THE BATTLE GOES ON
Europe was at peace, but the battle continues in the Pacific
Reach PLC (UK)
THE BATTLE GOES ON
While Europe celebrated victory against Germany in May 1945, many thousands of Allied servicemen were still fighting the Japanese in the Far East. Thousands more were held as prisoners of war in appalling conditions. The New York Times summed up the mixed feelings at the time: ‘Thousands of War and Navy employees [in Washington], some uniformed but mainly civilians, greeted the V-E news as soberly as their chiefs gave it to them. ‘There was thankfulness, but no cheering. Perhaps it was in recognition that this nation had only passed the halfway mark in its global war.’ On VE Day itself British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill had also reminded the country, ‘We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing, but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.’ Having fought their way across Europe, Allied service personnel now faced the stark possibility of being shipped East to engage Japan’s forces. British troops joked that the acronym for the British Liberation Army – BLA – could be redefined as ‘Burma Looms Ahead.’ Japan’s surprise attack on the US base at Pearl Harbor in December 1941 was its opening salvo against American, British and Dutch interests in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. Japanese forces conquered Allied possessions across the region, including attacks on British territories in Hong Kong, Malaya (now Malaysia), Burma (now Myanmar) and Singapore. However, its aim to have a short war in which it weakened US naval might and captured vital oil supplies was a failure. Japan suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Midway Island in June 1942. After that the US started to drive the Japanese back island by island, with the ultimate target of an attack on Japan itself. When in April 1945 American forces landed on Okinawa, with support from a combined British Commonwealth fleet, hundreds of kamikaze suicide planes failed to stop them. The threat to Japan was now just 350 miles away. However, Japanese resistance on Okinawa was near-fanatical, and the Americans suffered 50,000 casualties when taking the island, with 90,000 Japanese killed and a further 100,000 civilians dead. Such losses, and the prospect of further enormous US casualties in an assault on Japan itself, were instrumental in President Truman’s decision to drop America’s new terrifying weapon, the atomic bomb, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. After those devastating attacks, Japanese representatives formally surrendered aboard the USS Missouri on 2 September 1945.