The Last to Surrender

You may have heard of the Japanese holdouts -- soldiers of Imperial Japan that did not surrender at the end of World War II -- but continued to hide in jungles through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Although their endurance was remarkable, they weren't the only people to keep fighting long after they had lost wars. Let's take a look at some of the men who were the last to surrender throughout military history. Attun Paladin, sometimes referred to as Teruo Nakamura, was the last Japanese soldier to surrender in World War II.* He wasn’t ethnically Japanese, but a Taiwanese native who was conscripted into an auxiliary unit of the Imperial Japanese Army. In 1944, his unit was sent to the island of Morotai, Indonesia. When Japan surrendered the following year, Paladin and other stragglers hid in the jungle until 1954. After a dispute with them, he struck out on his own. Paladin built a hut, planted a garden, and did not see another human being for twenty years. An airplane pilot, however, did see Paladin from the sky and reported his presence to Indonesian authorities. On 18 December 1974, a unit of Indonesian Army troops trained for this mission surrounded his hut and began singing the Kimigayo -- the Japanese national anthem. Paladin did not resist arrest and returned with the soldiers to a military base. Now the hard question: Taiwan was no longer a Japanese colony, so to what country should he be repatriated? Paladin clearly identified with Japan, but had never been to Japan itself and was certainly not ethnically Japanese. After some brief debate in Japan about what it meant to be truly Japanese, he was repatriated to Taiwan on 8 January 1975 to greet a son he had never met and a wife who had remarried twenty years previously. Bitter and confused, Paladin died of lung cancer five years later. The CSS Shenandoah was a British-built merchant steamship converted into a commerce raider by the Confederacy during the American Civil War. It set sail late in 1864 from the Maderia Islands under Lt. Cdr. James Iredell Waddell. It captured or sunk dozens of US merchant vessels in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Sea of Japan, Okhotsk Sea, and Bering Sea. Waddell’s primary objective was to greatly damange the US North Pacific whaling fleet, and he was largely successful. The Shenandoah was welcomed in Australia, where it was repaired in dry dock and reprovisioned. Waddell needed additional crewmen, but could not legally recruit them in Australia, so he enlisted the 42 men that had stowed away and discovered by him immediately after leaving Australian waters. By June 1865, Waddell received word from men on a captured ship that the Confederacy had surrendered. Disbelieving the report, he carried on his attacks on American shipping in the Pacific. That August, he encountered a British captain who confirmed the devastating news. Waddell accepted the report as true and decided to sail back to Britain. He hauled down the Confederate ensign, ignored all further encounters with US merchant vessels, and anchored the Shenandoah in the Mersey River. Waddell, after a journey of 58,000 miles and 38 captured vessels, distributed the prize money and released the crew. The American Civil War was now well and truly over. When World War I broke out in 1914, the northeastern part of New Guinea was a German colony. But Germany lacked the naval forces in the Pacific necessary to protect its territories in that region, and they rapidly fell into Allied hands. Captain Hermann Dentzer, an army surveyor assigned to German New Guinea at the time, decided against surrendering to the large Australian forces occupying the colony. He and the small force under his command sojourned out into the Saruwaged Mountains of the Huon Peninsula, exploring the area, raiding the Australians, and perhaps becoming the first outsider to see the central high grasslands of the island. The Australians never caught him, and it was only after learning of the 11 November 1918 armistice that Dentzer decided to surrender. In January of 1919, he put on his well-preserved dress uniform and, raising the flag of the German Empire, marched his force into an Australian base. When he returned to Germany, Dentzer was hailed as a national hero. His book about his adventures, Four Years Among the Cannibals, was a bestseller. You can read a German-language version of that book here. Svalbard is a frozen archipelago in the Arctic Ocean north of Norway, and under the sovereignty of that nation. Although Germany conquered Norway in April 1940, it was unable to immediately take Svalbard, which had an abundance of coal and was in a strategically useful location for gathering weather data. Moreover, after Hitler’s 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, the islands gained even greater significance as they lay over the convoy routes to the beleaguered Soviet Union. So, that summer, British, Canadian, and Norwegian troops occupied the islands to keep them from German control. However, the winters there are so harsh that the Allied troops left for the winter. When they returned in the Spring of 1942, they found that the Germans had set up several weather monitoring stations around the archipelago. The Allies drove them out after suffering heavy casualties. Two German battleships raided Svalbard the following the year, devastating the settlements, including setting on fire one mine that continued to burn until the 1960s. The Germans demonstrated little interest in the islands until 1944, when they set up a single station at Nordaustlandet under the command of Wilhelm Dege. Trapped by the ice, it remained in service after the official surrender of German forces from 7-9 May, 1945. At that point, Dege, recognizing that all nations need sound weather information, began broadcasting his data openly instead of encoded. It was not until four months later, in September, that Norwegian forces arrived at the station in a converted fishing vessel to accept the surrender of Dege and his ten soldiers. War North of 80: The Last German Arctic Weather Station of World War II is his memoir of the mission. Baron Ungern von Sternberg -- “The Bloody Baron” -- was the last Tsarist general active in the Russian Civil War. Born in Graz, Austria, he came from an Estonian German family that had served the Tsars for 200 years. Von Sternberg spoke six languages and worked in various military assignments throughout the vast Russian Empire, starting in the Russo-Japanese War when he developed a fascination with East Asia. During the chaos of the Russian Revolution in 1917, he was in Central Asia. Von Sternberg developed a mysticism that synthesized Christianity and Mongolian Buddhism. He envisioned that a new order would come over Russia from the East -- and that he would lead it. In October 1920, as the Bolsheviks consolidated their hold over western Russia, von Sternberg led his cobbled army of Buriat, Mongolian, and White Russian forces into Mongolia. He captured Ulan Bator and declared himself, in the name of the Buddha, the successor of Genghis Khan. Many of the inhabitants viewed him as a god, and von Sternberg agreed. He surrounded himself with shamans who fed his growing megalomania and took the Mongolian name “Great Star Mountain”. Von Sternberg was brutal to his enemies, who were variously fed to wolves, torn apart by horses, or burned at the stake. This was too much for the few remaining White leaders in eastern Russia, and von Sternberg became increasingly isolated. Financial support from the Japanese, who hoped to use von Sternberg to divide and weaken Russia, was not enough to keep him in power. After a year in power and the growing advance of Red forces across the east, von Sternberg was betrayed by his own lieutenants and handed over to the Bolsheviks. When, at the beginning of an interrogation, he was addressed as “Ungern”, he corrected the interrogator’s over-familiarity by bellowing out “Baron Ungern von Sternberg!” He was later executed at Nowo-Nicolajevsk. *Internet rumor identifies a Captain Fumio Nakahira as the last Japanese holdout. He is said to have surrendered on Mindoro Island in 1980, but I have been unable to confirm this tale with what I would call reliable sources. Images:, Wikimedia Commons, University of Texas

Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

Hiroo Onoda was arguably the last Japanese soldier to surrender in the sense that he was ethnically Japanese. But Paladin was the last soldier of the Japanese military to surrender by a few months.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
The last holdout from the Japanese military was 2nd Lt. Hiroo Onoda. He surrendered in 1974 and went on to write a book about it. His book is named "No Surrender" and is a very good read.

For more information:
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Login to comment.

Email This Post to a Friend
"The Last to Surrender"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More