On August 14, 1945, President Harry S. Truman announced that the Japanese government had surrendered, a decision that would end World War II. Emperor Hirohito of Japan informed his own citizens on August 15, but there was still a lot to do. The written agreement, which formalized the handover, was not signed until September 2 this year at a meeting aboard the USS Missouri in the bay of Tokyo.
Congregations around the world have celebrated August 14th, August 15th or September 2nd as Victory Day over Japan or VJ Day for short. Here are a dozen facts about the surrender 75 years ago this summer and the events that led to it.
. The Battle of Okinawa was the last major battle in World War II.
Over 60,000 American soldiers and marines arrived on the banks of Okinawa on April 1, 1945. The island south of Kyushu was a logical gateway for an invasion of Japan, and US troops were being prepared for battle. Eighty-one days of incredibly wild air, sea and land battles followed, hampered by thick forests and volcanic cliffs. The Allies emerged victorious, but 12,000 Americans were killed in the process. Japan’s armed forces lost around 90,000 soldiers and 100,000 civilians also died in battle.
2. Before VJ Day, VE Day – Victory Day in Europe – fell on Truman’s 61st birthday.
Truman was sworn into office on April 12, 1945 after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was able to report exciting news at the beginning of his term. The Allies officially accepted Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8 – President Truman’s birthday. “Our victory is only half won,” said Truman. Although the violence in Europe had ended, things came to a head in the Pacific theater.
3. To end World War II, the United States made a strategic decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki in place of other Japanese cities.
An atomic bomb had been successfully tested in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945. By using nuclear weapons against Japan, Truman and his advisors hoped to force unconditional surrender – and avoid the need for a major US invasion of mainland Japan.
For maximum impact, it was decided that the ideal targets are cities that have suffered little damage from previous bombings. Because of its cultural importance as the former capital of Japan, Kyoto has been removed from the list. The target committee decided to focus on other cities with significant military headquarters and industrial centers. Hiroshima was an important base of operations for Japanese defense efforts. Nagasaki was one of the most important seaports in the country. Both places were production centers during the war.
4. The USS IndianapolisThe secret mission ended in the worst naval disaster of World War II.
Components of the 9700-pound nuclear fission bomb, nicknamed Little Boy, to be dropped over Hiroshima, were secretly delivered by the USS to an American air force base in the Northern Mariana Islands Indianapolis. After delivering the materials, the Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and quickly sunk on July 30, 1945 shortly after midnight.
Around 300 crew members immediately went down with the ship. The remaining 900 men were floating on the surface, waiting for their rescue. They endured dehydration and hunger, hallucinations, salt poisoning, and frequent, malicious shark attacks. At the time of the rescue on August 2, there were only 317 survivors.
On August 19, 2017, a research team led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen localized the wreck of the Indianapolis at the bottom of the Philippine Sea, 3.4 miles below the surface.
5. The number of victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is still unknown.
On August 6, 1945 at 8:15 a.m. Little Boy exploded over Hiroshima. The explosion yield corresponded to 15,000 tons of TNT. “What I felt at that moment was that Hiroshima was only covered with three colors. I remember red, black and brown … but nothing else, ”Akiko Takakura, an eyewitness who was 20 years old, remembered. Within minutes, dark smoke rose almost 4,000 feet. More than 90 percent of the city’s structures have been damaged or destroyed.
Nagasaki was hit by an implosion-type plutonium bomb (called Fat Man) three days later. The effects of the explosion – this corresponds to 21,000 tons of TNT – were felt on an area of 43 square miles.
According to the US Department of Energy, “Nobody will know for sure how many people have died as a result of the attack on Hiroshima.” The same applies to Nagasaki. Inconsistent census records, the wiping out of government buildings, and other factors make it impossible to get accurate numbers. The first explosions killed an estimated 70,000 in Hiroshima and 40,000 in Nagasaki, without those who later died of radiation poisoning or other injuries.
6. The Soviet Union declared war on Japan less than a month before the end of World War II.
At the Allied-Tehran conference in November 1943, the Soviet Union agreed to declare war on Japan three months after Germany’s surrender in order to force the end of World War II and at the same time recapture the occupied territory of Japan. That day came on August 8, 1945. About 1.6 million Soviet troops were quickly deployed to Manchuria (today’s northeastern China) occupied by Japan. The USSR caused heavy casualties during its battles with Japanese forces in China, Korea and the Kuril Islands.
7. Japan officially surrendered aboard the USS Missouri, End of World War II.
On August 14, 1945, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allies. The news shot around the world, kicking off joyous celebrations, parades and patriotic performances for VJ Day. On September 2, aboard the USS MissouriJapanese Secretary of State Mamoru Shigemitsu and General Yoshijiro Umezu signed the official handover document issued by the United States Department of War. General Douglas MacArthur, Commander in Chief of the Allied Powers, was also present.
“It is my serious hope, and indeed the hope of all of humanity, that this solemn occasion will create a better world from the blood and slaughter of the past,” said MacArthur to the crowd. The USS Missouri would continue to participate in both the Korean War and the Gulf War before it was last retired on March 31, 1992.
8. The couple in the legendary Times Square kiss photo taken on VJ Day did not know each other.
The picture titled “VJ Day in Times Square” was taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life Magazine. Since Eisenstaedt did not write down the couple’s names, their identity was a mystery for decades. Then Lawrence Verria’s 2012 book The kissing sailor: the secret behind the photo that ended World War II seemed to calm things down: George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer Friedman were the couple.
Except they weren’t a couple at all. Mendonsa was a sailor at the time on a date with his future wife. When he heard the news of Japan’s surrender, he excitedly grabbed Friedman – a dental assistant he didn’t know – and kissed her on the lips. Unfortunately Friedman was not thrilled. “It wasn’t my choice to be kissed,” she said later. “The guy just came over and grabbed!”
9. Frustrated soldiers in the Pacific Theater waited months to return home.
The United States could not bring all of its soldiers home as soon as the Axis surrendered. And that created a lot of tension overseas. MP Clare Boothe Luce, a member of the US House of Representatives from Connecticut, said on September 17, 1945, that every Congressman was “under constant and tremendous pressure from the soldiers and their families” who wanted quick releases.
Service members stationed in Japan and the Far East began to stamp the phrase “no boats, no votes” in their letters – an indication that leaders would find out in next year’s congressional elections if they weren’t picked up soon. Four thousand homesick troops held a mass protest in Manila on Christmas Day. Similar demonstrations took place in London, Paris and Frankfurt.
10. The last Japanese World War II internment camp in the United States was closed in 1946.
As of 1942, approximately 120,000 Japanese-born people were detained in internment camps in 120 U.S. states. President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the detention of Japanese Americans regardless of citizenship or loyalty to ensure “any protection against espionage and sabotage” the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The last of these camps in Northern California remained open until March 20, 1946.
11. Some Japanese soldiers continued to fight long after the end of World War II.
Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was 23 when he was sent to Lubang Island, Philippines on December 26, 1944. He and three teams would stay there years after the war ended. The soldiers did not believe in Japan’s defeat and regularly fought with islanders who they believed were enemy fighters. One of Onoda’s comrades surrendered in 1950 and in 1972 police officers shot the other two.
Lieutenant Onoda only gave up after being rediscovered by a Japanese traveler in 1974. A delegation, which included one of Onoda’s former commanders, came to Lubang later that year to accept his surrender.
Two other remains, Shoichi Yokoi and Teruo Nakamura, remained hidden elsewhere in the former Pacific Theater until 1972 and 1974, respectively.
12. Only one state officially celebrates the end of World War II.
Rhode Island is the only state in the Union to celebrate the end of World War II as an annual public holiday. Victory Day falls on the second Monday in August.