The Royal New Zealand Navy
CHAPTER 25 — The Surrender of Japan
The Surrender of Japan
THE overwhelming maritime power of the Allies was now free to concentrate on the Japanese homeland. Japan's sea power, which had gained her immense and easy conquests, was broken and she was a defeated nation. The remnant of her once powerful navy was impotent. Her mercantile marine was destroyed; more than 8,600,000 tons of shipping had been sunk, much of it by American submarines. In that story there was a moral for the British Commonwealth. Japan was completely cut off from oil and other overseas supplies, as Britain would have been had the U-boats succeeded. For many months Allied aircraft, from carriers and island bases, had been casting an ever-increasing weight of bombs upon Japan's principal cities.
On 1 July 1945 the fast carrier forces of the United States Third Fleet, commanded by Admiral Halsey, who had taken over from Admiral Spruance, sailed from Leyte Gulf for Japanese waters. Their task, in which they were to be aided by the British Pacific Fleet, was to ‘complete the destruction of the Japanese Fleet, conduct a pre-invasion campaign of destruction against every industry and resource contributing to Japan's ability to wage war and maintain maximum pressure on the Japanese in order to lower their will to fight.’ Halsey's Third Fleet, known as Task Force 38, consisted of 8 fast battleships, 16 large aircraft-carriers, 18 cruisers, and 62 destroyers. Arriving on 9 July 1945 in an area 170 miles south-east of Tokyo, Task Force 38 launched more than 1000 aircraft in an attack on industrial plants and airfields in the vicinity of the Japanese capital. Next day some 2000 aircraft struck in the greatest one-day attack of the Pacific war up to that time. Super-Fortresses from the Marianas and fighters and bombers from Iwo Jima and Okinawa joined with Halsey's thousand in spreading fire and destruction far and wide.
For 81 years no hostile warship had fired a gun at the shores of Japan, but that immunity was ended on 14 July 1945 when a force of three battleships and two heavy cruisers carried out the first of a series of bombardments. The target was a large steel works at Kamaishi, a port on the north-east of Honshu. The shelling started great fires and caused much destruction, one steel mill and other page 391 works being demolished. On the next day the ships bombarded the port of Muroran, in Hokkaido, where steel works and other industrial plants were destroyed. This attack so far north beyond the range of shore-based aircraft came as a painful surprise to the Japanese. Not a shot was fired in return and no aircraft attempted to attack the ships off Kamaishi or Muroran.
The Gambia spent the greater part of June in refitting and storing at Sydney. Rear-Admiral Brind, commanding Fourth Cruiser Squadron, hoisted his flag in her on the morning of 28 June, when she sailed with the British Pacific Fleet for Manus Island. Two days later the Admiral and his staff transferred at sea to HMS Newfoundland. When the fleet arrived at Manus Island on 4 July, the Achilles, which had been refitting in one of the great floating docks there, rejoined the Fourth Cruiser Squadron.
The British Pacific Fleet, now designated Task Force 37, consisted of the following ships:
Battleship: King George V (flag of Vice-Admiral Rawlings).
Aircraft-carriers: Formidable (flag of Vice-Admiral Vian), Implacable, Indefatigable, Victorious.
Destroyers: Barfleur, Grenville, Quality, Quadrant, Quiberon, Quickmatch, Teazer, Tenacious, Termagant, Terpsichore, Troubridge, Ulysses, Undaunted, Undine, Urania, Urchin, Wager, Wakeful.
1 Nagato, 32,720 tons; 24 knots; eight 16-inch, twenty-five 5-inch guns; four torpedo-tubes.
All the New Zealand airmen in the British carriers took part on 24 July in the great strike on naval bases, shipping, and other targets in the Inland Sea. A major objective was the remnants of the Japanese Fleet lying in and about Kure, virtually all the large ships being sunk or badly damaged. One New Zealander, Sub-Lieutenant (A) Graham,1 of 880 Squadron HMS Implacable, was killed that day. When his engine failed on the return journey, he baled out at 1000 feet, but his parachute failed to open. He was last seen floating, apparently unconscious, with his inflated dinghy nearby. Sub-Lieutenant (A) Banks,2 of HMS Indefatigable, was more fortunate. He was an observer in a Firefly fighter which had escorted a strike on an airfield on Shikoku and which, damaged and out of fuel, crashed about 40 miles from the fleet. The pilot, an Englishman, was lost, but Banks managed to get into the rubber dinghy, from which he was rescued by an American submarine three days later.
No desperate last-stand encounter in action at sea marked the end of the Japanese Fleet. During the next few days carrier-based aircraft attacks on the surviving ships at Kure and other anchorages in the Inland Sea completed its destruction. Badly damaged by explosions and fires, all the major ships were sunk at their moorings and lay on the harbour bottom, either upright or capsized. The wrecked ships included the battleships Haruna, Hyuga, and Ise, the aircraft-carriers Amagi and Kaiyo, the heavy cruisers Aoba and Tone, and the light cruiser Oyoda.3 The obsolete cruisers Iwate and Izumo,4 a destroyer, a submarine, and numerous small naval craft were also sunk. The aircraft-carrier Katsuragi5 was badly damaged but remained afloat.
3 Haruna, 31,000 tons; 25 knots; eight 14-inch, sixteen 6-inch guns; four torpedo-tubes. Hyuga and Ise, 34,500 tons; 23 knots; eight 14-inch, sixteen 5-inch guns; four torpedotubes; converted to carry aircraft. Amagi, 18,500 tons; 30 knots; about 50 aircraft. Kaiyo, 17,000 tons; 18 knots; about 40 aircraft. Aoba, 8800 tons; 33 knots; six 8-inch guns; twelve torpedo-tubes. Tone, 12,000 tons; 33 knots; eight 8-inch guns; twelve torpedotubes. Oyoda, 8000 tons; 33 knots; six 6 · 1-inch guns.
4 Iwate and Izumo, 9180 tons; 16 knots; four 8-inch, eight 6-inch guns; veterans of Russo-Japanese War; employed as training ships.
5 Katsuragi, 18,500 tons; 30 knots; about 50 aircraft.
On 26 July there was issued from the Allied conference at Potsdam, in the heart of defeated Germany, an ultimatum calling on the Government of Japan to ‘proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all the Japanese armed forces.’ The proclamation said ‘the prodigious sea, land and air forces of the United States, the British Empire and China, many times reinforced by their armies and air fleets from the west, are poised to strike the final blows upon Japan…. The full application of our military power, backed by our resolve, will mean the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and, just as inevitably, the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland….’ The events of the next fortnight were to convince the Japanese Government and people that surrender was the only alternative to complete destruction.
Day after day thousands of aircraft from the Allied carriers and island bases bombed Japan's airfields, harbours, railways, and industrial plants, causing immense havoc. The carrier strikes were interrupted only when the several task forces withdrew to refuel from their fleet trains. On 30 July three United States battleships and HMS King George V bombarded Hamamatsu, an important industrial city on the coast 120 miles south-west of Tokyo. The bombardment lasted three hours, and at one point the ships were barely three-quarters of a mile from the shore.
When Task Force 37 arrived in the fuelling area on 31 July, the ships' companies of the Gambia and Achilles found HMNZS Arbutus with the Fleet Train and gave her a rousing welcome. The New Zealand Naval Board's offer of this little ship had been accepted by the Commander-in-Chief British Pacific Fleet in May, and she was sent to Sydney and fitted out for radio and radar repair and servicing duties. The Arbutus, which was commanded by Lieutenant Nigel Blair, RNZNVR, of Wellington, left Sydney on 4 July and, after a call at Manus Island to embark a New Zealand radar officer and three radar mechanics, joined the Fleet Train in Japanese waters on 28 July. In one period of three days the Arbutus went alongside no fewer than forty ships to tranship stores and spare parts and service their radar equipment. On 8 August the Arbutus and two other small ships left the Fleet Train to escort three supply ships back to base at Manus Island. When she arrived there on the 17th, the Arbutus had completed a continuous period page 394 at sea of 33 days and steamed 7600 miles without a stop of her main engines. From Manus Island she escorted supply ships to Hong Kong, where she arrived in time for the Japanese surrender of that base on 16 September. When she finally returned to Auckland on 1 October, the Arbutus had steamed more than 20,000 miles in 77 days since leaving Sydney. In a message to the New Zealand Naval Board, the Commander-in-Chief said he was ‘most grateful for the contribution of HMNZS Arbutus to the effort of the British Pacific Fleet.’
In the last three days of July radio transmissions and leaflets dropped by American aircraft warned the people of twenty-three Japanese cities of their imminenent destruction by bombing. During the month Super-Fortress bombers of the United States Twentieth Air Force based in the Marianas Islands had dropped nearly 40,000 tons of heavy bombs on 39 industrial cities at a cost of 13 bombers. After refuelling, Task Forces 37 and 38 were ready on 2 August to resume their air strikes on targets in the Inland Sea area, but the passage of a severe typhoon caused a postponement of operations for a week. In the early hours of 2 August, Super-Fortresses loosed 6630 tons of bombs on four industrial cities in Honshu and the oil refineries at Kawasaki in the greatest strategic air operation yet carried out in the Pacific. Three days later nearly 5000 tons of bombs were showered on four other ‘nominated’ cities.
These great air attacks were completely eclipsed by the dropping of the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, an important military centre in Honshu, a few miles north of Kure. ‘With this bomb,’ said President Truman, ‘we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces…. We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories and their communications. Let there be no mistake. We shall completely destroy Japan's power to make war.’
The atomic bomb was released over Hiroshima at 8.15 a.m. on 6 August 1945 from a B29 bomber piloted by Colonel Paul W. Tibbet, United States Army Air Force. Captain W. S. Parsons, USN, a naval ordnance expert, who had been associated for two years in the designing and testing of atomic bombs, was present as an observer. A built-up area of about four square miles was completely devastated in barely a second and great damage was done outside that area. Fires sprang up almost simultaneously over the wide flat area in the centre of the city and a great ‘fire storm’ developed with the inrush of air at from 30 to 40 miles an hour after the explosion. Of an estimated population in Hiroshima of 225,000, more than page 395 60,000 were killed outright or died soon afterwards and 69,000 were injured. More than 60,000 buildings of all kinds were destroyed or severely damaged.1
Less than forty-eight hours later another great shock befell the Japanese in the announcement that Russia had declared war. In the early hours of 9 August, troops of the Red Army crossed the frontier of Japanese-occupied Manchuria at several points. At eleven o'clock that morning the second atomic bomb was released over Nagasaki, a great city and seaport on the west coast of Kyushu. A section of one and a half square miles of the city was completely devastated. Of a total population of about 200,000, more than 39,000 were killed and 25,000 injured.
About one hundred New Zealand pilots of the Fleet Air Arm serving in the carriers Formidable, Victorious, Indefatigable, and Implacable took an active part in the attacks – known as ‘Ramrods’ – on Japan in July and August. There were also many New Zealand radar ratings in the carriers and most of the other ships of the British Pacific Fleet. Nine of the New Zealand pilots were included in the ‘honours and awards’ list, two of them for the second and one for the third time.
Sub-Lieutenant (A) H. A. Rhodes, a fighter pilot of 1836 Squadron HMS Victorious, who fought in six ‘Ramrods’, was awarded a bar to his Distinguished Service Cross – he had earlier been mentioned in despatches. His alertness and quickness of eye and dash made him ‘outstanding in a good operational fighter squadron.’ He showed ‘coolness and superb airmanship’ in landing his badly shot-up Corsair, in which the flying controls were virtually entirely destroyed, safely on his carrier after returning with valuable photographs which he knew were needed to assess the damage done to a Japanese carrier.
1 United States Strategic Bombing Survey: Effects of Atomic Bombs.
3 Lieutenant (A) R. P. Curran, DSC, RNZNVR; born Feilding, 30 Jan 1920; farmer.
7 Lieutenant (A) R. H. Greenway, RNZNVR, m.i.d.; born Dunedin, 12 Feb 1918; clerk.
The posthumous award of mention in despatches was made to Lieutenant (A) Alexander of 887 Squadron, HMS Indefatigable. While leading a Seafire fighter sweep in bad weather to strike at shipping in the Inland Sea on 30 July, he flew into intense antiaircraft fire and was hit badly; but he was able to warn the other members of his squadron, who broke away and attacked successfully from a different direction without loss. Seven Seafires led by Lieutenant (A) A. S. MacLeod, DSC, made two searching runs without sighting Alexander's aircraft.
Lieutenant (A) Greenway of 1771 Squadron, HMS Implacable, was awarded a mention in despatches for his ‘coolness and skill when navigating over long distances.’ The good results achieved by every mission in which he took part were ‘largely due to his efforts in bringing them to the right place at the right time.’ A mention in despatches was awarded to Sub-Lieutenant (A) Derek Morten of 1841 Squadron, HMS Formidable, who had gained the DSC for his part in the air strikes on the German battleship Tirpitz in Norwegian waters in August 1944. He was a reliable flight leader who had taken part in many operations, including five ‘Ramrods’. Sub-Lieutenant (A) Middleton of 1842 Squadron, HMS Formidable, who was also awarded a mention in despatches, was in eight ‘Ramrods’, after one of which he showed great skill and coolness in bringing back his badly damaged aircraft and landing safely on his carrier.
1 Sub-Lieutenant (A) J. A. Middleton, RNZNVR, m.i.d.; born Waimate, 27 Sep 1921; engineer.
For the first time since the combined fleets invaded Japanese home waters in July the enemy attempted a Kamikaze attack on 9 August. One aircraft crashed on board a United States destroyer, which was badly damaged. She was the only Allied warship damaged by enemy action during thirty-seven days of operations against Japan from 10 July to the end of hostilities. One Japanese suicide aircraft was shot down over one of the American task groups by two fighters from HMS Formidable. On 10 August Sub-Lieutenant (A) McBride,1 of 1772 Squadron, HMS Indefatigable, was killed when returning from an attack on Koriyama airfield, 30 miles from the coast near Sendai in northern Honshu.
On the morning of 9 August the Gambia, Newfoundland, and four destroyers, forming Task Unit 37.1.8 under the command of Rear-Admiral Brind, joined with an American task group in a bombardment of the steel works at Kamaishi, a seaport on the northeast coast of Honshu. Aircraft from the United States battleship Indiana were employed for spotting and the bombardment lasted about two hours. During the retirement the ships were attacked by a Japanese aircraft, which was shot down by the Gambia. This was probably the last enemy aircraft to be engaged by gunfire from a ship of the British Pacific Fleet.
The fleets withdrew during the night of 10 August for fuel and provisions. On the following day the carriers Formidable, Victorious, and Implacable, the cruisers Achilles, Euryalus, and Argonaut, and eight destroyers were detached from Task Force 37 and sailed for Manus Island to await orders. The remaining ships – King George V, Indefatigable, Newfoundland, Gambia, and ten destroyers – now joined Task Group 38.5. On 13 August the United States Third Fleet, with the British ships in company, attacked airfields and other targets in the vicinity of Tokyo. Their combined aircraft flew more than 1150 offensive sorties and 400 combat air patrols during the day. They destroyed or damaged more than 400 enemy aircraft, as well as hangars and workshops on the airfields, railway locomotives, and industrial works. Seven American aircraft were lost.
Hostilities against Japan ceased on 15 August 1945. The first wave of aircraft from the carriers, including one strike from HMS Indefatigable, attacked airfields and other targets near Tokyo before the cease fire order was received and a second flight was recalled. During the first strike some forty Japanese aircraft were engaged, of which about thirty were shot down. Combat air patrols shot down nine enemy bombers in the vicinity of the fleet. Six American aircraft were lost.
The Gambia recorded that the signal ‘Cease hostilities against Japan’ was made by the Commander Task Force at 11.23 a.m. While the signal was still flying there was a burst of cannon fire overhead from fighters engaging a Japanese bomber. This aircraft dropped a bomb which fell into the sea between the Gambia and the Indefatigable. The aircraft was shot down, part of it falling on the after superstructure of the Gambia. The ships then retired to the southward. At 10.10 am (GMT) 15 August, the Admiralty made the signal in plain language to all British ships: ‘Splice the main brace.’
Early next morning HMS Duke of York, flagship of the Commander-in-Chief British Pacific Fleet (Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser), escorted by two destroyers, joined Task Group 38.5. During the forenoon the American and British task groups steamed together in close formation to enable air photographs to be taken of the combined fleets, which were manoeuvred as one force by Admiral Halsey. This impressive demonstration of Allied sea power in Japanese waters was repeated on 17 August.
Japan, which in 1941 was the third naval power of the world, had been defeated by the overwhelming maritime strength of the Allies. She was defeated without a single soldier having to be landed on her shores. She still had millions of troops under arms and thousands of combat aircraft. But, an island nation, she was without a navy. It is true that great and bitter land battles were fought for the possession of bases across the vast expanse of the Pacific, but it was the sea power of the Allies and their command of the sea that enabled their armies to be transported great distances to storm ashore to capture those bases, while their fleets kept the seas for months at a time, supported by trains of supply ships. It was the bypassing strategy of Allied sea power that isolated and marooned Japanese armies in the Pacific, some of them for two years or more. Their numerous aircraft-carriers gave the Allied task forces a striking weapon of vastly increased flexibility, range, and power. The land-based aircraft operated from the captured bases as powerful adjuncts to the fleet. Even the atomic bomb, at its first use, functioned as a weapon of sea power.page 399
Modern global war requires this co-ordinated use of all arms and weapons, backed by the full economic and industrial resources of the nation. Japan, a country poor in basic resources and industrial potential, with a steel production little greater than that of Belgium, had challenged two nations each of which possessed a navy greater than hers and which commanded immense industrial resources. In the circumstances of the first six months of the war Japan was able to make great conquests and rapidly expanded her area of command to embrace most of the Western Pacific as far as the Solomon Islands and the Aleutians. But by 1944–45 she had lost her navy and the greater part of her merchant marine, her communications with the ‘Greater South-East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere’ were severed, and she was overwhelmed by the combined American and British naval strength. The wartime-built ships of the United States Navy alone vastly exceeded in striking power the whole of Japan's 1941 fleet. In all this there is a profound lesson for the countries of the British Commonwealth. The Navy is ‘still the first line the enemy must hurdle either in the air or on the sea in approaching our coasts across any ocean.’ The Navy is still the first line of defence of our seaborne trade.
HMNZS Gambia was accorded the honour of representing the Royal New Zealand Navy in the naval occupation of defeated Japan. Admiral Nimitz had accepted an offer by Admiral Fraser of a British force to take part in the operations, and HMS King George V (flagship of Vice-Admiral Rawlings), the Indefatigable, the cruisers Newfoundland and Gambia and ten destroyers, two of which were Australian-manned, were detailed for this duty as Task Group 37. On the forenoon of 20 August the Gambia disembarked a detachment of her Royal Marines commanded by Captain G. M. Blake, RM, and two platoons of New Zealand seamen with a company headquarters commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Davis-Goff, RNZN,1 into two American destroyer-transports to prepare for the landing at the great naval base of Yokosuka at the entrance to Tokyo Bay.
1 Captain G. R. Davis-Goff, DSC and bar, RNZN, m.i.d.; born Renwicktown, Marlborough, 24 Sep 1905; joined NZ Division, RN, as seaman boy, Aug 1921; warrant rank (Gunner) 1932; Lieutenant, May 1941; Commander, 1947; Captain, 30 Jun 1953.
When the fleets had moored, an advance force consisting of the United States cruiser San Diego, eight destroyers, and a transport crowded with US Marines steamed through Uraga Strait into Tokyo Bay, and anchored off Yokosuka near the badly damaged battleship Nagato and a number of sunken ships. Meanwhile, about 150 technicians of the United States Fifth Air Force from Okinawa had landed on Atsugi airfield, about 15 miles west of Yokohama, to set up communications and prepare for the arrival of airborne troops. Naval aircraft landed liaison officers and members of Admiral Halsey's staff for discussions with the Japanese command.
The Allied occupation forces began landing early on 30 August when a battalion of US Marines took over the heavy coast-defence guns covering the inner end of Uraga Strait. At the same time troops of the United States 11th Airborne Division were arriving at Atsugi airfield at the rate of twenty transport aircraft an hour. They moved on Yokohama and took control of that city. The Allied Supreme Commander, General MacArthur, and his staff arrived in the afternoon and set up his headquarters in Yokohama. The naval landing took place at Yokosuka, where the city, the naval base, and the neighbouring forts were promptly occupied by a force of about 10,000 US Marines and naval ratings and the Royal Marines and seamen from the British ships. The battleship Nagato was taken possession of by an American naval party, an act which symbolised the unconditional and complete surrender of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Late that night press correspondents returned from a visit to the Yokohama area with two prisoners of war released from a camp at Ofuna, about eight miles from Yokosuka. They were Lieutenant (A) Donald Cameron, RNZNVR,1 of 1834 Squadron, HMS Victorious, whose aircraft had been shot down over the Sakishima Gunto on 9 May 1945, and Chief Petty Officer Telegraphist H. E. G. Newman of HMS Exeter, which was sunk in the Battle of the Java Sea on 1 March 1942. They were suffering from the effects of ill-treatment and malnutrition, and from their statements it was apparent that Ofuna, which was not registered as a prisoner-of-war camp, was a ‘nasty little hell-hole’. There remained in the camp three other ratings from British ships sunk in the Java Sea and ninety-nine American airmen. The ratings were brought in next day, arrangements being made for a recovery team to look after the Americans. Incidentally, that was Lieutenant Cameron's second experience of a prisoner-of-war camp. As a Seafire pilot of 880 Squadron, HMS Stalker, he was flying over Salerno, Italy, during the landing operations there in September 1943 when his engine failed and he made a forced landing on a beach. He was taken prisoner by the Germans, but escaped five days later when he was being transferred from one camp to another. After an arduous and perilous tramp of more than two weeks, including a crossing of the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, he remained in hiding with Italians for some time. He was found by a Royal Marines commando when Naples was captured. For his ‘enterprise and devotion to duty’ he was awarded a mention in despatches.
Lieutenant Allingham, RNZNVR,2 of HMNZS Gambia, was ADC to Air Vice-Marshal Isitt and accompanied him on board the Missouri for the surrender ceremony. That day the Royal Marine band of HMNZS Gambia was lent to HMS Duke of York, flagship of Admiral Fraser, for the purposes of a musical ‘sunset’ ceremony, which was attended by Admiral Halsey and numerous officers of the American and British ships, among them Captain Ralph Edwards, RN, and five other officers from the Gambia. The British ships' companies ‘spliced the mainbrace’ after the ceremony.3
1 AVM Sir Leonard Isitt, KBE, US Legion of Merit; born Christchurch, 27 Jul 1891; served NZ Rifle Brigade 1915–16; RFC and RAF 1916–19; Chief of Air Staff (NZ) 1943–46; chairman, National Airways Corporation and Tasman Empire Airways.
3 That day the commander of the British Landing Force and two other officers visited the grave of Will Adams at the nearby village of Hammamate. Adams, who was born at Gillingham, near Chatham, in 1575, was the first Englishman to land in Japan and lived there from 1600 until his death in 1620. The grave and memorial were found to be in excellent order, the stone steps having been freshly swept and flowers placed on the memorial by one Mazi Kobayashi, chief of the Neighbourhood Association. The keeper of the grave, Sintaro Furuoya, had been evicted in March 1945 by the Army authorities, who established a lookout post alongside the memorial. Furuoya, a spry little man of 70, arrived at BLF Headquarters next day and was presented to Vice-Admiral Rawlings, who expressed his appreciation of the care taken of the memorial.
The formal surrender of the enemy forces, numbering 139,000, long cut off in the South Pacific, took place on 6 September on board HM aircraft-carrier Glory, anchored in St. George's Channel about 28 miles from Rabaul. The instrument of surrender was signed by General Hitoshi Imamura and Vice-Admiral Jinichi Kusaka and by Lieutenant-General V. A. H. Sturdee, commanding the Australian 1st Army Corps.
A postscript to the story of the Solomon Islands campaign of 1942–44 was written at Torokina, on Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, on 8 September, when Lieutenant-General J. S. Savige, commanding the Australian forces in that area, accepted the surrender of Lieutenant-General Kanda, commanding the Japanese Seventh Army, and of Vice-Admiral Noboru Sanajima. Lieutenant-General Adachi, commanding the Japanese Eighteenth Army in New Guinea, surrendered at Wewak on 13 September.
The surrender of the Japanese forces on Nauru and Ocean Islands was the subject of some discussion between the Governments of the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand and the United States Chiefs of Staff. As the islands were in the United States theatre of operations in the Pacific, they were included in the ‘other Pacific Islands’ to be surrendered to the Commander-in-Chief United States Pacific Fleet as specified in the United States General Order. ‘In the interests of expediting surrender and occupation, the U.S. Chiefs of Staff had no objection to the use of Australian forces and shipping for the purpose, provided, however, that the commander of the Australian forces concerned reports to the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, and accepts surrender of these two localities in his name.’1
After it had been pointed out that Nauru and Ocean Islands were of urgent importance to Australia and New Zealand as sources of phosphates, and that production should be reopened at the earliest possible moment, it was finally agreed that in accepting the Japanese surrender of the islands the Australian commander ‘should sign, once as representative of the United States theatre commander and once as a representative of the United Kingdom or territorial authority.’
1 Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, telegram to Prime Minister, 31 August 1945.
After the Japanese surrender, one of the most urgent tasks confronting the Allied forces was the recovery and repatriation of many thousands of prisoners of war and civilian internees. Under the compulsion of defeat the Japanese were co-operative, and the Allied organisation rapidly recovered all who had survived ill-treatment and malnutrition. They were transported in hospital ships, aircraft-carriers, and other readily available vessels. The Gambia, in company with the Australian-manned destroyer Nizam, left Tokyo Bay on 12 September for Wakayama roadstead in the eastern approach to the Inland Sea, where both ships worked with an American task group evacuating prisoners of war. About 2600 were embarked, Americans in a large landing ship for Guam and British and other nationals in two United States hospital ships for Okinawa. To assist in the work the Gambia landed about one hundred officers and men, including the Royal Marine band which ‘performed at the railway station nonstop, except for food, for over 24 hours.’
While lying in the roadstead the Gambia experienced the fury of a typhoon, a memorable experience for her ship's company. As the storm approached Wakayama in the evening of 17 September, special precautions were taken to secure the ship and a second anchor let go. By eleven o'clock the wind was at hurricane force with squalls of 100 miles an hour and very heavy rain. The Gambia rode well until midnight, when she was struck by an exceptionally heavy squall and started to drag almost beam on to wind and sea. Captain Edwards was compelled to steam at revolutions for 15 knots on the port engines until the ship was checked and came up into the wind. It was almost impossible to stand on deck, and one heavy sea half broke on board and injured an officer and two ratings. At 1 a.m. it was blowing harder than ever and the roar of wind and sea was terrific. The Gambia continued to steam up to her anchors at revolutions for eight to ten knots. The anchorage and its approaches were full of ships dragging or under way, many obviously in trouble. At page 405 1.30 the barometer started to rise and it was ‘estimated with some relief’ that the storm centre was passing wide of the anchorage. The wind gradually decreased and, though a great sea was still running at eight o'clock, it fell away quickly. During the night three American landing craft drove ashore with the loss of four men, and a flying boat sank in the inner anchorage. The whole force of American heavy ships dragged seriously and one cruiser was less than half a mile from shallow water before she was checked by her engines. The Gambia and Nizam sustained minor damage.
Both ships returned on 20 September to Tokyo Bay, where the Gambia spent the next three weeks at anchor. On relief by the Achilles, she sailed for New Zealand on 11 October and called at Manus Island for fuel and at Sydney, where 34 officers and 80 ratings returning for demobilisation were embarked, and arrived at Auckland on the 30th. About that time, the New Zealand Government in agreement with the Admiralty had decided that, as soon as the manning situation made it possible, the Gambia and Achilles would be replaced by two cruisers of the ‘improved Dido’ class as part of the post-war Royal New Zealand Navy.1
The Gambia ceased to be a unit of the British Pacific Fleet on 7 February 1946, when she paid off and re-commissioned with a steaming party of New Zealanders and Royal Navy ratings whose loan period had expired. After embarking a shipment of bullion, valued at £2,000,000, the Gambia sailed from Auckland for England on 12 February. Replying to a farewell message from the Naval Board, Captain Edwards expressed ‘the pride which so many officers and men of the Royal Navy, including myself, feel in having served with the Royal New Zealand Navy on operations in the Second World War and the pleasure which they have experienced from their visits to the Dominion of New Zealand.’
The New Zealand steaming party left the Gambia at Sydney, where large drafts of Royal Navy ratings joined, bringing the total of crew and passengers up to approximately 1000 officers and men. The cruiser called at Melbourne to embark a shipment of gold bullion valued at £3,000,000. She made the passage to England at 20 knots by way of Fremantle, Trincomalee, Aden, and the Suez Canal, and arrived at Spithead on 27 March. After completing a long refit at Devonport, the Gambia reverted to the Royal Navy on 1 July 1946.
1 The cruisers allocated to the Royal New Zealand Navy were the Bellona and Black Prince, 5770 tons displacement; speed 32 knots; eight 5·25-inch guns and numerous anti-aircraft guns; six torpedo-tubes; completed 1943. The Black Prince, which was making a goodwill cruise of the Dominion, was taken over at Auckland in May 1946 and paid off to reserve. The Bellona was commissioned in the United Kingdom on 1 October 1946 and arrived at Auckland on 15 December 1946.
At the end of August 1945 the Achilles arrived at Auckland from Manus Island and was docked for repairs, after which she sailed for Japan to relieve the Gambia. She arrived in Tokyo Bay on 6 October and spent nearly four months in Japanese waters, during which time she made cruises to Nagasaki, Sasebo, Kagoshima, and Nagoya. At that time facilities for recreation were very limited and shore leave was a somewhat difficult problem. The immediate postwar boredom was scarcely relieved by visits to Kirishima, a centre of thermal activity, Tokyo, and Nikko. At Nagasaki most of the ship's company saw the devastation caused by the atomic bomb. A welcome break in the monotony came when the Achilles was relieved by HMS Argonaut and sailed for Hong Kong, where she arrived on 26 January 1946. Three weeks were spent in harbour there and, as ample recreational grounds were available, the ship's company was able to enjoy most forms of sport.
The Achilles sailed from Hong Kong on 15 February and, after calling at Subic Bay in the Philippine Islands to supply stores to HMS Black Prince, left for Morotai. At that time the Indonesians in the north-east area of Celebes were in revolt against the returning Dutch authorities. On 19 February the Achilles intercepted a signal from the port director at Morotai to the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board stating that the situation at Menado, the main port in Northern Celebes, urgently needed the ‘showing of the White Ensign.’ As no Australian ship was available, he suggested that the Achilles be diverted to Menado. Pending the receipt of official approval, the Achilles steamed for three hours towards Menado but, no word having been received, she resumed her course for Morotai. After discussing the matter with the commander of the Australian military forces there, Captain Butler decided to proceed to Menado with a liaison party, the role of the Achilles being ‘limited to showing the flag and acting as accommodation ship.’ When the ship was about one hour's steaming from Menado, a signal that had been long delayed in transmission was received from HMS Sussex stating that the Commander Allied Forces, Netherlands East Indies, had decreed that no British warship was to go to Menado. Soon afterwards, a signal was received from the Supreme Allied Commander South-East Asia stating definitely that the Achilles was not required and that the policy throughout his command was not to employ HM ships for such purposes. The Achilles returned to Morotai to refuel and the liaison mission took passage to Menado in a Dutch steamer.
After midday on 23 February the Achilles received a signal from the Australian Naval Board stating that a motor water-lighter was aground on a reef near Biak Island off the north-west coast of New Guinea and needed immediate assistance. The Achilles worked up page 407 to 27 ½ knots, but it was nearly dark when she arrived so she stood off for the night. At daybreak she sent in two pinnaces with salvage gear, but the lighter was unable to free itself. Later, an American naval tug arrived and the Achilles ‘proceeded in execution of previous orders.’ She called at Manus Island on her way to Sydney, where she arrived on 8 March 1946. Captain Banks, CBE, DSC, RN,1 assumed command of the Achilles next day, relieving Captain Butler, who returned to England.
When the ship arrived at Auckland on 17 March, the following signal from the Commander-in-Chief British Pacific Fleet was received by the New Zealand Naval Board:
On the occasion of the release of Achilles from my operational control, I should be grateful if you would convey to the New Zealand Government my appreciation of the fine service rendered by the New Zealand Squadron, both in the British Pacific Fleet and throughout the war. New Zealand ships have seen much hard fighting – none finer than Achilles at the Battle of the River Plate.
After completing a refit, the Achilles left Auckland on 29 May 1946 on a farewell cruise round New Zealand, in the course of which she visited Dunedin, Bluff, Stewart Island, the West Coast sounds, Picton, New Plymouth, Nelson, Lyttelton, Timaru, Wellington, and Napier. That New Zealand was proud of the war record of the Achilles was shown by the thousands who visited her during her cruise. At Wellington, a detachment of RNZN ratings and Royal Marines marched through the city and the salute was taken by the Prime Minister. On 8 July the Governor-General and Lady Freyberg attended divine service on board the Achilles. Sir Bernard made a farewell address to the ship's company, whom he inspected at divisions.
The Achilles sailed from Auckland for England on 17 July and arrived at Sheerness on 10 September 1946. She paid off a week later, having completed more than ten years' service in the Royal New Zealand Navy, in which she was first commissioned on 31 March 1936. After a complete refit the Achilles was renamed Delhi and commissioned for service in the Royal Indian Navy, to which she was sold.