On This Date: Japan formally signs instrument of surrender, marking the end of World War II

Official anniversary ceremonies, including a flyover in which two local Antelope Valley pilots will be participating, can be seen at https://www.75thwwiicommemoration.org/live. The ceremonies start at 8:05 a.m. Hawaii time (11:05 a.m. PST), and is expected to last four hours.

Although hostilities ended on Aug. 14, 1945, the official end of World War II came on Sept. 2, 1945, when Japan formally signed the instruments of surrender onboard the USS Missouri.

The Japanese Instrument of Surrender was the written agreement that formalized the surrender of the Empire of Japan, marking the end of hostilities in World War II. It was signed by representatives from the Empire of Japan, the United States of America, the Republic of China, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, Australia, Canada, the Provisional Government of France, the  Netherlands, and New Zealand.

The signing ceremony lasted about 23 minutes and was broadcast around the world. The instrument was first signed by the Japanese foreign minister Mamoru Shigemitsu “By Command and on behalf of the Emperor of Japan and the Japanese Government, Gen. Yoshijiri Umezu, Chief of the Army General Staff, then signed the document “By Command and on behalf of the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters.” U.S. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, the commander in the Southwest Pacific and Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, accepted the surrender on behalf of the Allied Powers and signed in his capacity as Supreme Commander.

Representatives of the Empire of Japan stand aboard the USS Missouri prior to signing of the Instrument of Surrender. (Army Signal Corps photograph)

The deck of the Missouri was furnished with two American flags. A commonly heard story is that one of the flags had flown over the White House on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. However, Capt. Stuart Murray of USS Missouri explained:

“At eight o’clock we had hoisted a clean set of colors at the mainmast and a clean Union Jack [of the United States] at the bow as we were at anchor, and I would like to add that these were just regular ship’s flags, GI issue, that we’d pulled out of the spares, nothing special about them, and they had never been used anywhere so far as we know, at least they were clean and we had probably gotten them in Guam in May. So there was nothing special about them. Some of the articles in the history say this was the same flag that was flown on the White House or the National Capitol on 7 December 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and at Casablanca, and so forth, also MacArthur took it up to Tokyo and flew it over his headquarters there. The only thing I can say is they were hard up for baloney, because it was nothing like that. It was just a plain ordinary GI-issue flag and a Union Jack. We turned them both into the Naval Academy Museum when we got back to the East Coast in October. The only special flag that was there was a flag which Commodore Perry had flown on his ship out in that same location 82 years before [it was actually 92 years]. It was flown out in its glass case from the Naval Academy Museum. An officer messenger brought it out. We put this hanging over the door of my cabin, facing forward, on the surrender deck so that everyone on the surrender deck could see it.”

That special flag on the veranda deck of the Missouri had been flown from Commodore Matthew Perry’s flagship in 1853–54 when he led the U.S. Navy’s Far East Squadron into Tokyo Bay to force the opening of Japan’s ports to foreign trade. MacArthur was a direct descendant of the New England Perry family and cousin of Commodore Matthew Perry.

Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signing the Instrument of Surrender on behalf of the Japanese Government, formally ending World War II. (Army photograph by Lt. Stephen E. Korpanty)

Photographs of the signing ceremony show that this flag is displayed backward — reverse side showing (stars in the upper right corner). This was because American flags on the right of an object plane, ship, or person have the stars on the upper right corner, to look like the flag is heading into battle—as if attached to a pole and someone is carrying it. Stars in the upper left of a flag displayed on the right side of the object would make the flag look like it was going away from battle. The cloth of the historic flag was so fragile that the conservator at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum directed that a protective backing be sewn on it, leaving its “wrong side” visible; and this was how Perry’s 31-star flag was presented on this unique occasion.

The Japanese copy of the treaty varied from the Allied in the following ways:

* The Allied copy was presented in leather and gold lining with both countries’ seals printed on the front, whereas the Japanese copy was bound in rough canvas with no seals on the front.
* The Canadian representative, Col. Lawrence Moore Cosgrave, signed below his line instead of above it on the Japanese copy, so everyone after him had to sign one line below the intended one. This was attributed to Cosgrave being blind in one eye from a World War I injury. When the discrepancy was pointed out to Gen. Richard Sutherland, MacArthur’s chief of staff, he crossed out the pre-printed name titles of the Allied nations and rewrote by hand the titles in their correct relative positions. The Japanese initially found this alteration unacceptable — until Sutherland initialed (as an abbreviated signature) each alteration. The Japanese representatives did not complain further.

Commodore Perry’s flag was flown from Annapolis, Md., to Tokyo for display at the surrender ceremonies which officially ended World War II. (National Archives photograph)

The Allied copy of the Instrument is at the United States National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. A replica of the Japanese version can be viewed at the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Tokyo.

As witnesses, U.S. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, who had surrendered the Philippines, and British Lt. Gen. Arthur Percival, who had surrendered Singapore, received two of the six pens used by MacArthur to sign the instrument. Another pen went to the West Point Military Academy, and one to MacArthur’s aide. All of the pens used by MacArthur were black, except the last, which was plum-colored and went to his wife. A replica of it, along with copies of the instrument of surrender, is in a case on the USS Missouri by the plaque marking the signing spot.

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur signing the Instrument of Surrender on behalf of the Allied Powers. (National Archives photograph)

Lt. Gen. Richard K. Sutherland, aboard USS Missouri, corrects a signatory error in the Japanese Instrument of Surrender. U.S. Col. Sidney Mashbir and Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuo Okazaki look on. (Army photograph)

Surrender of Japan, Sept. 2, 1945. U.S. Navy carrier planes fly in formation over the U.S. and British fleets in Tokyo Bay during surrender ceremonies. The battleship USS Missouri (BB-63), where the ceremonies took place, is at left. The light cruiser USS Detroit (CL-8) is in the right distance. Aircraft include Grumman TBM Avenger, Grumman F6F Hellcat, Curtiss SB2C Helldiver and Vought F4U Corsair types. (Navy photograph)

On board the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945, trying to get a good view of the signing ceremony that officially ended World War II. (Navy photograph)


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