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British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF)

The Allied occupation of Japan

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April 1947. The guard formed by members of 65th Battalion 2nd AIF (later 1RAR) on the grounds of the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Japan

Un-official BCOF medal. Ribbon is (from left) green, narrow red, white, narrow red, blue. Australian Comfort Service money token
The BCOF Association aims to foster the reunion of former servicemen and women who are veterans of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force of Japan by way of bi-annual reunions, and to represent the former members of BCOF (Japan), to the Federal Government in relation to service benefits. An Executive Council has been set up to coordinate submissions to the Minister for Veteran's Affairs. Further details about the Association and enquiries concerning membership may be made to: Mr Les Knight, President BCOF (Japan) Association Inc, 34 Pitt Street, Fawkner, Vic 3060, Phone (03) 9359 3055.


In December 1945 it was agreed by the United States Government that the Governments of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and India should each provide a national contingent for a force to participate in the occupation of Japan.

The objects Of this force, which was designated "British Commonwealth Occupation Force" and known by the initial letters B.C.O.F., were:

(a) To represent the British Commonwealth in the occupation of Japan and to maintain and enhance British Commonwealth prestige in the eyes of the Japanese and our Allies.

(b) To demonstrate to the Japanese our democratic ways of life and living standards.

Lieutenant-General J. Northcott, C.B., M.V.O., was appointed Commander-in-Chief.

Each contingent of the force had an Army and Air Force component. Army components were provided as follows: a British-Indian Division known as BRINDIV composed of 5 British Infantry Brigade Group and 268 Indian Infantry Brigade Group; 34 Australian Infantry Brigade Group, and 9 New Zealand Infantry Brigade Group.

The Air Force component comprised two R.A.F. squadrons, three R.A.A.F. squadrons, one R.N.Z.A.F. squadron and one R.I.A.F. squadron. In addition there were shore-based naval personnel supplied by the Royal Navy.

Postage stamp, worth 3 pennies (3 cents) and postmarked BCOF in 1946 Early in February the main advance parties of H.Q. B.C.O.F., British Command Base and 34 Australian Infantry Brigade reached Kure.

They came from Morotai (where the Australian Army component had been concentrated) on the Stamford Victory with 1122 troops.

Eight days later came the Taos Victory and two L.S.Ts from Morotai, H.M.S. Glengyle, the River Murrumbidgee and three L.S.Ts from Labuan. On the twenty-third the Pacbaug Victory berthed. From these vessels 4000 troops were disembarked and with the exception of 753 of the R.A.A.F. they formed the main bodies of H.Q. B.C.O.F., British Command Base and 34 Australian Infantry Brigade.

In the meantime Lieutenant-General Northcott had arrive at the Hiroshima airfield and assumed command of the force.

On 1 March the Cheshire and Saingara arrived from Singapore bringing the advance parties of BRINDIV, 9 New Zealand Brigade and the R.A.F. Vessels of all sizes continued to arrive until by the end of March 17,517 personnel, 2566 vehicles and 111,707 tons of stores had been landed.

H.M.A.S. Manunda anchored off the port on 21 March. She brought the main body of personnel and stores for the 13o Australian General Hospital. The hospital was receiving patients within a fortnight.

Kure, which had been selected as the site of the first headquarters of B.C.O.F. in Japan, is situated on the southern coast of the island of Honshu on the Inland Sea. Since 1883 it has been the principal naval base of Japan and the area included the largest combined dockyard, ship-building yard and naval arsenal in the country.

The U.S. Air Corps had given the port installations a terrific hammering. Huge workshops, factories, shipyards, dry-docks, warehouses and other buildings had been reduced to skeletons of twisted steel girders and heaps of rubble. Kure as a naval base had been completely ruined.

In the early days of February and March the temperature did not rise more than a few degrees above freezing point. H.Q. B.C.O.F. and H.Q. British Command Base were established in what remained of Kure. At Kaidaichi (about fourteen miles from Kure) 34 Australian Infantry Brigade was quartered. The camp, which consisted of wooden army huts, had previously been used by the Americans. The settling-in period was arduous as there were no facilities for heating and no floor coverings. H.Q. 9 New Zealand Brigade was established at Chofu while H.Q. BRINDIV occupied barracks at Hiro formerly used by the Americans.

The area of occupation originally allotted to B.C.O.F. comprised the Prefectures of Hiroshima and Yamaguchi; 34 Brigade occupied the former and on 23 March the New Zealand Brigade took over the latter. By this time BRINDIV had been brought up to full strength and was encamped near Hiro.

On 15 March BRINDIV occupied the Prefecture of Shimane and in the ensuing weeks took over from 24 U.S. Division the Prefectures of Tottori and Okayama and the island of Shikoku. This brought the area occupied by B.C.O.F. up to 19,610 square miles with a population of 9,055,000.

H.Q. BRINDIV was transferred to Okayama and 34 Australian Brigade moved into the site previously occupied by BRINDIV at Hiro.

Flag marches and parades have been held in most of the cities and larger towns in the occupation area with a view to impressing, if possible, the Japanese.

On 12 April the flags of all the nations included in the force were broken from a high signal tower overlooking the harbour of Kure. A representative guard of honour received the C-in-C, with a general salute played by the band of the Kumaon Regiment.

Anzac Day was commemorated in Japan for the first time, when soldiers, sailors and airmen of B.C.O.F. gathered at Kure. The Commander-in-Chief, Lieutenant-General J. Northcott himself an original Anzac, took the salute from the marching troops and from aircraft in a spectacular fly-past.

During-May, H.Q. B.C.O.F. was moved to the island of Eta Jima in Kure Bay, about five miles west of the town, the buildings used being those which had previously been the Japanese Naval Academy .There are several magnificent buildings which are now being used by HQ, BCOF as offices, quarters, messes, theatre, education centre, church and also by 130 Australian General hospital.

On 16 June command of the force passed to Lieutenant-General H. C. H. Robertson, C.B.E., D.S.O., and on 24 June Lieutenant General Northcott left for Australia to take up his appointment as Governor of New South Wales.

The major task of the force has been the destruction of the Japanese war machine. A vast quantity of enemy equipment and warlike stores of all kinds exists in the B.C.O.F. area. The location, assessment and final disposal of this material presents a difficult problem. A new section of the General Staff Branch known as the Disposal of Enemy Equipment Section-was formed to undertake the organization necessary.

At first routine patrolling and searching by formations were carried out on a local basis, but now a co-ordinated plan for the systematic searching of the whole area is in operation. Enemy equipment is disposed of by providing material for the occupation troops, by destruction or by handing over to the Japanese Home Ministry any items which can be used in the rehabilitation of Japanese industry and civilian life.

The whole of the B.C.O.F. area was found to be honeycombed with caves and tunnels storing material and it is estimated that there are some thousands of targets remaining to be dealt with. Many of these contain large quantities of explosives, ammunition and poison gases. In addition to the troops engaged in this work, Japanese labour, including technicians, is also employed.

The surveillance of the Japanese elections, held on 10 April, was another important duty undertaken by the force. For a week prior to polling day observer teams operated throughout the B.C.O.F. area, which then comprised the Prefectures of Hiroshima, Shimane and Yamaguchi, to ensure that there was no coercion and that the election was conducted in a fair, free and democratic manner in accordance with the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers' orders. In spite of vigorous campaigning by all parties there were no incidents of a serious nature.

In the B.C.O.F. area there are three repatriation centres which handle incoming Japanese nationals and outgoing repatriates of other nationalities, mostly Koreans, Formosans and Ryukyuans. The Japanese Government is responsible for the administration and work of the centres which include reception, processing, feeding, housing and dispatch of the repatriates. The centres at Senzaki and Otake are supervised by 9 New Zealand Infantry Brigade and the centre at Ujina by 34 Australian Infantry Brigade.

Since January more than half a million Japanese have passed through these centres and since April more than fourteen thousand Koreans and Formosans have been returned to their homelands.

The Air Force component of B.C.O.F. (known as BCAIR) has its headquarters at Iwakuni with subordinate commands at Bofu and Milio. There are serviceable airfields at all three places. Aircraft carriers H.M.Ss Glory and Vengeance were used to bring in some of the aircraft while the remainder were flown in -including S i Fighter Wing (R.A.A.F.).

The principal duties performed are surveillance patrols over the whole of the B.C.O.F. area, prevention of smuggling of goods and illegal entry (in conjunction with ground and naval forces) and the compilation of meteorological forecasts based on reports received from various stations. Air Officer Commanding is Air Vice-Marshal C.A. Bouchier, C.B., CBE., DFC

The naval component of B.C.O.F. was formed from shore parties which had been organized and assembled in the East Indies complete with stores and equipment for projected landing operations in the South-east Asia Command.

Planning was difficult on account of the scarcity of information from Japan and the fact that time did not permit reconnaissance parties to be sent in. However, arrangements were made for the British Pacific Fleet to supply personnel, ships, harbour craft and motor transport, and the loading of equipment was commenced.

By the end of 1945 requirements had become firmer and the B.C.O.F. area of responsibility had been settled in so far as the port of entry was concerned.

The force concentrated in Colombo and, early in January, moved off via Singapore and Hong Kong. While at the latter port the force learned that i February had been set down as the date for the arrival of the naval port party in Kure. This allowed it to remain a week in Hong Kong getting acquainted with and in looking over the boats and motor transport provided from Australia.

The force was designated Force "C", with Captain J. A. Grindle, C.B., RN, in command. The advance party arrived at Kure on 1 February 1946 as the first unit of B.C.O.F. and on 18 February the operation of the port was officially taken over from the U.S. naval authorities. From then on the work of landing the troops and stores of B.C.O.F. continued without serious delay or difficulties. By the end of February all U.S. naval units had been withdrawn.

Two months later the whole of B.C.O.F. was in Japan and it was found possible to make progressive reductions in Force "C". On 3 June the shore-based party was recommissioned as H.M.S. Commonwealth and it is by that old and proud ship name that the naval element of B.C.O.F. is now known.

The principal tasks have been the inspection and report of all Japanese naval vessels sunk, beached or damaged in ports in the area of B.C.O.F. responsibility, the clearance of wrecks, jetties and basins, and the adjustment of the harbour facilities to meet occupation requirements, the destruction of twenty-four Japanese submarines in accordance with Allied-Japanese armistice terms and the refuelling and operation of repatriation vessels in the Kure-Hiroshima area.

partly drawn from "AS YOU WERE" 1946 PAGES 92, 93 and 94

British Commonwealth Occupation Force 1946 - 1951

Historical background

Participation in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) marked the first time that Australians were involved in the military occupation of a sovereign nation which it had defeated in war. BCOF participation in the allied occupation force was announced on 31 January 1946, though planning and negotiations had been in progress since the end of the war. The main body of Australian troops arrived in Japan on 21 February.

Up to 45,000 Australians served in BCOF, including an infantry contingent of 4,700, base units consisting of 5,300, an air force wing of 2,200 and 130 from the Australian General Hospital. The Australian Navy also had a presence in the region as part of the British Pacific Fleet. For two thirds of the period of occupation the Commonwealth was represented solely by Australians and throughout its existence BCOF was always commanded by an Australian officer.

The BCOF area of responsibility was the western prefectures of Shimani, Yamaguchi, Tottori, Okayama, Hiroshima and Shikoku Island. BCOF headquarters were located at Kure, the army was encamped at Hiro, the RAAF at Iwakuni, and the naval shore establishment at the former Japanese naval base at Kure. At the peak of its involvement the Australian component of BCOF was responsible for over 20 million Japanese citizens and 57,000 sq. kilometres of country. Adjacent to the area of Australian responsibility were prefectures occupied by the 2 New Zealand EF (Japan), the British and Indian Division (Brindiv) and, further away, the US 8th Army. 

The main Australian occupation component was the 34th Infantry Brigade, which arrived in early 1946, and was made up of the 65th, 66th and 67th Battalions. The RAN ships that served were HMAS Australia, HMAS Hobart, HMAS Shropshire and the destroyers HMAS Arunta, Bataan, Culgoa, Murchison, Shoalhaven, Quadrant, Quiberon. Landing Ships Infantry Manoora, Westralia and Kanimbla were used for transport. 

The Australian air force component was stationed at Bofu, in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The RAAF Squadrons which served were No. 76, No. 77 and No. 82, all flying Mustangs. The airforce component of BCOF was known as BCAIR. By 1950 only one Australian squadron, No 77, remained in Japan.

By early 1947, BCOF had begun to decline from its peak of over 40,000 service personnel from the UK, New Zealand, India and Australia and, by the end of 1948, BCOF was composed entirely of Australians. The force was dismantled during 1951 as responsibilities in Japan were handed over to the British Commonwealth Forces Korea. Some personnel stayed on to serve in the Korean War. Members of No 77 Squadron, for example, had their 'going home' celebrations interrupted by the news that they were to be sent immediately to Korea. BCOF ceased to exist on 28 April 1951 when the Japanese Peace Treaty came into effect.

Australia's role in BCOF

The primary objective of BCOF was to enforce the terms of the unconditional surrender that had ended the war the previous September. The task of exercising military government over Japan was the responsibility of the United States forces. BCOF was required to maintain military control and to supervise the demilitarisation and disposal of the remnants of Japan's war making capacity. To this end, Australian army and air force personnel were involved in the location and securing of military stores and installations. The Intelligence Sections of the Australian battalions were given targets to investigate by BCOF Headquarters, in the form of grid references for dumps of Japanese military equipment. Warlike materials were destroyed and other equipment was kept for use by BCOF or returned to the Japanese. The destruction or conversion to civilian use of military equipment was carried out by Japanese civilians under Australian supervision. Regular patrols and road reconnaissances were initiated and carried out in the Australian area of responsibility as part of BCOF's general surveillance duties.

The RAN component of BCOF was responsible for patrolling the Inland Sea to prevent both smuggling and the illegal immigration of Koreans to Japan. In this task they were assisted by the RAAF whose aircraft were also involved in tracking vessels suspected of smuggling or transporting illegal immigrants. RAAF squadrons also flew surveillance patrols over each of the prefectures in the BCOF zone in order to help locate left over weapons and ordnance.

By the end of 1946 the task of demilitarising Japan was requiring less effort and the nature of BCOF's duties was changing. From then guard duties and training began to occupy more of the occupying forces time.

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