The Instrument of Surrender was only eight paragraphs long, but its intent was clear: “the unconditional surrender to the Allied Powers of the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters and of all Japanese armed forces and all armed forces under Japanese control wherever situated.” In his U.S. Naval Institute Oral History, retired Navy Admiral Stuart S. Murray recalled how, when he was commanding officer of the USS Missouri, the stage was set for 2 September 1945:
The decision as to the place where the surrender would be made was in Washington. In fact, it was made by President [Harry S.] Truman. He had been the principal speaker, and his daughter Margaret had christened the Missouri when he was a senator from Missouri.
Now that he was President, there seemed to be considerable argument as to whether it would be on a carrier, which probably would have been the Yorktown [CV-10], since she was the one that had the most service, or whether it would be on an amphibious ship, or whether it would be ashore. President Truman settled all the argument by telling the Secretary of the Navy [James V. Forrestal] and the Secretary of War [Henry L. Stimson] that it would be on the Missouri. . . . He told me that when he came aboard in New York Harbor on Navy Day 1945. I asked him.1
The Missouri was new, commissioned in June 1944. Murray had completed tours with Submarine Force Pacific Fleet and as Commandant of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy. He then assumed command of the battleship in May 1945 and sailed her as flagship of Commander 3rd Fleet, Admiral William F. Halsey Jr. Murray first learned of the historic role she was destined to play in Tokyo Bay when the ship received mail in mid-August. His chief yeoman dashed up with a letter: “Captain, the Missouri is going to be the surrender ship. Here’s a clipping from the Santa Barbara paper. My wife just sent it.”2
‘Proceed to Tokyo Bay’
Murray took the clipping to Halsey’s chief of staff, Rear Admiral Robert B. Carney, who handed over a just-received dispatch confirming the assignment: The Missouri would proceed to Tokyo Bay to take the surrender on 2 September. The ship was steaming about 250 miles to the south at the time, so the challenge now was to get her ready. Many gallons of touch-up paint would be required. The trouble was that paint—a fire hazard—was prohibited on board U.S. warships. But the ship’s boatswain “miraculously” produced three five-gallon cans of it. A call also went out to the task force, and more “miracle” paint soon began to arrive. Consulting with Carney, Murray decided to stage the surrender on the starboard-side galley deck, which was a veranda deck just outside his cabin. There, the presence of black war-color deck paint presented another problem. Consequently, members of the crew set to work holystoning the planks.
On 26 August, a delegation of Japanese naval officers was high-lined aboard from a Japanese destroyer to surrender Yokosuka Naval Shipyard and the Naval District—where the first Marine and Navy landing parties would go ashore—and to make procedural arrangements for receiving and acting on all U.S. orders.
On the 27th, more Japanese destroyers came alongside, each with their guns plugged and depressed to the deck, and the ship took aboard Japanese Yokohama Bay and Tokyo Bay pilots. Marine guards with submachine guns kept close watch. The Japanese produced minefield charts, which were compared to the U.S. charts. Captain Murray ordered one of the pilots to return to his destroyer and to steam ahead, leading U.S. destroyers and the Missouri through clear channels.
Once back on board, the pilot indicated he wanted his ship to cruise alongside the Missouri so that he would be close at hand to receive any orders. Murray solved the matter by training five-inch guns on the ship, which put on a burst of speed and steamed ahead. When the Japanese then balked at turning on their sonars to spot any of their submarines that might still be lurking, he repeated his five-inch gun message. “And you know,” Murray said, “those turrets hadn’t even gotten around when he starting pinging. You could hear him through the hull of the Missouri, he was pinging so hard.”3
On the 29th, the ship anchored off Yokosuka at her designated spot, chosen because it was very close to where Commodore Matthew Perry had anchored in 1853 when he opened Japan. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, then Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces for the occupation and surrender of Japan, arrived the same day from the Philippines and proceeded to his Tokyo headquarters.
‘Fix It Up’
The next day, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz arrived by destroyer and went aboard the USS South Dakota (BB-57) anchored nearby. To discuss the ceremony that afternoon, Halsey, Carney, and Murray met with Nimitz, who told Murray “to fix it up and be sure everything clicks and clicks on time.” Nimitz also stressed that “We would be given a list of the numbers of correspondents, the number of photographers, the number of visiting flag officers who would be present at the ceremony, and it would be very limited.”4
MacArthur’s staff soon advised that the ship should expect 225 correspondents and 75 photographers. The captain and his staff created a chart of numbered circles, indicating where the maximum number of individuals, by name, would be placed on the surrender deck, and, moving vertically, where each of the overflow would be placed higher up on a special platform, turret top, and less desirable spots on the battleship. Murray’s planning team anticipated trouble from the photographers and reporters being ushered to less-advantageous spots and gamed how his sailor escorts and Marines would deal with the problem.
The ceremony was set for 0900 on 2 September. The Japanese delegation would be arriving by destroyer. MacArthur directed that they not be on board the Missouri’s weather deck for more than five seconds, and he did not want them even a fraction of a second late. Murray and his staff set to work on the second-by-second details, from the ship-to-ship transfer, to movement up the gangway, across a deck, up a deck onward to the surrender table. They knew that Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu had a wooden leg, the result of an assassination attempt years before. The sailors playing the part of “Peg-Leg Pete” strapped a swab handle down their trouser leg, stiffly moving through the rehearsals to give a more precise estimate of the movements and timing.
Murray’s next challenge was, having two U.S. five stars and one four star on his ship, how to fly their flags. MacArthur had advised that he wanted to have his flag flown from the Missouri. Nimitz’ baffled aide, Lieutenant Arthur Lamar, “asked ‘What do we do now?’ The admiral was amused. ‘You’re the flag lieutenant,’ he answered. ‘That’s your problem.’”5
Nimitz’ guidance was that his flag and MacArthur’s would be at the same height. Murray recalled: “When you get 120 feet in the air at the top of the masthead, or close to it, it’s not that simple. We solved that by making a pigstick, a little stick there at the top, which you used for flags, and welding a bar on the top of the mainmast. And, to this bar, we had two flags, the one on the starboard a blue five-star flag, then one on the port a red five-star flag. With a yank on the halyards, the flags would fly in the breezes. As each gentleman came aboard, we’d break his flag.”6 On their arrivals, Halsey would have his flag hauled down and shifted to the USS Iowa (BB-61).
Murray flatly disputed historical accounts that the U.S. colors, the American flag flying at the mainmast during the ceremony, had flown over the U.S. Capitol on 7 December 1941. He said the ship’s crew had hoisted a clean set of colors and a clean union jack at the bow, while at anchor. There was nothing special about them. He had probably picked them up in Guam that May. “The only special flag that was there was a flag which Commodore Perry had flown at the same location 92 years before. It was flown out in its glass case from the Naval Academy Museum.”7
The table on which the surrender documents would be signed had been chosen, or so the Missouri’s skipper thought. On 31 August, Royal Navy Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, embarked in HMS King George V, had sent over a 40-inch-square mahogany table and two upholstered chairs. On the morning of the ceremony, a member of MacArthur’s staff arrived with the surrender documents, and “all hell broke loose.” Each was about 40 inches by 20, and they had to be side by side. The British table could not do the job. The Missouri’s wardroom table was bolted down. On the run, 15 minutes before the Japanese were to arrive, Murray’s staff grabbed a table from the crew’s mess deck, “amidst the howls of the mess cook,” yanked a green cover cloth off a wardroom table, and set it up on the galley deck. “It looked very nice.”8
The skies were clearing as the photographers and correspondents arrived and were escorted, many over protests, to their designated spots. MacArthur’s senior photo officer was Army Colonel Bertram Kalish, who was working with the Navy photo and Missouri escort teams. He recalled that about a half hour before the ceremony, he noticed two civilian cameramen had stationed themselves where the representatives of the Allied powers were to stand. Their tags read Pravda and Izvetsia, they would not budge, and the ranking Soviet representative of the Allied Powers refused to intervene. Marines escorted them off the deck to the No. 1 platform. Closer to the ceremony, it was clear that one of the two had positioned himself in such a way that he might block the main U.S. cameras. Kalish told the U.S. camera-crew chief: “If this lad gets up and blocks our lenses during the ceremony, conk him on the head with a crank handle.”9
In the final pages of his epochal work History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Samuel Eliot Morison captured the arrival at the surrender table of the Japanese delegation led by Foreign Minister Shigemitsu and Chief of the Japanese Army General Staff General Yoshijiro.
Immediately abaft the table on which the surrender documents lay stood representatives of the Allied Nations to sign the surrender for their respective governments, and observers from their armed forces. . . . The atmosphere was frigid. . . . After three or four minutes had elapsed, General MacArthur appeared with Admirals Nimitz and Halsey. . . . MacArthur made a short speech stating the purpose of the occasion, concluding with a ringing expression of hope for the future. . . . The Japanese signed, MacArthur, Nimitz, and representatives of the Allied Powers signed. . . . As the formalities came to a close at 0925, the sun broke through, and a flight of 450 carrier aircraft, together with several hundred of the Army Air Force, swept over Missouri and her sister ships.10
At the moment of the surrender, Captain Murray did not have Morison’s serene, commanding overview. He was operating from the quarterdeck, monitoring every moment and every detail with a hawk’s eye. When it came time for Shigemitsu to sign, the foreign minister sat down awkwardly and his wooden leg went out underneath the green cloth and hit the tie rod holding the collapsible legs of the mess table in place. The table rattled. “You could hear it on the quarterdeck. It moved, but it didn’t drop.”11
2. Ibid., 258.
3. Ibid., 267.
4. Ibid., 275.
5. E. B. Potter, Nimitz (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1976), 393.
6. The Reminiscences of Admiral Stuart S. Murray, U.S. Navy (Retired), 281
7. Ibid, 285.
8. Ibid, 287–88.
9. COL Bertram Kalish, USA, “Photographing the Surrender Aboard the USS Missouri,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 81, no. 8 (August 1955), 869.
10. Samuel Eliot Morison, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, vol. XIV, Victory in the Pacific, 1945 (reprinted: Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2012), 364–67.
11. The Reminiscences of Admiral Stuart S. Murray, U.S. Navy (Retired), 293.