unconditional surrender

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[Not included in the original Kyushu Diary, this Tuttle column is often reprinted on Chirstmas Eve. We share it this week marking the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.]

I made reference back on the 7th to the Pearl Harbor attack of 1941. For me this date, December 24th, Christmas eve, will always remind me more of that horrible fateful day. Because the destruction from the attack didn’t end on the 7th. One story of loss will stick with me. On December 8th tapping was heard from deep inside the partially sunk battleship West Virginia, where some number of men were trapped deep below deck. On December 24, 1941, the tapping stopped.

The West Virginia is here with us now, along with four of her sister ships from Pearl Harbor’s now infamous ‘Battleship Row.’ The trouble with sinking ships in a harbor, especially Pearl, is that you can’t. It’s too shallow. Big ships settle on the bottom, still half above the surface, and a good harbor has every facility one would want to patch up and re-float the ships. In fact the Nevada, the only big ship to get under way that morning, was deliberately grounded after she took damage so she could be recovered and repaired.

The hit at Pearl was a big one for sure, and permanent for thousands of young servicemen, but for most of the big ships ultimately only temporary. Certainly Japanese planners knew this going in. The U.S. Pacific Fleet was mighty thin for the next year, reduced to hit-and-run harassing strikes with the carriers that by luck weren’t there in Hawaii. But since then, with scores of new and repaired (and upgraded) big ships joining the fleet, it has leapfrogged the worst nightmares of those admirals in Tokyo.

Much has been said about fast aircraft carriers taking over from the battleships of old as kings of the sea. That may well be true on the ocean, where fleets have engaged in air duels well out of gun range many times across the Pacific. But here on dry land, I can certify that the battleship is very much respected, or feared, depending on which side you’re on.

Navy ships sail with bigger guns than any army even attempts to drag along on land. Any place on the Earth within twenty miles of forty foot deep water can be blasted by one ton shells from our newest big ships. Japan is an island nation, and all of her conquests outside of China have been more smaller and smaller islands. All of them are vulnerable to the wrath of naval ordnance over almost all of their surface. Planes could drop bombs of the same size, but low flying planes can be shot down with the smallest of anti-aircraft guns. The only defense against navy guns available to most Japanese garrisons has been to dig and dig and dig, deep down into the rock if they can, and wait to be flushed out by flame throwers once the Army or Marines land under the support of those big old battlewagons.

Here on Kyushu, we found the main beach defenses lined up just exactly beyond the range of most navy guns. At Ariake there were the reverse-slope positions our Navy couldn’t get at until sailing into the bay, and that cost us something. But outside of that, the best tactic the Japanese had was to leave old guns in dummy installations near the shore to soak up shell fire.

The ships that came back from the knock-down at Pearl Harbor were mostly older slower vessels, but they work just fine for work along the shore. Islands don’t move very fast after all. The battleships have been kept very busy. The USS New York just rejoined the fleet after having her guns re-lined. They were worn out from firing so many thousands of big shells at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Back to the story of the West Virginia. Re-floating a damaged ship does take some time. She didn’t make it into dry-dock for repairs until June 18, 1942. Before that many attempts were made by divers and search teams to enter the lower compartments and rescue survivors or recover bodies. That is also necessarily slow work. Cutting into a closed compartment will flood it, and possibly many more compartments if the hatches aren’t all closed. Letting a lot of air out and water in can destabilize the whole ship, sending it over and ruining all chances of rescue or recovery.

I have it on good authority, but off the record, that three young men were recovered from the last compartment opened on the West Virginia. By match light they had marked off the days on a calendar through December 23rd. The Navy has decided never to identify them. They will be officially listed as Killed-In-Action, December 7, 1941.


The days were finally starting to get a little longer. As the gray sky started to lighten we moved out past American front lines, climbing down a ways to cross a short flat. It was open rocky terrain and everyone felt self-conscious in our fashion ensembles of wet dark green.

The company advanced slowly in one double line up to the next hill, across the valley American troops had been watching for so many days. At the base three patrols split off, one to either side and the third moving up to the peak. The patrol I was with advanced cautiously around the right side of the hilltop. Just over the crest we found about a dozen shallow fighting holes. Abandoned shovels, packs, and a few rifles were left there in and around the holes. Also in the holes were three dead bodies.

It looked like the Japanese had moved up to that line the day before, or the previous night, and made a temporary fighting line. There was no fighting so the soldiers there had died of existing injuries. Outwardly they looked bloated, as if they’d been dead for days. A few odd large sores were visible on the head and hands of a couple of them. The private next to me tipped the helmet off one with the point of his bayonet, and clumps of thin dark hair came off with it.

Our senior sergeant growled out a quiet reminder about booby traps, and we left the bodies and materiel there for others to clean up. We advanced slowly through the rocks and leafless brush down the back slope of the hill. Over the next four hundred yards we found six more bodies, soldiers in ragged uniforms, some with whole limbs wrapped in dirty bandages. Most looked like they collapsed while crawling on all fours, away from our lines.

We had gotten ahead of the center patrol, and it was there from our left that one live solider came stumbling toward us. He moved out from behind the dark boulder he’d been leaning on in a staggering half-awake walk. His pathetic form did not carry a gun, and no one fired at him. His uniform was dirty like the others, but straight and neat, topped with a sharply creased brown cap. He had been their commander.

The young officer raised his sword with one wavering arm. One could see from twenty feet away that it was a cheap stamped steel model. The Japanese were mass-producing them for every new officer to make him feel like part of the ‘warrior elite.’ His jaw fell and the sores in this warrior’s cheeks opened to expose the tortured flesh inside his mouth. He attempted to yell but only made a raspy mewl. He was almost upon our left column.

The point man on that side froze, horrified and mesmerized by the almost inhuman apparition. At the last second he raised the butt of his rifle and deflected the sword’s feeble blow. The imitation samurai blade was slowly raised again, and a Thompson barked out a long burst. The second man in the patrol line put his slugs all clean through the officer’s wrecked body. That lifeless body fell at once into a disorganized heap of parts, barely recognizable as a human corpse.


[The first full day of the nuclear age dawned with American patrols missing and out of communication.]

Forest fires burned through the night, keeping a hazy glow above the northern horizon. Morning recon plane flights say that quarter to whole mile diameter areas were burned out. The bombs made clearings in the trees more thorough than area bombing and shelling could accomplish with thousands of rounds.

Light but steady winds had carried smoke and ash to the northeast. This put it all back over Japanese lines or empty rugged forest. Another reminder went out that fresh water sources from the high central forest, which was most of the supply for our lines, were not to be trusted.

By this morning radio traffic was largely back to normal. A few radios had simply quit working after the blasts, mostly ones that had been set up with units far forward. The battalion I was with was not the only one who had sent scouts forward against orders.

Our own scouting patrol finally made it back, escorted by a larger rescue patrol which had gone out after dark. Word is that they made contact with some Japanese. Both sides surprised the other in the dark and exchanged ineffective fire for almost an hour.

The original patrol had been up on a small ridge, looking out over the plain east of Takachihono-mine, when the first bombs went off. They got down behind the ridge but it was right in line with the last bomb and offered little protection from its flash. Their radio was completely shot.

They reported scattered Japanese activity all over after the bombs.
Positions up on the mountain all came alive ready for an expected rush. The American patrol hid for the day, planning to slip back at night. They would have come back fine without the rescue party.

I got all this second-hand. Both patrols were taken away into quarantine as soon as they got back by members of the 6th Infantry Division. That division did land yesterday, but not as a unit. They broke up into teams which went out to most American front line positions.

Teams of the 6th carried an array of bizarre looking equipment. They had portable radiation detectors, hand held units with shoulder bag batteries. Some machines rolled on two-wheel carts. Another looked like an industrial vacuum cleaner (which it was – it sucked up soil samples to pass through an enclosed analyzer).

Other odd contraptions could only be hauled on dedicated trucks, some of which looked hurriedly improvised. Men of the division tell me some civilian ‘eggheads’ came along. They stayed back near the beach, along with lead-lined gunless tanks which can roll out into the blast areas directly once we get there.


[Tuttle went looking for anyone who knew about the atomic bombing, or what would happen next. He had a long ways to go.]

Battalion command was set up in a tent a half mile back from the bluff top camp. Inside two men worked radios through every frequency in the current book, and got nothing but wild static. A few officers were talking over a map table, wrapped up in tense conversation.

A decision of some sort was made, and some of them left. I approached the table and engaged the senior man. Lieutenant Colonel Ken Olson commanded the battalion. “If you’re wondering, no, I don’t have the slightest idea what happened or what we’re supposed to do. And yes, I’m furious that they would blind side us like this.”

I looked over the marks on the largest map. “This is about where each bomb went off,” he explained, “each atomic bomb. We know that much, but only from what anybody can read in a science magazine.” A two mile diameter circle was drawn around each spot, which might be the effective kill zone of each bomb, but that was their marginally educated guess.

“Here’s my current problem.” Colonel Olson laid out a local map. “We have a patrol out there. They were supposed to observe this road, camp overnight and scoot right back.” He outlined the path out and back. “Someone thought they saw Japs moving out there. I approved the scouting operation, despite the pullback order. I can’t stand being both blind and chained down back here.”

He wasn’t sure what they were going to do about it, but the other officers had gone out to gather up the best equipment they thought might help and assemble a team to go find the missing men. I was about to leave when another courier came in. I’m not sure how difficult it is to drive a jeep in hood and mask and gloves, but that fellow had been doing it all day.

The colonel got four carbon-copies of a typewritten instruction sheet to pass out to his companies. It provided little new information and reinforced previous instructions: We should have seen six atom bombs go off, near listed landmarks (if one didn’t go off as planned we were to steer well clear). Blowing smoke might be dangerous if it came our way. Fresh water supplies should be topped off immediately and not refilled from anything downstream of the blast areas. Any Japanese soldiers which might either attack or surrender should be treated like lepers and not directly contacted.


[Witnesses to history, Tuttle and the soldiers around him didn’t know what the first use of nuclear weapons would mean, for them or anyone else.]

I stole a glance around and saw that everyone, to a man, was watching the unusual bomb run with me.

They say it was 9:12 am local time when the first bomber released its load and triggered the others to follow suit immediately after. Some men say they saw all five bombs in the air. I for one caught only a glimpse of the first giant steel ball just after it was released. I watched that pair of B-29s turn and dive steeply, right toward my vantage point. The other pairs pulled the same maneuver, leaving in whichever different direction would keep them best clear of the coming blasts. The first pair passed back overhead still diving, engines ripping madly at the air to pull the bombers away from danger. The high flying sentries continued to orbit over the area, a little to the south.

I was eyeballing the two laggards, which had passed the first pair on their way out. A great flash lit them up, brighter than a clear noon sun. Instinctively, though against instructions, I turned north toward the source of the light. In close succession, above the hills and trees in between, another four flashes lit up across the horizon. Each was similar to how the blast from a big navy 16 inch shell lights up the night, but this was in broad daylight.

An ethereal dome formed and spread out around each blast site, visible only by its effects. Cloud layers alternately formed or vanished as the dome passed. Walls of dust and smoke pushed out along the ground around each blast, quickly visible over the near faces of the mountains north of us. A flattened ball of burning air raised up over each of the sites I could see, shedding and re-swallowing smoky clouds as it roiled up through the hole each bomb had made in the atmosphere.

I remembered the late pair of bombers and picked them up again roughly over Karakuni-dake. The laden one had released its bomb and they had turned together to the east. Due north of my location they caught the first blast wave. Both planes suddenly jumped forward and up, while banked into a right turn. With their full profile facing the shock, they were hopelessly damaged instantly. Closer observers say one plane lost most of the right wing before being sucked directly into its partner. Debris rained over the 11th Airborne Division’s former staging area.
The last bomb detonated high over Takachihono-mine, barely two miles from the former front lines of the 40th Infantry Division.

I wrote some time ago about an ‘earthquake’ from artillery bombardment. I thought it was modest hyperbole, but it was not remotely close. Today a real earthquake moved the ground under our feet starting a few minutes after the first bombs went off. A great crack from each explosion was heard, followed by continued crackling that took some time to soften into an echoing rumble. Some men thought they felt the wind shift for a moment.

Men began to talk over the sounds, some of them excitedly whooping, some asking what it meant. The company captain had already gathered his officers and they were pointing at the burning mountains and marking up their maps.

Each explosion had been capped by a flattened ball or rolling donut of smoke and fire which rose steadily over a perfect column of hot smoke and steam. The ball shape stayed together until almost out of sight high in the sky. By then a great haze had spread over the entire horizon. Fires raged around each blast zone. A slight wind carried the smoke to the northeast, away from us and mostly across all the Japanese lines.


[Tuttle moved with a light company to clear out a tiny peninsula which juts out into Ariake Bay.]

The official Army map clearly showed a trail continuing on out to the tip. Every person in the column wondered aloud, in a colorful palette of language, just what the map makers had seen that we couldn’t. We had assumed they used aerial photos and perhaps old file maps made by locals before the war. The analyst who drew this map may have used old horoscopes.

The trail went plainly enough to the first hilltop, where a small clearing would have been a pleasant camping spot. Today it held a captain and two lieutenants arguing about which false trailhead in front of us actually went anywhere (none of them did, it turned out). Finally they agreed to navigate by the contour map, which seemed accurate enough. We moved out line abreast, stubbornly hacking through patches of brush, to find each local high spot. No enemy were sighted, and we took no fire, even though we were making a good bit of noise, with nothing else to mask it.

About noon I did notice appreciable traffic of aircraft flying into the hills behind us, accompanied by distant thunder from exploding bombs and shells. So there was some action. Around one o’clock we were on another high spot about half way out, and a quick lunch break was called.

Out loud I ordered a hot salami sandwich with fresh pickle and a double martini. A couple guys laughed at my wisecrack so I sat with them for our lunch of cold canned rations and crackers, with vintage canteen water.

We formed up again and continued before anyone could get too comfortable. The point narrowed, so we had less area to cover, but it also got more steep. Men were walking sideways on steep slopes, ducking under branches, wary of both twisting an ankle and of being shot at from some anonymous tree top. In several places ropes were tied to make hand holds. In another two hours we were near the end and closed in on the last high spot, at the very tip of the bony peninsula.

The entire lead squad stopped, knelt down, and waved for an officer to come forward. I followed. They had come to the edge of a U-shaped clearing. The open end of the U had a clear view of the ocean. At the center was a short rectangular concrete building. It was clear even from directly behind that the front side of this reinforced pillbox had been smashed by very heavy artillery or bombs.

Supporting squads were moved out along the sides of the clearing. From the closed end the first squad advanced in line toward the wrecked fortification. A few of them had rifles shouldered, ready for trouble. Others were mostly casual, sure that the emplacement was long abandoned.

A shot rang out and an American soldier in the center of the line was down. With a bloody shriek the first Japanese soldier anyone had seen up close in days ran out the back of the bunker directly toward the American line. He fired a rifle from the hip, and got off two more wild shots before return fire cut him down. In a few seconds at least twenty American .30 caliber cartridges were snapped off toward him.

The Japanese soldier, an older corporal, fell first to his knees. He reached into a jacket pocket, which drew three more shots into his abdomen. Before he died he drew out a small crumpled rising sun flag. It fluttered open freely as he fell forward. By chance his hand caught it again on the way down. His lifeless fingers involuntarily clutched the flag, its bright red streamers flowing out across the ground next to the bleeding body.


Today we conclude this series of specific references behind the details in X-Day: Japan. These are not formal citations, as they are not all root sources and the book is not an academic volume. The use of real historical elements for X-Day: Japan serves to educate the reader about the time, add interest to the story, and honestly it just made the thing easier to write!

November 23, 1945
Jumbo air-to-ground rocket,

November 27, 1945
1st Cavalry Division,

December 3, 1945
M29 Weasel,

December 8, 1945
M26 Pershing tank next to M4 Sherman tank (models),

December 9, 1945
War Department Technical Manual TM-12-247,
Military Occupational Classification of Enlisted Personnel,

December 10, 1945
U.S. Army Center of Military History style guide,

December 11, 1945
Battle Formations – The Rifle Platoon, for NCOs (1942)

December 21, 1945
Hospitalization and evac plan for Operation Olympic,
Logistic Instructions No. 1 for the Olympic Operation, 25 July 1945
USS Sanctuary, hospital ship AH-17

December 22, 1945
Russian communists vs Chinese communists,
– Tom Clancy, The Bear and the Dragon
Chiang Kai-shek quote on the communists vs the Japanese,

December 23, 1945
Sakura-jima and its volcanoes,

December 25, 1945
USS Hazard, minesweeper AM-240 [MUSEUM SHIP],

January 17, 1946
Radiation detection equipment,

July 18, 1945
PBY-4/5 Catalina flying boat,
Consolidated Aircraft plant in San Diego,
Consolidated Aircraft plant production and products, B-24 and PB4Y-2,

December 24, 1945
Pearl Harbor survivors, trapped under USS West Virginia,


Today we continue letting the reader see some of the specific references behind the details in X-Day: Japan. These are not formal citations, as they are not all root sources and the book is not an academic volume. The use of real historical elements for X-Day: Japan serves to educate the reader about the time, add interest to the story, and honestly it just made the thing easier to write!

August 30, 1945
Purple heart orders and production,
Giangreco, Hell to Pay, p187-193 [hardcover, 2009]

September 10, 1945
Typhoon Ursula,

September 17, 1945
Typhoon Ida,

September 21, 1945
Antitank Rocket, Methods of Use,

October 10, 1945
Typhoon Louise,

October 11, 1945
USS Laffey, destroyer DD-724 [MUSEUM SHIP at Patriot’s Point],

October 28, 1945
Downfall operational plan, 5/28/45, Annex 3 – estimated lift requirements

November 6, 1945
Petition to make Ernie Pyle’s house a national landmark,

November 9, 1945
Men lined up waiting to use the head before an assault,
Sledge, With the Old Breed
Surrender rates of Japanese soldiers,
Frank, Downfall, p28-29 and p71-72 [Penguin paperback, 2001]

November 11, 1945
Diagrams of amphibious assault boats,

November 16, 1945
USS Charette, destroyer DD-581, which had a remarkable career with the Greeks as the Velos,
USS Montrose, attack transport APA-212,

November 17, 1945
Helicopter medevac,

November 19, 1945
Estimate of Japanese tank strength and tactics,

November 20, 1945
USS Sanctuary, hospital ship AH-17,
158th RCT, “Bushmasters”

November 21, 1945
USS Athene, attack cargo ship AKA-22,
USS Kidd, destroyer DD-661 [MUSEUM SHIP],
USS Chester, heavy cruiser CA-27,
USS Windham Bay, escort carrier CVE-92,
USS Comfort, hospital ship AH-6,
Blood supply,
Giangreco, Hell to Pay, p139 [hardcover, 2009]
USS Firedrake, Mount Hood class,
USS Orleck, destroyer DD-886 [MUSEUM SHIP],
USS Guam, Alaska-class,

November 22, 1945
USS Heerman (DD-532), USS John C. Butler (DE-339), – legends of Taffy-3,
“The outcome is doubtful, but we will do our duty.”
Rear Admiral Robert W. Copeland,


[Tuttle and all the troops had time to kill during prolonged bouts of summer rain on Okinawa.]

People who don’t have to be outside are cooped up and getting restless. Poker games with well-worn decks are running continuously in the usual tents, campaign currency and paper IOUs moving around fluidly. No one has much stomach for setting up pranks in this depressing weather. Most write letters or sit and read in their off hours.

One well-worn bit of reading material is a copy of Yank magazine from back in June. The big cover story is a piece that directly asks the question, “How Long Will We Have to Fight the Jap War?” It’s the standard question here, and it has a lot of standard answers. Answers run from confident predictions to uncertain humor like “Golden Gate in ’48!” to more somber reflections that other soldiers don’t want to hear.

The piece in Yank gives a summary of the situation, and plenty of stats, but nothing in the way of any predictions. It ends with an admonition from the war department that however tough it gets, we have to keep up the pace or it will only get tougher. “The War Department plan calls for redeploying men from the ETO and the States so fast that the Japs will not have time to build up defenses or assemble reinforcements at spots where the Japs may figure the next invasions will come. ‘Speed is essential, for it is vitally important that we do not give the enemy time either to rest or reorganize his defenses.’”

Last I looked, there still weren’t any units from Europe in the Pacific. I suspect the boys already here will carry on with what they have for at least the next big job.

Pinup reading Yank by warbirdphotographer at deviantart.com


[Tuttle hopped aboard a cargo-hauling “Victory” ship for the last leg of his trip to Okinawa.]

I called the Red Oak Victory a Liberty ship, but she is actually a newer “Victory” ship, technically of the Boulder class. The Victory ships carry a little bit more than the Liberty ships, and go a lot faster. They take more than a week off a trans-Pacific route, and then get back another week sooner ready to take another load.

Mariners will have noticed that I called this ship a “USS” and I am not mistaken in that. The Red Oak Victory is under U.S. Navy command and crewed entirely by officers and sailors. She is not a civilian Merchant Marine vessel. Her main job up to now has been hauling ammunition, and delivering it directly to other ships while the fleet was still at sea.

This ship is armed almost as well as the small destroyer I was on in Hawaii. Small and medium caliber guns ring the upper decks, making air attack dangerous (to the aircraft). The one big gun is on the back, all the better for making distance between us and a submarine running on the surface. These guns would be run by a Navy contingent on a Merchant Marine ship. Merchant Marine ships have seen plenty of action in this war, some scoring multiple aircraft kills in a single attack.

As I write this Okinawa is already in sight. A ship like this can get from the Marianas to the Ryukus in four days, even when running a zig-zig course to frustrate a submarine captain trying to time a torpedo into the same place as our ship. The run is not done in convoys; the whole shipping lane is patrolled from the air. Navy sea planes get regular catches of big tin fish with bombs and depth charges, but the situation makes the Atlantic veterans in this crew nervous. A line of well armed destroyers would certainly make a more reassuring security blanket.

We made this run without incident, and are ready to unload. But we’re on the familiar military schedule of ‘hurry up and wait.’ Okinawa still does not sprout enough piers and cranes for our ships to be unloaded fast enough. We will anchor in the far spread arms of what has been renamed Buckner Bay on the east side of the island, before getting directed to a pier, which could be at the nearby naval base or all the way around the island at Naha.

I am taking the opportunity to catch up on reading. The ship has a decent little library, and takes on new magazines and books when it can. Much of the recent news is from the big conference at Potsdam, Germany. President Truman should be just on his way back from that big to-do, where it is supposed that the whole post-war world was neatly drawn up.

Except of course that sketch depends on the Japanese playing their part according to the artists’ vision. Toward that end they issued an ultimatum to the Japs, that people are already referring to simply as the ‘Potsdam Declaration.’ It is not a long document. It spells out concisely that we intend to completely re-make Japan, not just defeat her, and that we have the means to do both. I read the whole text, and took particular note of the end.

“We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative is deliberate and thorough destruction.”

We are here to unload a full cargo of heavy bombs for the heavy bombers. I survey the vast mob of other ships anchored here waiting to unload assorted deadly cargoes, and I have no doubt about the thoroughness we intend to exhibit.

SS Red Oak Victory museum ship