Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers’ General Order No. 1 Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The formal surrender of Japan in World War II took place in Tokyo Bay aboard the battleship USS Missouri just after 9:00 a.m. on September 2, 1945; the documents had been prepared several weeks earlier, and time was given for representatives of the Allies to make their way to Tokyo Bay. The Instrument of Surrender was signed by Japanese foreign minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, representing the Japanese government, and General Yoshijiro Umezu, representing the Japanese armed forces. Representatives of the victorious powers also signed the document—General Douglas MacArthur on behalf of all the Allied military forces, followed by representatives of Australia, Canada, China, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. After signing the surrender, the Japanese delegation was given copies of General Order No. 1, instructions for how the surrender was to be carried out. The instructions for disarmament were prepared by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and approved by the president of the United States, and they were to be transmitted to all the Japanese armed forces by the Japanese government. Japanese armed forces were instructed to surrender to various Allied commanders based on their location; within this provision lay the seeds of a divided Korea, as half of the country was to be surrendered to the Soviet Union, and half to the United States, along the thirty-eighth parallel.

Summary Overview

The formal surrender of Japan in World War II took place in Tokyo Bay aboard the battleship USS Missouri just after 9:00 a.m. on September 2, 1945; the documents had been prepared several weeks earlier, and time was given for representatives of the Allies to make their way to Tokyo Bay. The Instrument of Surrender was signed by Japanese foreign minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, representing the Japanese government, and General Yoshijiro Umezu, representing the Japanese armed forces. Representatives of the victorious powers also signed the document—General Douglas MacArthur on behalf of all the Allied military forces, followed by representatives of Australia, Canada, China, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. After signing the surrender, the Japanese delegation was given copies of General Order No. 1, instructions for how the surrender was to be carried out. The instructions for disarmament were prepared by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and approved by the president of the United States, and they were to be transmitted to all the Japanese armed forces by the Japanese government. Japanese armed forces were instructed to surrender to various Allied commanders based on their location; within this provision lay the seeds of a divided Korea, as half of the country was to be surrendered to the Soviet Union, and half to the United States, along the thirty-eighth parallel.

Defining Moment

Japanese surrender seemed imminent in the summer of 1945. Japan's air force and navy were destroyed, and Japan's cities were bombed relentlessly. The Allies had set up an effective naval blockade that had cut off Japan from desperately needed food and supplies. An invasion of the Japanese homeland was possible with the capture of the island of Okinawa, from which such an attack could be launched. Plans for the invasion began in earnest in June 1945, and it was scheduled for November.

The Normandy invasion in northern France the previous year was still fresh in the minds of Americans, and though it had led to the eventual surrender of Germany, it was a brutal struggle and had cost the Allies over two hundred thousand lives—ten thousand on D-Day alone. Military planners knew that the Japanese would fight to the death and expected to lose up to ten times as many men as in Normandy. In July 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated in secret in New Mexico, and its use was debated as a viable alternative to a seaborne invasion. On July 26, the Allies demanded unconditional surrender, threatening the complete destruction of Japan if the country refused to comply. The ultimatum was ignored, and the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed outright or injured, and many died in subsequent years as a result of the attack. Two days later, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, and the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and attacked Japanese forces in Manchuria.

Factions of the Japanese government and military command still resisted unconditional surrender, but on August 9, Emperor Hirohito ordered that the ultimatum be accepted, on the condition that the Japanese monarchy would be left intact. After several days of debate, Emperor Hirohito acquiesced to a modified agreement that would leave his future, and the future of the entire government, in the hands of the Allies. On August 15 at noon, the emperor announced the surrender on Japanese national radio.

The United States and the rest of the Allies immediately began finalizing a plan to manage Japan's surrender. The site, the battleship USS Missouri, was named after President Harry S. Truman's home state and had been used militarily in the Pacific. The Allies planned for an occupation under General MacArthur to manage the transition to peacetime, and MacArthur was also in charge of the surrender, set for September 2 to allow other governments time to send representatives. Just after 9:00 a.m., surrounded by more than 250 Allied warships, members of the Japanese government and military signed the documents of surrender aboard the Missouri.

Though the war with Japan was over, the surrender was managed with military precision. The Japanese were given General Order No. 1, a document outlining the process for disarming. Armed forces were to surrender to specific Allied commanders, depending on their location, and military factories, equipment, and machinery were to be preserved so that they could be recorded. General Order No. 1 also foreshadowed the division of Korea, as it had Japanese forces on the peninsula surrender to the Soviet Union in the north and the United States in the south.

Author Biography

William Daniel Leahy was head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of the Japanese surrender. He was born in Hampton, Iowa, in 1875. His family later moved to Wisconsin. Leahy attended the United States Naval Academy and graduated in 1897. Leahy served aboard the USS Oregon during the Spanish-American War and later served in the Pacific. In 1907, he became an instructor at the United States Naval Academy, where he taught physics and chemistry. He became friends with Franklin D. Roosevelt when the latter was secretary of the Navy, and he served as commander of a transport ship during World War I. Leahy held a variety of naval commands and office positions in subsequent decades, culminating with his appointment as chief of naval operations from 1937 to 1939. He retired from the military in 1939, and became the governor of Puerto Rico. In 1941, Leahy was given the difficult post of US ambassador to Vichy France, then under German control. On July 20, 1942, he was appointed to the newly created position of chief of staff to the commander in chief (that is, Roosevelt's chief military advisor), a post that was later formalized as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He opposed the use of the atomic bomb in Japan, and retired in 1949. He died in 1959, in Bethesda, Maryland, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Historical Document

J. C. S. 1467/2

17 August 1945

JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF

INSTRUMENTS FOR THE SURRENDER OF JAPAN

GENERAL ORDER NO. 1

Note by the Secretaries

General Order No. 1 (Enclosure), as approved by the President for issue by the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters by direction of the Emperor, is circulated for information.

The President approved it with the understanding that it is subject to change both by further instructions issued through the Joint Chiefs of Staff and by changes in matters of detail made by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in the light of the operational situation as known by him.

ENCLOSURE (GENERAL ORDER NO. 1) SWNCC21/8

ENCLOSURE

GENERAL ORDER NO. 1

MILITARY AND NAVAL

1. The Imperial General Headquarters by direction of the Emperor, and pursuant to the surrender to the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers of all Japanese armed forces by the Emperor, hereby orders all of its commanders in Japan and abroad to cause the Japanese armed forces and Japanese-controlled forces under their command to cease hostilities at once, to lay down their arms, to remain in their present locations and to surrender unconditionally to commanders acting on behalf of the United States, the Republic of China, the United Kingdom and the British Empire, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, as indicated hereafter or as may be further directed by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. Immediate contact will be made with the indicated commanders, or their designated representatives, subject to any changes in detail prescribed by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, and their instructions will be completely and immediately carried out.

a. The senior Japanese commanders and all ground, sea, air and auxiliary forces within China (excluding Manchuria), Formosa and French Indo-China north of 16 north latitude shall surrender to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

b. The senior Japanese commanders and all ground, sea, air and auxiliary forces within Manchuria, Korea north of 38 north latitude and Karafuto shall surrender to the Commander in Chief of Soviet Forces in the Far East.

c. The senior Japanese commanders and all ground, sea, air and auxiliary forces within the Andamans, Nicobars, Burma, Thailand, French Indo-China south of 16 degrees north latitude, Malaya, Borneo, Netherlands Indies, New Guinea, Bismarcks and the Solomons, shall surrender to (the Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia Command or the Commanding General, Australian Forces--the exact breakdown between Mountbatten and the Australians to be arranged between them and the details of this paragraph then prepared by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers).

d. The senior Japanese commanders and all ground, sea, air and auxiliary forces in the Japanese Mandated Islands, Ryukyus, Bonins, and other Pacific Islands shall surrender to the Commander in Chief U. S. Pacific Fleet.

e. The Imperial General Headquarters, its senior commanders, and all ground, sea, air and auxiliary forces in the main islands of Japan, minor islands adjacent thereto, Korea south of 38 north latitude, and the Philippines shall surrender to the Commander in Chief, U. S. Army Forces in the Pacific.

f. The above indicated commanders are the only representatives of the Allied Powers empowered to accept surrenders and all surrenders of Japanese Forces shall be made only to them or to their representatives.

The Japanese Imperial General Headquarters further orders its commanders in Japan and abroad to disarm completely all forces of Japan or under Japanese control, wherever they may be situated and to deliver intact and in safe and good condition all weapons and equipment at such time and at such places as may be prescribed by the Allied Commanders indicated above. (Pending further instructions, the Japanese police force in the main islands of Japan will be exempt from this disarmament provision. The police force will remain at their posts and shall be held responsible for the preservation of law and order. The strength and arms of such a police force will be prescribed.)

The Japanese Imperial General Headquarters shall furnish to the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, within (time limit) of receipt of this order, complete information with respect to Japan and all areas under Japanese control as follows:

Lists of all land, air and anti-aircraft units showing locations and strengths in officers and men.

a. Lists of all aircraft, military, naval and civil giving complete information as to the number, type, location and condition of such aircraft.

b. Lists of all Japanese and Japanese-controlled naval vessels, surface and submarine and auxiliary naval craft in or out of commission and under construction giving their position, condition and movement.

c. Lists of all Japanese and Japanese-controlled merchant ships of over 100 gross tons, in or out of commission and under construction, including merchant ships formerly belonging to any of the United Nations which are now in Japanese hands, giving their position con dition and movement.

d. Complete and detailed information, accompanied by maps, showing location and layouts of all mines, minefields and other obstacles to movement by land, sea or air and the safety lanes in connection therewith.

e. Locations and descriptions of all military installations and establishments, including airfields, seaplane bases, anti-aircraft defenses, ports and naval bases, storage depots, permanent and temporary land and coast fortifications, fortresses and other fortified areas.

f. Locations of all camps and other places of detention of United Nations prisoners of war and civilian internees.

Japanese armed forces and civil aviation authorities will insure that all Japanese military, naval and civil aircraft remain on the ground on the water or abroad ship until further notification of the disposition to be made of them.

Japanese or Japanese-controlled naval or merchant vessels of all types will be maintained without damage and will undertake no movement pending instructions from the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. Vessels at sea will immediately render harmless and throw overbroad explosives of all types. Vessels not at sea will immediately remove explosives of all types to safe storage ashore.

Responsible Japanese or Japanese-controlled military and civil authorities will insure that:

All Japanese mines, minefields and other obstacles to movement by land, sea and air, wherever located, be removed according to instructions of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers.

a. All aids to navigation be reestablished at once.

b. All safety lanes be kept open and clearly marked pending accomplishment of a. above.

Responsible Japanese and Japanese-controlled military and civil authorities will hold intact and in good condition pending further instructions from the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers the following:

0. All arms, ammunition, explosives, military equipment, stores and supplies and other implements of war of all kinds and all other war material (except as specifically prescribed in Section 4 of this order).

a. All land, water and air transportation and communication facilities and equipment.

b. All military installations and establishments, including airfields, seaplane bases, anti-aircraft defenses, ports and naval bases, storage depots, permanent and temporary land and coast fortifications, fortresses and other fortified areas, together with plans and drawings of all such fortifications, installations and establishments.

c. All factories, plants, shops, research institutions, laboratories, testing stations, technical data, patents, plans, drawings and inventions designed or intended to produce or facilitate the production or use of all implements of war and other material and property used by or intended for use by any military or paramilitary organizations in connection with their operations.

The Japanese Imperial General Headquarters shall furnish to the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, within (time limit) of receipt of this order, complete lists of all the items specified in paragraph a, b and d of Section 6 above, indicating the numbers, types and locations of each.

The manufacture and distribution of all arms, ammunition and implements of war will cease forthwith.

With respect to United Nations prisoners of war and civilian internees in the hands of Japanese or Japanese-controlled authorities:

The safety and well-being of all United Nations prisoners of war and civilian internees will be scrupulously preserved to include the administrative and supply services essential to provide adequate food shelter, clothing and medical care until such responsibility is undertaken by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers;

a. Each camp or other place of detention of United Nations prisoners of war and civilian internees together with nits equipment, stores, records, arms and ammunition will be delivered immediately to the command of the senior officer or designated representative of the prisoner of war and civilian internees;

b. As directed by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, prisoners of war and civilian internees will be transported to places of safety where they can be accepted by allied authorities;

c. The Japanese Imperial General Headquarters will furnish to the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, within (time limit) of the receipt of this order, complete lists of all United Nations prisoners of war and civilian internees, indicating their location.

All Japanese and Japanese-controlled military and civil authorities shall aid and assist the occupation of Japan and Japanese-controlled areas by forces of the Allied Powers.

The Japanese Imperial General Headquarters and appropriate Japanese officials shall be prepared on instructions from Allied occupation commanders to collect and deliver all arms in the possession of the Japanese civilian population.

This and all subsequent instructions issued by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers or other allied military authorities will be scrupulously and promptly obeyed by Japanese and Japanese-controlled military and civil officials and private persons. Any delay or failure to comply with the provisions of this or subsequent orders and any action which the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers determines to be detrimental to the Allied Powers, will incur drastic and summary punishment at the hands of allied military authorities and the Japanese Government.

Document Analysis

This order was intended to arrange for the surrender and demobilization of Japan, but it was clear to its authors that it would need to be amended as the situation on the ground changed. Because of this, the opening paragraph provides a general statement that “it is subject to change both by further instructions issued through the Joint Chiefs of Staff and by changes in matters of detail made by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers.” In other words, the Japanese must follow additional instructions not laid out in this document.

The first section demands immediate cessation of hostilities and gives military commanders the titles and locations of the commanders who will receive their surrender. The Japanese military is to surrender only to designated Allied commanders and is required to follow their orders. Disarmament does not include police in mainland Japan, who are expected to remain armed and in place to protect law and order. In order to ensure that all Japanese military personnel are accounted for and have followed the correct protocol for surrender, and to ensure there remain no pockets of resistance, the government of Japan is ordered to provide the Allies with complete lists of its military resources. This includes ships, airplanes, armed forces, camps, factories, and ammunition depots, as well as potential dangers such as minefields and “other obstacles to movement by land, sea or air.” Ships are to dump any explosives overboard. Aircraft of all types are grounded.

Japan's civil and military authority is responsible for making the country safe, making its waters navigable, and readying military installations and supplies for Allied inspection. Furthermore, the country is no longer permitted to manufacture any “arms, ammunition, and implements of war.” The agreement also gives specific instructions on how prisoners of war will be handled. The well-being of all prisoners is to be “scrupulously preserved” until they can be turned over to proper authorities, and complete lists of all prisoners and their locations are to be furnished to the Allies.

The order ends with general provisions for carrying out these specific orders. All Japanese authorities are to assist with the occupation and to carry out orders from Allied commanders. Japanese officials will help to disarm the Japanese population, and any attempt to defy Allied orders will be met with “drastic and summary punishment,” which the Allied authorities and the Japanese government will enforce.

Essential Themes

The primary theme of this document is its orders for how the Japanese surrender should be carried out. In addition to lists of very specific instructions, this order clearly established the complete capitulation of the Japanese military and government. All personnel were required to follow any order given by an Allied commander, and the opening paragraph made it clear that there would be additional instructions given, or changes made to the order, if needed. Though the Japanese police were allowed to keep their arms, the entire military structure of the nation was to be cataloged; all activity was to cease; and all information about men, equipment, and manufacturing centers was to be turned over to the Allies. Though the Japanese government was required to participate in all aspects of the surrender and enforce the orders of Allied commanders, it was clear that there was to be an Allied occupation of the country. The Japanese would live with an Allied military occupation of its mainland until 1952. In addition, this order set up the future division of Korea along the thirty-eighth parallel.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Adams, Henry H. Witness to Power: The Life of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy. Washington: Naval Inst., 1985. Print.
  • Dower, John W. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. New York: Norton, 1999. Print.
  • “Tokyo Bay: The Formal Surrender of the Empire of Japan, USS Missouri, 2 September 1945.” Naval History and Heritage Command. Dept. of the Navy, n.d. Web. 6 Jan. 2015.
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