VJ Day August 14, 1945: A tribute to my Great Uncle

My grandmother’s brother, Robert Cotanch, was born on January 9, 1918 in Milwaukee, WI. He was one of four children born to William Cotanch and Irene Benner Cotanch.

On September 29, 1941 he enlisted in the US Army Air Corps. During 1945 he was assigned to the 315th Bomb Wing, 501st Bomb Group, 485th Bomb Squadron, Crew #71 and stationed in Guam. He was the pilot of a B29 Bomber which he named “Super Sue” in honor of his two-year-old daughter.

Many people believe that WWII ended with the dropping of the two A-Bombs on Hiroshima on August 6th and Nagasaki on August 9th but the Japanese did not immediately surrender after these attacks. In fact, there were Japanese rebels who wished to prolong the war and a Coup d’ Etat had been hatched by high ranking officers of the Imperial Army. Their objective was to kidnap Emperor Hirohito and confiscate his recordings in order to prevent him from issuing the surrender.

But, just as the coup attempt was begining in the late hours of August 14th, the last mission of WWII was being flown by Captain Robert Cotanch and the rest of the 315th Bomb Wing. They had departed Guam that afternoon en route to northern Japan.

The sight of the US Bombers caused Tokyo to issue a black out in anticipation of another atomic bombing. The incredible timing of the black out caused by the 315th Bomb Wing resulted in the failure of the conspirators to kidnap the Emporor. He went on to issue the surrender and the 315th went on to destroy Japan’s largest remaining oil refinery in Akita that night.

From the diary of Capt. Cotanch:

August 14, 1945

Although it looks like the end of the war – we’re scheduled to fly a mission tonight – hitting way up in Northern Honshu – distance of 3800 miles. Takeoff was at 1630, but at 1620 a report came that the war was over – looked like a “hollywood finish” – but no official word – and after waiting 20 minutes we took off. Trip up was uneventfull, but long – we dropped our bombs on the oil refinery near Akita at 0132 the morning of Aug 15, 1945.

August 15, 1945

Results were excellent – fires were everywhere – saw a few searchlights and when we hit the tremendous thermal from the smoke over the target the wings almost came off.

The trip back was equally uneventfull – finally go to Iwo Jima – and 17 hours after takeoff we landed at Guam – at 1000 am. An hour before we landed Pres. Truman spoke over the radio – stating the war had ended. Seemed strange as we still had to sweat making the base. Upon landing I spoke over Mutual Broadcasting System to the States – as it was the last B-29 mission to Japan – we were the last to drop bombs on the Empire – and the longest tactical mission. We also made a recording of the broadcast , which lasted about 5 minutes.

Finally in the sack after being up 33 hours – slept 2 hours – had dinner & back in the sack again. Went to Holy hour after dinner.

Of course, it’s clear Captain Cotanch had no idea just how significant his flight was that night. Not only did the 315th Bomb Wing fly the longest and most challenging B-29 mission of the war from Guam to Akita, Japan, but they also ensured the surrender of the Japanese Empire.

To the 315th Bomb Wing goes the credit of ending WWII.

P.S. An incredible video recently surfaced with amazing footage of troops celebrating 65 years ago in the streets of Honolulu the surrender by the Japanese on this day: http://vimeo.com/5645171

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