At the Casablanca and Tehran Conferences the Allies and the Soviet Union agreed to fight until the Axis unconditionally surrendered. For months starting in March 1945, Curtis Lemay’s B-29’s firebombed Japan’s primarily wooden cities causing great destruction and massive casualties among Japan’s population. Nimitz’ Navy mined the island channels which destroyed Japan’s economy, and his fast attack carriers raided Japan’s coasts with impunity. Japan’s industry was reduced to ruins, but battle hardened troops from China, many of whom had been fighting there for decades were brought back to Japan. Japan’s fanatical government mobilized the population to defend against the inevitable Allied invasion of the Home Islands.
Operation Downfall, the Allied invasion of the Japanese Home Islands, was scheduled to begin in November 1945. Downfall had two component operations: Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu in November, and Operation Coronet, the invasion of Honshu in March 1946. Based on the Japanese military and civilian resistance on Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, Allied planners predicted a million Allied casualties. (So many Purple Heart medals were created for the invasion of Japan, that we are still using them today.) The Allied commanders feared “an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other”. Planners predicted that “20%” of the “fanatically hostile” Japanese population would die defending the islands.
At the Potsdam Conference at the end July 1945, a declaration was made by the Allies and the Soviet Union threatening “great destruction” unless the Japanese surrendered unconditionally. The Japanese refused, demanding that the Emperor and his administration continue to govern Japan, and no Allied occupation force set foot on Japanese soil.
On 6 August 1945, the B-29 “Enola Gay” dropped the first atomic bomb, the 15Kton “Little Boy” which used uranium for its fission, on Hiroshima. 20,000 Japanese soldiers were killed, and 150,000 civilians died in the initial blast, the immediate fires and destruction, or from radiation.
The Japanese officially ignored the attack, even after Truman announced it to the world. Most Japanese outside Hiroshima did not even know it occurred, so tight was the government’s control of the population, until Allied leaflets told them. The Japanese dismissed the leaflets as propaganda.
On 9 August, 1945, the B-29 “Bockscar” flew to Kokura with the plutonium atomic bomb “Fat Man”. When Bockscar got to Kokura the crew found haze and smoke obscured the city as well as the large ammunition arsenal that was the reason for targeting the city. After three unsuccessful passes, they broke off and headed to their secondary target Nagasaki. Nagasaki, situated in a valley, was difficult to target and relatively unscathed as far Japanese cities went in 1945. Thought safe from bombing, Nagasaki was packed with refugees. 80,000 civilians died as a result of the atomic bombing.
(“Kokura’s Luck” is a common Japanese phrase to describe escaping a terrible occurrence without being aware of the danger.)
Also on 9 August, the Soviet Union invaded Japanese occupied Manchuria.
The Japanese still refused to surrender unconditionally. A third atomic bomb was readied.
On 12 August 1945, Japan agreed to surrender, but again only conditionally. They continued to demand that the Allies agree to Emperor Hirohito’s imperial government remaining in power, and no Allied occupation of the Home Islands before Japan would surrender.
Truman ignored the offer, though he did refuse to authorize the use of the third atomic bomb (“all those kids…”). The next morning, bombers dropped copies of the surrender request all across Japan. In response to the demands, Admiral Nimitz directed his carriers to strike targets around Tokyo on the afternoon of 13 August and General Carl Spaatz ordered another thousand bomber raid on Tokyo for the next day.
With no more word from Japan, on the morning of 14 August 1945, the Allies had had enough of Japan’s procrastination and launched the largest series of raids and attacks on the Home Islands so far in the war, primarily in the Kyoto/Tokyo/Yokohama area. 1,014 B-29s struck Japan along with thousands of smaller bombers and carrier based planes. Anything with wings that could reach the Japan was ordered to attack. Additionally, every surface vessel in the 3rd and 5th Fleets was ordered to shell targets on the Home Islands. They ranged from big Iowa class battleships launching 16” shells twenty miles inland to PT boats shooting up Japanese fishing trawlers and coastal villages with their .50 Cal machine guns.
Iwakuni, Osaka, Tokoyama, Kumagaya, and Isesaki were devastated, and what remained of Tokyo was destroyed.
The leaflets announcing Japan’s surrender offer had a profound effect on the Japanese Emperor and his Imperial cabinet. They could not deny them to the Japanese people. On 13 August, they agreed to offer to surrender with one condition, the Emperor remain on the throne as a figurehead while the Allied occupation force governed Japan after the surrender. The Allies, particularly Truman, were sure to accept, but it almost didn’t matter.
Unbeknownst to the Allies, the Japanese military attempted a coup on the night of the 13th in order to prevent any communication with the Allies. The Emperor had recorded the surrender message that afternoon and the vinyl record was given to the Emperor’s Chief of Seals, Kōichi Kido, to be played the next day to the Japanese people. That night Major Kenji Hatanaka and his conspirators launched the coup. Hatanaka and his men seized the Imperial Palace to destroy the recording, while others fanned across the city. The coup failed by the evening of the 14th, mostly due to the efforts of three men. Kōichi Kido locked himself in a secret vault in the Imperial Palace, which Hatanaka tore the Palace apart looking for the recording. He never found it. Kōichi only emerged from the vault after troops loyal to the Emperor recaptured the Palace. That there were still loyal troops was due to the efforts of General Shizuichi Tanaka, the commander of the Eastern Army, and his chief of staff. Tanaka convinced many of the plotters to go home, and his chief of staff refused the use of the radio for the ringleaders to broadcast their messages to the Japanese people.
On the morning of the 15th (Japanese time) the Emperor accepted the Allied terms of “Unconditional Surrender” and dispatched members of the Imperial family to personally inform the commanders in China, Korea, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific, who would invariably believe the pronouncements to be Allied propaganda. The Allies acknowledged receipt of the surrender at 7 pm 14 August 1945 (Washington DC time), just Emperor Hirohito was announcing it to the Japanese people. The Allies agreed to let Emperor Hirohito remain on the throne as a figurehead. President Truman made an immediate radio address and spontaneous celebrations broke out across the world. The occupation of Japan began on 28 August and the official surrender documents would be signed on 2 September.
The most destructive war in human history was over. After almost six long years (14 in the case of the Republic of China) the Allies were victorious against German National Socialism, Italian Fascism, and Japanese Racial Militarism, and the totalitarianism and authoritarianism their corrupt ideologies inevitably encouraged.
The war to keep it that way, which had begun as early as the previous year, began in earnest the next day.