Victory over Japan Day, generally known as VJ Day.

Victory over Japan Day (also known as Victory in the Pacific Day, V-J Day, or V-P Day) is the day on which the Empire of Japan surrendered in World War II, in effect ending the war.

What is VJ Day?

August 15th marks 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.

The signing of the official surrender document wasn't to occur until 2nd September 1945 on the USS Battleship Missouri bringing an official end to the conflict. August 15th is the official V-J Day for the UK, while the official US commemoration is September 2nd.

In Japan, the day is known as the “Memorial Day for the end of the war”, and is observed on 15th August.

News of the Japanese surrender was the cause of great rejoicing throughout the world; but nowhere was it greater that in the enemy prison camps, for the men and women there it meant not only the end of the war but the end of a long term of hardship, humiliation and untold suffering.

Japan Surrenders.

On August 6th, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Three days later a second bomb exploded over Nagasaki. On that same day, August 9th, the Soviet Union launched hostilities against Japan by invading Manchuria, thus violating the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact that should have remained binding until April 1946. These crises resulted in feverish activity within Japanese Government, but each new meeting ended in impasse. The sole issue upon which the two opposing factions could agree was the necessity of safeguarding and preserving the Imperial Institution.

Even the frightening uncertainty created by the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the possibility the Tokyo itself might be next on the list of targets seemed incapable of budging some of the decision makers. There were members of the Government who refused to believe that Japan was finished.

In the end, saner heads prevailed. It is well that they did, for it is now known that even though Hiroshima and Nagasaki raids exhausted the American supply of the new atomic weapon a third bomb could have been dropped sometime after mid-August, and still other after that.

Even without this information, the more sensible of Japan’s leaders realised that further delay was impossible. With the support of Navy Minister Yonai, Foreign Minister Togo pressed for an immediate acceptance of the Potsdam Proclamation on the sole condition that it would not comprise any demands that would prejudice the prerogatives of His Majesty as sovereign ruler.

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. As formal surrender ceremonies confirmed Japan’s capitulation, General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, called attention to the elusive goal toward which humanity continues to struggle: “It is my earnest hope and indeed the hope al all mankind that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past – a world founded upon faith and understanding – a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfilment of his most cherished wish – for freedom, tolerance, and justice.” Unconditional surrender was declared after the loss of over 20 million lives in the Far East, the war in the Pacific was over.

Japanese military leaders onboard USS Missouri during the surrender ceremony on 09/02/1945 [Wiki Image]
Japanese military leaders onboard USS Missouri during the surrender ceremony on 09/02/1945 [Wiki Image]

The King, in his broadcast on 15th August 1945, Victory over Japan (VJ) Day said:

HM King George VI
HM King George VI

"Three months have passed since I asked you to join with me in an act of thanksgiving for the defeat of Germany."

"We then rejoiced that peace had returned to Europe, but we knew that a strong and relentless enemy still remained to be conquered in Asia. None could then tell how long or how heavy would prove the struggle that still awaited us."

"Japan has surrendered, so let us join in thanking Almighty God that war has ended throughout the world, and that in every country men may now turn their industry, skill, and science to repairing its frightful devastation and to building prosperity and happiness."

"Our sense of deliverance is overpowering, and with it all, we have a right to feel that we have done our duty."

"I ask you again at this solemn hour to remember all who have laid down their lives, and all who have endured the loss of those they love. Remember, too, the sufferings of those who fell into the hands of the enemy, whether as prisoners of war or because their homes had been overrun. They have been in our thoughts all through these dark years, and let us pray that one result of the defeat of Japan may be many happy reunions of those who have been long separated from each other."

"The campaigns in the Far East will be famous in history for many reasons. There is one feature of them which is a special source of pride to me, and also to you, the citizens of our British Commonwealth and Empire to whom I speak. In those campaigns there have fought, side by side with our allies, representatives of almost every unit in our great community - men from the Old Country, men from the Dominions, from India, and the Colonies. They fought in brotherhood; through their courage and endurance they conquered. To all of them and to the women who shared with them the hardships and dangers of war I send my proud and grateful thanks."

Historic buildings all over London were floodlit and people crowded onto the streets of every town and city shouting, singing, dancing, lighting bonfires and letting off fireworks.

A photograph taken from Westminster Bridge on VJ night, 15th August 1945 showing fireworks soaring over the roof of buildings into the Thames
A photograph taken from Westminster Bridge on VJ night, 15th August 1945 showing fireworks soaring over the roof of buildings into the Thames

How VJ Day is celebrated in modern times.

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.

In August 2020 it will the 75th Anniversary of Victory over Japan. After the cancelled events of VE Day 75th due to the COVID-19 outbreak there will be a number of celebrations and remembrance events to pay tribute to the veterans of the Far East campaign and thank them for the service and sacrifice. Events will also pay tributes to the thousands of Armed forces personnel from across the UK and Commonwealth who fought and died in the war against Japan, including those who were captured and held Prisoner of War by the Japanese Forces.

Prisoners of War of the Japanese 1939-1945

During World War II, the Japanese Armed Forces captured nearly 140,000 Allied military personnel (from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, India, Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United States) in the Southeast Asia and Pacific areas. They were forced to engage in the hard labour of constructing railways, roads, airfields, etc. to be used by the Japanese Armed Forces in the occupied areas. About 36,000 were transported to the Japanese Mainland to supplement the shortage of the work force, and compelled to work at the coal mines, mines, shipyards, munitions factories, etc. By the time the war was over, a total of more than 30,000 POWs had died from starvation, diseases, and mistreatment both within and outside of the Japanese Mainland.

According to the findings of the Tokyo Tribunal, the death rate of Western prisoners was 27.1%, seven times that of POWs under the Germans and Italians.

37,583 prisoners from the United Kingdom, Commonwealth and Dominions, 28,500 from Netherlands and 14,473 from the United States were released after the surrender of Japan.

At the end of the war, the Japanese Armed Forces destroyed all documents related to the POW Camps. Furthermore, the Japanese Government had been very negligent in keeping records of such historical facts during the war.

In addition to the number of POWs who reached Japanese camps, approximately 11,000 POWs tragically lost their lives when allied air and submarine forces attacked the ships transporting the POWs to Japan. Cruelly & ironically the Japanese frequently painted supply ships with Red Crosses, yet did not do the same for those vessels that deserved these markings.

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. The fully searchable database includes a list of World War II British Army prisoners of war (POW). They give the details not only of the prisoners who were released after Victory in Japan Day on 15th August 1945, but those who died in captivity.

Types of FEPOW Records on Forces War Records:

While records of POWs held by the Japanese are not as detailed as those of POWs held by Germany and Italy, they are nonetheless an incredibly useful tool for genealogists. In telling a part of a serviceman’s story, they provide information that may lead to the discovery of further leads or records, and ultimately help to uncover the richer details of a serviceman’s story. See the Full Collection lists held on Forces War Records HERE And to help you even further in your search you’ll also find a helpful tutorial on our site

The Cost of the War

World War II, or the Second World War (often abbreviated as WWII or WW2), was a global conflict that was underway by 1939 and ended in 1945. It involved most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: The Allies and the Axis. It was the most widespread war in history, with more than 100 million military personnel mobilised. In a state of "total war", the major participants placed their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities at the service of the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources.

One such belief, is that the Second World War did not inflict such dreadful wounds upon mankind as did the First World War. This belief is mistaken. The Second World War lasted longer than the First, and was conducted with unparalleled ferocity over larger proportion of the world’s surface, using weapons of far greater destructive power than had been conceived in the earlier war. It engaged the attentions and energies of a larger number of people and, in the end it killed or damaged far more of them; it seems likely that well over 50,000,000 perished as a result of the Second World War – a figure which includes the victims of deliberate attempts at genocide by German leaders against the 8.6+ million lives lost between 1914 and 1918.


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