In mid-August 1945, Admiral William F. Halsey Jr.'s Third Fleet was operating off the coast of Japan, where it had been conducting air strikes. Among the many destroyers present were ships from Destroyer Squadrons (DesRons) 12 and 21, which had joined the war in the South Pacific three years earlier and played leading roles in the Solomon Islands campaign under Halsey"s command. Now, on his orders, the tin cans were about to play prominent roles again in events leading up to and including Japan's surrender.
DesRon 12's 1,620- and 1,630-tonners were Bristol- (DD-453) class destroyers-ships built to Benson- (DD-421) and Gleaves- (DD-423) class designs-and had arrived in the Pacific beginning in mid-1942. Counting five unattached sister destroyers, one or more of them was present at all the named battles in the Guadalcanal operation. At times facing overwhelming odds, they had then lost five of their number and the next year lost two more-seven out of 14 ships-but were instrumental in repelling Japanese attacks that could have been decisive. Eighteen months after they arrived, with the survivors under the command of Commodore Rodger W. Simpson and formed into "Simpson's Scrapperoos," these destroyers were still on station in the Solomons, capping their tour with daring offensives against strongholds at Rabaul and Kavieng.
The first of the 2,100-ton Fletcher- (DD-445) class destroyers arrived in the South Pacific concurrent with the last arrivals of DesRon 12. In 1943, DesRon 21 also lost three ships while serving at the front line. Routinely penetrating up the Solomons' "Slot" into enemy waters, the squadron fought actions that other commanders-Captain Arleigh Burke in particular-studied, learned from, and applied in victories to come, earning, said Admiral Chester Nimitz, respect and esteem throughout the Navy.
"You may be sure I will welcome you back with open arms anytime, any ocean," Admiral Halsey signaled on the squadron's detachment from his command-and in August 1945, he did. On the 23rd, he ordered the Nicholas (DD-449), O'Bannon (DD-450), and Taylor (DD-468)-the three DesRon 21 veterans still at sea with the Third Fleet-to form the escort for his flagship, the Missouri (BB-63). Likewise, the Buchanan (DD-484), Lansdowne (DD-486), and Lardner (DD-487) of DesRon 12 were assigned to escort the South Dakota (BB-57), Admiral Nimitz's flagship, during the coming weeks. All their crews were glad to be back under their old boss and looking forward to events, especially because they had been at sea for nearly eight weeks and were running low on provisions.
On 27 August, the show finally started. The battleships Iowa (BB-61) and HMS Duke of York joined the Missouri task group with the destroyers Stockham (DD-683), Waldron (DD-699), Compton (DD-705), HMS Wager, and HMS Whelp. The destroyer escort-transport Gosselin (APD-126) was there, too, with Navy photographers and members of the press. Shortly before 0730, they sighted a lone ship approaching, bow on. The Nicholas increased speed and steamed out to rendezvous with the ship, the Japanese destroyer Hatsuzakura.
Heaving to at 200 yards, the two ships made an interesting contrast. Commander Dennis C. Lyndon's weathered Nicholas, to port, had steamed more than 230,000 miles in her 38 months in commission. To starboard was the smaller Japanese ship-new, but this day a sorry sight under orders to keep her guns depressed, breeches open, and only essential personnel topside.
As the two ships rolled and drifted closer together in the swells, the "Nick" lowered her starboard whaleboat, which was fitted for the occasion with sheets spread over the seats and a large ensign flying from a stern flagstaff. It crossed to the Hatsuzakura, where 21 Japanese were waiting: 2 navy captains serving as emissaries, 13 pilots, and 6 interpreters. With the boat deeply laden and rocking, it took four return trips to bring them all back to the Nicholas' accommodation ladder. Ascending was a tricky prospect, especially for those who were carrying rolled-up navigation charts, but there were no mishaps.
On board the Nicholas, the possibility of treachery was on everyone's minds as the Japanese were led under guard to the wardroom. There, as she got under way, working up to 25 knots with the Hatsuzakura tagging along, the visitors were searched, and the officers were relieved of their swords. When the executive officer told them they were making the Missouri, some got up and looked out a porthole to see her and the Iowa. "Are they new?" one asked, shaking his head at the answer.
Approaching O Shima Island, the "Mighty Mo" prepared to train her untrusting guns on it to port, but with the Nicholas coming alongside to starboard, most of her 2,500-man crew took positions on that side to watch. Aircraft circled overhead, filming, and a correspondent in the Nicholas likened the scene to Yankee Stadium on a summer afternoon with Admiral Halsey visible in the crowd, wearing his baseball-style cap.
The first pitch was a high line rigged between the two ships. Clutching their charts, four nervous Japanese, including the two officers, were hauled across in the admiral's gold-tasseled red chair. The Hatsuzakura maintained station close aboard to starboard-too close until an interpreter in the Nicholas with a bullhorn ordered her to stand off.
The four Japanese were relieved to arrive safely on board the Missouri, where they were given instructions regarding the surrender of the Yokosuka Naval Base. In previous days, Japan had been instructed that Sagami Wan and Tokyo Bay should be cleared of mines before the Third Fleet arrived, but the captains now said that had not been completed because of a shortage of minesweepers.
Away from the Missouri, as the Gosselin took her place alongside, the Nicholas passed more pilots and interpreters to the Stockham, Waldron, and Whelp. The "Nick" kept some for herself as the formation, with the Taylor and O'Bannon flanking to starboard, entered Sagami Wan. No mines were encountered, fortunately, and the Taylor soon became the first U.S. destroyer to drop anchor in peace off Japan.
She did so near a beach where a crowd had gathered. At first, crews and locals stared at each other, but in time the people went back to swimming and enjoying the day, leaving some shipmates wondering just who had won this war. In time the overcast lifted, unveiling the summit of Mt. Fuji to the west; at the end of the day, from the destroyers' bearing, the sun seemed to drop directly into its crater.
That night passed peacefully but anxiously. Screws were silent for the first time in two months, but ships remained blacked out, morning general quarters was unchanged, and the first order of business was mines.
At about 0630 on the 28th, the minesweepers Revenge (AM-110), Token (AM-126), Tumult (AM-127), and Pochard (AM-375) entered Uraga Suido, swept north up the channel, and became the first Allied ships to enter Tokyo Bay. Rear Admiral Oscar C. Badger followed in the cruiser San Diego (CL-53) with the new Gearing- (DD-710) class destroyer Southerland (DD-743) plus the Twining (DD-540), Yarnall (DD-541), Wedderburn (DD-684), Stockham, Gosselin, and other ships, which anchored off Yokosuka. There, Rear Admiral Robert Carney, Admiral Halsey's chief of staff, landed with Marines to occupy the naval base.
Meanwhile, more than 100 ships remained at anchor in Sagami Wan for another day of picket duty, passing mail, refueling, and maybe at last some food stores-though still nothing like the lifestyle they could see on the beach. At last that night, however, tension eased somewhat as ships were lit, searchlights covered the sky, and crews got to watch movies topside.
Wednesday, 29 August, dawned a beautiful day with Mt. Fuji as majestic as ever. Now that the naval base was secured and the channel cleared, the fleet was ready to move. The destroyer-minesweepers Ellyson (DMS-19), Macomb (DMS-23), and Jeffers (DMS-27) stood out. Then came the Nicholas, Taylor, and O'Bannon, again screening the Missouri and Iowa, proceeding south and east to the entrance to Uraga Suido before reforming into a column that eventually stretched for miles north into Tokyo Bay-a scene still remembered by some observers more than 60 years later as the spectacle of a lifetime.
But not by everyone. The Nicholas' navigator, then-Lieutenant (junior grade) Doug Turpen, recalled:
I was busy! Captain Lyndon asked me if I could navigate the channel. A chart in any language is still a chart, so I said "yes." Then he ordered the pilot up against the bulkhead under armed guard. But I still had four turns in the minefield to get through and a battleship conforming to my movements with the admiral on board, and all the while we were wondering if someone wouldn't try to sink her right there in the entrance to the bay. So I couldn't tell you about the view.
Inside the bay, they passed the San Diego and the battleship Nagato at anchor. DesRon 12's former Commodore Simpson, now in charge of repatriating prisoners in the cruiser San Juan (CL-54), signaled the Buchanan that he was sorry he could not take her along. Before the end of the day, however, his first reports from prison camps came back-some regarding appalling conditions and some happier, such as the news that Marine pilot Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington and USS Tang (SS-306) skipper Commander Richard O'Kane had not been killed but were among those rescued. Soon the destroyers got their own first experiences receiving POWs, transporting some to the hospital ship USS Benevolence (AH-13).
The days of 31 August and 1 September were rainy and windy. On the evening of the 31st, the Buchanan's skipper, Lieutenant Commander Daniel E. Henry, learned that Admirals Nimitz and Halsey would be boarding from the South Dakota in the morning. Henry worried that he would not sleep so well over it, as he had never docked his ship before. The next day, breaking Nimitz's five-star flag, he took the two admirals to Yokohama, where General Douglas MacArthur had set up headquarters at the customs house, and to the Benevolence. He also found time to go ashore and observe life in Yokohama and learned that he was to transport General MacArthur to the Missouri the next day for the surrender, cause for another restless night.
Meanwhile, the O'Bannon weighed anchor to join a task force sailing for San Francisco. This meant she would miss the surrender, but her enviable prize was to go home, where she became the first destroyer from Tokyo Bay to pass under the Golden Gate Bridge. Some well-wishers came by train all the way from the East Coast to welcome her.
Back at the Yokohama Customs House pier, the evening of 1 September found the Lansdowne moored outboard of the Nicholas and the Taylor outboard of the Buchanan. At a meeting on board the Nick, DesRon 21's Commodore Harry B. Heneberger showed the four skippers an op-order assigning her to ferry General MacArthur and party out to the Missouri in the morning, but later in the evening this role was reassigned back to the Buchanan.
Sunday, 2 September dawned cloudy and calm. "Thank God," wrote Captain Henry in his diary. By 0600, a band had arrived and the press-American, British, Chinese, French, Russian and Japanese-started crossing the Buchanan to board the Taylor while the Japanese "plenipotentiaries," as the Lansdowne's erudite log entry identified them, crossed the Nicholas to board her. At 0630, generals in MacArthur's party began appearing as the Taylor and Lansdowne backed away. Next, U.S. and Allied dignitaries-a total of 87 generals and staff members, many of their names famous to the crew-boarded the Nicholas, and at 0715 she stood out. Finally, at 0730, General MacArthur boarded the Buchanan. He ordered her to delay briefly so he could show appreciation to the band when it finished playing. Then she departed under orders to land him on the Missouri at 0845.
Out in the bay at 0730, the Taylor came alongside the Mighty Mo and disembarked the press then cleared and anchored to starboard. The Nicholas followed with her passengers shortly after 0800, and the Buchanan with General MacArthur and his party at 0842 (Captain Henry took a few passes to jockey her bow into position). The Japanese delegation arrived last, disembarking from the Lansdowne into a boat from the Iowa for transfer to the Missouri's accommodation ladder. With difficulty, Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu-easy-to-spot with an artificial leg hindering his mobility-tackled the ladder and made it up to the weather deck at 0856.
Anchored on the Missouri's starboard side within perhaps 1,000 yards, all these ships had views of the proceedings, which began at 0902. Officers, signalmen, and others watched through rangefinders and binoculars and reported what they saw to the crews. Other crew members listened to the event on the radio. The entire ceremony took less than half an hour. Then, under a massive fly-by of B-29s and Navy planes, the four destroyers re-embarked their passengers, some on different ships from those on which they came, and returned to Yokohama.
The Taylor docked first at the customs house pier. The Lansdowne arrived next, tying up outboard of the Taylor-again the Japanese delegation had to file across another ship to reach the pier. Then the Buchanan docked astern of them and piped General MacArthur ashore. HMS Woodcock and the Nicholas moored last. The Nick's dignitaries departed, and by noon shipboard life had moved on.
"A pretty nice honor," Nicholas engineering officer Ralph Young summed up in a letter home the next day, but not so impressive to everyone. "One of our enterprising torpedomen approached me about buying a few additional chances on the 'homeward bound' lottery. I asked him what he thought of all the 'doings.' He said, 'Oh, you mean all the brass and this surrender stuff?' I said 'yes.' And he said, 'Heh, maybe now they'll let us go home. Sure you don't want a couple more chances on the lottery?' It may be several years before any of us really appreciate the significance of sitting in on all the events of the past few weeks."
Deck logs of the USS Nicholas, O'Bannon, Taylor, Buchanan, Lansdowne, Revenge, and Missouri.
Conversations with Nicholas shipmates Jack Fitch, Doug Turpen, and Ralph Young; O'Bannon shipmate Jay Hilton; Macomb shipmate Jim Dimond; Lansdowne shipmates Cliff Guion and George Ballé.
Adm Robert B. Carney, USN (Ret.) letter, 21 February 1984.
Capt Russell H. Crenshaw Jr., USN (Ret.), South Pacific Destroyer (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1998).
Destroyers, Pacific Fleet, Presentation of Presidential Unit Citation to the USS Nicholas by Adm Nimitz, 28 January 1944.
Adm William F. Halsey, message to DesRon 21, ca. 1 November 1943.
LCdr Daniel E. Henry, USN (commanding the USS Buchanan at Tokyo Bay), diary.
RAdm Benjamin Katz, USN (Ret.), Highlights of events and interesting occurrences prepared for the History of the Class of 1926, U.S. Naval Academy.
Harry I. Shaw Jr., The United States Marines in the Occupation of Japan, Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C. 20380 (from http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/HRP-Occupation/).
CSp Evan Wylie (PR) Yank Staff Correspondent, collection of Lloyd Blakesley, the USS Nicholas.
Lt Ralph Young, USN, USS Nicholas letter, 3 September 1945.