Pearl Harbor Epilogue
This 1995 article, first published in Naval Affairs, was researched and written by John C. McCarthy, Ensign, later Lt. (jg) aboard Taylor in 1945–46.
With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, World War II became my high school graduation present. Although it distributed our class of 1941 from Rockford, Illinois all over the world and inflicted high casualties, it left the survivors with a common memory and an uncommon silent bond.
Sagami Wan and Tokyo Bay

NASA photo STS034-77-77.

Satellite view of Sagami Wan (center) and Tokyo Bay (upper right) with O’Shima (island under cloud at lower center) and Mt. Fuji (under cloud at center left).

Fiftieth high school reunions are for reminiscing about such things. But first I had to correct a slight error in the alumni records which explained why I, living in California, had not heard about previous reunions. They recorded that I had been killed in the war. So when the class got together for its golden anniversary, I was there, looking forward eagerly to a trip down memory lane.

Unlike other wars, World War II had two distinct endings. The first was on May 6, 1945, when Germany surrendered. The second was four months later and half a world away in Japan. Much has been written about the final days of the war in Europe. Japan’s capitulation caught the Allies completely by surprise. It began on August 6 when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and ended with the surrender ceremony on the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2. Little has been written about the events in between those historic dates. They are etched in my mind as if they happened yesterday. Or so I thought.

Five classmates gathered to renew old acquaintances. Inevitably, our conversations drifted to where the war had taken each of us. I concluded my reminiscing with the casual comment that the destroyer I was on was the first ship to enter Imperial Japanese waters after the tentative cease fire on August 14, 1945. Immediately and just as casually, John Whitehead declared that I was mistaken. How did he know? Because his patrol ship was among the first to enter Tokyo Bay. He accompanied the minesweepers that swept the bay in late August. His job was to destroy the mines brought to the surface. Surely they would not send a thin-skinned destroyer into mined waters, he added persuasively.

Action reports for selected dates and a deck log, damage report and list of personnel casualties for 6 April 1945 are as follows:
USS Taylor (DD 468)
    27 August 1945 deck log.
    29 August 1945 deck log.
    2 September 1945 deck log.
USS Missouri (BB 63)
    27 August 1945 deck log.
    2 September 1945 deck log. Track chart.
USS Revenge (AM 1)
    27 August 1945 deck log.
    28 August 1945 deck log.
    27 August 1945 deck log.
    28 August 1945 deck log.

But I was not convinced. I distinctly remembered the excitement we felt on our ship, Taylor, when we learned that we had been selected to escort the Missouri into Japanese waters. We were one of over 100 ships of fast carrier Task Force 38, which had been conducting air strikes against Japan for almost six weeks. Maneuvering several hundred miles off Japan, we were about to withdraw to prepare for the land invasion of Japan when word was received that Japan was considering unconditional surrender.

Third Fleet Commander Admiral William F. Halsey’s cease fire order on August 14 was memorable: “It now gives me great pleasure to order all units of Magnolia (code name for Task Force 38) to cease fire. However, fire on all enemy planes, not vindictively, but in a friendly sort of way.”

During the next twenty-four hours, we were at general quarters continuously, under attack from enemy aircraft in an unfriendly sort of way. My recollection is that 16 Japanese aircraft of various types were shot down.

Signals from Japan continued to be ambiguous. We have since learned that the Emperor wanted peace but had been virtually imprisoned in the Imperial Palace by high ranking military leaders who were determined to continue the war.

A secret recording by the Emperor was smuggled out of the cordoned palace. He urged unconditional surrender. In the chaos that followed, more than a dozen of Japan’s top military leaders committed seppuku, a ritualistic form of suicide. Others were convinced that the Emperor’s public message was an Army ruse to entice enemy troops to Japanese shores, then annihilate them. Ironically, it would fall on the US Navy, so crippled and humiliated at Pearl Harbor, to see that did not happen.

The days in August dragged on as the most formidable fleet of warships in history lingered off Japan waiting for orders. When they came, Halsey realized the vulnerability of moving his armada into Japanese waters. Once anchored in close quarters, most of our finest battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers would be sitting ducks for a second Pearl Harbor. Only this one could be far more disasterous.

Halsey was determined to act boldly. Rather than risk the entire task force, however, he decided to take a small group of ships in as an advance force to see if the Japanese actually intended to give up. He selected his flagship, Missouri, and three destroyers, Taylor, Nicholas and O’Bannon. We were told that the choice was a nostalgic one for the crusty admiral. Out of the several dozen newer destroyers in the task force, these three "tin cans" were the last of the legendary destroyer squadron, DesRon 21, who had been with him since the costly naval battles that helped win Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands in 1942 and 1943. Our pride was mixed with apprehension as we moved away from the rest of the ships, formed an anti-submarine screen for the “Big Mo” and headed straight for Japan.

The next day of our reunion, John handed me copies of the letters he had written to his fiancee over 45 years earlier. His ship sailed from Okinawa on August 22, 1945, in company with several other patrol escorts. They joined up three days later with a group of minesweepers and set a course for Tokyo Bay.

John wrote:

“August 28: This has been a rather momentous day. We moved into a new bay this morning and have made history in so doing, I guess. Can’t give details, but we were one of the first to arrive . . . .”

“August 29: Now that more and bigger company has arrived, we don’t have to be so careful. It’s a nice feeling to have the big boys with us.”

“August 30: It’s legal to say that we are in Tokyo Bay and that there are a lot of ships in here and that we were one of the first . . . . We came in right behind the first nine ships who were all minesweepers. This was the first combatant ship to enter . . . . We immediately began sweeping the areas in which the ships outside would anchor as they entered. [Two nights ago] we were one of maybe 10 or 15 ships (all sweeps) anchored inside the bay. [Yesterday] the cruiser San Diego and a few destroyers came in to claim the honors of leading the way into Tokyo Bay. We resent it!”

If John was right, his ship and the minesweepers were there before anyone else, including our group. And they did sweep Tokyo Bay, so we could anchor safely.

Our reunion had just shattered the fond memory I had caressed for decades, of being first in something important.

But other memories would not go away. As we approached the mainland, a Japanese destroyer appeared, its guns depressed as instructed. The Nicholas left our screen to intercept the ship, transfer a number of Japanese officials and harbor pilots and deliver them to the Missouri. While it was gone, we passed an island, O’Shima, to port. Our skipper commented that O’Shima was the guardian of Tokyo Bay and marked the entrance to Imperial Japanese waters. I took a fix on the Missouri and discovered we were several hundred yards ahead of our assigned station. When I brought this to the captains’ attention he smiled and said, “I guess that puts the good ship Taylor first to enter Japanese waters since before Pearl Harbor.” There were no other ships to be seen anywhere ahead of us.

A brief geography lesson might help. Visualize a figure 8. The bottom half is the outer bay, Sagami Wan. Its bottom opens up to the Pacific Ocean with the island, O’Shima, at the center of the opening. Tokyo Bay is the top half of the figure 8 and Uraga Suido is the five-mile channel connecting it to the outer bay. The only way into Tokyo Bay is to pass by the island, through the outer bay and up the channel.

As we moved through the outer bay, Sagami Wan, the coastline to port seemed close enough to reach out and touch. But it reportedly was armed with 110 shore batteries whose sole function was to destroy any enemy trying to enter the bay. The Japanese had been instructed by Admiral Halsey to train each muzzle away from the water, disarm the piece and leave the breech open. The only problem was that from several miles away we could not distinguish, even with the best binoculars, an open breech from a barn. But a muzzle flash—that we could recognize. To everyone’s relief, we did not see any.

We dropped anchor in the bay later that day but remained at general quarters with a darkened ship. It was the first time our propellers were silent since leaving the Philippines almost two months earlier. I remember trying to get some sleep that night. Were we actually at anchor in Japan? The reality would not let me relax. And without the deep hum of our engines, the ocean sounds and swells and a pitching deck, sleep was out of the question. I was relieved when midnight arrived and it was my watch.

These memories I could trust. But still, a new and nagging doubt about our hero status had been introduced 45 years later at a simple high school reunion. Had John and the sweeps really been there already to test Japan’s intentions, to tidy up the bay for us and to make it safe for us to rest our weary bones?

When I returned to California after the reunion, I telephoned John Reilly, head of the US Navy Ships’ Histories Branch in Washington, DC. “Who was the first Allied ship into Japan before the surrender in WWII?” I asked. It was the USS Revenge, a minesweeper, as far as he knew. So I ordered copies of the deck logs and war diaries of the key ships involved for the month of August 1945.

The first to arrive was the log of the Revenge. It recorded that on the early morning of August 28, she arrived with a group of minesweepers and patrol escorts off Tokyo Bay. They began operating in the area of the island O’Shima. At 0628, the log stated, “Entered and commenced sweeping Uraga Suido to Tokyo Bay. This vessel is the first to enter Tokyo Bay.”

Damn! Uraga Suido is the channel that connects the outer bay to the inner bay. Then the log of John’s patrol escort, PGM 32, arrived. It read, “28 August 1945. 0630, Entering Tokyo Bay Channel. 0810, Entered Tokyo Bay with minesweeping task unit.” The duty officer at the helm of PGM 32 was, you guessed it, John B. Whitehead, Lt. (jg), USNR.

By this time, I was beginning to regret having corrected my high school alumni records. Then the logs of the Missouri and my ship, the Taylor, arrived. The Missouri’s deck log and action report confirmed the formation of a special unit on August 23, consisting of the battleship and our three destroyers as its screen. We cleared Task Force 38 the same day and adopted anti-submarine zig-zag courses with a general heading toward Tokyo Bay. A second special unit was formed consisting of the British Battleship HMS Duke of York and two British destroyers. It conformed its movements to ours two miles astern. On August 25, the battleship Iowa and its escort Gosselin joined the formation.

The Missouri’s log and action report continued. On August 27, 1945, at 7:10 AM, the Japanese destroyer was sighted on the horizon. “0721, All hands to battle stations as a precaution against possible Jap treachery and to afford maximum watertight integrity for the trip through the mine-laden approach to Sagami Wan.” The destroyer Nicholas “left the screen to approach Japanese ship and transfer pilots and officials.” The island, O’Shima, was sighted dead ahead at a distance of 25 miles. At 0847, the Nicholas came alongside the Missouri to transfer the Japanese officials. At 1025, the Missouri passed O’Shima two miles to port, according to her diary.

Approximately two hours later, the following entry appears in her deck log: “1247, Entered inland waters. Commenced maneuvering on various courses at various speeds to reach anchorage. 1327, Anchored in Sagami Wan, Honshu, Japan, in 25 fathoms of water, mud bottom, with 125 fathoms of chain … .”

The Taylor’s deck log, supplemented by her war diary, tracks the entries in the Missouri’s records with several significant additional details. The destroyers had formed a protective screen in front of the Missouri in the shape of a fan that preceded the battleship by about half a mile or so. While the Nicholas was away from the screen and alongside the Missouri, the following entry appears in the Taylor’s records:

“0902, Stood into [entered] SAGAMI WAN on course 325 degrees, with [destroyer] O’Bannon in station #1 (acting as ComScreen) and Taylor in station #2.”

Stations #1 and #2 in an anti-submarine screen consisting of an even number of ships are “in the van,” that is, share the lead of the screen. The Taylor anchored in Sagami Wan at 1342 (1:42 PM) August 27, 1945.

It is difficult to reconcile several of these records. How could the Missouri’s destroyer screen pass the island, O’Shima, at 9:02 AM, according to the Taylor’s war diary, yet the Missouri not pass the same island until 10:25 AM according to her war diary? Why does the Missouri’s deck log note that she “entered inland waters” almost two and one-half hours later at 12:47 PM?

But wherever Imperial Japanese “inland waters” technically begin, it cannot be disputed that the Missouri’s destroyer screen, including the Taylor, sailed into them before any other ship, including the minesweeper Revenge and John’s patrol escort. If a supertechnocrat wanted to define the goal as first into Tokyo Bay, he would concede that it was won the next day, August 28, by the sweeps and their escorts.

The Missouri and her destroyers spent two days at our anchorages in Sagami Wan, much of it at general quarters and prepared to get underway immediately. Two days later, on August 29, we moved to anchorages in Tokyo Bay. The surrender ceremony was held there on the Missouri on September 2.

John was right. He was the first into Tokyo Bay. But to get there, he had to sail past a small group of destroyers and a very big battleship who had been at anchor in the outer bay for over 18 hours. When he finally anchored for his first night in Japanese waters, I trust he slept better than I did the night before. After all, some of his friends had checked out the territory and put out the welcome mat for him.

Life Magazine reported, “At dawn on Wednesday, August 29, the peaceful invasion of the Japanese home islands began. In an impressive procession, the 11th Airborne Division landed in US transports on Atsugi airstrip near Tokyo. At about the same time, 18 miles south of Atsugi, 10,600 US and British marines waded ashore from landing barges to take over the great Yokosuka Navy Yard. Eight hours after the first airborne troops had secured the airfield, the Supreme Allied Commander General Douglas MacArthur arrived.”

Not a word about the Navy’s role. Perhaps history books will note someday that when MacArthur, his paratroops and the marines “began” the invasion of Japan that ended World War II, it was the Navy that had already assured that it would be “peaceful.”

Come to think of it, I am looking forward to our next high school reunion after all.