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Historical Vignette 118 - Future Chief of Engineers at Japanese Surrender

Most people are aware of the famous Japanese surrender on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945. Though the Japanese government surrendered at this ceremony, there were still numerous Japanese military forces in the field yet to formally surrender to Allied control. One of these forces was the Japanese Asian army, formally called the Japanese Expeditionary Forces, Southern Regions. It operated in Southeast Asia, fighting British, American, and Australian forces. By the end of the war, though depleted by defeats in battle and by lack of supplies, it was still a large and formidable fighting force, capable of causing a great deal of difficulty for the Allies. It was important that this army formally surrender.

Engineer Lt. Gen. Raymond A. Wheeler had been serving in the China-Burma-India theater since early 1942. After commanding the Services of Supply, Wheeler was appointed Deputy Supreme Commander, South East Asia Command, under Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten in October 1943. Unlike in the central and southwest Pacific, British and Commonwealth forces played a major role in fighting the Japanese in Asia, and the overall commander of Allied forces was a British officer. Wheeler also held the title of Commander, India-Burma Theater and was the highest ranking American officer in theater. In this capacity, he represented the United States at the Japanese surrender.

Japanese army signing surrender documents in Singapore, 12 Sept. 1945.
Lord Mountbatten is seated at the desk upper left; Lt. Gen. Raymond Wheeler is to his right.

The surrender took place on September 12, 1945, at Singapore, site of the crushing British defeat by the Japanese just three years earlier, which Prime Minister Winston Churchill described as "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history." The ceremony was concluded without incident. Signing for the Japanese was Lt. Gen. Seishiro Itagaki, the commander of Singapore and the Deputy Commander of the Japanese Expeditionary Forces, Southern Regions. The Japanese Supreme Command commander, General Count Hisaichi Terauchi, was not present because he was ill.

Mountbatten gives a speech after Japanese army surrender at Singapore's municipal building. Wheeler is to his immediate left.

General Wheeler, who became Chief of Engineers the month following the surrender, received an important memento of this event, one of the pens used for the surrender document. After he died in 1974, the pen, made in India and pictured here, remained in his family. His wife donated it to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Museum at Fort Belvoir, from which it was transferred to the Office of History Museum collection, where it now resides.

Wheeler's souvenir pen used in the surrender.

A copy of the instrument of surrender (below).

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August 2009