Today, August 15th marks the 72th anniversary of the announcement that Japan had surrendered to the Allies in 1945 - ending nearly six years of the Second World War. The day is known as 'Victory in Japan Day' or 'VJ Day' celebrating peace and commemorating all those who fought and lost their lives - around 52,000 Britons died including 12,000 prisoners of war.
During the course of the Second World War, over 140,000 Allied soldiers were captured by the Armed Forces of the Empire of Japan. These men were kept in barbaric conditions, utilised as forced labour, tortured for information and used for medical experiments. Japan, while a signatory of the 1929 Geneva Convention, never ratified it and thus ignored it. Treatment of Allied prisoners was so poor that over 30,000 died in captivity. Many of the guards responsible were subsequently tried for war crimes.
Immortalised in films such as “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957) and “To End all Wars” (2001), there is no denying the significant impact that these events had and continue to have on survivors, veterans and their families. Indeed, Japanese War Crimes against Prisoners of War are often a hotly debated topic.
On 14th August Japan bowed to the inevitable, an unconditional surrender was agreed. However, many soldiers refused to accept defeat. Before the Emperor went on the radio, an attempt was made by junior army officers to capture him and prevent him from exercising his influence. When the plan failed, a wave of people committed suicide outside the Imperial Palace in protest. On 24th August, a Kamikazi raid by junior air force officers was launched to try and sink USS Missouri, which was carrying the papers of surrender to Tokyo Bay to be signed. Once they were signed, the people reacted with disbelief and shame, and many vowed to fight on regardless (in fact, one or two soldiers held out in the jungles of the Philippines for decades, with intelligence officer Hiroo Onoda famously only being coaxed out of hiding when his former commanding officer travelled to the Philippines to rescind his original orders in person in March 1974).
The Japanese surrender, therefore, was not simply a response to the overwhelming devastation of the atomic bomb. It was something that had been coming for a while. From 17th July-2nd August 1945, the heads of government of the USA, USSR and UK met at the Potsdam Conference in Berlin. Weeks earlier, on 8th May 1945, Germany had surrendered unconditionally to the allies, and they discussed how to punish that country, and how to end the rest of the war. Japan was issued an ultimatum to surrender, or meet “prompt and utter destruction”, but remained silent. This was the Japanese pride at work- surrender meant disgrace, and they were unhappy with the ‘unconditional’ demand; however, it is debatable as to whether the nation’s leaders might have reacted differently, had they been forewarned of the power of the weapon facing them. The bomb was dropped without further ado.
At noon on 15th August, the people of Japan heard for the very first time the voice of their divine Emperor, who put the good of his country above the degradation of personal disgrace. While German’s war had been lost on the battlefield, and the rebellion of the troops had provoked ultimate surrender, in this case the decision came from the top. ‘Images of War 1939-1945’, issue 51, quotes the Emperor as saying, “To avoid further bloodshed and perhaps even the total extinction of human civilisation, we shall have to endure the unendurable and suffer the insufferable.” The Emperor’s word was law. The Japanese war was over, and on 2nd September 1945, the formal documents were signed aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Unconditional surrender was declared after the loss of over 20 million lives in the Far East.
Translation of the Imperial Rescript ending the War
TO OUR GOOD AND LOYAL SUBJECTS:
After pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining in Our Empire today, We have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure.
We have ordered Our Government to communicate to the Governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that Our Empire accepts the provisions of their Joint Declaration.
To strive for the common prosperity and happiness of all nations as well as the security and well-being of Our subjects is the solemn obligation which has been handed down by Our Imperial Ancestors and which lies close to Our heart.
Indeed, We declared war on America and Britain out of Our sincere desire to ensure Japan's self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from Our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement.
But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Despite the best that has been done by everyone – the gallant fighting of the military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of Our servants of the State, and the devoted service of Our one hundred million people – the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest.
Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should We continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.
Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects, or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.
We cannot but express the deepest sense of regret to Our Allied nations of East Asia, who have consistently cooperated with the Empire towards the emancipation of East Asia.
The thought of those officers and men as well as others who have fallen in the fields of battle, those who died at their posts of duty, or those who met with untimely death and all their bereaved families, pains Our heart night and day.
The welfare of the wounded and the war-sufferers, and of those who have lost their homes and livelihood, are the objects of Our profound solicitude.
The hardships and sufferings to which Our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great. We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all of you, Our subjects. However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is unsufferable.
Having been able to safeguard and maintain the structure of the Imperial State, We are always with you, Our good and loyal subjects, relying upon your sincerity and integrity.
Beware most strictly of any outbursts of emotion which may engender needless complications, or any fraternal contention and strike which may create confusion, lead you astray and cause you to lose the confidence of the world.
Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith in the imperishability of its sacred land, and mindful of its heavy burden of responsibility, and of the long road before it.
Unite your total strength, to be devoted to construction for the future. Cultivate the ways of rectitude, foster nobility of spirit, and work with resolution – so that you may enhance the innate glory of the Imperial State and keep pace with the progress of the world.
We should today acknowledge again the dept that we owe to the men of our own country, from the Dominions, India and from Colonies, and from the United Sates, who fighting not only against a ruthless and barbarous enemy by against appalling natural conditions have brought about this great event. The British Fourteenth Army was a multinational force comprising units from Commonwealth countries during World War II and was often referred to as the "Forgotten Army" because its operations in the Burma Campaign were overlooked by the contemporary press, and remained more obscure than those of the corresponding formations in Europe for long after the war.
Search Japanese Prisoner of War records - Many British and Allied military personnel were imprisoned in Japanese Prisoner of War camps, forced to live in appalling conditions starved, worked and beaten to death. The humanitarian terms of the Geneva Convention were largely ignored by the Japanese. Forces War Records understand that it can be hard to find information regarding Japanese Prisoner of War records so we’ve worked hard to provide a vast Japanese Prisoner of War database — available to search for free. The fully searchable database includes a list of World War II British Army prisoners of war (POW) and you can search by name, rank, service number, regiment, POW Number, Camp Type, Camp Number, Camp Location and notes. And to help you even further in your search you’ll also find a helpful tutorial on our site (Click on the magazine covers)