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Standish Backus (1910-1989)


Destination Tokyo Bay
Standish Backus #1
Watercolor on paper, 1945


The Third Fleet at sea is scarcely ever visible in its entirety to a single observer, either on the surface or in the air. What one sees is the aspect of some of the other ships in one's own task group. Occasionally, the whole fleet will rendevous at a prearranged site and then one can see lines of ships disappearing over the horizon in all directions. However, while steaming back and forth some 300 miles southeast of Honshu during the twelve days between 15 August 1945 and the 27th (when the fleet entered Japanese waters) the most impressive sight to this observer was the confident form of the battleship Iowa.


Pre-Surrender Nocturne Tokyo Bay
Standish Backus #13
Watercolor on paper, 1945


The forts at Futtsu Saki had to be approached and demobilized early on the morning of 30 August 1945. No landings from the sea had yet occurred and we did not know what sort of reception we would receive from the Japanese. From past experience, it was not expected to be healthy in all respects. Was there a division of troops in those forts waiting to mow us down as we hit the beach? Its very silence, the haunted quantity of the burnt-out Japanese destroyer, and the eeriness of the moonlight gave us all a foreboding.


The First Wave on Japan
Standish Backus #2
Watercolor on paper, 1945


Futtsu Peninsula, Tokyo Bay: Seal-like Higgins boats create their own heavy seas as they carry Marines of the 2nd Battalion 4th Regiment ashore for the first test of whether the Japanese will resist or abide by negotiated surrender terms. It is tense for the next five minutes. The Japanese would logically wait until the Marines were at the shore line to open a withering fire that could be a massacre. Since there could be no preparatory bombing or bombardment, it had to be done the hard way by head-on assault. The main group of boats landed here at Fort #2 while a small group landed at Fort #1 at the end of the spit beyond the hulk of a burned-out Japanese destroyer. The setting moon, which stood watch over the landing of the boats from the transport, is now relieved by the misty rays of the early sun.


The Approach to Fort #3, Futtsu Peninsula, Tokyo Bay
Standish Backus #3
Watercolor on paper, 1945

As their part in what General MacArthur called "the greatest military gamble in history," the 2nd Battalion of the 4th Marine Regiment made the first landing from the sea on the Japanese home islands. The purpose of this landing was to seize & demobilize three forts on the Futtsu Peninsula, across Tokyo Bay from Yokosuka, so the fleet might anchor in the bay without threat from these defenses. The great gamble lay in whether the Japanese would permit these and other landings in spite of assurances made by the Emperor. These Marines were to be the guinea pigs. The landings were made with full battle equipment but without the aid of preliminary bombardment. Had the Japanese decided to resist this could have been one of the worst beaches of the war perhaps worse the Dieppe. Instead, no mines were found, pill boxes were few and unmanned, and only 22 Japanese soldiers were flushed out and they surrendered. The Marines took no chances, proceeding single file to minimize the chance of hitting mines, regarding the prepared defenses with suspicion, carrying sledge hammers to smash the breeches of any guns found. They secured all forts, positions, and objectives in two and a half hours with no untoward incidents. Incredulous, the Marines withdrew across the Bay to Gokusuke to repeat the operation just as bloodlessly.


First American Flag Raising in Japan Since 1941
Standish Backus #11
Watercolor on paper, 1946


This incident occurred on 30 August 1945. The scene was the largest of three forts on Futtsu Saki, a peninsula protruding into Tokyo Bay, opposite Yokosuka. The 2nd Battalion of the 4th Marines had landed there to demobilize coast defense rifles so that the Third Fleet might enter Tokyo Bay safely to carry out the main landing at Yokosuka. In the distance appears the outer fort at the end of the peninsula and further, Mount Fuji.


Loading and Unloading, Loading and Unloading
Standish Backus #10
Watercolor, 1945


Perhaps the greatest effort of the war was expended in getting supplies where they were needed and when they were needed. Here are men of a stevedore battalion, heroes in their own way, loading a Liberty Ship with the tools necessary to carry on the war at some far distant spot.


Following Signing of Surrender Documents
Standish Backus #11L
Pen, ink and felt tipped pen on paper, 1945


Following the signing of surrender documents, Japanese delegates start to leave U.S.S. Missouri. At this moment the sky is darkened by hundreds of U.S. planes. Most Japanese remained straight faced but a few raised their faces and opened their mouths.


Yokosuka Airfield and Tokyo Bay During the American Occupation
Standish Backus #19
Watercolor on paper, 1946

While units of the U.S. Third and Fifth Fleet ride at anchor off shore in the tight little harbor, planes of Marine Air Group 31 operate from the field. This field was the Japanese main naval air experimental station and possessed many advanced types of airplanes and facilities. Typical of Japanese terrain development is the cut and fill construction seen here. There are large hangers and shops dug back under the hills. To the left is a boneyard of junked planes, including a few shot up U.S. jobs.


Online Exhibits that feature Standish Backus's work

The Navy Art of Standish Backus
The Japanese Surrender at Tokyo Bay
World War II Navy Art: A Vision of History
Operation Deepfreeze I: 1955-56:

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07 March 2003