How the end of World War II almost didn't happen

Though the majority of Japan’s remaining armed forces did indeed suspend combat operations on Aug. 15, two key naval aviation units just south of Tokyo did not. The Atsugi-based 302nd Air Group and the Yokosuka Air Group had been vital to the air defense of the capital region, and each counted among its members some of the nation’s most capable and highest-scoring fighter pilots. More importantly, each unit could still muster a dozen or so of the best interceptors Japan had thus far produced.

As similar as the organizations were, however, their motivations for disobeying the emperor’s ceasefire order were markedly different.
The firebrand commander of the 302nd, Captain Yasuna Kozono, was steeped in bushido and opposed the surrender with every fiber of his being. He had infused his men with the same never-surrender, death-before-dishonor ethos, and in the days immediately following the emperor’s announcement Kozono—feverish with a malarial relapse as well as burning with the humiliation of impending surrender—ordered his pilots to attack any Allied aircraft that dared to violate the nation’s sacred airspace.

The Yokosuka aviators—who included famed ace Saburo Sakai—were as proudly nationalistic as their Atsugi brethren, but far more pragmatic. They accepted the emperor’s decision to capitulate, but believed that until the surrender documents were signed, Japan remained a sovereign nation with the right to defend her airspace against enemy intrusion.

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