Japan Surrenders and World War II Ends: June 1945-September 1945

After the replacement of Tojo Hideki as prime minister in July 1944 by General Koiso Kuniaki, the Japanese continued to adhere to their basic strategy as World War II came to an end. That was to fight so hard and inflict such heavy casualties on the Americans that the latter would be willing to settle for a peace in which Japan could retain some of its gains, would not be occupied or disarmed, and would not have its military or civilian leaders tried as war criminals.

The Japanese government made an effort to persuade the Soviet Union to either mediate some sort of compromise or, alternatively, reverse alliances and join Japan in fighting the Western powers. A new prime minister, Admiral Suzuki Kantaro, saw these efforts fail; he did not grasp that this was because Stalin had decided to fight Japan, not his current allies.


By the summer of 1945, Japan's situation had become desperate. Allied aircraft and submarines had decimated its already inadequate merchant fleet. Oil and other raw materials could not be delivered by sea. The big reason for this was U.S. airpower. A year earlier, the American bomber force was built up on the conquered islands of the Marianas. From those islands, especially Tinian and Saipan, long-range B-29 bombers began to pound the home islands in the fall of 1944 and the winter of 1944-1945. Under a new commander, Major General Curtis LeMay, the Americans shifted much of their effort from high-level aimed bombing with explosives to low-level area bombing with incendiaries.

The raid on Tokyo on March 9, 1945, was the first large incendiary raid. Some 16 square miles of the city were burned, more than 80,000 people were killed, and a million Japanese civilians were left homeless. Similar if somewhat smaller raids were mounted against other large Japanese cities in the following months. In addition, aircraft carriers brought additional planes to raid coastal cities, and land-based planes dropped mines in the main shipping lanes.

While havoc reigned on the home islands, the Japanese land forces in China and those forces still holding islands and parts of islands in the South and Southwest Pacific found themselves without many of the supplies they needed. The Americans and Australians launched one invasion after the other in the East Indies, and the British prepared to follow up on their reconquest of Burma with a landing on the coast of Malaya in order to retake Singapore.

The planning for an invasion of the Japanese home islands went forward; on June 18 President Truman gave his tentative approval of the landing on Kyushu (Operation Olympic). Both the final go-ahead for this assault, scheduled for November 1, and the subsequent landing on Tokyo Bay (Operation Coronet) scheduled for March 1, 1946, would have to come later. The bloody fighting that was still going on at Okinawa and elsewhere suggested that invasion of the home islands would result in huge casualties. The Pentagon ordered hundreds of thousands of Purple Hearts for wounded soldiers, and there was discussion of the possible need to draft nurses.

The collapse of Chinese military resistance in the summer of 1944 made it all the more imperative that Soviet Union forces attack the Japanese on the mainland of Asia and thereby prevent them from reinforcing the home islands. President Truman was greatly relieved when Stalin reiterated his promise to invade Manchuria three months after the defeat of Nazi Germany. By the time Stalin made his promise at the July 16-August 2 meeting of the three powers at Potsdam, Germany, large numbers of Red Army units and commanders were already on their way to the Soviet East Asian provinces.

At the meeting, Truman told Stalin that a powerful new weapon was now ready. Having been briefed on Soviet Union espionage discoveries about the atomic bomb project, the president thought Stalin might know what he was talking about. Regardless, he urged Truman to use the powerful weapon promptly. Just before the meeting, Truman had been informed that the first A-bomb test conducted in New Mexico had been successful. The project, initiated by Roosevelt years earlier, was now beginning to produce the first bombs.

At the conclusion of the Potsdam meeting, the Allies issued a special "Declaration" calling on Japan to surrender, but the threat was ignored. Therefore, Truman ordered that an atomic bomb be dropped on Hiroshima on August 6. The results were devastating, with close to 80,000 deaths.

In discussion with Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, Truman had decided that if the first bomb did not shock the Japanese into surrender, a second one would be dropped on another city. But if that did not persuade the Japanese to surrender, the bombs that later would become available would be saved for use in support of Operation Olympic. Since the bomb on Hiroshima did not prompt Japan to surrender, the second one was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9.

Anxious discussion took place inside the Japanese government, especially after Tokyo learned that the Soviet Union was joining Japan's enemies and invading Manchuria. Even after the second bomb was dropped, half of the Japanese leadership wanted to continue the war, hoping that the casualties that they expected to inflict on the Americans during landings at Kyushu would produce a change in American objectives. It was in the face of an evenly split group of leaders that Emperor Hirohito insisted that surrender was the only possible course. A coup attempt by those who wanted to continue fighting failed narrowly. The stage was set for a formal surrender, which was signed on the battleship Missouri on September 2.

Japan surrendered peacefully, and was not divided into zones of occupation the way Germany had been. Although western Honshu was under a British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF), the home islands as a whole retained a Japanese administrative system that was under the supervision of an American occupation force and supreme commander (General Douglas MacArthur).

The Soviet Union, in addition to seizing the Kurile Islands, also took control of small islands off the coast of the northern home island of Hokkaido and removed the Japanese inhabitants. While Japan thus escaped the decades of partition that became Germany's fate, the Soviet action precluded the signing of a peace treaty between Russia and Japan.

See the next page for a detailed timeline of World War II events in early June 1945, as Japanese forces began to show their desperation.

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World War II Timeline: June 1, 1945-June 14, 1945

Allied forces solidified their hold in Europe and continued to make gains in Asia as summer began in 1945. The World War II timeline below summarizes important events in early June 1945.

World War II Timeline: June 1-June 14

June 1: As many as 700 of 40,000 Cossack troops who fought alongside the Nazis die when they resist British efforts to forcibly repatriate them to the Soviet Union.


Some 27 American P-51 Mustang fighters are lost to foul weather en route to an assault on Osaka, Japan.

June 5: Brazil, which had long been at war with Germany, declares war on Japan.

Nearly 500 U.S. B-29 bombers drop 3,000 tons of incendiaries on the Japanese city of Kobe.

A powerful typhoon strikes Okinawa, badly damaging more than 30 U.S. warships.

June 7: Norway's King Haakon returns to the throne of his liberated nation.

All German civilians living in the Western Allies' occupation zones are made to watch films of the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen.

Osaka suffers heavy damage as 400 American B-29 bombers rain terror on the Japanese city.

June 9: The RAF Vampire jet, boasting a maximum speed of more than 500 mph, is unveiled in Britain.

June 11: Czech police and civilians continue the process of driving ethnic Germans from the Czech Sudetenland into occupied Germany.

June 12: With a U.S. Marine victory on Okinawa's Oroku Peninsula a virtual certainty, Japanese troops on Okinawa commit suicide en masse.

June 13: The U.S. 24th Corps attacks Japanese-held caves on Okinawa with flamethrowers.

June 14: U.S. military leadership in the Pacific Theater receives orders from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare for the invasion and occupation of Japan.

Former Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop is captured in Hamburg.

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights of the events of World War II in 1945, as the war slowly drew closer to its end.

Soviet Union casualties include millions of soldiers and civilians: Russian soldiers who returned from the Great Patriotic War were the lucky ones. Of the 30 million Soviets who fought in World War II, more than eight million died. Of the survivors, many returned to find that their families were among the 11.5 million civilians who perished in the conflict. According to Soviet Union records, military dead from 1941 to 1945 totaled 8,668,400, including 500,000 missing in action. Another 1,283,300 were taken prisoner. Nearly 14 percent of the total population died, as compared to U.S. losses of 0.32 percent.

Irma Grese and Josef Kramer are the "Beast" and "Bitch" of Belsen: Irma Grese and Josef Kramer were two of many German concentration camp commanders and guards who faced postwar prosecution as war criminals. Kramer, commandant of the Bergen-Belsen camp, was called the "Beast of Belsen" by the inmates. He placed few controls over the activities of his guards, including Irma Grese, the most notorious of the female guards at all the camps. Grese had been transferred to Auschwitz at age 19. She was then sent in March 1945 to Bergen-Belsen, where she was known as "Bitch of Belsen" for torturing and murdering inmates. Kramer and Grese were tried with more than 40 other guards from the camp. Both were found guilty and were hanged for their war crimes on December 13, 1945.

Operation Olympic, the planned invasion of Kyushu, Japan: An American pilot points out a target on a scale model of the Yokosuka naval base. Operation Olympic, the planned invasion of Kyushu on November 1, 1945, called for massive air attacks on the Japanese home islands. Hundreds of Navy fighters, dive-bombers, and torpedo planes were assigned to hit targets all over the island of Honshu in support of the operation. As Allied landing craft neared the beaches of Kyushu on November 1, waves of planes from no less than 66 aircraft carriers would bomb, rocket, and strafe enemy fortifications and troop concentrations along the beaches.

See the next page for a detailed timeline of World War II events in June and July 1945, including unrelenting attacks on the Japanese home islands.

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World War II Timeline: June 17, 1945-July 3, 1945

Japanese leaders were becoming desperate in June and July 1945, as World War II came to an end. The World War II timeline below summarizes important events in June and July of 1945.

World War II Timeline: June 17-July 3

June 17: Japanese Admiral Ota Minoru commits ritual suicide after U.S. troops breach Japan's final defense on Okinawa.


June 18: The USAAF launches a devastating series of air raids that target the civilian populations of major Japanese cities.

U.S. 10th Army commander General Simon Bolivar Buckner is felled by shrapnel while inspecting the Okinawan front line.

June 19: Manhattan honors General Eisenhower with a ticker tape parade upon his return to the United States following victory in Europe.

June 21: U.S. troops capture Aparri, the last Japanese port on the Philippine island of Luzon. However, substantial Japanese forces will continue the fight on Luzon until the August surrender.

June 22: The bloodiest battle of the Pacific war ends as American troops secure Okinawa following their hard-won victory over the Japanese.

June 24: General Zhukov rides a white horse into Red Square (while troops defile captured Nazi flags) as the Soviet Union celebrates victory over Nazi Germany.

June 26: Fifty nations sign the United Nations Charter in San Francisco.

June 27: Czechoslovakian Nazi puppet Emil Hacha, former president of the Bohemia-Moravia Protectorate, dies in a prison hospital before he can be tried for treason.

June 27: A kamikaze strike on the USS Bunker Hill claims the lives of 373 American sailors.

July 3: The Western Allies occupy the sectors of Berlin allocated to the Americans, British, and French by prior agreement with the Soviet Union.

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights of the events of World War II in 1945, as Japanese forces struggled and failed to regain ground.

B-29 raids devastate Osaka, Japan: Desolation stretches as far as the eye can see after repeated B-29 incendiary raids on Osaka, which was Japan's second largest industrial city and the site of a military arsenal. The first incendiary raid on Osaka was conducted by 300 B-29s on the night of March 13, 1945. Within three hours, more than eight square miles of the city was in flames. The heat turbulence was so great that one B-29, Thunderin' Loretta, was flipped over on its back. On June 7, Osaka was hit by 400 B-29s. This was followed by another attack a week later. By then, there was little left to destroy.

Japanese children forced to work as a result of manpower shortage: Former schoolgirls learned to use factory lathes as Japan tries to cope with manpower shortages late in the war. Women, prisoners of war, and forced laborers were all moved into the workforce in an effort to maintain production. As many as 3.4 million children exchanged their studies for hard manual labor in the factories. Work was proclaimed to be "equal education." Underfed and unskilled, the children were subjected to long hours under harsh conditions. "We worked twelve hours straight -- no breaks except to go to the toilet which was outside the factory building," recalled one child laborer.

Heavy casualties on Okinawa, Japan: U.S. Marines were assaulted near Wana Ridge on Okinawa. Despite heavy casualties, the American divisions continued to batter the enemy defenses, transforming the terrain into a moonscape. Japanese resistance continued as General Ushijima Mitsuru's best units were gradually annihilated. Shuri fell in late May, and by mid-June the Japanese 32nd Army began to collapse. Ushijima committed suicide on June 22, and Japan lost 110,000 men in the battle. American dead totaled 12,281, making Okinawa the most costly Allied operation of the Pacific war -- which did not bode well for the upcoming invasion of Japan.

Japan's rocket-powered weapon, the Ohka (Cherry Blossom): U.S. Marines faced Japanese Ohka (Cherry Blossom) flying bomb at Okinawa's Yontan Airfield. Nicknamed "Baka" ("Fool") by the Allies, the rocket-propelled missile included a one-ton warhead. The weapon was designed to be launched from an aircraft and guided to its target -- usually a ship -- by a suicide pilot. The Ohka reached speeds of 650 mph in its rocket-assisted dive, making it virtually unstoppable on its final approach. Appearing late in the war, Ohkas are credited with sinking or damaging three ships beyond repair and significantly damaging three additional vessels.

Australians overtake Balikpapan, Borneo: Australian troops went ashore at Balikpapan on the southeast coast of Borneo in the last major amphibious assault of the Pacific war. The Seventh Australian Division landed in July 1945 to seize Balikpapan's port and oil fields. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Japanese offered stubborn resistance, but were eventually forced to retreat into the hills. Balikpapan cost the Australians 229 killed and 634 wounded. Japanese casualties totaled about 2,000. Conducted six weeks before Japan's surrender, the operation was later criticized as a waste of lives, although no one at the time could have realized that the war would end so abruptly.

See the next page for a detailed timeline of World War II events in July 1945, as World War II called for Japan's surrender.

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World War II Timeline: July 5, 1945-July 19, 1945

Allied forces liberated the Philippines in July 1945. The World War II timeline below summarizes this and other important events in July of 1945.

World War II Timeline: July 5-July 19

July 5: General MacArthur announces that forces under his command have succeeded in liberating the Philippines from Japanese rule.


John Curtin, Australia's wartime prime minister, dies of heart disease at age 60.

July 8: In what will prove to be the worst massacre at a POW camp in American history, guard Clarence Bertucci strafes a Utah tent city full of sleeping German prisoners with machine gun fire, killing eight.

RAF sergeant Simon Eden, son of British foreign secretary Anthony Eden, is listed as missing in action in Burma.

July 10: Tokyo's production and military facilities come under intense attack.

July 12: Britain honors Soviet Union general Zhukov and the Red Army in a ceremony at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate in occupied Germany.

July 13: Former Axis partner Italy declares war on Japan.

July 14: General Eisenhower officially dissolves the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force.

July 15: After more than 2,000 nights of mandatory blackouts, Britain turns on the lights.

July 16: Truman, Churchill, and Stalin meet near Berlin at the Potsdam Conference, at which they will issue a new public demand for Japan's surrender.

As Truman begins the summit at Potsdam, he receives word of the first successful detonation of an atomic bomb, at New Mexico's Alamogordo testing grounds.

July 19: In the largest B-29 bomb raid to date, 600 of the heavy bombers drop 4,000 tons of munitions on Japanese cities, including Choshi, Fukui, Hitachi, and Okazaki.

World War II Headlines

The headlines and images below outline more details of World War II, such as prostitution in Berlin and Alfred Krupp's industrial empire.

UNRRA administers displaced-persons camps: The war was far from over in 1943. However, the leaders of 44 nations began to plan for rehabilitating the nations freed from Axis control and caring for the millions of displaced persons. On November 9, 1943, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was formed to provide much-needed relief. After the war, the UNRRA administered hundreds of displaced-persons camps, primarily in Italy, Austria, and Germany. Here in July 1945, UNRRA volunteers give bread to survivors of a German concentration camp.

Germans lack food and shelter: When not playing, children searched for food to escape hunger. "There were G.I. mess halls," remembered American private George Stone, "where at the garbage pails where you scraped off your mess kit or plate, there were small children 3-4-5 years old with a little can or pail begging for the scrapings to take home to feed the family." The situation did not improve by that winter. "Thousands of shivering, tired Germans lugged their bundles of wood to cold, bombed houses," reported Time magazine in December 1945. "Hospitals were crowded. Because the patients were undernourished, many died."

Ex-Wehrmacht officer Reinhard Gehlen heads intelligence group: Soon after the war in Europe ended, Major General Reinhard Gehlen, an intelligence officer in the German army, surrendered to the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps. He negotiated his release and that of his colleagues from American POW camps in exchange for volumes of intelligence that his department, Foreign Forces -- East, had collected on the activities of the Soviet Union (but which proved mostly erroneous). Within a year, Gehlen became the head of a West German intelligence group that eventually would grow to more than 4,000 agents. He remained the leader of this group until he retired in 1968.

The secret city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee: A billboard at the top-secret Oak Ridge facility reminds workers of the need for silence. Located in a remote mountain area of central Tennessee, Oak Ridge was created in 1942 for work on the Manhattan Project. As headquarters for the entire atomic bomb project, Oak Ridge housed a graphite reactor and facilities for producing the fissionable uranium isotope 235. All the while, the government tried to keep the city secret. Though it grew to a population of 75,000, the city never appeared on any maps. Security was enhanced by geography, fences, armed guards, and a strict system of badges and passes.

The Alfried Krupp empire: In 1957 Time magazine stated that German manufacturer Alfried Krupp was "the wealthiest man in Europe -- and perhaps in the world." Krupp rebuilt his industrial empire in less than six years after his release from prison, to which he had been sentenced in 1945 to 12 years as a war criminal. In his trial, it had been determined that his factories used slave laborers from concentration camps. Thousands of these laborers died due to poor rations, over-work, and deliberate killing. Krupp was released from prison early, and his property was returned, when Allied leaders decided that the steel produced by his factories was important for the stability of West Germany and the free world.

Prostitution in Berlin: To prevent black market activity, looting, and prostitution, Allied commanders made a futile attempt to prohibit soldiers from fraternizing with civilians in occupied Germany. It soon became apparent that violations of this order were unenforceable. Within six months of the fall of Berlin, more than 500,000 women turned to prostitution, many to provide for themselves and their families. One German official observed that even "nice girls of good families, good education and fine background have discovered their bodies afford the only real living." Incidents of venereal disease in Berlin more than doubled in the last six months of 1945.

See the next page for a detailed timeline of World War II events in July 1945, when the first atomic bomb explosion rocked the New Mexico desert.

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World War II Timeline: July 23, 1945-July 30, 1945

Photo courtesy Legacy Publishers

Nazi war crimes trials were underway in July 1945. The World War II timeline below summarizes these and other important events in July of 1945.

World War II Timeline: July 23-July 30

July 23: The trial of Nazi collaborator Marshal Philippe Pétain begins at Paris' Palais de Justice.


July 24: The USAAF raids the densely populated Japanese cities of Osaka and Nagoya with some 600 B-29 bombers.

July 26: Truman, Attlee, and Stalin issue a statement from Potsdam warning the Japanese that they face "utter destruction" if they do not surrender unconditionally. Tokyo will reject the ultimatum within the week.

The USS Indianapolis delivers critical atomic bomb components to the bombing base at Tinian.

The Labour Party takes power in Britain, forcing out Conservative Winston Churchill. He will be replaced at Potsdam by the new prime minister, Clement Attlee, on the 27th.

July 27: The USAAF drops some 600,000 leaflets over 11 Japanese cities, warning civilians of probable air raids.

July 28: More than a dozen people die when a B-25 bomber pilot becomes disoriented in heavy fog and crashes into New York's Empire State Building.

Japan's kamikaze pilots sink their last Allied ship, as the USS Callaghan goes down off Okinawa.

More than 13,000 Japanese troops die, either from hostile fire or drowning, in an attempt to retreat over Burma's Sittang River.

July 29-30: The USS Indianapolis goes down after being struck by two torpedoes fired from a Japanese submarine. A series of operational errors will delay rescue for days, by which time three-quarters of the crew will perish, many from shark attacks.

July 30: The Japanese government instructs its civilian population to collect acorns to stave off starvation.

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights and images that outline the events of World War II, including the first atomic explosion.

The first atomic explosion is a test in the New Mexican desert: On July 16, 1945, a plutonium-core nuclear bomb was raised to the top of a 65-foot-high steel tower in the New Mexican desert about 30 miles southeast of Socorro. The Trinity test began when the bomb, called "the gadget," was detonated on July 16 at 5:30 a.m. The scientists, watching 10 miles from the tower, had disagreed on what would happen following the detonation -- from nothing to the end of the world. Instead it caused an explosion that was about the equivalent of 19 kilotons of TNT. The flash it created brightened the surrounding mountains and emitted a mushroom cloud about eight miles high.

Harry Truman and Allied leaders attend the Potsdam Conference: President Harry Truman had his first and only meeting with the other Allied leaders, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, in Potsdam, Germany, from July 17 to August 2, 1945. Churchill left before the conference ended because his party had lost the British general election; he was replaced by Clement Attlee. The Potsdam agreements clarified major postwar issues for Germany and Poland. The Potsdam Declaration called for Japan to surrender unconditionally or face complete destruction.

Crew members killed by sharks after sinking of the Indianapolis: Medical personnel tend to sailors from the USS Indianapolis who survived days in the water after the heavy cruiser was sunk by a Japanese submarine. Indianapolis, returning after delivering atomic bomb parts to Tinian, went down in 12 minutes on July 30, 1945. Though the ship was overdue at Leyte, no alert was issued. The survivors were accidentally spotted by a patrol aircraft on August 2. Of the 1,196 crew members, all but 317 died, many of them killed by sharks. In a remarkable miscarriage of justice, the Navy placed blame for the disaster on the ship's captain, Charles McVay, charging him with "failing to zig-zag."

President Harry Truman's approval for the atomic attacks: A handwritten note by President Harry Truman approves the wording of a statement he plans to issue after the first atomic bomb is dropped on Japan. Sent in reply to a cable from Secretary of War Henry Stimson, the message reads, "Release [the statement] when ready but not sooner than August 2." The Allies' demand for unconditional surrender, sent to Japan on July 26, 1945, was rejected. The U.S. had successfully tested an A-bomb in mid-July, so by the end of the month Truman knew that at least one of the two A-bombs that remained would be dropped on Japan, sooner rather than later.

Preparation for the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The selection of potential atomic bomb targets began even before the Trinity test bomb was detonated near Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. The Target Committee at Los Alamos recommended Hiroshima as a likely target as early as May. By late July, the list of potential targets included four cities: Hiroshima, Kokura, Kyoto, and Niigata. Kyoto was later dropped from the list due to its significance as a cultural center. Nagasaki took Kyoto's place. Hiroshima remained the primary target, followed by Kokura and Nagasaki. Each city had military facilities of some type. Hiroshima was a headquarters and logistics base; Kokura had a large munitions plant; Nagasaki had various arms factories.

Of equal importance, these sprawling urban areas did not require precision bomb drops and would vividly demonstrate the destructiveness of the new weapons. Civilian casualties were not an issue. This was total war, and civilian populations were considered a legitimate target in the effort to break Japan's will to fight. At 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay dropped a U-235 bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" on the primary target, Hiroshima. The resulting blast instantly killed upwards of 80,000 people and damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the city's buildings.

Three days later, the B-29 Bock's Car, carrying the plutonium bomb "Fat Man," aborted over its primary target, Kokura, due to heavy cloud cover. Bock's Car proceeded to Nagasaki, its secondary target, and dropped the second atomic bomb of the war shortly after 11 a.m. About 25,000 people were instantly killed. On August 15, Japan capitulated.The morality of the bombings has been passionately debated. Critics maintain that Japan was already near surrender; that the bombs were intended primarily as a warning to the Russians; and that racism was a motivating factor. Proponents argue that the bombings saved hundreds of thousands of American lives--and, in the long term, perhaps millions of Japanese as well--by forcing a speedy surrender.

Colonel Paul Tibbets in charge of A-bomb drop: The Enola Gay was the B-29 that carried the atomic bomb in the attack on Hiroshima. Colonel Paul Tibbets spent months organizing and training the 509th Composite Group to meet the unique challenges of dropping atomic bombs, all with no assurance that the mission would actually take place. The successful bomb test in New Mexico in July 1945, followed by Japan's rejection of a demand for unconditional surrender, prompted President Truman to authorize use of the bomb.

The atomic bomb devastates Hiroshima, Japan: Hiroshima was devastated following the atomic bomb attack by Enola Gay on August 6, 1945. The bomb detonated at 8:16 a.m., 1,900 feet above Shima Hospital. The fireball was so intense, it melted granite. The concussion obliterated virtually every building within two miles. A column of smoke and debris as high as Mount Everest rose into the sky. Upwards of 80,000 people were killed outright. Thousands would die later, many from radiation sickness. Nevertheless, the bombing probably saved lives elsewhere in Japan. Had the bomb not encouraged an end to the war, millions of Japanese might have died of starvation, of disease, in fire-bombing raids, and in efforts to resist a U.S. ground invasion of the home islands.

Below is a Japanese journalist's description of Hiroshima immediately following the atomic blast, as told to Marcel Junod of the Red cross.

Beyond the zone of utter death in which nothing remained alive, houses collapsed in a whirl of beams, bricks and girders. Up to about three miles from the center of the explosion lightly built houses were flattened as though they had been built of cardboard. Those who were inside were either killed or wounded. Those who managed to extricate themselves by some miracle found themselves surrounded by a ring of fire....

About half an hour after the explosion, whilst the sky all around Hiroshima was still cloudless, a fine rain began to fall on the town and went on for about five minutes. It was caused by the sudden rise of over-heated air to a great height, where it condensed and fell back as rain. Then a violent wind rose and the fires extended with terrible rapidity, because most Japanese houses are built only of timber and straw.

By the evening the fire began to die down and then it went out. There was nothing left to burn, Hiroshima had ceased to exist.

How Japanese died in the atomic attacks: Stripped of flesh by the blast, the skeletons of Hiroshima bombing victims were found in the rubble houses. Many of those exposed to the initial fireball were simply vaporized -- some leaving only their silhouettes imprinted on walls or pavement. Others died of thermal burns, from flying debris, in the collapse of buildings, or in the resulting fires. Japanese relief efforts began within days, as rice, wheat, sandals, and other necessities arrived. Medical care was less prompt, since many physicians had been killed or injured in the bombing. Thousands of victims succumbed within weeks to a mysterious illness later identified as radiation sickness. The Japanese government downplayed the carnage and expressed a determination to fight on.

See the next page for a detailed timeline of World War II events in July and August of 1945, when atomic attacks forced Japan into surrender.

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

Atomic bomb attacks forced Japan to surrender at last in August 1945. The World War II timeline below summarizes this and other important events in July and August of 1945.

World War II Timeline: July 31-August 14

July 31: Former Vichy prime minister Pierre Laval surrenders in Austria.


August 2: Some 6,600 tons of bombs, a wartime high, are dropped overnight on several Japanese cities. The city of Toyama is almost totally destroyed.

August 3: The Allies emerge victorious from the Battle of the Breakthrough, bringing an end to all Japanese resistance in Burma.

The Allies tighten the noose around Japan as U.S. bombers complete their mining of Japan's major ports.

August 6: The United States drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, killing approximately 80,000 civilians in the initial blast.

A crash during an experimental jet test-flight claims the life of Major Richard Bong, the most successful American WWII flying ace (40 kills).

August 8: President Truman delivers a radio address in which he threatens to unleash more nuclear devastation on Japan.

The Soviet Union declares war against Japan.

August 9: With President Truman's signature, the United States becomes the first country to ratify the United Nations Charter.

Approximately 25,000 die as the U.S. drops a second atomic bomb, this one on Nagasaki, Japan.

August 11: The Japanese offer of surrender, delivered on August 10 and conditional on the continued sovereignty of Emperor Hirohito, is rejected by U.S. secretary of state James Byrnes.

August 12: Emperor Hirohito orders a divided Japanese government to surrender.

August 14: Washington orders the suspension of hostilities in Asia and the resumption of automobile production on the home front.

A coup attempt, in which a group of Japanese army officers tries to take the Imperial Palace and prevent surrender, fails.

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights and images that outline the events surrounding the end of World War II, including the atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki and the surrender of Japan.

Americans killed by Hiroshima bomb: Sergeant Hugh Atkinson of Seattle was among an estimated 20 U.S. POWs killed in the atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima. Atkinson's B-24, Lonesome Lady, had been shot down on July 28, and he was imprisoned at Chugoko Military Police Headquarters near the epicenter of the blast. One account indicates that Atkinson survived the bombing and was later beaten to death. The possibility exists that some of the POWs were murdered before or after the atomic bomb attack. Two naval aviators who survived the initial explosion are known to have died of radiation sickness and beatings several days later.

Nagasaki atomic bomb is called "Fat Man": "Fat Man" was the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Unlike "Little Boy," the uranium bomb used against Hiroshima, Fat Man was an implosion-type weapon that employed plutonium. About 11 feet long and five feet in diameter, it was twice as wide as Little Boy. The new design resulted from the greater availability of plutonium and the fact that the implosion method was less susceptible to accidental detonation than the simple "gun type" ignition used with Little Boy. The new design also yielded a greater blast.

The second atomic bomb is dropped on Nagasaki: A mushroom cloud boils skyward over the industrial city of Nagasaki following the detonation of a plutonium bomb on August 9. The B-29 Bock's Car, piloted by Major Charles Sweeney, aborted an attack on Kokura due to heavy cloud cover and proceeded to Nagasaki, the secondary target. Finding a break in the clouds, he carried out the bombing shortly after 11 a.m. Heated controversy arose later over the necessity for the second bomb attack, but the mission was carried out because of the lack of reaction from the Japanese government following the Hiroshima bombing.

Japan surrenders to the Allies: On August 14, 1945, the Japa­nese news agency Domei announced that the war was over. A crowd gathered before Emperor Hirohito's palace. People wept and bowed to the ground in disgrace, repeating "Forgive us, O Emperor, our efforts were not enough." Hirohito's subjects heard his voice for the first time ever the next day at noon, Tokyo time, when he formally announced the end of the war and directed the Japanese people to cooperate with the Allied occupation. American newspapers splashed the news in very large type on their front pages on the 14th and 15th of August.

Results of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Pictured is ground zero in Nagasaki before and after the bombing. Though the city had good bomb shelters, many Japanese had become blasé about air raids and ignored the warning sirens on August 9. Due in part to the hilly topography, damage was confined to an area about 2.3 miles by 1.9 miles. Fire was limited by waterways. Some medical services survived, and even train service continued. The number of deaths was lower than at Hiroshima, with the Japanese government assessing the figure at 25,000. Ironically, Emperor Hirohito was at that very moment trying to decide how to end the war.

Japanese "bear the unbearable" following Japan's surrender: Japa­nese around the world cried as they listened to Emperor Hirohito's radio broadcast announcing Japan's surrender. Hearing the voice of their "living god" for the first time, the populace strained to make out his message through the formal language and poor reception. "The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage," observed the Emperor. The Japanese people "must now bear the unbearable and endure the unendurable." Millions wept. Some military officers committed suicide, while others talked of continued resistance. But for many Japanese, beneath the grief and shock was also a sense of relief. The war was over.

V-J Day celebration: On August 15, more than two million people crowded into New York's Times Square anxiously awaiting word that the war with Japan was over. The New York Times agreed to keep its revolving news sign active until an announcement was made. Finally, at 7:03 p.m. Eastern Time, a message flashed across the Times sign stating, "Official -- Truman Announces Japanese Surrender." The pent-up energy of the revelers exploded in a whirl of hysteria. Strangers hugged and kissed each other. This picture of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square is not the famous photograph taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt but one taken simultaneously by Navy photographer Victor Jorgensen.

See the next page for a detailed timeline of World War II events in August of 1945, as the tail-end of Japanese resistance was squashed.

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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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World War II Timeline: September 2, 1944-September 26, 1944

Japan's formal surrender came in September of 1945. The World War II timeline below summarizes this and other important events in September of 1945.

World War II Timeline: September 2-September 26

September 2: Japanese officials formally surrender to the Allies aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.


Vietnamese nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh proclaims Vietnam's independence, despite the objections of the ruling French.

September 5: Iva Toguri D'Aquino, the Japanese American pro-Axis radio broadcaster known as Tokyo Rose, is arrested in Yokohama, Japan.

British authorities reoccupy Singapore.

September 7: The Allies stage a victory parade in occupied Berlin.

September 8: The United States stations troops in South Korea in accordance with an agreement between Washington and Moscow.

September 9: The repatriation of American troops begins with Operation Magic Carpet.

Some one million Japanese troops surrender to General Chiang Kai-shek in Nanking, China.

September 10: Former Norwegian premier Vidkun Quisling is found guilty of treason, for which he will be executed on October 24.

September 11: Former Japanese prime minister General Tojo Hideki shoots himself rather than submit to arrest by American troops. He survives, however, and will live in U.S. custody until his execution in 1948.

September 16: Britain reestablishes authority over its Hong Kong colony, as the Japanese garrison officially surrenders.

September 19: Britain's Labour government under Clement Attlee begins negotiations with India's Congress Party regarding Indian independence.

September 26: President Truman announces the equitable division of what is left of the German fleet between the three principal Allies.

World War II Headlines

Below are more headlines that outline the events after the close of World War II, including the reeducation of German students and the official surrender ceremonies.

Allies reeducate Germany's students: Rebuilding the German education system was one of the highest priorities for the Allies. In those sections of Germany and Berlin controlled by the U.S., Britain, and France, the emphasis was placed on reeducating youth -- who had been raised for years on Fascist doctrines -- in the fundamentals of democracy. In the Soviet Union sectors, Marxist and Leninist principles were taught. The first step in the denazification process was to replace any teacher who was unwilling or unable to give up his or her Fascist beliefs. Before this new educational process could begin, however, students were required to turn in their Nazi-oriented textbooks.

Japan's surrender delegation in Tokyo Bay: Led by Foreign Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru and Army Chief of Staff Umezu Yoshijiro, the Japanese delegation arrived aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, to sign the instrument of surrender. Though the formal terms called for unconditional surrender, it had been inferred that the emperor would retain nominal authority. Umezu was present under duress; he agreed to participate only after a personal appeal by the emperor. Shigemitsu, who felt the war must end, viewed his assignment as "a painful but profitable task." Unsure of protocol, the 11-member delegation had been advised to put on a shiran kao (nonchalant face) during the proceedings. Civilians should remove their hats and bow, they were told. Military personnel should salute.

Japanese surprised by American GIs' kindness: Wild rumors prior to the American occupation told of rapes and looting. Women and valuables were hidden, and some factories issued poison capsules to female workers. Despite Japanese fears, American troops were generally well behaved, and the occupation proceeded smoothly. "We had images of glaring demons with horns sprouting from their heads," recalled Naokata Sasaki, a young student at the time. "We were disappointed, of course. No horns at all." To his surprise, the Americans seemed quite friendly and even gave the children chocolate.

World and military leaders sign instruments of surrender: General Douglas MacArthur stands at the broadcast microphone as General Umezu signs the instrument of surrender on behalf of the Japanese Imperial Headquarters. Foreign Minister Shigemitsu signed on behalf of the emperor. MacArthur signed on behalf of the Allied powers, while Admiral Chester Nimitz signed for the United States. Those in attendance included representatives of all the Allied powers, as well as such military officers as Admiral William Halsey and Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright. The ceremony, broadcast worldwide, lasted only 23 minutes, ending at 9:25 a.m. Minutes later, hundreds of Navy fighters and Army B-29s roared overhead in a prearranged show of American military might.

General Douglas MacArthur takes charge in Japan: A widely circulated photograph of General Douglas MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito, taken on September 27, 1945, shocked the Japanese public, as it left little doubt as to who was now in charge of Japan. MacArthur successfully resisted efforts to put the defeated emperor on trial as a war criminal. He believed Hirohito would be of greater value as a symbol of continuity, as one who would discourage resistance to the occupation, and as an instrument to transform Japan into a democracy with a minimum of social upheaval. The emperor cooperated. He renounced his "divinity" and left MacArthur as the most powerful man in Japan.

"Tokyo Rose" signifies number of anti-American women broadcasters: Iva Toguri D'Aquino, a Japanese American woman, was trapped in Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor. She found a job at Radio Tokyo and eventually became a broadcaster named Orphan Annie on an anti-American program called The Zero Hour. When she returned to the U.S. after the war, she was tried for treason. However, it became evident that no one "Tokyo Rose" had existed. It was a name created by American troops to signify a number of women who broadcast anti-American propaganda during the war. Nevertheless, D'Aquino was found guilty of treason. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and was released after six years. President Gerald Ford pardoned her in 1977.

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CONTRIBUTING WRITERS:John S. D. Eisenhower, Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Richard Overy Ph.D., David J. A. Stone, Wim Coleman, Martin F. Graham, James H. Hallas, Mark Johnston Ph.D., Christy Nadalin M.A., Pat Perrin, Peter Stanley Ph.D.