, across the southern tip of HONSHU, thence around SHIKOKU and return to base. The plotted distance of the patrol was 1370 statute miles and flying time was estimated at six hours and forty-five minutes. Instructions were given to hang a 310 gallon external tank in addition to the bomb load, and to fill the tanks to capacity. Pilots were briefed thoroughly on the mission by myself and the length and duration of the mission were stressed. Fuel consumption was estimated at 610 gallons allowing a one hour reserve. Total gas carried was approximately 700 gallons.

The flight, composed of eight P-38s of the 7th Fighter Squadron, plus one spare, was airborne from MOTUBA Strip at 0805. Cruise on course and during sweep was 1800 rpm and 30"Hg in auto lean as briefed, with an indicated air speed of 180 mph. Prior to making landfall on KYUSHU, two aircraft aborted and returned to base due to mechanical difficulty. I made landfall at MAKURAZAKI at 0950. A course was then set for NAGASAKI with slight deviations to check shipping, arriving over NAGASAKI at 1025. I proceeded to ISAHAY to OMUTA thence to YANAGAWA to KURUME to NAKATSU. Time over NAKATSU was 1100. My course was then over NAGASU to TOMIKUDURA to YA SHIMA Island to NAGAHAMA at 1122. Approximate air mileage to this point was 600 miles. Flight Officer HALL, number two (2) in the second flight, called for a reduction in rpm because he was low on gas. His radio transmission was very poor and all messages from him were relayed through his flight commander, Captain KOPECKY. I asked Flight Officer HALL how many gallons of gas he had left and answer was approximately 240 gallons. At that time we were 540 miles from base and I reduced power settings to 1600 rpm and 28"Hg. Low visibility forced me around the peninsula to SHONE and down to SAEKI. I then called Flight Officer HALL again on his gas supply and understood him to say that he had about 140 gallons. I decided that his rate of fuel consumption and gas supply would not permit his return to a friendly base and turned out to sea off FURUE to jettison bombs at 1143.

No flak had been encountered over Japanese installations, and I believed that a landing at a suitable Japanese airdrome would be preferable to the certain loss of a plane and the possible loss of a pilot in the event a forced ditching at sea was made.

I called Jukebox 36 (B-17 of the 6th Air Sea Rescue Squadron) and informed him of my intentions and requested assistance. I landed at NITTAGAHARA, 450 miles from base, at 1205. There were no Japanese in sight after landing and I checked the gas supply in flight Officer HALL's plane. He had dropped his external tank previous to informing me of his difficulty and upon inspection, I found that his wing tanks were dry and I estimated his fuel at 150 gallons in mains and reserves by visual check of fuel indicators and tanks.

At 1305 we were contacted by officers and men of the Japanese Army and although conversation was difficult, we were greeted in a friendly manner. Jukebox 36 landed at approximately 1315 and with a fuel pump and hose furnished by the Japanese, we transferred approximately 260 gallons of gas from the B-17 to the P-38. After landing at NITTAGAHARA, I dropped my external tank on the runway still containing 25 to 50 gallons. I had used but 15 minutes of my internal gas supply by that time.

Flight Officer HALL and I were airborne behind the B-17 at 1445 and set course for base where we landed at 1645 after cruising at 1800 rpm and 28"Hf. I had approximately 240 gallons of gas left after landing. All cruise settings were in auto lean. Flight Officer HALL had approximately 210 gallons remaining.

As far as it is possible to ascertain from interrogation of line personnel concerned, Flight Officer HALL's plane was serviced with 300 gallons in the external tank and all internal tanks topped off. From preliminary investigation, it is believed that the cross feed valve was defective thus permitting siphoning of the fuel supply.

I carried out my landing on Japanese territory in the belief that Flight Officer HALL could not safely return to the nearest Allied base and that under the circumstances it would be the safest course of action if I landed prior to Flight Officer HALL because I thought that in the case of difficulty with Japanese, my rank and experience would be of benefit. Flight Officer HALL's lack of combat experience and the nervousness that he showed after landing and when confronted by the Japanese confirmed my belief.

Instructions in all details of the fuel system and gas consumption characteristics of the P-38 are now being given and will be followed by actual demonstrations and written examinations by all pilots of this organization. All efforts will be made to prevent any possible reoccurrence of this situation either by pilot error or mechanical failure.

Lt. Col., Air Corps

Now that you have read the official report of that first landing in Japan on 25 August 1945, here are the details. That report was written immediately upon landing in reply to a request from Fifth AF Hqs, and the political thing to say was that the fuel problem leading to the landing was caused by material failure, ie: cross-feed siphoning. I couldn't admit to any 49th Group pilot error — which it was.

Now I must admit that over the bar in our Officers Club tent we had talked about being the first to land in Japan by lowering the gear and making a touch-and-go, but the idea had been discarded because of intelligence reports that there were still some military hold-outs against the armistice at many bases in southern Japan, and that on some of the closest airfields the runways had been mined or covered with sharp objects to prevent landings. So, being a hero in that respect was out.

Flight Officer Hall was a newly assigned pilot and this was his first mission, so my pre-flight briefing was most comprehensive. We were flying fairly new P-38-L5s with leading edge "Tokyo" tanks. The fuel system setup with these leading-edge tanks required that the tops of each set of tanks be knocked off right after takeoff to prevent siphoning of fuel overboard. The squadron was briefed in the standard procedure of taking off on mains, switching to leading edges for about five minutes, then to reserves for five minutes, and then switching both engines to the one 300-gallon drop tank on the left pylon. A 1,000-pound GP [bomb] was hung on the right pylon, and our mission was surveillance of the eastern half of Kyushu and then up at far as Hiroshima before returning to base. Our orders: To strike any movement of Japanese military forces, land or sea. Our flight plan was detailed in an official flight report previously rendered.

After making landfall, the first thing of interest was Nagasaki, which had been the most recent recipient of a nuke. The city was divided by a ridge running east-west, and the bomb had fallen on the northern half. The ridge apparently had been high enough to shield the southern portion of the city from the blast, as things were fairly normal there with cars and streetcars on the streets. The northern half was still burning in some sections, with the rest of that part of the city just a blackened rubble.

Later, when it became obvious that F/O Hall didn't have enough gas to return to Okinawa, a decision as to what course of action was necessary. Usually, on flights from Oki to Japan, we had a sub on rescue patrol midway, in addition to an RB-17 with a para-drop boat stationed about half-way between the sub and Kyushu. On this day we had no Navy support. I guess they thought as the war seemed to be over, the hell with it, and had gone home. Anyhow, it narrowed down to finding the RB-17 and having Hall ditch or bail out... OR finding a Jap base and landing. As Hall was a brand-new pilot, I had no confidence that he could ditch safely or bail out without hitting the horizontal stabilizer extending between the two booms.

The only way to guarantee a reasonably safe bailout in a P-38 was to roll inverted, trim nose up, and drop out. However, there was another problem with bailing out. Given that he would be in good enough shape to get into his rubber raft, and the RB-17 dropped the boat to him, could the boat be dropped exactly upwind of his raft and could he get to it in time? There had been reports of boats being dropped, but being blown away before the pilot could get to it. The higher freeboard of the rescue boat acted like a sail while the pilot in his raft sat there and paddled like mad to catch it, to no avail.

As we were on course back to Oki, I pondered the choices. The thought of being first to land in Japan never entered my mind at that time, as saving Hall was uppermost in my thoughts. Landing on a small Japanese strip seemed the best way to save him. Checking my maps, I found that there was a little airfield on the east coast of Kyushu at Nittagahara, and decided to land there if it appeared safe to do so and was big enough for the P-38. After landing, I planned on taking Hall aboard on my lap and flying him back to Oki.

Enroute to Nittagahara, the gray matter started kicking in, and the idea of having the RB-17 come in and pick up Hall seemed a good one. Of course, the bomber's pilot, 2Lt Edwin Hawkins, agreed in a hurry — anything to break the monotony of circling over a barren expanse of ocean! When we reached the Nittagahara strip, I left the squadron under the leadership of Capt Kopecky and went down to circle the field at about 3,000'. Encountering no flak or signs of opposition, I went down to drag the field, with instructions to Kopecky to strafe if I was fired upon. There were several Tonys [ed note: inline-engined fighters similar to our P-51] scattered around the field, but no sign of activity or people.

After two or three more low passes, I landed on a short [2,500'] asphalt strip laid out on the grass field and taxied to the west end of the runway, which had a circular turn-around pad. Positioning my plane facing the length of runway and keeping the fans turning for a rapid departure if necessary, I called Hall in and had him taxi up and park beside me, and keep his fans turning also. After a few minutes, there was no sign of activity, so we shut down and got out of our birds.

I asked Hall about his fuel handling procedures and when had he dropped his 300-gallon tank. He told me that he dropped it just before we made landfall because the fuel pressure on both engines dropped, and when the engines started to sputter, he switched to mains and dropped the 'empty tank.' When asked about the procedure he used to drop the tank, he replied that he had just pulled the tank release handle while cruising in formation as tail-end Charlie.

Now, the 300-gallon tank was a ferry tank and not normally used on combat missions except those requiring them for very-long-range flight, such as from Leyte to the Halmaheras. Great care had to be taken when dropping empty 300s. You had to slow the plane down to just above a stall and push over when you pulled the release handle. This permitted the tank to clear both the pod and the tail boom on that side. If you were jumped by enemy fighters and didn't have time to follow this procedure, you dropped and accepted damage. I looked over Hall's 38 very carefully to see if there was any damage to the pod or the left boom -- there wasn't a mark. From straight-and-level flight at cruising speed, the tank had to be full when dropped. The probability of his dropping 300 gallons of fuel made sense when the fuel remaining in his P-38 was checked. Apparently he had mistakenly left both engines on one reserve tank after takeoff, and when that ran dry, thinking that the 300 was empty, dropped it. This he did despite being briefed NOT to drop the tank unless jumped by enemy fighters!

Hall was very nervous as I asked him to stay with the P-38s while I checked a couple of Tonys to see if I could get one started. I thought that it would crank up the troops back on Oki if I landed there in a Jap Tony while Hall flew my plane back. My good idea came to naught when I found that there was a starter lug on a shaft protruding from the prop's nose-cone — they were started by having a truck equipped with a motor and crank shaft backing up to the plane and engaging this lug to turn the engine over. It must have had a long driveshaft or it would been somewhat of a thrill for the mechs on the truck!

After about an hour a Japanese on a bicycle passed by and, seeing us, hurried off to one of the buildings at the far end of the field. It was almost as though no one had heard or seen us up until then, but they may have been in their shelters waiting for bombs to fall. Shortly thereafter, two Army officers with several soldiers approached from across the field. As they came closer, Hall suggested that we take out our .45s to greet them. I vetoed that immediately — when you are on the enemy's ground and they outnumber you, discretion is the better part of valor. The Japanese walked up to about ten feet in front of us, stopped, and the officers saluted.

Now remember, I had been in New Guinea when the Japanese chopped the head off of an American pilot, as Kirby can tell you. I had been there when the crew of an A-20, which had been shot down and bellied in on the beach at Buna, had been taken into the village in front of the natives, had their hands tied behind them around a couple of palm trees, and used for bayonet practice. I hated the Japanese, which was completely different from my feeling towards the Germans in the ETO. Based on that, you may understand my hesitancy about returning the salute, which I did — again discretion vs valor. The two officers broke out in big smiles and advanced to shake hands, and it was difficult, but I shook hands as they started a flow of Japanese. In retrospect, they were probably very relieved that we were not going to treat them as they would have us had conditions been reversed.

I waved them off to indicate that I couldn't understand Japanese, upon which one of the officers pulled out a well-worn little Japanese-English pocket dictionary. Using the book, I got it across that one of the P-38s was out of gas, and that we had a bomber coming in to assist us — my sign language must have been comical. I was pointing to words in the dictionary, flapping my arms to indicate wings, pointing to the south, holding up four fingers to indicate the number of engines on the bomber — it was a gas! When one of the officers finally nodded that he understood, he barked an order at the soldiers, who raced off to return in about 15 minutes with a fuel truck and pulled up in front of Hall's plane. I went over to check it out and was overcome with an odor of something that you more elderly types may remember from the auto racing days back at the county fairs — castor oil. Their fuel was doped with castor oil for lubrication! The officers were crestfallen that their fuel wasn't good enough for the P-38, and about then the bomber landed and taxied up.

By that time, we had gathered a crowd of civilians and other military who swarmed around the B-17 pointing to the gun turrets and four engines, obviously awed by this tremendous machine. A Shinto priest, wearing his flowing black robes and his black fly-swatter hat, rode up on a bicycle, got off and came over to bless our aircraft — at least that's what I took his motions to be. He then got back on his bicycle and rode off. Next came the local Mayor, wearing a long-tailed morning outfit complete with striped pants, gray spats, and a black top hat. He bowed so many times that I couldn't keep up with him. In fact, I think that we must have been bowed to by half the population of Nittagahara. Meantime, the B-17 crew broke out their emergency rations and gave the candy to all of the children who had shown up. The Japanese parents reciprocated with their home-made candy, and it was local fair time.

When, through the pocket dictionary, I asked the Japanese officer if they had any way to transfer fuel from the B-17 to the P-38, he sent his soldiers off again to return shortly with a hand-operated wobble pump with long hoses, and they transferred gas under the supervision of the Fort's crew chief. Just as they were completing the transfer, we heard the sound of fighters and looked up to see P-51s in a long, shallow dive toward the field, pull up, make a circle, and leave the area. The B-17's radio operator, who had been standing by on the radio, stuck his head out of the window and told us that he had been monitoring the fighter frequency and heard a 35th Fighter Group patrol leader tell his squadron that the Japanese had captured some U S aircraft, and that he was going down to strafe them so that they couldn't be used as Kamikazes! Thank goodness for that alert radio operator, who told him what was happening on the ground. It turned out that we had been in more danger from our own forces than from the Japanese!

Just before the Fortress loaded up to depart, I pointed to the sword of one of the officers, who didn't understand my meaning at first, but finally, after a couple of suggestive hunches of my shoulder holster, he handed me his sword. I just wanted a souvenir. No thought of taking the surrender of Japan. I handed the sword to one of the B-17 crew, who quietly returned it after we were back on Oki. I never reported the sword because of orders at that time to turn in all souvenirs which would be returned after the war. Ha! I still haven't received a German pistol I turned in when I left the ETO in late '44. Anyhow, the Fortress departed, and I sent Hall off to circle the field while I started up.

I decided to give the Japanese a show of what a P-38 flown by an American pilot could do on takeoff. I planned to hold the bird down, suck up the gear before lifting the nose wheel, and then do an Immelman off the deck — a maneuver that I had performed before. Getting into my plane, I did so in the approved hot-rock manner by vaulting up on the horizontal stabilizer and running up one boom to drop in to the cockpit. The plane had a ladder that came down from the tail of the pod, but it was hard to retract from the wing and, if left down, made a very noisy, vibrating racket in flight.

After firing up both engines, I held the brakes until the tires started to slip, then roared down the runway. As I picked up speed, the top of the canopy flew off, and I had to screech to a stop with smoking tires. I had failed to lock the canopy! The cockpit had two side windows which cranked up-and-down like an automobile, and the top of the canopy was framed plexiglass hinged at the rear, held down by two latches at the front of the canopy bow. I had really failed to latch the canopy! I couldn't believe it! Turning around at the end of the asphalt, I started to taxi back to the pad at the east end, but there in front of me was a scene that I would love to have a movie of. The Mayor, with tails streaming out behind him and with one hand holding his top hat on, was running towards me with my canopy top in his other hand!

I sedately taxied back, shut down and, retrieving the canopy from the bowing Mayor, managed to wedge it back on by bending the broken hinges, and locked it from the outside — all the time acting like it was a common occurrence on P-38s. After making certain that the canopy top would stay on in flight, my next problem was getting in the cockpit. With the canopy top locked and the side windows down, there is about 14 inches of vertical opening, more or less. I finally got into the cockpit by getting prone on the wing, crawling through the cockpit opening until my head and shoulders were out the other side, drawing my feet in, and then worming my way back into the cockpit and harnessing up. Hardly a graceful exit for the conquering hero.

I started up again, cranked up the windows and, with the villagers bowing steadily and probably wondering what was going to happen next, gently took off, picked up Hall, and proceeded back to Oki.

The next day, I was ordered down to Fifth AF HQ to be interviewed by the press. When I took the podium in the press tent, in front of the top brass of all the correspondents gathered to cover the landing of MacArthur, I started off by saying that there was nothing to write about, as it was a routine fighter mission with no highlights that made it newsworthy. I was promptly put in my place by being informed that my business was to fly airplanes, and it was their business to decide what was newsworthy. The interview continued.

In more recent years, reading Japanese WW2 history, I have learned that on many bases in southern Japan there were military fanatics who, for several weeks after the armistice, swore to kill any Americans who set foot on Japanese soil! There again, that great skill and cunning got me down on a safe strip — no luck involved at all, right?

If confirming references are required:

General Kenney Reports, George C Kenney (Duell, Sloan & Pearce) pp 573-574;
Flying Buccaneers: The Illustrated Story of Kenney's Fifth Air Force, Steve Birdsall (Doubleday) pp 289-290.

I still have the officer's sword in my hall closet...