Air Vice-Marshal Isitt accepts Japanese surrender

2 September 1945

Isitt signing the Japanese surrender treaty on board the USS Missouri
Isitt signing the Japanese surrender treaty on board the USS Missouri (Air Force Museum)

In a short ceremony aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Japan, Air Vice-Marshal Leonard Isitt added New Zealand’s signature to the Instrument of Surrender between the Allied powers and Japan. The ceremony marked Japan’s formal and unconditional surrender and the end of the Second World War.

Isitt was a career military aviator who had seen front-line service in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War and then risen through the ranks of the New Zealand Permanent Air Force and its successor, the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He was the first New Zealander to serve as Chief of the dominion’s Air Staff. Appointed to the role in 1943 with the rank of air vice-marshal, he was instrumental in securing an active role for New Zealand airmen in the Pacific War. Being chosen to act as New Zealand’s representative at the surrender ceremony was recognition of his wartime contribution.

Only 12 signatures were required for the surrender documents and Isitt was the last to sign. In a short and solemn ceremony, lasting less than 20 minutes, representatives from the warring nations signed their name twice; once on the Japanese copy and once on a copy for the Allies. A blunder occurred when the Canadian representative, Colonel Lawrence Moore Cosgrave, accidentally signed his name under, rather than above, Canada’s designated line on the Japanese copy. The three signatories who followed, including Isitt, were forced to replicate his error. After the Japanese delegation pointed out the mistake, the United States’ General Richard Sutherland crossed out the four countries’ printed names and wrote the correct name below their signatures. This proved acceptable, and peace was formally declared.

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