18

The Land of the Setting Sun

October 1944–September 1945

Armchair strategists can look at the last stages of a campaign and say there’s nothing left but mopping up, but if you’re holding the mop it’s different. The last Jap in the last bunker on the last day can be as fatal to you personally as the biggest battle at the height of the campaign, and you don’t look or think much beyond him – wherever he is.

George MacDonald Fraser, Quartered Safe Out Here, 19921

The collapse of Japan within four months of Hitler’s death was a powerful vindication of the Germany First policy adopted by the Allies after Pearl Harbor. Had the Allies pursued a Pacific First policy – as advocated by the US Navy in the wake of Pearl Harbor – it would have allowed Hitler considerably more time and resources with which to defeat the Soviet Union, and establish himself as master of the Greater European land mass. There had always been a tension between the US Army (which believed in the German First policy) and the US Navy (which tended to believe in Pacific First, preferring the theatre where it would play a far greater role). It took the Solomonic judgement of General Marshall to keep the United States committed to the former, supported as he was in this by President Roosevelt and the British.

Despite this, the United States had devoted a significant portion of her armed forces to preventing Japan from consolidating her newly won empire. The massive air superiority established by the Americans in particular allowed them to pound the Japanese forces to a terrible degree. The blows that rained down on Japan’s Army, Navy, Air Force and cities smashed each of them before the atomic bombs delivered the coup de grâce. On 12 October 1944, for example, Task Force 38 began its assault on Formosa, in which the Americans flew more than 2,300 sorties, whereas the very few planes that the Japanese managed to get into the sky were mostly intercepted and destroyed. Soon afterwards General Walter Krueger’s Sixth Army was transported to Leyte in the Philippines by Admiral Thomas Kinkaid’s Seventh Fleet, and in one day more than 130,000 troops were put ashore, almost as many as on D-Day. General MacArthur thereby redeemed the promise he had made to the Filipino people on 11 March 1942 when he had said: ‘I shall return.’

As the Americans moved inexorably towards the Japanese mainland they often adopted a policy – as with the Palau Islands in October 1944 – of ‘island-hopping’, simply missing out engaging the Japanese forces on islands that were cut off and thus had no means of counter-attacking, in order to conserve troops’ energy for assaults on those that did. The counter-attack at Leyte Gulf in late October 1944, with a carrier force from Japan and strike forces from Brunei, turned into the largest naval engagement in world history, with 216 United States Navy (and two Royal Australian Navy) vessels comprising 143,668 men doing battle with sixty-four Japanese vessels totalling 42,800 sailors and airmen. It was the last action fought between battleships, and was decisively won by the Americans, who by the end of the four separate engagements over three days had established unquestioned dominance over the Pacific Ocean for the first time since Pearl Harbor. Four Japanese aircraft carriers, three battleships, six heavy and four light cruisers and a submarine were sunk and scarcely another ship in their Navy emerged unscathed; more than 10,500 sailors and airmen and 500 planes had been lost. By contrast, Admiral William Halsey had lost one light carrier, two destroyers, 200 aircraft and about 2,800 killed and 1,000 wounded.2 Then on 5 November Vice-Admiral John McCain, who commanded the carrier Task Force 38 of the Third Fleet, attacked Luzon, with the result that the Japanese lost a further 400 aircraft and a carrier for the loss of twenty-five American aircraft and the damaging of the carrier USS Lexington by kamikaze suicide-bombers. The kamikaze were a sign of Japanese fanaticism by that stage of the war, but also of their desperation. (They also deployed Kaiten manned torpedoes later that month.) John McCain was a supremely successful air commander whose pilots once sank forty-nine Japanese ships in a single day and who were to destroy no fewer than 3,000 grounded Japanese planes in the last five weeks of war after 10 July 1945.3

The punishment that the Imperial Navy took in mid-November 1944 was devastating – four destroyers, a minesweeper and four transports carrying 10,000 troops were sunk on 11 November, a cruiser and four destroyers on the 13th, the aircraft carrier Junyo on the 17th, still more vessels on the 19th – yet still it fought on. Nor were there any signs that the Philippines could be recaptured without a long and debilitating land battle. Japanese stoicism in the face of half the world might have been strategically crazy but must inspire admiration. By the end of November, thirty-five B-29 bombers had raided Tokyo by night, the start of a destruction of the cities of the Japanese mainland that was to mirror that of Japan’s naval, military and air forces. (In mid-February 1945 aircraft from Task Force 38 would conduct 2,700 sorties against Tokyo and Yokohama, for the loss of only eighty-eight aircraft, or 3 per cent.) Yet with no allies left, and ultimate defeat certain, still the Japanese fought on with seemingly undiminished ardour, genuine obedience to the perceived wishes of the Emperor playing an important part. Whatever the reason, it led directly to the deaths of over 1.5 million Japanese servicemen and 300,000 civilians during the Second World War.4

Although the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not among them, some war crimes were committed by the Allies on the Japanese. George MacDonald Fraser, who fought in the 17th (Black Cat) Indian Division at the siege of Meiktila and the battle of Pyawbwe in Burma, described in his autobiography Quartered Safe Out Here how between twenty and fifty wounded Japanese soldiers had had rocks dropped on them in cold blood by an Indian unit, and explained his own feeling that ‘the notion of crying for redress against the perpetrators (my own comrades-in-arms, Indian soldiers who had gone the mile for us, and we for them), on behalf of a pack of Japs, would have been obnoxious, dishonourable even.’5 American Marines had to face the sight of their dead comrades’ penises having been cut off by the Japanese and stuffed into the corpses’ mouths. This kind of atrocity invited occasional barbaric reprisals, for even those fighting in a good cause can be brutalized by war, but in the view of the military historian Victor Davis Hanson there was ‘a certain American exceptionalism that such barbarism should and usually was to be condemned as deviance rather than accepted as the norm – quite different from the Japanese’.6

On 13 December 1944, the heavy cruiser USS Nashville, on her way to the amphibious assault on Mindanao in the Philippines, was badly damaged by Japanese air attack. This did not halt the vast and successful operation at Cape San Augustin in the north-west of Luzon two days later, however, which was carried out by no fewer than thirteen carriers and eight battleships, as well as cruisers and destroyers. The Americans also established beach-heads at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon on 9 January 1945.

While these great land and sea battles were taking place further east, General Sir William Slim’s British–Indian army was steadily making progress in expelling the Japanese from Burma. A landing on Akyab Island in the Arakan was scarcely opposed on 3 January 1945, and inland XXXIII Corps was marching towards the Irrawaddy river, while IV Corps was west of the Chindwin. On 23 January the British crossed the Irrawaddy – a river thrice the width of the Rhine in places – as Slim feinted towards Mandalay when all the time his ultimate prize was Rangoon much further south. Four days later the Burma Road to China was cleared. Meiktila was not to fall to the 17th Indian Division until early March, but, when it did, Japanese forces further north were effectively cut off. The 17th – which saw the longest period of continuous action of any British unit in the Second World War, at more than three years – was itself almost cut off in Meiktila by Japanese counter-attacks, but was resupplied from the air. The scale of defeat of the Japanese can be gauged from the fact that whereas the 100 miles from the Irrawaddy to Pyawbwe had taken the Fourteenth Army two months to cover, the next 260 miles down the Rangoon road took only twelve days.

Mandalay fell to the 19th Indian Division on 20 March, after Slim’s brilliant strategy wrong-footed the Japanese on several occasions. ‘Uncle Bill’ Slim was, in the words of one of his veterans, ‘large, heavily built, grim-faced with that hard mouth and bulldog chin; the rakish Gurkha hat was at odds with the slug carbine and untidy trouser bottoms… His delivery was blunt, matter-of-fact, without gestures or mannerisms, only a lack of them.’7 When a British soldier thoughtlessly decorated his jeep with a skull he’d found – assuming it to be Japanese – Slim snapped at him to remove it, and then added gently: ‘It might be one of our chaps, killed on the retreat.’ Slim’s 600-mile retreat out of Burma in 1942, the victory over Operation U-Go at Imphal from April to June 1944 and subsequently the advance down Burma outmanoeuvring the Japanese continually were each masterpieces of the military art. In the endless debate about who was the best battlefield commander of the Western Allies, in which the names of Patton, Bradley, Montgomery and MacArthur continually arise, that of the unassuming but immensely talented William Slim ought to feature much more than it does. Rangoon finally fell on 3 May, allowing the British to look beyond Burma to Malaya.

The US landings on the small but strategically vital island of Iwo Jima, starting on 19 February 1945, also proved that the Japanese had no intention of giving up simply because they could no longer win the conflict. The Americans needed Iwo Jima from which to fly fighter escorts protecting bombers, and as a place to where damaged bombers could return after smashing the Japanese mainland. In order to maximize American losses, the 21,000 defenders permitted 30,000 US Marines to land unopposed on the south-east of the island before they suddenly opened fire after they were ashore. The capture of the island, which was finally completed on 26 March, saw some of the most bitter hand-to-hand fighting of the Pacific War, in which no quarter was given or received, and where the Japanese made a number of suicide attacks by land, sea and air. The Anglo-American Lethbridge Commission, set up to study the tactics and equipment required to defeat Japan, even recommended the use of mustard and phosgene gas against underground enemy positions, and was supported in this by Army Chief of Staff George Marshall and Supreme Commander General Douglas MacArthur, but it was vetoed by President Roosevelt.

At the end of the battle for Iwo Jima, only 212 defenders – that is, 1 per cent of the original garrison – were still alive to surrender. Meanwhile, the US 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions had lost 6,891 dead and 18,070 wounded. Yet these terrible figures need to be placed beside the fact that by the end of the war 24,761 US airmen’s lives had been saved by American possession of the island, receiving the 2,251 B-29s that had to make emergency, and on occasion crash, landings on the only viable runway in the region for planes of that size.8 Yet even the bloodletting of Iwo Jima saw a fraction of the number of Japanese killed on Okinawa, the landings on which began only five days after Iwo Jima finally fell. Okinawa is the largest island of the Ryuku Islands group, midway between Formosa and Kyushu (Japan’s southernmost island). It was therefore a crucial springboard for the invasion of the mainland, and the Japanese resolved to defend it to the last. On Easter Sunday, 1 April 1945, no fewer than 1,300 Allied vessels took part in the invasion of Okinawa, landing 60,000 troops under a huge bombardment, the first part of Lieutenant-General Simon Bolivar Buckner’s Tenth Army, which was 180,000 strong (with more reserves available in New Caledonia), made up of XXIV Corps and III Marine Amphibious Corps. Although the Marines got ashore and established secure beach-heads on the first three days, the process of clearing the island of Japanese, which involved breaking through the strongly held Machinato and Shuri Lines of interlocking mountain-ridge defence systems, proved one of the epic tasks of America’s war. For Buckner’s opponent, Lieutenant-General Mitsuru Ushijima, commander of the Thirty-second Army, had around 135,000 well-armed and well-hidden men on the island.

Marine E. B. ‘Sledgehammer’ Sledge, a private in K Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division, wrote an excellent memoir of his time on Okinawa entitled With the Old Breed, in which he recalled the weeks of constant fighting. Of one typical attack he wrote:

As the seconds ticked slowly toward 09.00, our artillery and ships’ guns increased their rate of fire. The rain poured down, and the Japanese took up the challenge from our artillery. They started throwing more shells our way… The shells whistled, whined and rumbled overhead, ours bursting out in front of the ridge and the enemy’s exploding in our area and to the rear. The noise increased all along the line. Rain fell in torrents, and the soil became muddy and slippery wherever we hurried around the gun pit to break out and stack our ammo. I looked at my watch. It was 0900. I gulped and prayed for my buddies.9

Flung back by ‘a storm of enemy fire from our front and left back’, Sledge’s company ‘all wore wild-eyed, shocked expressions that showed only too vividly they were men who barely escaped chance’s strange arithmetic. They clung to their M1s, BARs [Browning automatic rifles], and Tommy guns and slumped to the mud to pant for breath before moving behind the ridge toward their former foxholes. The torrential rain made it all seem so much more unbelievable and terrible.’ Company K had already suffered 150 killed, wounded or missing taking the island of Peleliu the previous autumn, and many more were to perish on Okinawa.

Meanwhile, furious kamikaze attacks sank two destroyers and two ammunition ships and damaged twenty-four other vessels off the shore of Okinawa on 7 April, for the cost of 383 planes. Five days later the kamikaze returned, and over the next forty-eight hours they sank twenty-one ships, damaged twenty-three and put a further forty-three permanently out of action, albeit at the cost of 3,000 of their own lives.10 The Imperial Navy there suffered a near-mortal blow at 16.23 hours on 7 April when the 72,000-ton battleshipYamato, with its nine 18.1-inch guns, generally considered the most powerful battleship ever built, was sunk by 380 American aircraft, slipping beneath the waves along with 2,488 of her crew.11 In the same engagement a Japanese cruiser and four destroyers were also sunk, at a total loss of 3,655 Japanese lives to the Americans’ eighty-four sailors and airmen.

Yet, despite such punishment, Japan fought on in Luzon, Burma, Borneo and especially on Okinawa, where even American flame-throwers and heavy armour made slow progress against determined Japanese counter-attacks in early May. ‘No one underestimated Jap,’ wrote George MacDonald Fraser with a fine and characteristic disregard for political correctness; ‘he might be a subhuman creature who tortured and starved prisoners of war to death, raped women captives, and used civilians for bayonet practice, but there was no braver soldier in the whole history of war.’12 The surrender of Germany seems to have had little or no effect on the Japanese, even though it meant that they would soon face the combined wrath of the Allies. (Stalin had promised at Yalta to declare war on Japan three months to the day after VE Day, and was as good as his word.) While Germans were surrendering at the rate of 50,000 a month in late 1944, the Japanese were fighting on, often virtually to the last man. ‘Even in the most desperate circumstances,’ recorded Major-General Douglas Gracey, commander of the Indian 20th Division in Burma, ‘99% of the Japs prefer death or suicide to capture. The war is more total than in Europe. The Jap can be compared to the most fanatical Nazi youth and must be dealt with accordingly.’13

The last significant naval action of the war took place in the Malacca Straits on 15 May 1945, where five Royal Navy destroyers sank the Japanese cruiser Haguro by torpedoes. Yet, despite no longer having a fleet capable of defending the mainland, the Japanese Government decided to fight on.14

The Strategic Air Offensive against Japan had been as pitiless as that against Germany, particularly the firestorm created by the great Tokyo Raid of 10 March 1945, in which 334 B-29s flattened 16 square miles of the capital, killed 83,000 people, injured 100,000 and rendered 1.5 million more homeless. It is regarded as the most destructive conventional bombing raid in history, and even bears some comparison with the nuclear bombs that were to come, although it has excited nothing like the amount of moralizing.15 With Mustang P-51s escorting the B-29s from Iwo Jima, the USAAF was able to establish almost complete air superiority in the skies over Japan for the last three months of the war; indeed major raids were undertaken from there even while there were still Japanese holding out in different parts of the island. Yet, although the bombing left ordinary Japanese – especially of course the city-dwellers – terrified and demoralized, there was no appreciable pressure put on the Government to end the war which all rational Japanese (including, it is alleged, Emperor Hirohito) could see was suicidal and unwinnable. The military clique that ran the Japanese Government felt no inclination to surrender, a course of action which they considered dishonourable.

Almost half of the residential area of Tokyo was destroyed by the end of the war, aided by the flammability of much of the paper and wooden housing. No fewer than 750,000 incendiary bombs were dropped at very low altitudes by 500 US bombers on the single night of 23 May, and a similar number the next night too. Yet Japan’s reaction, or at least that of her Government, was to fight on, and a resigned but obedient population, which had little practical alternative, went along with the decision. It was not until 22 June 1945 that resistance on Okinawa ended, nearly three months after the US forces had landed on an island that was 60 miles long but rarely more than 8 wide. On the very eve of victory, Buckner was fatally wounded by an artillery shell at an observation post on the front line, the most senior Allied officer to be killed by the enemy in the whole war. Four days later, Lieutenant-General Ushijima committed hara-kiri just as his command post was finally overrun. In all, 107,500 Japanese were known to have died in the battle, an additional 20,000 were buried underground in their caves during the fighting, and only 7,400 surrendered. To set against these numbers, the US Tenth Army lost 7,373 killed and 32,056 wounded, with a further 5,000 sailors killed and 4,600 wounded, a total of nearly 50,000 American casualties for one Pacific island.16 In the skies the ratios were much the same: some 8,000 Japanese planes had been lost in combat and destroyed on the ground, against 783 US naval aircraft.17 Japan’s Navy and Air Force were now in no position to oppose an American landing on the mainland, but, as her Army had shown, this was expected to be a bloodbath, for both sides.

The collapse of the Imperial Japanese Navy, as well as the mining of Japanese ports by B-29s, meant that the American naval blockade that had been in effect since 1943 would eventually starve the over-crowded island into surrender, though not for many months or possibly longer. No fewer than 4.8 million tons of Japanese merchant shipping were sent to the bottom by US submarines in the course of the war, 56 per cent of the total, and that did not include 201 warships, comprising a further 540,000 tons.18 It came at the grievous cost of fifty-two US submarines, however, and thus the worst death rate of any branch of the US armed forces, even higher than the bomber crews of the Eighth Air Force.19

The situation that beckoned General MacArthur, Admiral Nimitz and General Marshall’s operations planning Staff at the Pentagon in the summer of 1945 was an unenviable one. They had to consider a Japan that by any rational criteria was defeated, but which was not only refusing to surrender but seemed to be preparing to defend the sacred soil of her mainland with the same kind of fanaticism seen on Saipan, Luzon, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and many other places. Few doubted that Operation Olympic – a strike against Kyushu slated for November 1945 – and Operation Coronet, an amphibious assault in March 1946 against the Tokyo plain on Honshu, would lead to horrific loss of Allied life on the ground, however well the B-29s of the Twentieth Air Force and carrier-based task forces managed to soften up the mainland first. Estimates of expected casualty rates differed from planning Staff to planning Staff, but over the coming months – perhaps years – of fighting anything in the region of 250,000 American casualties were thought to be possible. ‘If the conflict had continued for even a few weeks longer,’ believes Max Hastings, ‘more people of all nations – especially Japan – would have lost their lives than perished at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.’20

It was against that background of looming dread that on 30 December 1944 General Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project, reported that the first two atomic bombs would be ready by 1 August 1945. At last an end to the war was in sight, and one that did not involve having to subdue the Japanese mainland. The means to be employed had not existed before, and were scientific, but it was hoped that the very newness of the technology might give the peace party in Tokyo – assuming there was one – an argument for why Japan could not fight on. ‘Wars begin when you will,’ wrote Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince, ‘but they do not end when you please.’

In the peroration of his ‘finest hour’ speech of 18 June 1940, Winston Churchill conjured up the vision of a nightmare world in which a Nazi victory produced ‘a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science’. The Nazis did indeed pervert science for their ideological ends, but then of course both sides tried to harness scientific developments for victory. Lieutenant-General Sir Ian Jacob, the military secretary to Churchill’s War Cabinet, once quipped to the author that the Allies won the war largely ‘because our German scientists were better than their German scientists’, and in the field of atomic research and development he was undoubtedly right. Werner Heisenberg’s atomic programme for Hitler thankfully lagged far behind the Allies’, codenamed the Manhattan Project and based at Los Alamos in New Mexico. Because Hitler was a Nazi, he was unable to call upon the best scientific brains to create a nuclear bomb. Between 1901 and 1932 Germany had twenty-five Nobel laureates in Physics and Chemistry, the United States only five. Then came Nazism. In the fifty years after the war, Germany won only thirteen Nobel Prizes to America’s sixty-seven. The list of those émigrés from Fascism – not all of them Jewish – who went on to contribute to the creation of the nuclear bomb, either at Los Alamos or in some other significant capacity, is a very long one, including Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard and Hans Bethe (who all left Germany when Hitler came to power in 1933), Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner (who left Hungary in 1935 and 1937 respectively), Emilio Segré and Enrico Fermi (who both left Italy in 1938), Stanisław Ulam (who left Poland in 1939) and Niels Bohr (who escaped from Denmark in 1943). By denying himself the scientific brains necessary to create a Bomb of his own, Hitler’s Nazism meant that he had persecuted the very people who could have prevented his own downfall.

Nonetheless, Hitler’s scientists did come up with an impressive array of non-atomic scientific discoveries during the war, including proximity fuses, synthetic fuels, ballistic missiles, hydrogen-peroxide-assisted submarines and ersatz rubber. Rabelais wrote that ‘Science without conscience is the ruin of the world,’ and all too often Hitler’s scientists – such as the rocket engineer Wernher von Braun – ignored the suffering that their work created, including, as in Braun’s case, tens of thousands of people working under slave-labour conditions to build the installations for his weaponry. (After the war, Braun headed President Kennedy’s space programme, his career in rocketry saved by the fact that he had once briefly been arrested by the SS when Himmler had wanted to take over one of his projects.)

When in August 1939 Albert Einstein had written to President Roosevelt to inform him of the incredible potential of uranium, FDR’s instinctive response was ‘This requires action.’ Sure enough, with huge investment in people and resources, and close collaboration between the American, British, Canadian and European anti-Nazi scientists, the Allies built two atomic bombs, codenamed Little Boy and Fat Man (supposedly references to Roosevelt and Churchill, though why FDR was little or a boy is anyone’s guess). These scientists had discovered the secret to the vast force that held together the constituent particles of the atom, and how to harness it for military purposes. President Truman had few qualms in deploying a bomb that would undoubtedly kill tens of thousands of Japanese civilians, but would also, it was hoped, bring to a sudden halt the war.

At 08.15 on Sunday, 6 August 1945 (local time), the 9-foot 9-inch-long, 8,000-pound Little Boy was dropped from 31,600 feet over the city of Hiroshima, some 500 miles from Tokyo. It had been flown from the island of Tinian in the Mariana Islands in the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, named after the mother of its pilot, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul W. Tibbets Jr, commander of the USAAF 509th Composite Group. The gigantic bomb detonated forty-seven seconds later 1,885 feet above the centre of the city which was home to a quarter of a million people, generating a blast of 300,000 Celsius for 1/10,000th of a second. Every building within a 2,000-yard radius of the hypocentre was vaporized, and every wooden building within 1.2 miles. Altogether 5 square miles of the city were destroyed, or 63 per cent of the city’s 76,000 buildings.21 A huge, mushroom-shaped cloud then rose 50,000 feet over the city. In all, including the civilian deaths of 118,661 and perhaps another 20,000 military deaths, and many who died of radiation sickness afterwards, around 140,000 people were killed.

The scenes in Hiroshima in the aftermath were truly hellish. The Rev. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, told a correspondent from the New Yorker magazine how he tried to ferry some survivors over the river to hospital:

He drove the boat on to the bank and urged them to get on board. They did not move and he realised that they were too weak to lift themselves. He reached down and took a woman by the hands, but her skin slipped off in huge, glove-like pieces. He was so sickened by this that he had to sit down for a moment. Then he got into the water and, though a small man, lifted several of the men and women, who were naked, into his boat. Their backs and breasts were clammy, and he remembered uneasily what the great burns he had seen during the day had been like: yellow at first, then red and swollen, with the skin sloughed off, and finally, in the evening, suppurated and smelly… He had to keep repeating to himself, ‘These are human beings.’22

To those who argued that the enemy ought to have been warned about the destructive power of the atomic bombs, or even had one demonstrated in a desert or an atoll beforehand, General Marshall succinctly noted: ‘It’s no good warning him. If you warn them there’s no surprise. And the only way to produce shock is surprise.’23 With only two bombs available, to risk wasting one to no effect was inconceivable. President Truman made a radio broadcast soon afterwards, explaining that the bomb had been atomic, and thus unlike anything that had ever been seen before. ‘That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of T.N.T.’ (that is, 20 kilotons), he told his listeners, which included the Japanese Government. ‘It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the [22,000-pound deep-penetration] British “Grand Slam”, which is the largest bomb ever used in the history of warfare.’24 (It was long thought that Truman was accurate, and that the bomb dropped on Nagasaki was roughly the same size in terms of TNT, but in 1970 the British nuclear pioneer Lord Penney proved that Hiroshima’s blast had in fact been about 12 kilotons, while the Nagasaki blast had been around 22 kilotons.) 25

George MacDonald Fraser’s views on the morality of what had happened at Hiroshima echoed those of the vast majority of Britons and Americans at the time, both civilian and military. He pointed out that:

We were of a generation to whom Coventry and the London Blitz and Clydebank and Liverpool and Plymouth were more than just names; our country had been hammered mercilessly from the sky, and so had Germany; we had seen the pictures of Belsen and of the frozen horror of the Russian Front; part of our higher education had been dedicated to techniques of killing and destruction; we were not going to lose sleep because the Japanese homeland had taken its turn. If anything, at the time, remembering the kind of war it had been, and the kind of people we, personally, had been up against, we probably felt that justice had been done. But it was of small importance when weighed against the glorious fact that the war was over at last.26

Almost, but not quite. In fact the Japanese Government decided to fight on regardless, hoping that the Allies had only one such weapon and believing that the home islands could be successfully defended from invasion and the dishonour of occupation.27 So three days after Hiroshima, the city of Nagasaki was similarly devastated by Fat Man, with 73,884 people killed, 74,909 injured and similarly debilitating long-term mental and physical effects on the population as at Hiroshima, owing to the radiation released.28 (It almost didn’t happen; the B-29 pilot Major Charles ‘Chuck’ Sweeney nearly ran out of runway on Tinian with his 5-ton bomb on board, and a crash would have wiped out much of the island.) 29

Not knowing that the Americans had no more atomic bombs to drop, and shocked by Russia’s intervention in the Pacific War on 8 August, which they were unable effectively to counter, the Japanese did finally surrender on 14 August, with the Emperor Hirohito admitting to his people in a broadcast at noon the next day that the war had gone ‘not necessarily to Japan’s advantage’, especially in view of ‘a new most cruel bomb’.30 Even as he prepared to broadcast, a group of young officers invaded the palace grounds in an attempted coup intended to prevent him from doing so.31

A fortnight later, on Sunday, 2 September, six years and one day after Germany had invaded Poland, General Douglas MacArthur and Admirals Chester Nimitz and Sir Bruce Fraser and representatives of the other Allied nations took the formal Japanese surrender, which was signed by the one-legged Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and the Army Chief of Staff General Yoshijiro Umezu, aboard the battleship USS Missouri, by then moored in Tokyo Bay. (She was chosen because she had served at Iwo Jima and Okinawa and was Nimitz’s flagship; it was mere coincidence that she was named after President Truman’s home state.) MacArthur concluded the ceremony by saying: ‘Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are closed.’

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!