British Commonwealth Occupation Force 1946

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. Planning and negotiations had been in progress since the end of the war, and 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. The 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.

In early 1947, BCOF had begun to decline from its peak of over 40,000 service personnel from the UK, New Zealand, India and Australia. 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 on, guard duties and training began to take up more of the occupying forces time.

Thumbnail image: General Eichelberger inspects the Australian Guard of Honor at Kure, British Commonwealth Occupation Force Headquarters. 1946. US Army.