Lost History of World War II: US Marine Reveals Truth of Japan’s Surrender to China

May 8, 2015 Updated: December 3, 2015

This year’s May 8 and May 9 marked the 70th anniversary of the Allied victory in World War II over Nazi Germany in 1945. As armies from the United States, Soviet Union, Great Britain, and many other nations liberated Europe from the clutches of the Third Reich, on the opposite side of the globe stood China, in her eighth year of defiance against invaders from Imperial Japan.

But as Chinese Communist Party head Xi Jinping attended the May 9 ceremonies in Moscow, it is yet another year in which the Chinese Communist Party appropriates the sacrifices of another China—the one led by the Nationalists in an epic life-or-death struggle with the warriors of the Rising Sun—in an attempt to play up its own unflattering history.

The Kuomintang, or Chinese Nationalist Party, which governed the Republic of China, played the country’s leading role in defeating Japan. At the Kuomintang request, it was the United States that oversaw Japan’s surrender to the Nationalists in China.

It was just several months ago, in September 2014, when the last of the “U.S. China Marines” held their final meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. The China Marines were the American troops who oversaw the surrender of Japan to China, and who were stationed in the country before and after World War II ended.

The China Marines

It was an autumn day on Oct. 6, 1945. Thousands of Chinese civilians gathered on the streets of Tianjin, China. Hanging out of windows and parapets were U.S. Marines. A table stood on the street with a piece of paper on top, behind it was a Marine Corps Honor Guard to the right and a line of senior Japanese officers to the left.

U.S. Marine Corps personnel represent Nationalist Chinese forces as Japanese officers sign surrender documents at the end of World War II in August 1945. (U.S. Marine Corps)
U.S. Marine Corps personnel represent Nationalist Chinese forces as Japanese officers surrender their swords following the end of World War II in August 1945. (U.S. Marine Corps)

U.S. General Rockey signed the paper, with U.S. General Worton standing behind him. Afterward, Japanese General Uchida signed his name and, with it, marked Japan’s surrender of North China to the former Chinese government under Chiang Kai-Shek, represented by the U.S. Marines.

Similar surrenders would soon follow in other parts of China. In Qingdao, the Japanese surrendered to U.S. General Shepherd, commander of the 6th Marine Division. In Beijing, then known as Beiping, the Japanese would again surrender to General Rockey.

Among the marines who witnessed the ceremony in Tianjin was Corporal William Hook. He was one of the initial 17 U.S. Marines sent to China to oversee Japan’s surrender, who arrived just ahead of the 50,000 marines who would later attend the official ceremonies.

U.S. Marine Corps personnel represent Nationalist Chinese forces as Japanese officers sign surrender documents at the end of World War II in August 1945. (U.S. Marine Corps)
U.S. Marine Corps personnel with the 6th Marine Division march into Tianjin, China at the end of World War II in August 1945. (U.S. Marine Corps)

In hopes that the world might “remember that it took place,” Hook detailed his experiences during World War II and the role played by the U.S. Marines in China in his book, “Liberating North China – 1945.”

Hook has an oaken voice. His blue blazer matches his light blue eyes. His hair is now a soft white fuzz, yet his mind is still on the days of his youth—a time of tragedy and heroes, when he and others rose to defend the free world from tyranny.

Altered History

News on the U.S. role in Japan’s surrender in China is scarce—mainly limited to the first surrender of Japan on the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.

Hook’s book, published in 2014, lays clear a history that the Chinese regime is now trying to hide for political gain.

Even Victory Day is now one of three new annual holidays meant to kindle anti-Japanese sentiments in China as tensions again rise between the two countries.

By the time the German Wehrmacht launched its blitzkrieg against Poland in September 1939, China had already been at war with Japan for more than two years. The battles of Shanghai and Wuhan, both comparable in scale to the operations at Stalingrad or Normandy, had already transpired, and the brutal Rape of Nanjing had set the war’s total and unrestricted nature. All told, the Eight Years’ War would claim at least 10 million Chinese lives and create almost 100 million refugees.

Elite troops of the Chinese Nationalist forces in World War II (Wikipedia Commons)
Elite troops of the Chinese Nationalist forces in World War II (Wikipedia Commons)

The fact that the Kuomintang, not the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), played China’s leading role in fighting off the Japanese army, however, is ignored in mainland literature.

The CCP has good reason to alter the history of World War II. Not only does the pride of defending China fall on the shoulders of the Kuomintang—now the government of Taiwan—but the CCP even owes its ascension to power to the Japanese invasion.

People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party stated last year that “this year’s September 3, is the Communist 69th victory anniversary.” It adds, “69 years ago today, Japan and its allied countries surrendered for our victory. As a Chinese person, you must keep in mind that history!”

People’s Daily says the Communist Party of China was the main force in China fighting the Japanese. The reason for the Chinese communist victory, it says, “is simply that this is a people’s army…”

Of course, what actually took place was quite different.

Mao Zedong, founder of the CCP, himself explained what took place in a February 3, 1949, Soviet intelligence document which was recently declassified. The CCP had been fighting a losing battle against the Chinese Nationalist party, the Kuomintang. Mao stated that from the start of the war, the communists “had suffered great losses in the military forces.”

“We remained with only about 30,000 fighters and in this connection Wang Ming [another communist leader] claimed that these forces are not sufficient for the struggle against Japan,” Mao stated.

Mao added that the 30,000 soldiers of the Communist Party was the “skeleton, upon which grew” the People’s Liberation Army, which had expanded a hundredfold to 3 million by 1949—the year the Communist Party overthrew the Kuomintang and seized control of China.

The communist army of 30,000 was able to grow in numbers through the war with Japan, and later defeat the Kuomintang mainly because its forces hung back while the Kuomintang fought the Japanese.

Wartime poster depicting U.S.-Chinese cooperation. (United China Relief (U.S.))
Wartime poster depicting U.S.-Chinese cooperation. (United China Relief (U.S.))

According to a 1996 report from Cambridge University Press, “Mao’s policies permitted the Japanese to destroy the Nationalists and thus strengthen the Communists, and according to his personal physician, ‘Mao credited Japan with the communist victory in the civil war.'”

When then-prime minister of Japan, Kakuei Tanaka, tried apologizing to Mao in January 1961 for the Japanese invasion of China, the report says, “Mao assured him that it was the ‘help’ of the Japanese invasion that made the communist victory and this visit between communist and Japanese leaders possible.”

As Zachary Keck of The Diplomat wrote in September 2014: “The initial battles of the second Sino-Japanese War in southern China were the largest ones, and the KMT fought them alone … This would be the trend of the entire war.”

He cites two scholars who state that between 1937 and 1945, there were 23 battles that both the Japanese and KMT sent at least a regiment to fight. “The CCP was not a main force in any of these,” the document states, according to Keck. “The only time it participated, it sent a mere 1,000 to 1,500 men, and then only as a security detachment on one of the flanks.”

Keck adds that of the 1,117 significant engagements between China and Japan, the CCP only fought in one. Of the 40,000 skirmishes between China and Japan, the CCP was in just 200, Keck notes, about 0.5 percent of the total.

Japanese diplomat Tanaka Kakuei meeting with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in 1972. (japan.china.org.cn)
Japanese diplomat Tanaka Kakuei meeting with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in 1972. Mao credited Japan with the communist victory in the civil war. (japan.china.org.cn)

Zhou Enlai detailed the Chinese Communist Party’s negligible role in the war with Japan in a secret report sent to Joseph Stalin in January 1940. The document, cited by Keck, states that by the summer of 1939 more than a million Chinese died fighting Japan. Of them, only 3 percent were the CCP’s forces.

China Before Mao

The presence of U.S. troops in China overseeing Japan’s surrender presents yet another piece of lost history. The China Marines secured parts of North China following the surrender—an act that was both welcomed and invited by the Chinese government, yet decried by the CCP.

Here, was a history that almost took place. 

“It is believed by many objective folk that if Washington was not in such a hurry to pull our troops out of North China we would have contained the Communists and prevented the Russians from penetrating into Manchuria and Korea and consequently there would not have been a war in Korea nor in Vietnam,” Corporal Hook writes.

The U.S. Marines had been preparing for the liberation of North China, and had been working closely with Chiang Kai-Shek from the early days of the Sino-Japanese war. Hook states that in 1935, General Worton was assigned a secret mission to travel to China and recruit agents to travel to Japan and gather information for the U.S. Navy.

The mission, which ended the following year, took place long before the United States was officially involved in the war, and was done through cooperation with Chiang Kai-Shek and his secret police.

Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Nationalist Chinese government (Wikipedia Commons)
Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Nationalist Chinese government (Wikipedia Commons)

When the U.S. Marines were assigned to oversee the Japanese surrender on behalf of Chiang Kai-Shek, and moved to occupy Beijing, Hook includes notes from General Worton that the CCP had tried blocking the U.S. military.

Shortly after arriving in China, Worton traveled to Beijing, which had been a base for Nazi diplomatic operations, and informed German Consul General Andrew von Delwick that he and his men were now technically prisoners of war.

Not long after, Worton was contacted by Zhou Enlai, who during a meeting told Worton the U.S. military that he offered their assistance, yet objected to Marines entering Beijing. Zhou said that “if we intended to move there,” Hook writes, “he would do everything in his power to prevent us from going into that city.”

Worton’s response was strong and direct. Hook writes: “He told [Zhou Enlai] that he had already established a presence in [Beijing] and that the First Marine Division was going to enter [Beijing] and that they were one of the finest fighting units ever known and that it would be wise not to try to stop them.”

Parts of this history were in recently declassified Soviet intelligence documents. A Soviet report from February 1, 1949, details a meeting between Soviet statesman Anastas Mikoyan and Zhou Enlai.

Chinese Communist Party official and diplomat Zhou Enlai (Wikipedia Commons)
Chinese Communist Party official and diplomat Zhou Enlai (Wikipedia Commons)

Zhou told Mikoyan that military clashes between the CCP and the United States had taught them a lot. He stated that the United States had tried establishing bases in China, and that “in the clashes with the [Nationalists] we killed several Americans who participated in the [Kuomintang] operations.”

Zhou details several incidents where CCP forces killed or captured Americans in China around the time of Japan’s surrender.

“Generally, Zhou Enlai said, we will grasp the Americans firmer because ‘we are fighting them, and not other powers,'” the report states. “The Americans are undermining our regime and we should isolate the USA in our own country.”

In the end, Hook said he wanted to capture the history of the U.S. role in China because it is a history that is now being forgotten. He says that he wants people to remember that it took place—and as someone who bore witness to the events, he has a responsibility to state what actually happened.

“I resurrected history as it happened, not as the Communist Party says it did,” Hook said. “Even the communists today will say they know nothing about it.”

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