OF JAPAN 1945-1952



On 17 August 1945 Australia advised Britain that it would participate in the military occupation of Japan.

By agreement between the Australian Government (also acting on behalf of the United Kingdom, New Zealand and India) and the United States Government, known as the MacArthur-Northcott agreement, reached in December 1945, arrangements were confirmed for a British Commonwealth Force under an Australian Commander to participate in the occupation,.

The Supreme Commander for Allied Powers was General Douglas MacArthur.

Responsibility for the control and administration of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF), rested with a committee-the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Australia (Australian Chiefs of Staff Committee augmented by British, NZ and British Indian representatives) operating from Head Quarters in Victoria Barracks, Melbourne.

Australians were present in Japan on 2 September 1945 when the surrender document was signed and advance parties of various units started arriving from then on, firstly to organise the repatriation of Australian prisoners of war and then to set up logistic units to support the main force.

The first main Australian component arrived in Japan on 13 February 1946 in the Stamford Victory from Morotai.

BCOF was under an Australian Commander-in-Chief throughout its existence. The C-in-C was responsible to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to SCAP. Each BCOF Commander was also directly responsible to his government (which meant in theory, that the Brigadier commanding the Australian component of BCOF could have had access to Canberra independently of the Australian General who was C-in-C of the entire force).

The three BCOF Commanders–in-Chief were:-

  • Lt Gen. (later Sir) John Northcott, February to June 1946 (when he became Governor of NSW)
  • Lt Gen. H.R.H.(later Sir) Horace Robertson from June 1946 to November 1951.
  • Lt. Gen. E.W. Bridgeford from November 1951 until the end of BCOF


At its height in 1946, the Australian component of BCOF consisted of 34th Infantry Brigade Group AIF (65, 66 and 67 Battalions from 6th 7th, and 9th Divisions), 1st Armoured Car Squadron, "A" Field Battery, and 130 Australian General Hospital plus ancillary and lines of communication component, No 81 Fighter Wing, with Nos. 76, 77 and 82 Squadrons (Mustangs) and No 5 Airfield Construction Squadron, plus a hospital and base operational services.

The AIF ceased to exist on 30 June 1947, when the Interim Army relief troops began to arrive. Subsequently the Australian Regular Army took over from the Interim Army,

3rd Infantry Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, established headquarters at Hin, near Kure. The RAAF component was located at Iwakuni, with a shore base for the naval force located at the former Japanese naval base, also at Kure.

In February 1946 the Australian component of BCOF comprised 9,155 Army, 2,185 RAAF personnel as well as supporting unit of two RAN ships serving with the British Pacific {then Far East) Fleet. By August 1946 when at maximum strength, total BCOF all ranks was 40,236. US troops totalled 152,000.

From February 1946 to June 1950, 15 RAN warships were in Japanese home waters engaged on Occupation tasks. Most were assigned to this duty more than once. They were the cruisers Australia, Shropshire, and Hobart; the destroyers Warramunga, Arunta, Bataan, Quadrant, Quiberon Quickmatch, the frigates Culgoa, Murchison and Shoalhaven and the LSI’s Manoora, Westralia and Kanimbla. The naval shore base was designated HMS Commonwealth. On 1 October 1948 Australia took command of the total naval force and was redesignated HMAS Commonwealth.

The air component of BCOF was known as BCAIR, and came under the operational control of the US 5th Air Force.

The other BCOF participants were:

From the UK — 5th British Brigade, consisting of 2nd Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers; 2nd Battalion The Dorset Regiment 1st Battalion The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders 30th Field Battery and 80th British Hospital; Nos. 11 and 17 Squadrons RAF (Spitfires), a Communications Squadron and an Hospital.

From India — 268th Indian Brigade, consisting of the 5th Battalion 1st Punjabi Rifles; 7th Indian Light Cavalry Regiment; 16th Indian Field Battery; 92nd Indian General Hospital; No 4 Squadron RIAF (Spitfires).

From New Zealand — 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (Japan) consisting of 22nd and 27th Infantry Battalions and the 2nd Division Cavalry Regiment, 6th New Zealand General Hospital and lines of communication units; No 14 Squadron RNZAF (Corsairs).


The aims of BCOF were:

  • To maintain and enhance the prestige of the British Commonwealth of Nations by worthily representing it in the Occupation and,
  • To demonstrate to the Japanese the democratic way of life.

Tasks of the Occupation Forces included:

  • Supervising the demilitarisation and disposal of Japanese military installations and armaments, safeguarding them temporarily, protecting Allied installations and generally exercising military control in five prefectures of the main Japanese island of Honshu, and the whole of the island of Shikoku.
  • Repatriating through ports in its area approximately 700,000 returning Japanese soldiers from overseas theatres of war such as China, Formosa, Korea and the Ryuku Islands. Over 61,000 foreign nationals were repatriated to their respective countries
  • Constant patrolling by sea and air to uncover smuggling both of illegal immigrants, mainly Koreans, and goods, and to prevent black marketeering.
  • The organising of activities to facilitate the general objectives, such as providing expert advice on engineering and town Planning, and assistance in the reconstruction of the atom bomb devastated city of Hiroshima

Australians were allocated the largely rural and severely devastated prefecture of Hiroshima. Huge stocks of war material, including chemical agents and tons of ordnance, had to be rendered safe and disposed of or destroyed. Thousands of tons of material were located and destroyed, including approximately 10,000 depth charges, 1290 torpedoes, 278 midget submarines, 100 x 18" and 100 x 16" naval guns, and hundreds of guns from 8" to 14". Caches of small arms and high explosives were also destroyed. The 10th. Australian Bomb Disposal Platoon was responsible for destroying live armaments and many high explosives. These duties were considered the most dangerous undertaken by BCOF personnel. A George Medal was awarded to Corporal J R Sewell of this Unit for exceptional bravery under hazardous conditions in October 1946. A year later, as Sergeant Sewell, he was killed whilst delousing a mine on Shikoku. At its peak BCOF was responsible for the control of 20,000,000 Japanese in an area of 22,000 square miles, comprising five western prefectures, Shimani, Yamaguchi, Tottori, Okoyama and Hiroshima, and the whole of Shikoku Island.


By mid 1947 the major tasks of the occupation had been largely completed. At the end of 1947, the total strength of BCOF was less than 16,000, the Army and RAAF strengths being respectively 8573 and 2408.

Britain began to withdraw forces in February 1947, India in July 1947, and NZ in October 1948. US forces were also being repatriated on the assumption that the various Commonwealth countries would continue to share occupation responsibilities assigned to them in 1946.

Australia made substantial reductions in 1948-9, cutting its Army component from a brigade to one battalion and withdrawing two RAAF Squadrons. 65 and 66 Battalions returned to Australia to become 1 and 2 Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, whilst 67 Battalion was redesignated 3 Battalion and remained in Japan. These three battalions became the nucleus of the Australian Regular Army.

With the agreement of the participating governments, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Australia was discontinued on 31 December 1947, and responsibility for the control and administration of BCOF was then assigned to the Australian Government.

Following the withdrawal of other forces from the end of 1948, BCOF was largely an Australian commitment. However, Australia was unable to accept responsibility for more than the Hiroshima Prefecture and the Iwakuni police district (Iwakuni) of Yamaguchi prefecture, both in the Inland Sea area of Honshu.

BCOF Headquarters was at Eta Jima from where overall control of operations was exercised.

When the reductions were completed, Headquarters were re-established at Kure, the port where the first BCOF elements disembarked in 1946. Until the end of 1951, the Kure headquarters included the naval shore establishment, HMAS Commonwealth. BCOF also maintained a sub area in Tokyo with headquarters at Ebisu. The Commander-in-Chief had residences in Kure and Tokyo. In 1949 MacArthur indicated that there was no longer a need for extensive surveillance of Japan and its people. The Menzies government, elected in December 1949, viewed the continued occupation as a drain on limited defence resources, which would be put under further strain by the introduction of National Service in Australia. On 31 March 1950, the decision was made to withdraw the remaining 2,750 Australians within six months. However, outbreak of the Korean War on 25 June 1950 reversed that decision, and 3 Battalion, 77 Squadron, HMAS Bataan and HMAS Shoalhaven were committed to combat in Korea.

BCOF was officially disbanded on 28 April 1952, when the peace treaty with Japan, the Treaty of San Francisco, was ratified.

With the end of the occupation, the Commonwealth organisation in Japan was redesignated British Commonwealth Forces Korea and continued to supply and administer the Commonwealth forces fighting in Korea. These were progressively scaled down and withdrawn in the two years after the cease-fire of July 1953.


From a military viewpoint, the achievements of the occupation were:


Conducting the first overseas peace time occupation in Australian history


The organisation and maintenance of a supply line stretching for 9,000 kms across two hemispheres, giving complete logistic support to BCOF and all British Commonwealth nationals in Japan.


The Command structure required that the Deputy C-In-C was generally chosen from the RAF or RAAF.


Full co-operation with US forces, including training and sharing amenities and facilities.

At no stage did the Japanese engage in organised resistance. The Japanese gave the fullest co-operation in supplying transport and labour.


Medical problems needed constant care, the main being Cholera, which broke out in various parts of Japan each summer. When an outbreak did occur BCOF medical staff assisted Japanese doctors while troops, observing strict precautions, cordoned off the area and exercised close control in co-operation with medical authorities and Japanese police.


BCOF leave centres were situated on the Izu Peninsula a hundred miles NE of Tokyo, to the spas at Beppu in Kyushu. Well known facilities, such as the Maranuchi Hotel in the centre of Tokyo and the Kawana Hotel on Izu were available for British Commonwealth military personnel and Allied civilians in Japan.

One of BCOF’s most notable achievements was encouraging the wives and families of its members of all ranks to live Japan. Approximately 700 families of UK, Australian and Indian servicemen travelled to Japan in 1947 and 1948 including 494 wives and 626 children from Australia. This involved planning and building Western style houses, special shops and schools. This enabled the Japanese people to witness at first hand Western family life.

BCOF published its own daily newspaper called BCON (British Commonwealth Occupation News)

In Australia the general public took little interest in the occupation force. Personnel who served in Japan received no formal recognition by way of medal or service clasp, which contributed to a feeling of disaffection and lack of appreciation on the part of many. This situation was remedied in 1997 with the issue of the 1945-75 Australian Service Medal, Clasp Japan.. US occupation troops were issued , however, with an Occupation Medal at that time..


Corporal J R Sewell NX7351, 10th Australian bomb Disposal Platoon was awarded the George Medal. The citation reads as follows:

"On 22 October 1946 at Onasamishima (MR735.248) the above named NCO was in charge of disposal works assisted by Spr Smith. At approximately 1000 hours a boat loaded with 83 tons of High Explosive and pyrotechnics caught fire. The 56 labourers and crew after being badly burnt jumped into the sea. Cpl Sewell, with total disregard for his own safety, swam to a small dinghy and attempted to save as many labourers as possible. After he had rescued 6 the explosive in the boat detonated, killing 1 Australian, Spr Smith who was on the beach and 14 labourers in the water. Although he, Cpl. Sewell, suffered head injuries and shock from detonation, he continued to pick up survivors and dispatch them to hospitals for treatment. After arranging for the removal of Spr Smith’s body, he reported back to camp. Japanese survivors state that if it had not been for the untiring efforts of Cpl Sewell with total disregard for his own personal safety in his efforts to rescue survivors and control panic, a far greater number of Japanese would have perished."

A year later, as Sergeant Sewell, he was killed while delousing a mine on Shikoku Island.