The Soviet War Against Japan

Until 1945, Japan and the Soviet Union held to their Neutrality Pact of April 1941. Had they not, each nation would have faced a two-front war. This agreement ended, however, due to the Soviet Union's interest in expansion in East Asia and pressure from the Soviets' Western Allies.

At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, Joseph Stalin promised Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt that the Soviets would attack Japan within three months of the end of the war in Europe. Unaware of this, the Japanese government expected the Soviet Union either to mediate a compromised peace or to join Japan in war against the United States and Britain. Instead, on August 8 the Soviet Union declared war on Japan.

About two hours later, Marshal Vasilevsky unleashed three Soviet Union army groups against the Japanese in Korea and Man-chukuo. Both the Kurile Islands and southern Sakhalin figured among their objectives. The Soviets mustered more than a million men to attack the Kwantung Army's 500,000 poorly trained and badly equipped troops. The Soviets also deployed some 5,000 tanks and 5,000 aircraft.

The Japanese army, fooled as to the attack's direction and timing, was overwhelmed in nine days of lightning assaults, panic, and massacre. More than 80,000 were killed, nearly 10 times the Soviet Union total. Some Japanese survivors fought until August 21, six days after Hirohito had announced the surrender. More than 500,000 Japanese prisoners in Manchuria and Korea were sent to Siberia.

World War II Timeline: August 14, 1945-August 31, 1945

After Japan's surrender in August 1945, the Allied forces turned to post-war recovery. The World War II timeline below summarizes important events in August of 1945.

World War II Timeline: August 14-August 31

August 15: Charles de Gaulle commutes the death sentence of Marshal Pétain (age 89) to life imprisonment.

The Allies celebrate Victory in Japan (V-J) Day. Meanwhile, Emperor Hirohito broadcasts a message to the Japanese people that he has agreed to unconditional surrender.

August 16: Underscoring the issues that will define the next great "war" of the 20th century, Winston Churchill delivers an address warning of an "iron curtain" descending across Europe.

August 18: Indian nationalist leader Subhas Chandra Bose dies when his plane crashes into the sea off Formosa.

August 21: Having accomplished what it set out to do, the United States brings the Lend-Lease aid program to a close.

August 23: Moscow announces that Japanese resistance has ended in the former Manchurian puppet state of Manchukuo. Manchuria is completely occupied by Soviet Union troops.

August 28: Indictments are handed down on Nazi war criminals, including Hermann Göring, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Rudolf Hess, and Martin Bormann.

August 28: Indictments are handed down on Nazi war criminals, including Hermann Göring, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Rudolf Hess, and Martin Bormann.

August 30: U.S. Army and Marine forces arrive on the Japanese home islands to begin military occupation.

August 31: Truman writes British prime minister Clement Attlee, asking him to allow some 100,000 European Jews to immigrate to British-controlled Palestine.

General MacArthur becomes the first foreign authority in a millennium to assume power in Japan when he establishes the Supreme Allied Command in Tokyo.

World War II Headlines

Below are more headlines that outline the events surrounding the end of World War II, including the Soviet War against Japan.

Tokyo in ruins after B-29 raids: By war's end, B-29 raids had transformed more than half of the Tokyo into a wasteland. With rice severely rationed, civilians were advised to supplement their diets with acorns and sawdust. In March, the cabbage ration was one leaf per person every three days. Hundreds of thousands were still homeless. Cooking and heating fuel had been in short supply for months. Malnutrition, malaria, and typhoid were widespread. The bombings did produce one surplus item: plenty of debris to use for kindling.

American POWs are freed and fed: American women prepared food after being freed from Japanese captivity in Manila, Philippines, in 1945. For most freed prisoners, liberation meant adequate food for the first time in years. Spam, cocoa, cigarettes, gum, and clothing were airdropped on prison camps throughout Asia, often accompanied by leaflets that warned: "Do not overeat." Within six weeks, most POWs were on their way home, although many would be plagued by health and psychological problems for the rest of their lives. Suicide, alcoholism, and depression were common.

Soviets battle Japanese in China: American planners had originally thought that the Soviet Union entry into the war would be necessary to divert Japanese forces in China and Manchuria during the invasion of Japan's home islands. The Soviet Union's last-minute declaration of war on Japan on August 8 became more a political headache than a military benefit for the U.S. The Soviets saw intervention as an inexpensive way to reap the spoils of war in Japan's final hours. Faced with 1.6 million Soviet Union troops, Japanese forces in China collapsed. About 700,000 went into captivity.

See the next page for a detailed timeline of World War II events in September of 1945, including Japan's surrender ceremonies.

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