AUGUST 6, 1945, will remain forever a milestone in human annals. On that date the world's first atomic fission bomb was dropped upon Japan. The action may have been necessary for the purpose of saving American lives. But it was not merely another episode in the long history of man's inhumanity to man; and it was even more portentous than the final victory over Japan which quickly followed. For it marked the first harnessing of the sun's power on a large scale, with all the untold consequences for good and evil implicit in the achievement. The new chapter may end in man's reversion to a troglodyte, or it may lead to the establishment of a world brotherhood in which the forces of nature, including man's own passions, are harnessed to the common good.
The war against Japan reached its end as suddenly as it had begun, months before most of our military leaders had dared to hope for it. The surprise ending was a consequence of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of Russia's eleventh-hour entry into the conflict, but it was also a result of our previous sweeping victories in the Pacific. Even before August 6, Japan was hopelessly beaten. The only unresolved question was whether she would continue a futile struggle and make us pay still further in lives and time, or whether her leaders would accept the inevitable and bow in defeat. The atomic bomb speeded their decision; but the strategic situation in the Pacific, especially our capture of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, which unlocked the gateways to Japan, was a decisive factor. Significantly, the first Japanese peace overtures were made to Russia about the time the campaign on Okinawa ended.
The conquest of Okinawa was one of the most dearly-bought of American triumphs. It was not only a land victory, but the greatest and most protracted battle of ships against planes in history. The campaign started well. One Army and one Marine Corps, organized as the Tenth Army under Lieutenant-General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., landed virtually unopposed on the western "waist" of Okinawa on April 1. The Marines turned north and quickly mopped up their sector of the island, but the Army divisions encountered major resistance along the so-called Naha-Shuri line. This fortified line extended across the island north of the capital, Naha, and took advantage of the ramparts of the ancient castle of Shuri and of all defensive features of the terrain. The assault bogged down to a fierce step-by-step advance which cost us heavy casualties.
The Japanese strategy then became apparent. Our troops on the island were struggling against a fanatic enemy, in hilly, difficult country, amidst, at times, torrential rains. The Japanese Kamikaze, or suicide fliers, who had made their first appearance in force in the Philippine campaign, now attacked our fleet, which was supporting our beachhead. Day after day and night after night, the enemy threw his air power against our sea power. The significance of this struggle largely escaped the American people; but it actually counted for more in settling the fate of Okinawa, and eventually of Japan, than did the fighting on land. Our ships were the key to our operations in the Pacific. They maintained the indispensable supply link which enabled the ground soldiers to operate. The support of naval aircraft from carrier decks, of naval gunfire and of naval landing craft was essential to victory.
The fleet was committed to action in a restricted area within easy reach of the enemy's land bases. The Japanese always knew where to find it, because -- if it were to fulfill its mission -- it had to be in close proximity to the American-held portion of Okinawa. The resulting struggle between our "C.A.P." (combat air patrol) and our surface ships and the Japanese Kamikaze fliers went on, in some periods continuously, for almost three months. In a single day the Japanese made hundreds of attacks, of which our radar picket line of light craft bore the brunt. Hundreds of Japanese planes were shot down. Many of our destroyers were sunk or damaged, and some larger ships were also put out of action. Significantly, in the Okinawa campaign more men were killed in the Navy than in the Army or the Marine Corps. Indeed, Okinawa was the most expensive single campaign in our naval history. When the smoke had cleared, however, it was seen that "the fleet that came to stay" had defeated the suicide fliers. In retrospect, it is apparent that a decision in the whole struggle against Japan had been reached.
The fighting on the island itself proved to be no less exacting. The Naha-Shuri line was one of the best-defended positions that
American troops have been called on to attack in this war. The Japanese fought with tenacity and skill. The Third Marine Amphibious Corps, after mopping up the northern part of the island, wheeled into line beside the Twenty-fourth (Army) Corps, so that at times four and five divisions were attacking the enemy simultaneously. Even with this addition to our strength the going continued hard and costly. Near the end of the campaign, the 8th Marine Regimental combat team -- fresh troops of the 2nd Marine Division -- "sparked" the final clean-up. The island was declared to be securely in our hands on June 21. Enemy casualties were estimated at 118,000, including some 10,000 prisoners. Our own casualties were heavy: Army, 3,761 killed, 14,415 wounded, and 236 missing; Navy, 4,907 killed and missing, 4,824 wounded; Marines, 2,573 killed and missing, 12,565 wounded.[i]
The Okinawa campaign was fought soundly, if not brilliantly. We made some mistakes. Our original intelligence estimates of enemy strength were too low. After the success of our early landings, the 2nd Marine Division, which had been in floating reserve, was sent back to rear area bases, and none of its elements was used until the final phase. No attempt was made to outflank the enemy by sea, admittedly a difficult operation. Finally, our tanks -- as in Europe -- were not sufficiently armored and in some instances were not well handled.[ii]
The loss of Okinawa persuaded the Japanese to make their first definite peace approaches, through Moscow. Had the war continued, the island would have proved, in our hands, the key to the Japanese main islands.
During and after the fighting on Okinawa we continued our large-scale mopping-up operations in the Philippines. Troops of the Sixth Army (General Walter Krueger) and the Eighth Army (Lieutenant-General Robert L. Eichelberger) attacked the Japanese positions in Luzon and concentrations in the jungles of Mindanao. After the enemy was routed out of an intricate system of caves astride the Manila water supply region, the principal fighting on Luzon took place in the Cagayan Valley and the surrounding rugged hills. Here, the Japanese commander-in-chief in the Philippines, General Tomoyuki Yamashita, made his last stand with a sizeable body of troops. On Mindanao, the fighting in uncharted jungles dragged on well into the summer.
By July 5, however, General Douglas MacArthur was able to announce that the "Philippine Islands are now liberated and the . . . campaigns can be regarded as virtually closed." He estimated that the enemy had employed the equivalent of 23 divisions, and that about 450,000 Japanese had been killed, captured or dispersed. These figures are far higher than the estimates of Japanese strength in the Philippines made before the invasion began, and they probably include Filipino collaborationists. Though we employed only 17 divisions in the campaign, we always were able to oppose superior forces to the enemy because the Japanese were scattered throughout the archipelago; further, our naval and air superiority gave us additional mobility and power. American Army casualties for the entire campaign up to July 7 were 12,035 killed, 1,196 missing and 46,425 wounded. These do not include Navy or Marine casualties. As the war closed, the 38th Division was still mopping up the enemy in the watershed area east of Manila; the 32nd was still tracking down the enemy in the hills of northern Luzon; and the 31st was operating in Mindanao.
The Philippines campaign was the greatest single land campaign of the Pacific. Our casualties, however, were remarkably light. As in the case of our other Pacific victories, our success depended upon our control of the sea; our sea power made our victory certain. On the whole, the campaign was well led and well fought.
Once the issue had been decided in the Philippines, the invasion of Borneo was begun at Tarakan, Balik Papan and Brunei Bay. Australian troops under General MacArthur's command conducted these operations with American naval and air support. They were quickly successful, and by the time the war ended the oil of Borneo was being exploited for Allied use -- a factor that would soon have simplified our supply problem.
Simultaneously with these great land operations, great naval and air campaigns were under way against Japan proper. The attack was launched on July 10 by the Third Fleet, under Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., and was interrupted only by the end of the war. So sustained and so effective was this attack that it broke all precedents in the annals of naval war. First the area of the Tokyo plain was hit by planes. On July 14 this blow was followed by another against northern Honshu and by the first surface-ship bombardment of the main Japanese islands. Then, in quick succession -- sometimes with intervals of only one day -- the Fleet struck again and again with planes and with the guns of surface ships against widely separated objectives on Hokkaido and Honshu.
The American sea forces thus engaged comprised nine battleships, 16 carriers, 19 cruisers and 62 destroyers. This tremendous sea force was reënforced on July 17 by one British battleship, four British carriers, six British cruisers and 17 British destroyers. The combined fleets put some 1,500 planes into the air. During the 37 days the operations lasted, the ships never once dropped anchor and practically never stopped their engines. They were refueled, re-ammunitioned, and resupplied at sea by the greatest service force of tankers, ammunition ships and supply ships the world has ever seen.
In the last two-and-a-half months of the war (including those epic final 37 days) the Third Fleet wreaked almost incredible destruction in its various attacks on Japan proper as well as on islands in the Okinawa area and on outlying Japanese bases. The enemy offered very light resistance in the air. This was in part the result of a shortage of gasoline, spare parts and trained pilots, in part of a deliberate attempt to conserve planes against the day of our expected invasion. Only an estimated 290 enemy planes were shot down in combat; but more than 1,300 were destroyed on the ground, and another 1,300 were damaged. In all, 48 enemy warships, ranging in size from battleships to landing craft, were sunk and 100 more were damaged. An estimated 529 merchant vessels of all sizes from big freighters to coastal luggers were sunk and almost 1,000 damaged. Major destruction was visited upon factories, industrial areas and airfields. Even if allowance is made for exuberant exaggeration, these figures still are startling; they show how weak Japan really was in the last phase of the war. Japanese ineffectiveness becomes particularly clear when these losses are measured against our own extremely light ones. In the final five weeks, not a single ship of the Third Fleet was sunk, and only one was lightly damaged.[iii]
But for men of the United States Navy on every sea the peak of satisfaction was derived from the great two-day raids made by Halsey's carriers against Japan's naval dockyards on the Inland Sea in late July. These raids sank or damaged about 20 Japanese men-of-war and left the remnants of the Japanese Fleet broken and burning. When the smoke cleared away, the Japanese Navy had perhaps one battleship, the Nagato, still afloat but damaged, two aircraft carriers still afloat but damaged, and a handful of cruisers, destroyers and submarines. Such was the end, in the Inland Sea, far from open water, of what had once been the world's third largest fleet. Pearl Harbor was avenged.
While the Third Fleet was continuing to strike Japan with all its tremendous power, small surface units and planes several times reconnoitered and attacked the Kurile Islands north of Japan and even penetrated into the Sea of Okhotsk. Further south in the Pacific, the enemy-held islands which had been by-passed were attacked regularly by air and occasionally by sea. These attacks kept them thoroughly neutralized, and at the last some of the enemy garrisons -- notably that on Wake -- began to run short of food.
In addition to these great undertakings, the Navy's Fleet Air Wings, aided by submarines, instituted far-flung blockade operations which in the final phases of the war penetrated the Sea of Japan. Land planes and flying boats, operating from the Ryukyus and the Marianas, swept the East China Sea and the Yellow Sea practically clean of enemy shipping. They made long patrols daily over the coast of China from Formosa to Tsushima, and even penetrated inland and attacked Japanese land communications on the Asiatic mainland. Most important in the blockade, however, was the partial severance of the enemy's lifeline across the Straits of Tsushima. Probably the route was never completely closed, but the waters became hazardous for enemy shipping.
The blockade was aided greatly by the laying of mines, chiefly by the B-29 Superfortresses of the Twentieth Air Force. The Navy planned this campaign, furnished the mines and trained the Twentieth Air Force in their use. Beginning in the spring of 1945, the big bombers laid mines regularly -- even in the Inland Sea and Korean ports. In all, more than 12,000 mines were laid in 45 different areas. It was probably the greatest aerial minelaying operation in the history of war.
But perhaps the most effective operations of the last months of the war -- certainly the most spectacular -- were the great assaults upon Japanese cities conducted by our giant Superfortresses based in the Marianas. Between November 24, 1944, and the end of hostilities the B-29's flew 32,612 sorties in 318 missions and dropped 169,421 tons of bombs and mines on about 64 Japanese urban industrial areas, 85 industrial plants, 102 airfields, one railway yard, and various harbor and coastal areas. The first attacks, made at extremely high altitudes with high explosive bombs, were not particularly successful. Major-General Curtis E. LeMay, probably the foremost bomber commander of this war, then sent his planes in at startlingly low levels --5,000 to 10,000 feet -- using jellied petroleum incendiary bombs. These attacks burned out an estimated 158 square miles of Japanese cities and left an estimated 8,480,000 persons homeless or dead. Tokyo, attacked six times in massive fire raids, was more than 50 percent destroyed, and an average of 39.5 percent of all cities attacked were burned out.[iv] These massive attacks cost us (from November 24, 1944) a total of 437 combat losses of the B-29's; probably a greater number were lost from operational accidents. The toll in men was 3,267. About 600 men were picked up by rescue planes or naval vessels.
These tremendous strategic air assaults, which were intended to soften up the enemy, would have been greatly intensified after Lieutenant-General James H. Doolittle's Eighth Air Force of Superfortresses, based on Okinawa, joined in the attack. The Eighth Air Force, redeployed at least in name from Europe, was about ready to start operations when the war ended. After the capture of Okinawa, the strategical bombing of the "heavies" was complemented by tactical attacks upon Japanese cities, docks, industries and communications by elements of the Fifth, Seventh and Thirteenth Air Forces, all part of the Far East Air Forces of General George C. Kenney, General MacArthur's air commander. These strikes, too, had still to reach their peak when the war ended.
Japan, then, was subjected during June, July and early August to the gathering might of one of the most tremendous air assaults ever launched against a nation -- strategic mass attacks by the B-29's and tactical attacks upon specific targets by carrier aircraft of the Fleet and by the land-based fighters, medium bombers, and four-engined "light-heavies" based on Okinawa and Iwo, plus the blockade operations by the Navy's Fleet Air Wings and aerial mining. There is no doubt that even by the middle of July Japan was in a much weakened state. Her air and maritime power were dwindling and some of her raw material shortages were. becoming serious.
To Japan's other troubles were added major troubles in China and southeast Asia. Early in the summer it became apparent that the British Southeast Asia Command was preparing (with considerable American supply help and some staff assistance) an assault upon Malaya as soon as the monsoon season was over, with Singapore as the objective. In the spring the Japanese had been forced to begin withdrawing men from parts of China in order to provide more troops for their "inner defense zone" -- the main Japanese islands, Korea, Manchuria and north China. This movement now became pronounced. China's fighting strength meanwhile increased steadily as supplies poured in by air "over the Hump" and by the Stilwell Road. The Chinese Combat Command, reorganized by Lieutenant-General Albert C. Wedemeyer after General Stilwell's departure, trained, stiffened and greatly aided the Chinese troops. By the summer of 1945, perhaps 15 to 20 Chinese divisions were equipped with all types of arms up to and including artillery, though not with tanks, and an equal or greater number were partially equipped.[v] The Chinese-American composite wings of the Air Force, largely manned by Chinese trained in the United States, were also functioning well. Meanwhile, American air power in China was being reorganized and strengthened, though the old veteran, Major-General Claire L. Chennault, resigned just before the end. Until the summer of 1945, most of the battle "victories" won in China were actually the result of deliberate Japanese withdrawals. Only then did our prodigious efforts to supply China commence to bring their reward. But the full reward was not to be reaped.
Such was the general situation in the Pacific when the representatives of the three Great Powers met at Potsdam toward the middle of July. The carrier strikes and air assaults had revealed Japan's great air and naval weaknesses. Strategically, she knew that far, far worse was yet to come, as our air power slowly switched its major attention to her land communications and prepared the way for invasion. She had already indicated her awareness that the struggle was hopeless by approaching Soviet Russia in June and, in effect, asking her to mediate. This move came to nothing. The Potsdam Conference opened with Japan strategically defeated but still capable of prolonged resistance (particularly by her land forces) and still able to inflict heavy casualties upon us.
At the Teheran Conference, Marshal Stalin, questioned by President Roosevelt, had indicated his intention of entering the Pacific war. At Yalta, President Roosevelt had raised the question again, and Stalin had agreed (though probably not in writing) to enter the Pacific war either "within" or "about" (the exact phrasing is not known publicly) three months after V-E Day. Stalin is said to have wanted this interval for the redeployment of 30 divisions and their supplies [vi] from Europe to Siberia; certainly three months was a minimum for the proper handling of the major supply problem this would have involved.
Much of the first part of the Potsdam Conference was occupied by a discussion of the Pacific war and the question of Russia's potential entry into it. President Truman, following his predecessor's policies, pressed Russia to set a definite date. Probably he hoped that Russia would sign the Potsdam Declaration, subsequently signed by Britain, China and the United States, outlining the acceptable terms for Japan's surrender. In this observer's opinion, it was a major diplomatic mistake to have stuck to the policies adopted in this connection at Teheran and Yalta. The circumstances at the time of the Potsdam Conference were entirely different. The war against Japan had been strategically won, and it was certain that Russia would enter it without urging on our part. We should have refrained from asking her to come into the Pacific war, simply showing that we considered the decision hers to make, in the light of her own interests.
In any case, Premier Stalin declined to declare war on Japan during the Potsdam Conference. Just prior to Potsdam he had been consulting with Premier Soong of China about Russian-Chinese problems, and he made clear that he wished another meeting with Soong before beginning operations. Tentatively, he set August 15 as the date for the Soviet entry into the war in the Far East. While these deliberations were in progress the great strike of our Third Fleet against Japan began. The tempo of the B-29 attacks was stepped up. Presently -- something new in warfare -- General LeMay announced to the enemy the names of their cities which would be bombed forthwith.
In the midst of these developments, President Truman received word of the successful test of our first atomic fission bomb experiment in the New Mexico desert -- the product of years of combined scientific effort of several nations and of the expenditure of two billion dollars. Apparently he realized the full significance of this event, for the intense effort to persuade the Soviets to declare war quickly was then abandoned. Stalin was told that we had developed a new and terrific explosive; but he seems at first not to have comprehended the import of the disclosure. The Potsdam Declaration, outlining the meaning of unconditional surrender for Japan, was then published, without Stalin's signature.
On August 6, while President Truman was on his way back to the United States, the first atomic fission bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. On August 8, exactly three months after V-E Day, but one week before the date set at Potsdam, Russia entered the war. On August 9, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. On August 10, Japan indicated her willingness to accept the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. The exact degree of destruction wrought by the atomic bombs can be determined only by inspection on the spot.[vii] Probably, however, most of both cities was destroyed. The effect on morale was of course tremendous, and Russia's declaration of war compounded it. The hopelessness of Japan's position was now even more painfully obvious to the Japanese Government.
There followed a period of limited operations and exchanges of messages. On August 14, United States time (August 15, Japanese time), the United States and British Governments announced that Japan had accepted the Potsdam terms, with the understanding that the Emperor would be left on the throne, though subordinate to the orders of the Allied commander-in-chief of the forces of occupation. General Douglas MacArthur was appointed commander-in-chief for the Allied Nations to receive the surrender and to direct the occupying forces. In the following period our first occupation forces entered Japan and surrender terms were arranged. These finally were signed on September 2 aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Admiral of the Fleet Chester W. Nimitz signed for the United States.
The forces that won victory in the Pacific need no accolade beyond that which they will receive from history, and it is still too early to identify their component parts completely. The principal units, with the names of their commanders, were:
U. S. PACIFIC FLEET AND ALL NAVAL AND MARINE FORCES IN THE PACIFIC
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz
|Fleet Marine Force||Lieutenant-General Roy S. Geiger|
|Third Marine Amphibious|
|Corps||Major-General Keller E. Rockey|
|Fifth Marine Amphibious|
|Corps||Lieutenant-General Harry Schmidt|
|First||Major-General De Witt Peck|
|Second||Major-General LeRoy P. Hunt|
|Third||Major-General Graves B. Erskine|
|Fourth||Major-General Clifton B. Cates|
|Fifth||Major-General Thomas E. Bourke|
|Sixth||Major-General Lemuel C. Shepherd|
U. S. ARMY FORCES IN THE PACIFIC
General Douglas MacArthur
|Sixth Army||General Walter Krueger|
|Eighth Army||Lieutenant-General Robert L.|
|Tenth Army||General Joseph W. Stilwell|
|First||Major-General Innis P. Swift|
|Tenth||Major-General Franklin C. Sibert|
|Eleventh||Major-General Charles P. Hall|
|Fourteenth||Lieutenant-General Oscar W.|
|Twenty-fourth||Lieutenant-General John R. Hodge|
|Eleventh||Major-General Joseph M. Swing|
|Americal||Major-General William H. Arnold|
|First Cavalry (on foot)||Major-General William C. Chase|
|Sixth||Major-General Charles E. Hurdis|
|Seventh||Major-General Archibald V. Arnold|
|Twenty-fourth||Major-General Roscoe B. Woodruff|
|Twenty-fifth||Major-General Charles L. Mullins, Jr.|
|Twenty-seventh||Major-General George W. Griner, Jr.|
|Thirty-first||Major-General Clarence A. Martin|
|Thirty-second||Major-General William H. Gill|
|Thirty-third||Major-General Percy W. Clarkson|
|Thirty-seventh||Major-General Robert S. Beightler|
|Thirty-eighth||Major-General Frederick A. Irving|
|Fortieth||Major-General Rapp Brush|
|Forty-first||Major-General Jens A. Doe|
|Forty-third||Major-General Leonard F. Wing|
|Seventy-seventh||Major-General Andrew D. Bruce|
|Eighty-first||Major-General Paul Mueller|
|Ninety-third||Major-General Harry H. Johnson|
|Ninety-sixth||Major-General James L. Bradley|
|U. S. Army Strategic Air|
|Forces||General Carl Spaatz|
|Twentieth Air Force||Lieutenant-General Nathan F.|
|Eighth Air Force||Lieutenant-General James H.|
|Far East Air Forces||General George C. Kenney|
|Fifth Air Force||Lieutenant-General Ennis C.|
|Seventh Air Force||Brigadier-General Thomas D. White|
|Thirteenth Air Force||Major-General Paul Wurtsmith|
|Eleventh Air Force||Major-General John B. Brooks|
|U. S. Army Forces,|
|China Theater||Lieutenant-General Albert C.|
|U. S. Army Air Forces, China Theater|
|Tenth||Major-General Howard C. Davidson|
|Fourteenth||Major-General Charles B. Stone, III|
Japan's surrender marked probably the first time in history that a great nation had capitulated before an invading soldier had set foot upon her home soil. As a matter of fact, however, our plans for the actual invasion were well advanced and were being pressed to completion. Our "target date" for the invasion of Kyushu was November 1, and the Tokyo plain area was to be invaded March 1, 1946 (though of course these dates were subject to postponement of a few weeks in case of supply difficulties). Japan's unexpectedly quick collapse saved many lives. But the continuing belligerent actions and unrepentant declarations of the Japanese continued after August 10 and were a cause for much disquiet. Some observers felt that, from the political and psychological points of view, the war had ended too soon. The bulk of the Japanese Army was still unbeaten; the Potsdam terms accorded Japan a "softer" peace than we had given Germany; and we had temporized with the Emperor, the fountainhead of the whole militaristic-feudalistic system in Japan. The enemy made it clear in the interval between August 10 and final surrender that he was doing his best to perpetuate that system, and that even though this war had been lost he had hopes for a comeback and was resolved to try to make it. If we allow this trend to continue after we enter Japan, we shall have saved some lives now only to spend more lives later in another war in the Pacific.
The introduction of the atomic bomb dwarfs in importance even the end of almost six years of global warfare. We have entered a new technological age. The harnessing of atomic energy carries implications too vast to be comprehended fully as yet, or to be discussed as yet in detail. Suffice it to say that, strategically and militarily, as well as economically and politically, the world we live in has changed fundamentally.
The greatest war in which the United States ever fought came to an end as suddenly as it began, and with stunning surprise. It had cost us over a million casualties -- dead, missing and wounded -- and 300 billion dollars in money. But it left the United States incomparably the world's most powerful nation -- with or without the atomic bomb. Upon American shoulders lies the terrible responsibility of that power.
[i] The Army figures to July 7; Navy and Marine figures as of the end of the campaign.
[ii] On the eve of victory, General Buckner, the Tenth Army commander, was killed by an enemy shell. Lieutenant-General Roy S. Geiger, commanding the Third Marine Amphibious Corps, assumed command for a short period. Then after the island had been declared secure, General Joseph W. Stilwell, former American commander in the China-Burma-India theater, and subsequently commander of the Army Ground Forces, took over.
[iii] On July 30, however, the heavy cruiser Indianapolis was sunk, apparently by a Japanese submarine or mine. The ship was not then attached to the Third Fleet but was near Peleliu, far from the coast of Japan. This final naval tragedy of the war was one of the most costly on record: there were only 315 survivors from a crew of 1,196, and all of these were wounded or near death from days in the water.
[iv] These figures are preliminary estimates made from photo-interpretation, and are subject to later revision. On August 23, the Japanese radio estimated that 260,000 persons had been killed, 412,000 injured and 9,200,000 made homeless by all our air attacks, including the Navy's carrier-based strikes and our atomic bombing.