Japanese Holdouts on Saipan

Anatahan Island surrender

 

On September 2, 1945, representatives from the Allied and Japanese governments signed the peace treaty that ended World War II.

Or did it?

In June 1944 American warships sank several Japanese troop transports. Survivors from the vessels swam to safety and reached the island of Anatahan, located approximately 75 miles north of Saipan. The island was uninhabited, and possessed steep slopes, deep ravines, and high grass.

In January 1945 a B-29 bomber from the 498th Bomber Group, returning from an air raid over Japan, developed engine trouble and slammed into a grassy field. The crash killed the entire crew.

The small group of Japanese who had survived the sinking of their transports quickly cannibalized the aircraft. They utilized metal from the wreckage to manufacture makeshift knives, pots, and roofing for their huts. The plane’s oxygen tanks held their potable water, clothing was fashioned from the silk parachutes, and cords were used to make fishing lines. The aircraft’s weapons were confiscated as well.

Surrender at Anatahan Island

Later in 1945, the Japanese were discovered by Chamorros who had gone to Anatahan to recover the remains of the missing bomber crew. The natives returned and testified to authorities that they had seen the Japanese soldiers and also one Okinawan woman.

Upon hearing this news, U.S. planes dropped leaflets on the island asking the soldiers to surrender. Fearing execution, the holdouts refused the request. With the small band of Japanese virtually isolated from the outside world, they were soon forgotten.

Then, after six years of this Spartan existence, Kazuko Higa, the Okinawan woman, got the attention of an American ship as she walked on the beach. When approached by a landing party, she asked to be taken from the island.

Upon her arrival on Saipan, Higa told U.S. officials that the Japanese did not trust the Americans. It was also learned that the woman had a busy love life while imprisoned there and her flirtations had caused some jealousy. It seems she would “transfer her affections between at least four of the men after each mysteriously disappeared as a result of being swallowed by the waves while fishing.”

Finally, the Japanese government intervened and contacted the families of the survivors, asking them to write letters telling their loved ones that Japan had surrendered.

In addition, a letter from the governor of Kanagawa Prefecture was sent to convince the “Robinson Crusoes” to give themselves up. It read in part: “Previously, in our country, a prisoner of war lost face. That is not so now. The Emperor ordered all our people, wherever they were, to surrender peacefully. I believe you have read letters from your family which said not to worry which will give you confidence to give yourself up to the Americans. In the box of new letters sent to you we are enclosing a piece of white cloth with which you can signal the Navy boat. You do not have to worry. The Americans will give you their best attention and kindness until you are returned to our country.”

This message was dropped on June 26, 1951. Several days later, the Japanese waved the white flag of surrender.

On June 30, 1951, the USS Cocopa, a U.S. Navy tug, appeared offshore. Lieutenant Commander James B. Johnson, the ship’s commanding officer, and Mr. Ken Akatani, an interpreter, made their way to the beach in a rubber boat.

Once ashore, Johnson and Akatani met with the Japanese to accept their formal surrender, now dubbed Operation Removal by the U.S. Navy. With their meager belongings wrapped in cloth, the survivors were brought aboard the tug and sent to Guam. Once there, they boarded a Navy plane and were flown to Japan to be reunited with their families.

Other stories of Japanese military personnel holding out in South Pacific locales continued for years.  We will discuss more in the following post on Thursday.

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Military Humor – 

This B-29 crew on Guam wasted no time in starting an enterprising venture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Beford Brown – Miami, FL; US Navy, WWII, Boatswain’s mate 2nd Class, USS Intrepid

John Cheesman – New Haven, CT; US Army, WWII, PTO

Sherman Douglass – Gloucester, MA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Sgt.

Bruce Dowd – Howick, NZ; RNZEF #637275, WWII, Pte.

E.W. “Tony” Gehringer – St. Louis, MO; US Navy, WWII & Korea, (Ret. 21 y.)

Richard Haviland – Harvey, IL; US Navy, WWII

Joseph Milligan Jr. – Savannah, GA; US Coast Guard, WWII

Michael Ryan – New Orleans, LA; US Navy, WWII, Higgins boat duty

Erma Scott – Huntington, WV; US Army WAC; WWII, Corps of Engineers / Pentagon

John Walker Jr. – Weaver’s Ford, NC; US Army, WWII, ETO, Cpl., 84th Infantry Division

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on June 3, 2019, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 118 Comments.

  1. These accounts are fascinating, GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wonder if there are islands today where it would take six years for the news to reach of a major event such as the surrender? It would have been difficult to trust those coming ashore.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I sometimes wonder; how would the Germans and the japs have treated us had they have won.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Fascinating. Youd be a bit nervous going ashore from that tugboat in 1951.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Interesting piece of history gp, would love to read the war experiences of Kazuko Higa, would make interesting reading mate.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Fascinating story. Thank you, GP. Thinking of our brave young men, 75 years ago today.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I remember one Japanese soldier surrendering in the 70s, it stunned me as I didn’t think any would be left, but he was definitely out there. Amazing how the front moves on and lots of things are still going on behind.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. You Will have to read the comment, at the beginning I thought it said Spain then came the next day a re read it and it said Saipan. I think you did that on purpose.

    Anyways, D day today, I guess not that you don´t remember, is more for me to remember, if it wasn´t for those guys, I probably be speaking German.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You never can tell, eh? I’ve done so many posts for D-Day (despite it not being about the Pacific), that I put in another Japanese surrender post today with instructions to just type “D-Day” into the Search slot. Tomorrow, I’ll be posting a different sort of post in honor of D-Day.
      I watched a documentary last night about those men and similar ones will run all week. It makes me feel very small in comparison.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Sir I’m a student of International relations, and such history stuff really interest me.
    I hope I will receive some more knowledge after following your blog.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I remember I think, Japanese surrendering in the ’70s?

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I had heard snippets of this so thank you for providing so much detail.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Hirono Ohta who held out on the Philippine island of Luban until something like 1975 and who shot and killed a farmer long after wears end..later after his former commanding officer cane to his hideout telling him it was time to come returned to Japan a celebrated hero should have been tried for murder in my opinion. I’m sure you know about him, The Philippine Police did at least once try to bring him in, but to me it seems they didn’t try very hard, I mean it was only one man…Ohta moved to Brazil where the murderer died I believe…

    Liked by 2 people

  13. What a moving story. imagine the skills needed to be able to exist on that island

    Liked by 3 people

  14. How different this story would have been if it were not for the woman.
    Great post, GP.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. I actually listened to great podcast from Dan Carlin (https://www.dancarlin.com/product/hardcore-history-62-supernova-in-the-east-i/) which also describes similar cases. Interesting to see last soldier to surrender in 1974…

    Liked by 3 people

  16. What a fascinating story. I wonder what happened to them afterward, especially the woman who’d been there with those men. I bet it was challenging for her! No wonder she wanted to get off the island.

    Liked by 5 people

  17. That was really interesting, thank you. Here in Europe there was real fear that the “Werewolves” would go into the mountains of Norway or the Alps and fight on for years but nothing ever came from it. I think that the paranoia about the Soviets meant that the Germans, as possible future allies, were treated far more gently than they deserved after what they had done and therefore most people were happy with the new set-up.

    Liked by 5 people

  18. Truth surely is stranger than fiction, sometimes. It’s an amazing tale, and an interesting insight into what it means to hold on to your beliefs and your honor — no matter what. We might think they were crazy, but given what I’ve learned about the Japanese mindset from your blog, it makes perfect sense.

    Liked by 4 people

  19. Oh goodness! What an incredible story. I’ll be looking forward to reading Thursday’s installment.

    Liked by 4 people

  20. I remember reading of this many years afterwards. Best regards

    Liked by 4 people

  21. It still blows my mind they could and did hold out that long. Well done – great post!

    Liked by 4 people

  22. really interesting, thoroughly enjoyed.

    Liked by 4 people

  23. 1951! Wow. That is stubbornness! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  24. Thank you, GP. This was an interesting story and fascinating information by Pierre Lagace

    Liked by 4 people

  25. Great story as always.

    Liked by 3 people

  26. What a story but I can see how it would happen. No sat phones in those days!

    Liked by 3 people

  27. Interesting. I’m not surprised in such isolation the Japanese did not know or believe once rescued from an island that the war was over and they lost.

    Liked by 3 people

  28. Wow! To be totally cut off from the world and not knowing that the war had ended must have been quite painful experience for those Japanese soldiers. Have there been any books written on these modern days’ Robinson Crusoes?

    Liked by 3 people

  29. Ingenuity in time of need!

    Liked by 3 people

  30. I hadn’t realised that there were so many of these stories

    Liked by 2 people

  31. I have read a couple of books written about Japanese holdouts, but this story is a new one for me. Thanks for sharing, GP!

    Liked by 2 people

  32. It’s amazing they were able to survive for six years. I have to say, you’re certainly improving my knowledge of geography in that region.

    Liked by 3 people

  33. Fascinating, GP. I love how you have a created a community of WWII in the Pacific history buffs through your blog.

    Liked by 2 people

    • A renewed interest of WWII came about with the rage of people checking their DNA and family histories. I have a great bunch of readers and I consider myself very lucky because of that!

      Like

  34. Pierre Lagacé

    Wartime History
    Assigned to the 20th Air Force, 73rd Bombardment Wing, 498th Bombardment Group, 875th Bombardment Squadron. Tail code T Square 42. No known nickname or nose art. This B-29 was lost on its first bombing mission. When lost, engine and weapon serial numbers were not noted in Missing Air Crew Report 10853 (MACR 10853).

    Mission History
    On January 3, 1945 one of ninety-seven B-29s that took off from Isley Airfield on Saipan armed with incendiary bombs on a bombing mission against the port facilities and urban areas of Nagoya. Over the target, anti-aircraft fire was meager, and enemy fighter aircraft attacks were described as moderate. Returning, this bomber crashed on Anatahan Island, killing the entire crew on impact.

    Wreckage
    Stranded on Anatahan was a group of Japanese survivors from a shipwreck. After this B-29 crashed, the Japanese survivors used metal from the crash site to fashion crude implements such as pots, knives and roofing for their hut. The oxygen tanks were used to store water, clothing was made from nylon parachutes and the cords used for fishing line. The springs from machine guns were fashioned into fish hooks. Several in the group collected working machine guns and pistols from the wreckage.

    Recovery of Remains
    During early 1945, an American team visited the crash site and buried the remains of the crew in a field burial grave. During February 1946, a team from American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) led by Captain Delmar I. McCracken, O-560096 returned to the crash site and recovered the remains of the crew, with the exception of Boyd who remains listed as Missing In Action (MIA).

    © Pacific Wrecks – B-29-45-BW Superfortress Serial Number 42-24748 Tail T-42
    Source: https://www.pacificwrecks.com/aircraft/b-29/42-24748.html

    Liked by 5 people

  35. I can remember those stories of Japanese soldiers who didn’t know the war was over. Some of them existed on isolated islands for many years, often alone.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

  36. Looking forward to the next episodes.

    Liked by 3 people

  37. What an amazing piece of history. Dad had orders for Saipan for September 1945, B-29 commander, but the end of the war came instead.

    Liked by 4 people

  38. Pierre Lagacé

    Most interesting GP.

    Liked by 3 people

  39. Thank you very much for sharing this article.
    (I sure wish you would activate a “Like” button so I can let you know when I’ve read one of your articles!!)

    Like

  1. Pingback: Japanese Holdouts on Saipan — Pacific Paratrooper – Truth Troubles

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