On board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Japan formally surrenders to the Allies, ending World War II.
In the summer of 1945, Japan’s defeat was a definite conclusion. The Japanese navy and air force were destroyed. The Allied naval blockade on Japan and the intensive bombing of Japanese cities had devastated the country and its economy.
In late June, the Americans captured Okinawa, the Japanese island where the Allies could launch an invasion of Japan’s main islands. US General Douglas MacArthur was assigned to the attack, which was codenamed “Operation Olympics” and set for November 1945.
The Japanese invasion was promised to be the bloodiest naval attack of all time, estimated to be 10 times more expensive than the Normandy invasion in terms of Allied casualties. On July 16, a new option became available when the United States secretly detonated the world’s first atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert.
Ten days later, the Allies issued the Potsdam Declaration, demanding “unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces”. Failure to comply with it means “the complete and inevitable destruction of the Japanese armed forces and equally inevitable the destruction of the Japanese homeland”, quoted from History.com .
On July 28, Japanese Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki responded by telling the press that his government was “not paying attention” to the Allied ultimatum. US President Harry S. Truman ordered the destruction to continue, and on August 6, the US B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing about 80,000 people and fatally injuring thousands more.
After the Hiroshima attack, the faction of Japan’s supreme war council supported acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration, but the majority rejected unconditional surrender. On August 8, Japan’s desperate situation took a turn for the worse when the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. The following day, Soviet troops attacked in Manchuria, quickly taking control of Japanese positions there, and a second US atomic bomb was dropped on the coastal city of Nagasaki in Japan.
Just before midnight on August 9, Japanese Emperor Hirohito held a supreme war council meeting. After lengthy emotional debate, he supported Prime Minister Suzuki’s proposal under which Japan would accept the Potsdam Declaration “with the understanding that the Declaration does not compromise any request that is detrimental to His Majesty’s prerogative as a sovereign ruler.” The council complied with Hirohito’s peace acceptance, and on August 10 the message was forwarded to the United States.
On August 12, the United States replied, “the authority of the emperor and the Japanese government to rule the country is subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces,” noted History.com . After two days of debating over what this statement implied, Emperor Hirohito set aside the nuances in the text and declared that peace takes precedence over destruction. He ordered the Japanese government to prepare a text accepting submission.
On the early hours of August 15, a military coup was attempted by a faction led by Major Kenji Hatanaka. The rebels seized control of the imperial court and burned down the residence of Prime Minister Suzuki, but shortly after dawn the coup was crushed. At noon that day, Emperor Hirohito broadcast national radio for the first time announcing Japan’s surrender.
In his unusual court language, he told his people, “we have decided to pave the way for great peace for all generations to come by enduring what is unbearable and suffering what is unbearable.” The United States immediately accepted Japan’s surrender.
President Truman appointed MacArthur to lead the Allied occupation of Japan as Supreme Allied Commander. For Japan’s official surrender site, Truman chose the USS Missouri, a warship that had seen considerable action in the Pacific and was named after Truman’s country of origin. MacArthur, instructed to lead the surrender, postponed the ceremony until September 2 to allow time for representatives of all major Allied powers to arrive.
On Sunday, September 2, more than 250 Allied warships docked in Tokyo Bay. The flags of the United States, Britain, Soviet Union and China fly over the deck of the USS Missouri. Right after 9am Tokyo time, Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signed on behalf of the Japanese government. General Yoshijiro Umezu then signed a contract with the Japanese armed forces, and his assistant officials wept when he signed.
Supreme Commander MacArthur further signed, stating, “It is my earnest hope and indeed the hope of all humanity that from this solemn opportunity a better world will emerge from the blood and massacres of the past,” as reported by History.com .
Ten more signatures were inscribed, each by the United States, China, Britain, the Soviet Union, Australia, Canada, France, the Netherlands and New Zealand. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz signed a contract with the United States. As the 20-minute ceremony ended, sunlight broke through the low-hanging clouds. The most terrible war in human history has ended.