American Submarines Occupy Yokosuka
By Rear Admiral Lloyd R. "Joe" Vasey, U.S.N., (Ret.)
"After we whip the Japanese, we will get together for drinks at the Submarine Officers Club in Yokosuka."
(Message to all Commanding Officers in early l943 from Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood USN, Commander Submarines Pacific.)
Fast forward to:
On 14 August 1945 (East Longitude date). Radio Tokyo announced to the world that Japanese Emperor Hirohito had agreed to the terms of a Cease Fire dictated by the Allies, and the next day General Douglas MacArthur who had just been appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Powers by President Truman directed the Japanese government by radio to order "immediate cessation of hostilities" and to send a competent representative by air to Manila to receive instructions for the formal surrender and the reception in Japan of occupation forces.
I was a prospective submarine commanding officer PCO in Guam at the time of the broadcast looking over the side of the submarine tender USS Proteus at the nest of submarines below wondering which one I would soon be in command of. Sailors and repair crews topside were as busy as bees getting the subs ready for war patrols. When the news was announced over the loudspeakers all work came to a screeching halt and everyone stood around as if in a daze. But there were no celebrations, sirens or shouting and within thirty minutes all was normal again. But on the home front in the US, President Truman declared a two day holiday of celebration for all Americans.
At that stage of the war, we submariners had already taken it for granted that the enemy was on his knees and victory was near. Our Submarine Force sank 30 percent of the Japanese Imperial Navy, including eight aircraft carriers. And our Submarine Force destroyed 60 percent of all Japanese merchant ships, imposing a veritable strangle hold on Japan, choking off its economy.
These achievements were attained at a terrible human price. Submarine Force personnel suffered the highest fatality rate of any branch of the US Armed forces --- over 20 percent still on Eternal Patrol.
Meanwhile, Admiral "Bull" Halsey's U.S. Third Fleet was already approaching Tokyo Bay, invasion forces were assembling at Okinawa and more troops and ships were enroute across the Pacific. Our war-planes clouded the skies between the Marianas and Japan, and a ring of American submarines kept a tight noose around the Japanese home islands.
Admiral Nimitz invited ComSubPac, Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood, to attend the formal Japanese surrender ceremonies aboard the Missouri and also gave permission for twelve submarines and the Proteus to be present in Tokyo Bay.
Squadron Commander Lew Parks was immediately ordered to get underway aboard Proteus and with submarine relief crews to land and take possession of the Yokosuka Naval Base. Then to"demilitarize" the scores of mini-submarines and suicide torpedo boats known to be on the base or nearby in Tokyo Bay.
Those of us in the pool of PCO's waiting in Guam for the next opportunity to take command of a submarine debated the attraction of going to Tokyo Bay and being part of an historic occasion versus remaining in Guam for a long cherished submarine command. I had the most vested interest in the latter being finally at the top of the list after a long wait in Guam where we had been kept busy as harbor pilots conning large troop transports and former ocean liners in and out of port.
But our discussion was preempted by orders to board Proteus for transportation to Tokyo Bay and get ready to lead our submarine relief crews ashore in the hoped for peaceful occupation of Yokosuka Naval Base. My PCO comrades in this venture included Lieut. Commanders Paul Schratz, Fred Tucker, Joe McDowell and T.C. Williamson.
The Proteus joined with the Third Fleet south of Tokyo Bay on 21 August and on 31 August was ordered to an offshore mooring in Yokohama Bay, within sight of the Missouri. It was an awesome sight to see the display of naval power in the bay, 258 warships of all types from battleships and flattops to small amphibious ships representing the allied nations which had been at war with Japan. Our twelve submarines were kept at sea until their symbolic entry to the Bay early in the morning of September 2nd, the day of the official Japanese surrender aboard USS Missouri. Most of the aircraft carriers remained outside in order to launch planes for a massive fly-over at the appropriate moment of "V-J Day."
On August 31, the US Army had sent a team of explosive and demolition experts aboard Proteus to brief those of us scheduled to land at and secure the Yokosuka Naval Base. The briefings included precautions to observe as we stepped ashore and searched the buildings, procedures to defuse and remove detonators from the warheads of midget subs and suicide craft and safety precautions to avoid catastrophes. After the two hour, rapid fire briefing, the bottom line of the message conveyed by our Army friends was to be extremely cautious about touching anything because, "it may be booby trapped."
Late that afternoon, two days before the official Japanese surrender, Commodore Lew Parks who was over-all commander of the landing force of 250 or so American submariners gave the order to execute and sailed off in the lead motor launch with a small staff and headed for Yokosuka, ten miles away. The rest of us in the landing force followed subsequently in motor launches, in two groups led by submarine division commanders Bernard F. McMahon and Rob Roy MacGregor. Each of us PCOs with our assigned crews were ordered as first priority to search and neutralize our designated sectors of the base.
We were packed tightly in the motor launches for the ten mile trip to the base about eight in the evening- my crew and I were in the echelon under command of Capt MacGregor. The Proteus repair crew had jury-rigged mounts for machine guns on the bow of each launch. The sailors were armed with Springfield rifles and we officers with 45's.
Soaked to the skin from the cold rain and waves breaking over the bow we were over-joyed at finally reaching our destination, although admittedly with much trepidation as we contemplated the next move. Our launch landed in the darkness at the end of Drydock Six. I don't recall which brave soul was first to clamber up and onto the dock. There was a certain distinction trying to be the first ashore, but as we drew closer to the dock the warnings from our Army friends prevailed over personal thoughts of bravado and we wondered what reception was awaiting us.
Intelligence reports cautioned that the Japanese military did not fully support the terms of surrender. Admiral Nimitz had earlier warned "beware of treachery or last moment attacks by enemy forces or individuals." More than 5,000 Kamikaze diehards remained in Japan ready to do their duty. Just a few months earlier during the Battle for Okinawa, thousands of American seamen had been killed by Kamikaze attacks off the islands.
But we were fortunate as we leapt ashore that evening and fanned across the base to search assigned sectors. Using portable lights we looked through office buildings, barracks, storage depots and machine shops and discovered nary a soul - it was like being in a ghost town. In one huge room for designers and draftsmen, it was eerie to see engineering drawings, instruments and personal belongings neatly atop desks and drafting tables as at the end of a routine work day with personnel expecting to return in the morning. General MacArthur had earlier ordered all military forces and civilians to evacuate the coastal areas for three leagues inland. Fortunately the Japanese had obeyed like robots.
Nonetheless, throughout the first night on the base, rifle shots were heard intermittently as our sailors fired at suspicious shadows and mysterious noises. Several of us always converged on the scene with weapons at the ready expecting the worst. Large rats scurrying around in the deserted buildings usually were the culprits and we were happy that our submarine sailors were such skilled marksmen. Finally at about 5am, assured that the base was indeed deserted, we stood down some of our men for a rest period, all sleeping on tables, benches and desks to escape the wild life underneath.
But no one rested for long. Our crews were needed to inspect and demilitarize the myriad of mini-subs and Kaiten (suicide craft) on the base. Fortunately, all of the Kaiten and most of the mini-subs had been hauled out of water and onto skids near the seawall. Bows had been completely chopped off the boats as ordered by General MacArthur, and the Japanese military had been directed to remove or inactivate the detonators in the mini-subs.
The hatches leading into the subs were very small, so rather than enter traditionally and risk stepping on a booby trap, I opted on the first inspection to go in head first with some of the guys holding onto my legs. With flashlight in hand, all I could see was a maze of wires, pipes, gauges and dials making it impossible to even move without bumping into something. I silently cursed the Army explosive experts and proceeded with the task at hand. It was challenging and hazardous work for our submarine sailors and I have long felt they should have been accorded more recognition for an important job "well done."
To my recollection, only a couple of occasions were experienced where the Japanese had not fully complied with orders. Most notable was a large underground ammunition storage depot, loaded with bombs, warheads and detonators stored in neat rows uncomfortably close together. It was the size of a basketball court. Only hours after the entrance had been initially discovered in a wooded area, one of my sailors spotted and reported what appeared to be a telephone line hidden in the bushes. He was startled to discover at the end of the cable, a hand operated, plunger detonator, "at the ready."
Subsequently it was discovered the base was honeycombed with underground offices and repair shops with a network of tunnels that led to senior officers quarters. Years later when my family and I were moving into quarters on Halsey Road, the spouse of a former occupant informed us of a trap door in the living room from which the ghost of the Japanese Admiral in command who had committed Hari-kari would periodically rise from the depths and converse with her. During the Vaseys tenure in the house, we never had this experience, probably because our German Shepherd preferred to sleep on the living room rug right over the trap door. Nevertheless, for many years before and after "the ghost of Halsey Road " was a living legend and became a central theme of the novel THE CROWS OF EDWINA HILL.
The night of September 1st, I was notified by a sentry that lights were observed in a deserted building we had already searched the evening before. Quickly gathering some of my troops together and with two well armed Marines, we surrounded the building and entered cautiously, soon finding the lighted room. Voices were heard within. With weapons drawn, the Marines kicked in the door and we rushed in, embarrassed to find four Japanese submarine officers playing cards. With the four rising and stiffly bowing from the waist repeatedly until I stopped them, one identified himself in fractured English and said, "We have been waiting a long time to turn over command of our submarines. Where have you been?"
The building was the Japanese submarine officers "O" Club. It also included administrative offices and a suite for the base commandant. An attractive adjoining room fitted with traditional tatami mats and head rests was for the commandant's private geisha, or so we opined. Later in the evening I informed PCO's Paul Schratz and Joe McDowell of this find and all agreed it was much more appealing than sleeping on table tops as during the night before. Turning in sometime after midnight we soon became appealing morsels for body lice, bed bugs and other vermin; that is except for Joe even though he was sleeping between Paul and me. When the tender Proteus moored alongside a pier early in the morning we could hardly wait to rush up the gangway to shed our clothes and throw them over the side while corpsmen hurriedly rigged a nozzle spray to fumigate and de-louse the two of us from head to toe.
During the formal surrender ceremonies on board Missouri that morning, most of us ashore were still crawling through midget submarines. But at 0925 as the ceremonies were closing and the sun broke through, we all stood in pride as over a thousand carrier aircraft and B-29 bombers swept low across Tokyo Bay and over Missouri in a thunderous roar --- a message of courage, skill, determination and steeled will to any Japanese leaders who thought their government made a mistake in its capitulation.
Later, when we received word Admiral Lockwood would be on the base to greet us that afternoon, our priorities shifted and we gathered in front of our newly christened "O" Club to give him a rousing cheer with the famous "V - for Victory" salute when he arrived, to let him know that his 1943 promise to submariners to have a drink together at the sub officers club in Yokosuka when "we whip the Japanese" was now a reality. One of the great military leaders of the Pacific war, he was our hero. Then we bowed our heads in a minute of silence and a prayer in remembrance of our fellow submariners still on "eternal patrol"(over 3,500).
The party that followed was something that even the Royal British Navy would envy. Glasses were raised to toast our Commander in Chief, President Harry Truman followed by toasts to other allied heads of state, to several American and allied military leaders, to Admiral Lockwood, to our loved ones at home, and to all comrades in arms.
A photo of the submariners gathered at Yokosuka in front of the "O" Club is attached, and also displayed in the Clean Sweep Bar of Lockwood Hall at Pearl Harbor, as well as in the Bowfin Submarine Museum. Admiral Lockwood is center of the bottom row flanked by CO's of subs then in Tokyo Bay, squadron commanders, CO's who had hitched rides from other locations including John S. McCain my former skipper on USS Gunnel, and officers of the crews who landed at Yokosuka two days earlier, including the author standing center.
Conspicuous by their absence were two prominent submarine officers whose names shall remain anonymous. They had opted instead to "borrow" an armed jeep belonging to the Military Police and drive the 30 miles to Yokohama so they might lay claim to being the first "Yanks" spending an evening in a Geisha House, a successful venture they bragged about in the post-war years. They even described awakening at the first light of day, stepping through the screen door to what appeared as a platform leading to the garden and fell into "Honey Buckets" up to their armpits.
THE I - 400 CLASS OF JAPANESE SUBMARINES
On August 28th, three of the giant I class of Japanese submarines were intercepted and surrendered East of Honshu and later brought into the bay and alongside Proteus on August 31st. The I-400 had struck her colors to Commander Hiram Cassedy former colorful skipper of the U S submarine Tigrone who became her first prize crew captain. He didn't last long as I-400's skipper, running afoul of Admiral Halsey for disregarding his order about taking swords as souvenirs. Incidentally the Japanese squadron commander who was aboard the I-400 went to the bridge and shot himself rather than surrender.
I was ordered to accompany our squadron doctor and his chief pharmacist mate with two armed Marines and assist in assessing the living conditions in the I-400 and the physical status of the crew. The skipper of the submarine in response to my query said there were a total of 180 in his crew, but as we went through the compartments we tallied 212. By our standards, creature comforts were virtually non-existent and very few water spigots available for personal use and meal preparation. The "heads" were just holes in the decks above sanitary tanks... we did not linger long in these areas due to the stench. Sailors were packed like sardines in multi-tiered bunks and many eating supper lying in their bunks and disposing of leftovers onto the deck which was already filthy. Supernumerary crewmen simply slept on the decks. Most shocking were the numbers of large rats and hordes of cockroaches nonchalantly scurrying about as if they were members of the ship's company. That evening the I-400 crew were ordered to sleep topside while the boat was fumigated, and the next morning eleven gunny sacks full of carcasses were carted away. In spite of these deplorable conditions, the 18-19 year old sailors seemed in remarkably good health and spirits, lean and trim, attired only in loin cloths. They displayed no animosity toward us, only indifference.
The I-400 was a remarkable submarine way ahead of her time, with a cruising range of 37,500 miles, snorkel, radar detectors and a 115 foot hangar opening onto an 85 foot long catapult for the three aircraft stowed aboard. Since early in the year the four I class submarines had been in training for bomb and torpedo strike against the Panama Canal's vital Gatun Locks. But by June, three thousand American warships and transports were already in the Western Pacific and the mission of these submarines was changed to launch suicide torpedo attack by Kaiten submarines in coordination with air strikes against American forces.
(Note: later in 1945, the I-400 was brought to Pearl Harbor with an American crew under command of Joe McDowell. The Exec/and Chief Engineer was Lieut. Thomas O. Paine who subsequently as a prominent scientist headed NASA during the Apollo Moon landings, and later was President of Northrop Corp. and Chairman of the Board of my international relations institute Pacific Forum. Tom Paine was proud of his submarine service in WWII. His personal SUBMARINE WARFARE LIBRARY on American, allied and axis powers submarines in WWII was undoubtedly the best collection of its kind in the world. It was later donated to the Nimitz Library at the US Naval Academy.)
-Rear Admiral Lloyd R. "Joe" Vasey, U.S.N., (Ret.)
MaritimeQuest wishes to extend a special thank you to RAdm Vasey for providing this account and allowing us to publish it on the site.
Page published Aug. 16, 2015