December 31, 2015

1945. American Correspondents Fly Over Nagasaki and Enter Shanghai

Nagasaki and Shanghai After the Japanese Surrender
August 10, 1945: Arrow marks the spot where the atomic bomb hit in Nagasaki. Photo by AP (source)
Following the German surrender in 1945, journalist Tex McCrary led a group of war correspondents across the world as they covered the final days of the Pacific War. They made stops in the Middle East, Japan, China, French Indochina, Guam, and more. They were among the first Americans to enter Hiroshima after the dropping of the atomic bomb.

The reporters included: Clark Lee (International News Service), Bernard Hoffman (Life), Vern Haugland (Associated Press), Bill Lawrence (The New York Times), Homer Bigart (The New York Herald Tribune), Charles Murphy (Fortune), George Silk (Life), Frank Fulton (NBC), Bill Downs (CBS), Jim McGlincy (United Press), and several others.

In the excerpt below, Times correspondent Bill Lawrence recounts his experience flying over Nagasaki as well as the group's visit to Shanghai.

From Six Presidents, Too Many Wars by Bill Lawrence, pp. 127-135:

August 1945
Air power—launched from land and aircraft carriers—won the battle of Japan even before the atomic bombs. But we didn't know it, and neither did the Japanese highest authorities, including the Emperor.

The first air strike against Japan by the tiny force of carrier-based bombers led by James A. (Jimmy) Doolittle in 1942 was more psychological than military. Doolittle's raiders did little damage to Tokyo, and none of the airplanes were able to fly safely to their bases in western China as had been hoped.

When the B-29s began their missions from China, and later from the Marianas, they flew at high altitudes—up to 30,000 feet—and encountered extremely stiff winds in the jet stream. Flying against the wind, the bomber would have been a sitting duck for antiaircraft fire. With the jet stream, the aircraft speed was too great for accurate bombing.

Before General LeMay gambled with the low-level raids, I had heard that fewer than 10 percent of our bombs hit their targets.

But the Japanese people and cities were easy targets of destruction when the big bombers came in low with their cargoes of incendiary bombs. It was destruction on a scale never experienced by any other nation in history. Our own losses, in men and aircraft, were very small when compared with the heavy cost of land warfare.

From November 24, 1944, through the end of the war, the B-29s based in the Marianas flew 318 missions on which approximately 159,000 tons of bombs were dropped. Their targets were sixty-four Japanese industrial areas with a combined population of 21,200,000.

According to Air Force statistics, the incendiary attacks burned out 157.98 square miles of Japanese urban industrial areas and left dead or homeless an estimated 8,480,000 persons. Tokyo itself suffered under six heavy low-level fire-bombing attacks, and these left in ashes 50.8 square miles.

At the end of the war, our Air Force was composed of approximately 1,000 aircraft and about 10,000 men—and it was about to be doubled in size by a new force of B-29s being readied for use from Okinawan bases commanded by General Doolittle.

The last mission I flew with the B-29s against Japan was on July 29, 1945. It was unusual in several respects. First of all, it was the only mission in this war in which the B-29s carried a full ten-ton load of bombs from their bases in the Marianas, landed on Iwo Jima with their bomb load, refueled, and then took off again to hit a target at the northernmost end of Honshu Island. It was the deepest penetration of the Japanese home island.

The most unusual feature of the raid was that LeMay told the enemy well in advance that our target, Aomori, was one of several Japanese cities that we proposed to destroy by fire bombing that night.

It was a big strike for the psychological warfare planners. Several hours before we hit Aomori, Japanese-language radio broadcasts and leaflets printed in Japanese announced the raids.

Never before in the history of warfare had an enemy been notified in advance that bombers would hit certain of their cities. The Japanese probably thought it was a trick and no efforts were made to evacuate the cities. LeMay listed twice as many cities as were hit that night by the B-29s, reasoning that after the first attacks Japanese workers would flee from any city on the target list whether that city actually was bombed or not.

On the Aomori raid, we took off from Tinian and flew into Iwo on the afternoon of July 28 along with more than sixty other superforts.

I still get nervous thinking about that landing on Iwo with ten tons of firebombs in the belly of the airplane in which I was riding. But we landed safely, and so did all the other planes in the group headed for Aomori.

Toward dusk, we took off from Iwo and headed north and west into a setting sun. Out of Iwo, we had the aircraft radio tuned in to the music broadcast by the U.S. armed forces radio when suddenly there was an interruption and the advance warning was given by LeMay. Aomori was listed first. The fliers had not known about LeMay's plans. They were surprised, disturbed, and angry with LeMay.

"Old LeMay has a lot of guts, sitting in Guam and telling the Japanese fighters we are on our way," said one airman bitterly.

I did my best to explain to the crew the psychological reasons behind LeMay's gamble, but I fear I did not satisfy them. Some frankly doubted my own sanity in undertaking the mission after I had been told it would be announced in advance.

Our fears proved unfounded. We came in over Aomori after midnight, a port city on Honshu's northernmost tip, 365 miles northeast of Tokyo, at a 250-mile-an-hour clip. We were led in by fires started by the lead aircraft that had been visible to us when we were still thirty miles away from the target.

If the Japanese expected us, they had no effective means of counterattack. We encountered no enemy fighters. We were fired on from land- and ship-based anti-aircraft guns, but were not hit.

It was a vivid demonstration to the Japanese populace that their military leaders could not protect them even when warned in advance.

We bombed at will, and hit all our targets, including the great yards, which turned out ships for Japan's shrinking merchant marine. The port area from which ferries plied the waters north of Hokkaido Island was leveled and made useless to the Japanese for the rest of the war. Warehouses containing precious food reserves for the Japanese military forces and civilian population were burned out.

We didn't lose a single aircraft on this mission and demonstrated beyond challenge our mastery of the skies above Japan, our ability to reach anywhere into the Japanese military-industrial complex.

For the crew flying the long mission back to Tinian, there was an exuberant feeling because we had hit the enemy and scored heavily even after we had tipped our attack in advance.

Now the stage was set for the use of the atomic bomb that had been secretly manufactured and tested in the desert flats of New Mexico in that same month.

With the war in Europe over, President Truman, Marshal Stalin, and two British Prime Ministers—Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee—had given the Japanese a final warning to surrender from their meeting place at Potsdam, Germany, in July, 1945. (The British were double-teamed at Potsdam because that summit conference took place during British elections, in which the victorious war leader, Churchill, was beaten at the polls.) The Japanese did not heed the warning. Nor would they, I think, have paid any more attention if we had demonstrated the bomb on a Pacific island, which had been advocated by those opposing the use of a nuclear bomb against people and cities.

Even with hindsight, I have never joined those who criticize Truman because he ordered the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There are those scientists and others who argue now and who argued before the bomb was dropped that use of the atomic bomb was immoral. Some contend it was unnecessary. I am not one of this group. Perhaps I am not because I would have been reporting the invasion of the Japanese home islands in a very few weeks. All of us who had been on Okinawa had no doubt that the casualties on Kyushu would be enormous, and that there would have to be other landings after Kyushu before the Japanese could be persuaded to surrender.

I think the atomic bomb provided the dramatic "excuse" that the Japanese Emperor needed to hurry his surrender, which may already have been inevitable but which would not necessarily have come swiftly enough to avert the Kyushu landings. Indeed, the war might have been protracted by the very act of landing on the Japanese home islands. The Japanese already had proved on Okinawa that they would fight almost to the last man rather than surrender.

Emperor Hirohito's offer to surrender came after the Nagasaki bomb went off on August 9, but it was not the unconditional surrender that Roosevelt and Churchill had envisaged in their declaration at Casablanca. The Japanese specified, and we agreed, that the authority of their Emperor would not be impaired. I was on Guam when this news came, a few hours after the Soviet Union formally had declared war on Japan.

There was nothing conditional about the GI reaction to the conditional Japanese offer. Our troops in the Pacific, getting ready for the assault on the home islands, literally went wild with joy. On Okinawa, men jumped to their anti-aircraft guns and machine guns and filled the sky with tracer bullets and bursting shells in a fireworks display unequaled at even the biggest American Fourth of July celebration. There were a few American casualties from this uncontrolled firing of weapons as shrapnel fell back to earth from exploding anti-aircraft shells. It took forty minutes for the senior officers to get control of the situation and halt the firing.

One private, Tom Zuffelato of Torrington, Connecticut, summed up the reaction of every GI: "I got goose bumps all over."

The nuclear war age began on Monday, August 6, 8:15 A.M. Japanese time, when a super-fortress bearing the name Enola Gay, piloted by Captain Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., of Miami, Florida, dropped a single bomb over the city of Hiroshima. It came floating toward earth on a parachute, and at about 1,900 feet above ground, it exploded with a blinding flash and a surge of power equal to 20,000 tons of TNT.

In a fraction of a second, perhaps 80,000 persons were killed or fatally wounded, and others suffered from burns and blasts that would mar them for life. Eighty to 90 percent of all the buildings in the city were destroyed by blast or fire. It was the mightiest blast man had ever set off in war. But even after this bomb went off, Emperor Hirohito hesitated to surrender unconditionally.

Three days later, at about noon on August 9, a second and even more powerful type of bomb was used against the port city of Nagasaki, killing 25,000 persons.

I got my first view of Nagasaki from a converted B-17 flying over the city on August 27 with a group of newspaper and radio correspondents assigned to the Strategic Air Force bomb damage survey.

Our flight to Nagasaki was made in that strange period between Emperor Hirohito's offer to surrender and the actual acceptance of that surrender on September 3, by General MacArthur on the deck of the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Technically, we were still at war and occasionally one of our airplanes was fired at.

From the air, the damage done to Nagasaki seemed almost unbelievable. In peacetime, Nagasaki's buildings had been jammed so closely together that it looked from the air like a sea of roofs.

I ad-libbed my report to the Times into a microphone as our aircraft circled Nagasaki, and my military censor, Lieutenant Colonel Hubert Schneider, an intelligence officer based on Guam, sat close beside me to listen to my report. There were no military secrets that could be given away from an eyewitness description anyway, so Colonel Schneider actually assisted me in framing the report by providing military descriptions of Nagasaki's appearance before it had been hit.

A portion of my report to the Times sent by radio direct from the plane said:
This correspondent, who has seen the worst damaged cities of Russia and Poland, was stunned by the sight of Nagasaki below him. About 50 percent of the town seemed to have been completely wiped out, and the destruction in that area was worse than any the writer had seen in Stalingrad or Warsaw.

An arms factory is nothing but a mass of twister girders. The wooden tinderbox houses which were jammed eaves to eaves have disappeared and all that remains are fragments that from a plane look about the size of match sticks. . . .

On the sides of a rugged, tree-covered hill close behind Nagasaki whole sections of forest have been burned off.

The winding Urakami River flows almost exactly through the center of the destroyed area. It was clear from the view we have had today that it [the river] was no barrier to the spread of fire and destruction.
When we first approached Nagasaki, there was not a single sign of life. As we circled for more than an hour, people came running into the streets and looking at our airplane as it passed back and forth over the city.

Down in the harbor area, we spotted a prisoner of war camp, which was not on any of our maps. We flew in low, dumping some food supplies we had aboard. The prisoners were shouting and waving their arms, and one group waved a tricolor emblem of the Netherlands.

The camp was in the middle of the great Mitsubishi arms works, a type of location expressly forbidden by the Geneva conventions. Eight prisoners died in the bomb blast, but another 200 Netherlands, British, Australian, and Indochinese captives escaped.

Two days after the Nagasaki trip, and while we still awaited orders that would allow us to go into Japan, we flew another unauthorized "armistice" mission to Shanghai and mistakenly landed our four-engined converted bomber on a highway near the city.

In this period of "war, no war," we decided to gamble that the Japanese wouldn't shoot at us or harm us if we landed. After our first landing on the highway, Japanese officers persuaded us to take off again and to land properly on a Japanese military airfield not far away. There we found it sticky going for a while, because the Japanese would not allow us to leave the airfield and proceed to the center of Shanghai as we wished.

Everything had started off splendidly and we thought we were doing fine. When we made the landing at the military field, we were met by a shining blue Chrysler automobile and driven to the headquarters of Major Nakamura, the field commandant, whose interpreter gave the name Lieutenant Hashimoto. On arrival at the major's headquarters we were served some chilled Japanese cider, which tasted faintly like cream soda.

We asked for transportation into Shanghai but Lieutenant Hashimoto kept mentioning some vague Japanese committee which he said desired to talk with us.

Hour after hour went by and still we sat on the airfield. The "committee" had not arrived. Lieutenant Hashimoto was meticulously polite, hissing through his big gold teeth, but each moment of delay there meant less opportunity to see Shanghai.

Finally we told Lieutenant Hashimoto that it was our purpose to go into Shanghai at once, and that his committee could find us if they wanted at the Metropole Hotel. There was another telephone call to the "committee" and Lieutenant Hashimoto came back to tell us, politely but plainly, that the formal Japanese surrender had not yet been signed, that a state of war still existed between our two countries, and that it was therefore necessary for us to wait at the airfield for the "committee."

At about this moment, an automobile pulled up outside the dingy office where we sat and four white-jacketed Chinese began to remove silver tureens of soup, covered dishes of other food, and quantities of china, glasses, and flatware. It turned out to be a four-course meal topped by steak so tender that you could cut it with a fork. It had been cooked for us at the Japanese Army headquarters in the Astor House in downtown Shanghai and then brought to the airfield.

While we were eating and drinking, Lieutenant Hashimoto got another telephone call from the "committee," and he came to the table to tell us we could now go into Shanghai. We thought we were headed for the Metropole Hotel, but we wound up instead at the Astor House, and the "committee," it developed, was the Japanese General Headquarters. Japanese officers said flatly that we were not free to move around the city without their consent and protection. Our escort, Colonel John R. McCrary of New York, argued for our release, and while he was still talking, the correspondents simply slipped away, jumped into a car driven by a Chinese, and headed for the Metropole Hotel. The Japanese let us go without further argument.

At the Metropole, we found out we were the third American airplane to land in Shanghai since the Emperor had surrendered. The first two brought members of an American military mission from Chungking to supervise the removal of American military and civilian prisoners of war.

The word of our presence in the Metropole spread swiftly along the grapevine, and English-speaking residents of many countries poured in to tell us their stories. One of them took us to a huge concentration camp at Chapei where there were approximately 3,000 Allied prisoners, including approximately 1,500 Americans. One of them was the son of a colleague, Sir Wilmot Lewis, Washington correspondent for The Times in London, and I sent him a cable from Okinawa that his son was alive and well in Shanghai.

Most of these civilians were thin and undernourished, but all were so happy at the prospect of freedom and rehabilitation that nothing else mattered this evening.

The small band of correspondents walked the streets of Shanghai surrounded by thousands of Chinese, but after our initial difficulties we had no further trouble with the Japanese.

The city was almost undamaged and its shops were jammed with consumer goods such as textiles, clothing, shoes, and even Scotch. Prices in Shanghai currency were stratospheric, but an American dollar brought a huge premium. Scotch was in short supply all over the world, including Scotland, in 1945, but I managed to pick up a case of pre-war Haig and Haig in Shanghai for 9,000,000 Shanghai dollars, or about $90 American.

We had a big party at the Metropole that night, drank a lot of whiskey, and made some new friends. The crew especially had a big night, and early the next morning, paid a striking farewell salute to a White Russian countess by flying past the windows of her third-story apartment on one of Shanghai's main streets. It was a bit breathtaking, but Captain Magnan was a good flier and we trusted him.

At the prison camp, we had laboriously copied down the names of literally thousands of prisoners, and these we radioed to American authorities as soon as we got back to Okinawa. Over at General MacArthur's headquarters at Manila, there was considerable official displeasure because we had gone into Shanghai without permission.

Once the Japanese quit bothering us, we were in the curious position in Shanghai of having been almost the last prisoners of war taken by the Japanese, and to the men and women in the prison camps, we certainly were welcome liberators.