Deaths continue – is the war really over?

Emaciated British prisoners of war in a Japanese hospital for prisoners of war at Nakom Paton, Thailand.
Emaciated British prisoners of war in a Japanese hospital for prisoners of war at Nakom Paton, Thailand.

The war was over but not everyone knew it or was prepared to acknowledge it. American airmen were killed in the skies over Japan by renegade Japanese fighter pilots. Across the Japanese occupied territories people detained in PoW camps and civilian detention centres guessed that things had changed – but their guards often would not admit it openly. A strange, dangerous, limbo like existence continued for many until Allied troops arrived.

In China James Ballard and his family had been detained along with many other European civilians in 1942. They knew thew war was over and had begun to receive parachute drops of food from American planes. Fortified by Spam and chocolate fourteen year old Ballard felt strong enough to explore further afield:

The camp fell behind me more quickly than I expected. Around me was a silent terrain of abandoned paddy fields and burial mounds, derelict canals and bridges, ghost villages that had been deserted for years.

I skirted the perimeter of the airfield, where I could see Japanese soldiers patrolling the burnt-out planes and hangars, and decided not to test whether they agreed that the war was over.

I passed the wrecks of canal boats and trucks caught in the air attacks, and the bodies of Chinese puppet soldiers. After an hour I reached the Hangchow—Shanghai railway line, which circled the western perimeter of Shanghai. No trains were running, and I decided to walk along the embankment.

Half a mile in front of me was a small wayside station, no more than a concrete platform and a pair of telegraph poles. As I approached I could hear an odd sing- song sound, and saw that a group of Japanese soldiers was waiting on the platform. They were fully armed, and sat on their ammunition boxes, picking their teeth while one of them tormented a young Chinese man in black trousers and a white shirt.

The Japanese soldier had cut down lengths of telephone wire and had tied the Chinese to a telegraph pole, and was now slowly strangling him as the Chinese sang out in a sing-song voice. I thought of leaving the embankment and walking across the nearby field, but then decided it would be best to walk straight up to the soldiers and treat the grim event taking place as if it were a private matter that did not involve me.

I drew level with the platform and was about to walk past it when the soldier with the telephone wire raised a hand and beckoned me towards him. He had seen the transparent celluloid belt that held up my frayed cotton shorts. It had been given to me by one of the American sailors, and was a prized novelty that no Japanese was likely to have seen. I unbuckled the belt and handed it to him, then waited as he flexed the colourless plastic and stared at me through it, laughing admiringly. Behind him the young Chinese was slowly suffocating to death, his urine spreading across the platform.

I waited in the sun, listening to the sing-song voice as it grew weaker. The Chinese was not the first person I had seen the Japanese kill. But a state of war had existed since 1937, and now peace was supposed to have come to the mouth of the Yangtze.

At the same time I was old enough to know that this lost Japanese platoon was beyond the point where life and death meant anything at all. They were aware that their own lives would shortly end, and that they were free to do anything they wanted, and inflict any pain.

Peace, I realised, was more threatening because the rules that sustained war, however evil, were suspended. The empty paddy fields and derelict villages confirmed that nothing mattered.

Ten minutes later, the Chinese was silent and I was able to walk away. The Japanese soldier never told me to go, but I knew when he had lost interest in me. Whistling to himself, the plastic belt around his neck, he stepped over the trussed body of the Chinese and rejoined his companions, waiting for the train that would never come.

I was badly shaken, but managed to steady myself by the time I reached the western suburbs of Shanghai. Perhaps the war had not really ended, or we had entered an in-between world where on one level it would continue for months or even years, merging into the next war and the war beyond that.

I like to think that my teenage self kept his nerve, but I realise now that I was probably aware of nothing other than the brute fact that I was alive and this unknown Chinese was dead. In most respects, sadly, my experiences of the war were no different from those of millions of other teenage boys in enemy-occupied Europe and the Far East. A vast cruelty lay over the world, and was all we knew.

See J. G. Ballard: Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton : an Autobiography

Discovered after the liberation. Prisoners of war and internees at Stanley Civil Internment Camp, Hong Kong, who were tortured and executed by the Japanese, inscribed their names and dates of execution on their cell walls as a record. The photograph shows the inscription made by D W Waterton who was executed, possibly for constructing and using a radio.
Prisoners of war and internees at Stanley Civil Internment Camp, Hong Kong, who were tortured and executed by the Japanese, inscribed their names and dates of execution on their cell walls as a record. The photograph shows the inscription made by D W Waterton who was executed, possibly for constructing and using a radio.

“War … not necessarily to Japan’s advantage”

"American servicemen and women gather in front of "Rainbow Corner" Red Cross club in Paris to celebrate the unconditional surrender of the Japanese."
“American servicemen and women gather in front of “Rainbow Corner” Red Cross club in Paris to celebrate the unconditional surrender of the Japanese.”
The Emperor as head of the Imperial General Headquarters in 1943. Hirohito was not just Emperor but believed to be a living god, his relationship with the senior military leaders was difficult for the west to understand.
The Emperor as head of the Imperial General Headquarters in 1943. Emperor Hirohito was not just sovereign leader of the nation but believed by most Japanese to be a living God, his relationship with his senior military commanders was difficult for the west to understand.

Finally the war against Japan came to an end. Those who accepted the reality of Japan’s military position finally prevailed against strong elements in the senior command who wanted a more ‘honourable’ end, even if it meant their annihilation and that of millions of their people. More junior officers had also unsuccessfully attempted a coup d’etat, in the days since peace negotiations began on the 9th, in order to continue the war.

President Truman was able to announce the surrender on the 14th August. It was not until the 15th when the Emperor broadcast to the nation, that the Japanese people learned of their country’s surrender. It was a weak transmission of a voice never before heard by the public, speaking in an archaic version of Japanese – many Japanese struggled to comprehend what it actually meant:

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….

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.

Crowd of people, many waving, in Times Square on V-J Day at time of announcement of the Japanese surrender in 1945
Crowd of people, many waving, in Times Square on V-J Day at time of announcement of the Japanese surrender in 1945
In London's Piccadilly Circus,a group of servicemen and women, and a civilian woman, link arms as they walk towards the camera, singing as they dance in celebration around Eros (not pictured), on the news that the war in Japan is over. Behind them, crowds of people are gathered in the sunshine. Several buses can also be seen. This photograph was taken from beside Eros, looking towards Piccadilly (left) and Regent Street (right).
In London’s Piccadilly Circus,a group of servicemen and women, and a civilian woman, link arms as they walk towards the camera, singing as they dance in celebration around Eros (not pictured), on the news that the war in Japan is over. Behind them, crowds of people are gathered in the sunshine. Several buses can also be seen. This photograph was taken from beside Eros, looking towards Piccadilly (left) and Regent Street (right).

Last, and largest, bombing mission to Japan

Leaflet delivered to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and 33 other Japanese cities on 1 August 1945.”
Leaflet delivered to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and 33 other Japanese cities on 1 August 1945. The Japanese text on the reverse side of the leaflet carried the following warning: “Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or friend. In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique which they are using to prolong this useless war. But, unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America’s humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives. America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique which has enslaved the Japanese people. The peace which America will bring will free the people from the oppression of the military clique and mean the emergence of a new and better Japan. You can restore peace by demanding new and good leaders who will end the war. We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately.”
B-29 Superfortress bombers near Mount Fuji, Japan, circa Jul 1945
B-29 Superfortress bombers near Mount Fuji, Japan, circa Jul 1945

Following the bombing of Nagasaki on the 9th August the Japanese government had met several times to discuss surrender. There were sharp divisions within their ranks whether they should accept the allied ultimatum or fight on. Since the U.S. was reading all of the Japanese secret diplomatic messages they had an almost real time understanding of the complexity of the Japanese position.

A Japanese telegram on the 10th August appeared to offer surrender – but not the full unconditional surrender that Allies sought. The Japanese wanted to preserve the Imperial system, and maintain the Emperor. The Allies’ Potsdam Declaration had been silent on the exact way that the Emperor would be treated – although it was clear that they wanted a change to the system of government.

There was much scope for interpretation in what the two sides wanted. It would take five days to resolve the issues at stake.

Allied bombing of Japan was halted on 11th August because of bad weather – and then this situation was confirmed to allow negotiations to continue. By the 14th the situation was no clearer and US bombing missions were resumed.

On the 14th 1,014 bombers hit the Japanese mainland, the largest raid in the Pacific theatre. Part of the raid involved the 315 Bombardment Wing flying 3,800 miles to destroy the Nippon Oil Company refinery, the longest bombing raid of the war.

Robert F. Griffin of the 331st Bomb Group, part of the 315 Bombardment Wing, was the bombardier on a B-29 flying from Guam:

On the night of August 14, 1945, we took off to make what we thought might be the last raid of the war. A little over a week before, on August 6, an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. When this did not cause an immediate surrender, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9. Rumors had spread like wildfire, but most of us could not comprehend the concept of an atomic bomb nor of the extent of damage it might do.

As we headed to Iwo Jima, we listened for a call on the radio to abort the mission. Several hundred miles past Iwo we decided that we had gone too far to abort and would no longer listen for an abort message. Apparently a recall was never made or everyone else also elected to proceed with the mission. This was to be the longest bombing mission that we ever made.

Our course from Iwo Jima was to go north along the east side of Honshu to a point near Hitachi, a town about 75 to 100 miles north of Tokyo. Here we were to turn westerly and proceed over the middle of Honshu to the little island of Sado in the sea of Japan. Near Sado we were to turn north again and fly up the west coast of Honshu to our target, the Nippon Oil Refinery at Tsuchizakiminato. The name was shortened by our intelligence group to Tsuchizaki, and to those who still couldn’t pronounce it, it was referred to as Akita, a larger town about five miles away.

It was customary in the Group to use our navigational lights until we were near the islands of Japan. Too many groups of bombers from the Marianas used similar flight paths and altitudes going to and from the island that prudence called for running lights. Occasionally our own aircraft were close enough to each other to be able to see one another by these lights. Orbiting and flashing lights as you see on today’s aircraft were not in use during the war. Planes of this era were all equipped with stationary red and green lights on the wing tips and some had a white light on the top or on the tail. Many had only the wing lights.

On this night as our plane approached the east coast of Honshu, we could see the green light of the starboard wing top of one of our planes cruising off to our left. As we both turned westward to cross Honshu, we turned off our navigational lights; he did not.

The distance we had to fly over Honshu was about 150 miles which would take about 35 to 40 minutes. We were not to break radio silence, but wished we could alert the other plane to turn off his lights. He could attract attention to the entire mission, he had turned slightly short of us and was flying a parallel path about two to three miles to our south side. After much wishful thinking on our part, we finally forgot him and became engrossed in our own activities.

When we reached the little butterfly shaped island of Sado, we turned to the right to fly our northward path to the target The night was clear with just enough starlight to be able to identify the shoreline of the island. As we turned, we gave one last look for the plane that had been on our left. He had either turned off his lights or changed course considerable. We could not see him anywhere.

The distance from Sado to Tsuchizaki is also about 150 miles so that we now had about 35 to 40 minutes before reaching the target. Final calculations and settings were made to the bombsight. Again our APQ-7 radar had malfunctioned and we were going to have to make a visual bomb run. Occasionally, something could be seen in the water to allow an attempt at setting wind drift. This being done, there was little to do except sit and look ahead.

Abruptly, two lights appeared at “ten o’clock” slightly higher than we were. They appeared to be somewhat red and green as you might see from a fighter plane approaching from a distance of several miles. All of us in the cockpit watched these lights as they slowly came a little closer. They didn’t change position, however, and we could not understand how a fighter could maintain the same position, “ten o’clock,” as he approached.

All of a sudden it became shockingly clear that these were not wing top lights! I was looking right up the exhaust stacks of another plane’s engines! This must have been the plane that crossed Honshu with us. We were less than ten minutes from the target and he was only a few hundred yards to our side, about 50 to 75 feet above us and about 50 feet in front of us! He was apparently oblivious to the fact that we were there.

The target could be seen ahead by this time. Earlier flights had already set a number of ground fires. It was time to lock onto the target for our bomb run. It was too late to swing to the side and try to set another course. The two of us were flying on converging paths, closing in on one point. While I flew the plane from the bombsight, the airplane commander carefully watched the other bomber with the intent of pulling away if a collision seemed imminent.

About a minute for the target we could see what appeared to be a huge cloud, a thunderhead, ahead of us. There had been some questionable reports of potential thunderstorms around the target. We were at 11,000 feet and this cloud towered over us reaching up to 15,000 or 16,000 feet.

A few seconds from bomb release and we were almost touching the plane next to us. The Captain advised that as soon as the bombs are released he will swing to the right and climb about a thousand feet.

“Bombs Away!” The Captain took the plane off the bombsight, turned to the right and began to pull up. I stood up, somewhat straddling the bombsight, and leaned far forward so that I might see the bomb impacts. The large black cloud was just ahead.

We touched the cloud and “Whoosh!”, the plane jerked violently upward. I was thrown up into the air and then dropped unceremoniously with my feet pointed upward, my backside where my feet should be and my head leaning back upon my seat. As I lay there looking upward at the plexiglas and the edges of the aluminum ribs of the plane’s nose, it seemed that they were alive with fire. Sparks jumped all over. I thought, “This is it, the end of the line.”

Then, as suddenly as it started, it stopped. We were out of the cloud. Ahead, slightly above us and to our right, was the plane that had gone down the bomb run with us. In spite of our turn and climb, he had crossed over and climbed higher while we were in the cloud. At this point, he was so close that I could see the tail gunner’s face.

The thunderhead wasn’t a rain cloud. It was a violent thermal cloud of smoke and debris that was drawn thousands of feet into the air by the heat of the huge fires and explosions from the bombing on the refinery. The sparking that I had seen on the plexiglas was akin to St. Elmo’s fire that sailors see in the rigging of ships in a storm, it was electrical discharges from all the charged particles thrown up into the cloud from the explosions on the ground.

The return trip to Guam was rather uneventful. We left the target area about 3:00 AM and, therefore, as we flew by the Bonin Islands it was early morning. This gave us a chance to see how formidable they were and to visualize the hardships that Japanese fishermen must have who live on those rocks. We landed on Guam about noon after more than seventeen hours in the air.

Many more of these stories are available in ‘In their own Words’, published by the 315th Bomb Wing Association.

B-29s of the 462d Bomb Group West Field Tinian Mariana Islands 1945
B-29s of the 462d Bomb Group West Field Tinian Mariana Islands 1945
A Portion Of The Network Of Taxiways And Dispersal Areas To Accommodate B-29 Superfortresses On Guam.
A Portion Of The Network Of Taxiways And Dispersal Areas To Accommodate B-29 Superfortresses On Guam.

Nagasaki – the second atomic bomb

Atomic cloud over Nagasaki from Koyagi-jima by Hiromichi Matsuda
Atomic cloud over Nagasaki from Koyagi-jima by Hiromichi Matsuda

At Potsdam on the 26th July the Allies had issued a declaration calling on the Japanese to surrender or face:

the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland

After the Hiroshima bomb on the 6th August the United States had widely publicised the nature of the new bomb and its destructive power, its awesome potential was immediately recognised by people around the world. At the same time President Truman had re-inforced the Potsdam declaration with a more explicit message about what would happen if Japan did not surrender:

We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.

It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth…

The Japanese government met on 7th August but were still not prepared to accept the Allied surrender terms.

With no sign of any surrender forthcoming from Japan, the military team responsible for the Atomic bombing programme were still under orders (at this time) to continue the bombing, using the bombs as they became available. They had the ‘Fat Man’ available and knew that a third bomb would become available later in August. Because of impending bad weather over Japan the decision to use ‘Fat Man’ was brought forward from 11th to the 9th August.

The original target for the second atomic bomb was the city of Kokura but this was obscured by smoke from a conventional American bombing raid on nearby Yahata the previous day. The B-29 ‘Bockscar’ piloted by Major Charles W. Sweeney therefore diverted to the secondary target, the city of Nagasaki.

In Urakami Hospital, Nagasaki, Dr Tatsuichiro Akizuki was just returning to his ward round which had been delayed by an earlier air raid warning. The two high flying planes seen approaching Nagasaki just before 11am had been assumed to be reconnaissance planes, and no air raid warning had been given:

I heard a low droning sound, like that of distant aeroplane engines. “What’s that?” I said. “The all-clear has gone, hasn’t it?” At the same time the sound of the plane’s engines, growing louder and louder, seemed to swoop down over the hospital. I shouted: “It’s an enemy plane! Look out – take cover!” .

As I said so, I pulled the needle out of the patient and threw myself beside thebed. ‘ There was a blinding white flash of light, and the next moment — Bang! Crack! A huge impact like a gigantic blow smote down upon our bodies, our heads and our hospital. I lay flat — I didn’t know whether or not of my own volition. Then down came piles of debris, slamming into my back.

The hospital has been hit, I thought. I grew dizzy, and my ears sang.

Some minutes or so must have passed before I staggered to my feet and looked around. The air was heavy with yellow smoke; white flakes of powder drifted about; it was strangely dark.

Thank God, I thought — I’m not hurt! But what about the patients? As it became brighter, little by little our situation grew clearer. Miss Murai, who had been assisting me with the pneumo-thorax, struggled to her feet beside me. She didn’t seem to have been seriously injured, though she was completely covered with white dust. “Hey, cheer up!” I said. “We’re not hurt, thank God!”

[ Akizuki struggled to make sense of what had happened because he realised that if they had received a direct hit then they would have suffered much more structural damage to the hospital.]

If the bomb had actually hit the hospital, I thought, they would have been far more badly injured. “What’s happened to the second and third floors?” I cried. But all they answered was “Help me! Help!”

One of them said: “Mr Yamaguchi has been buried under the debris. Help him.”

No one knew what had happened. A huge force had been released above our heads. What it was, nobody knew. Had it been several tons of bombs, or the suicidal destruction of a plane carrying a heavy bomb-load?

Dazed, I retreated into the consulting room, in which the only upright object on the rubbish-strewn floor was my desk. I went and sat on it and looked out of the window at the yard and the outside world. There was not a single pane of glass in the window, not even a frame — all had been completely blown away.

Out in the yard dun-coloured smoke or dust cleared little by little. I saw figures running. Then, looking to the south-west, I was stunned. The sky was as dark as pitch, covered with dense clouds of smoke; under that blackness, over the earth, hung a yellow-brown fog. Gradually the veiled ground became visible, and the view beyond rooted me to the spot with horror.

All the buildings I could see were on fire: large ones and small ones and those with straw-thatched roofs. Further off along the valley, Urakami Church, the largest Catholic church in the east, was ablaze. The technical school, a large two-storeyed wooden building, was on fire, as were many houses and the distant ordnance factory. Electricity poles were wrapped in flame like so many pieces of kindling.

Trees on the nearby hills were smoking, as were the leaves of sweet potatoes in the fields. To say that everything burned is not enough. It seemed as if the earth itself emitted fire and smoke, flames that writhed up and erupted from underground. The sky was dark, the ground was scarlet, and in between hung clouds of yellowish smoke. Three kinds of colour -— black, yellow and scarlet — loomed ominously over the people, who ran about like so many ants seeking to escape.

What had happened? Urakami Hospital had not been bombed — I understood that much. But that ocean of fire, that sky of smoke! It seemed like the end of the world. I ran out into the garden. Patients who were only slightly hurt came up to me, pleading for aid. I shouted at them: “For heaven’s sake! You’re not seriously wounded!” One patient said: “Kawaguchi and Matsuo are trapped in their rooms! They can’t move. You must help them!”

I said to myself: Yes, we must first of all rescue those seriously ill tubercular patients who’ve been buried under the ruins.

I looked southwards again, and the sight of Nagasaki city in a sea of flames as far as the eye could reach made me think that such destruction could only have been caused by thousands of bombers, carpet-bombing. But not a plane was to be seen or heard, although even the leaves of potatoes and carrots at my feet were scorched and smouldering. The electricity cables must have exploded underground, I thought.

And then at last I identified the destroyer— “That’s it!” I cried. “It was the new bomb — the one used on Hiroshima!”

This account first appeared in Tatsuichiro Akizuki: Nagasaki 1945: The First Full-length Eyewitness Account of the Atomic Bomb Attack on Nagasaki.

Nagasaki, Japan, before and after the atomic bombing of August 9, 1945.
Nagasaki, Japan, before and after the atomic bombing of August 9, 1945.

The World adjusts to the Atomic Age

Rare color photograph of the first nuclear test at Trinity site, July 16, 1945. Blurriness is in the original photograph (done when color photography was still fairly new).
Rare color photograph of the first nuclear test at Trinity site, July 16, 1945. Blurriness is in the original photograph (done when color photography was still fairly new).
The news of the atomic bomb was soon spread around the world. Although a startling innovation the implications of the new super weapon were quickly recognised.

The changing outlook for the human race, and the prospect for future wars, was readily grasped by people who had no experience of military strategy. Sy M. Kahn a member of the 495th Port Battalion of the Army Transportation Corps whose principal role was loading and unloading ships. He heard about the bomb while on a ship in mid Pacific:

This afternoon I heard over the radio about the “greatest war invention.”

It’s called the atomic bomb. The information we know about it is as follows: When a test explosion was made in New Mexico, where the research took place, it vaporized a steel tower and left a huge crater. The pressure waves knocked men down at a distance of five miles; forest rangers 150 miles away thought there had been an earthquake, and it rattled windows 250 miles away.

The bomb is equivalent to the bomb load of 2,000 Superforts or 10,000 tons of TNT. President Truman stated that this invention is capable of destroying civilization, wiping out everything that stands above ground. The first of these bombs was dropped on Hiroshima yesterday. Further facts are that the research involved two billion dollars and five years. The bombs are in production now at Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Seattle, Washington.

This must be an almost unbelievably powerful weapon. If it is as powerful as stated, then it should bring this war to a speedy close.

In the letter I received from Mom today, she included an article that stated that many Washington big-wigs thought that Japan might surrender as early as the end of this month, but at least by Christmas. Naturally I scoffed at this, for even the latter date seemed improbable, and I was annoyed to read these optimistic predictions handed to the people at home. However, this new weapon may bring a much quicker end than we anticipated.

It has long been known that atomic energy is extremely powerful, if it could be harnessed. Such a weapon as has been developed forecasts what is in store in future wars.

Although these words may sound fantastic now, they may prefigure the destruction of future civilization or, at least, destruction beyond the realm of imagination.

The U.S. has stated that the secret of the weapon will be carefully guarded while a defense against it is developed. Once again we have the vicious circle of powerful, new, destructive weapons and more intricate defenses against them, until this frenzy of diabolical invention shall backfire into the faces of all humanity.

As other eras have had their rise, peak and decline, perhaps we are reaching the peak of our machine age and beyond lie the black pits of decline.

Meanwhile, we are harassed with endless and petty army regulations…

See Sy M. Kahn: Between Tedium and Terror: A Soldier’s World War II Diary, 1943-45

There was only misapprehension in the claims that the U.S. made about the bomb

The U.S. has stated that the secret of the weapon will be carefully guarded while a defense against it is developed.

No-one in the U.S. High Command was yet aware of how many nuclear secrets the Soviets had already managed to obtain.

Little Boy in the bomb pit on Tinian island, before being loaded into Enola Gay’s bomb bay. A section of the bomb bay door is visible on the top right.
The nuclear material to arm the bomb had been brought, in great secrecy, by USS Indianapolis.

ALSO ON THIS DAY ….

The survivors from the USS Indianapolis, sunk on the 30th July, were now beginning to discover how the Navy would be treating the loss of their ship and the delayed rescue operation. ‘Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man‘ published in July 2018 reconstructs events:

On August 7, some Indy survivors landed at Base Hospital No. 18 on Guam. There, news of the atomic strike and its connection to Tinian Island zipped through the wards like a firecracker string. Finally, the mystery was solved. One by one, the survivors understood the sudden departure from Hunter’s Point, the secrecy, the strange drills, and the presence of the two Army ofcers who had sailed with them.

At Guam, McVay submitted to another press interview, this one with three reporters. Leo Litz of the Indianapolis News, George McWilliams of the International News Service, and Paul Hughes of the Louisville Courier-Journal sat with the captain on a portico overlooking the Pacific. McVay sat in a wheelchair, a notebook in his hand. Already, he had been ordered to file a report on the sinking and had been writing down events as he remembered them.

“My guess is that the Indianapolis was hit in an underwater torpedo attack,” McVay told the reporters. He went on to explain how, as soon as he got to the bridge, he tried to get word down to other parts of the ship. “But all the lights were out and I found that the explosion had paralyzed the communications system. I sent word to the radio room to see that the calls went out for help and later myself went to see about messages.”

At first, McVay said, he was not sure the ship would sink. But as the ship began to list sharply, it became clear that she suffered from “serious, gaping damage.”

Litz, McWilliams, and Hughes also interviewed Dr. Haynes at Guam. He sat with them, his hands bound in bandages. “I’m still in a daze,” Haynes said, relating the horrors of four days drifting at sea. The reporters asked the doctor whether he had any criticism of McVay’s actions.

No, he said. “It was the most terrible thing that could be imagined,and everywhere there was confusion. Nothing worked — fire and blast had severed all wires – and it was impossible to make any kind of progress from one place on the ship to another.”

Paul Hughes went on to talk with several more survivors, all of whom expressed their unqualied support for the captain.

Admiral Spruance arrived at the hospital bearing Purple Hearts, and McVay accompanied the admiral as he bestowed medals on the wounded. Those who were able stood to receive their awards. Others received theirs lying in bed.

Conflicting emotions tore through the men. Seaman Don McCall didn’t think he deserved the honor. Joseph Kiselica, a big, tall fellow from Connecticut, seethed with resentment. “I’m proud of you,” Spruance told Kiselica as he affixed the Purple Heart to his chest.

Kiselica wasn’t proud at all. Not of what the Navy had done to him. And not of what the Navy had done to his shipmates, some living but most dead. First they ignore us for four days, he thought. Now they want to pin medals on us. Kiselica, a second-class machinist’s mate, didn’t dare say anything to the admiral, but after that day, he never wore his Purple Heart again.

When Spruance and McVay got to the quartermaster, Bob Gause, the captain said, “If you decide to stay in the Navy, I’ll see to it that you make chief.” “Thank you, sir, but no thanks,” Gause said. After what he’d just been through, he was going to get out of the Navy double-quick and go home to Florida.

Letters from home caught up with the men. Cleatus Lebow, who had felt that strange dread about returning to Indy at Mare Island, received one from his mother. “I had a dream,” Minervia wrote. “I heard you call me, and I got up from bed and went out on the porch to get you. Papa came out and got me and put me back to bed. It was midnight. At 12:15, I heard you call me again, and I got up and went out again to find you.”

After Lebow read the letter, he looked at the date. His mother had written it on July 29, the day before the ship sank.

As the survivors’ health improved, they asked to be allowed to let their families know they were still alive. The Navy let them — after a fashion. They were given a sheet of Red Cross stationery and a strict set of rules: They were not allowed to mention their whereabouts, the fact that Indianapolis had sunk, their nurses or doctors, or refer in any way to the ordeal they’d just survived.

And so Machinist’s Mate George Horvath wrote lies to his wife:

I’m still doing all right and getting along, or maybe I should say I’m getting settled to the routine life at sea. Three meals a day and a couple of watches to stand. Sounds thrilling, don’t it? I love you – George.

At least, Horvath thought, Alice Mae and their two boys would know he was okay.

Also back at Guam, Malcolm IJhnson and the other reporters drafted their articles. At Peleliu, Johnson’s first look at the survivors had scored his memory like a diamond cutting glass. Some were still bleeding, skin boiled and aflame, faces blistered over, some missing chunks of flesh, others unable even to speak.

In the perverse gallows ethos of journalism, the sinking of Indianapolis was a “great” story, full of drama, tragedy, and heroism, with particulars almost too awful to believe. But it was also an important story that revealed flaws in the Navy’s system of tracking its ships.

Was it possible, Johnson wondered, that as the last, climactic fight loomed to the north, complacency had set in among senior officers in the rear? Was the Navy guilty of negligence on a catastrophic scale?

Through official channels, Guam public affairs personnel asked the Navy Department whether the journalists’ stories about the sinking could be released from Guam. The reply came back: no. They would have to first be sent to Washington. Johnson prepared his story accordingly. Soon, his piece, along with those of the rest of the Guam press corps, was en route to D.C. by air.

Hiroshima – Age of Atomic warfare begins

Colonel Paul Tibbets waves from the recently named 'Enola Gay' B-29 bomber before he starts his mission to Hiroshima.
Colonel Paul Tibbets waves from the recently named ‘Enola Gay’ B-29 bomber before he starts his mission to Hiroshima.

It was a just few weeks since the first and only nuclear weapon test yet conducted. The Little Boy bomb had been immediately dispatched to the Pacific theatre by the USS Indianapolis. The final decision on its use had ben taken by President Truman during the Potsdam conference.

Colonel Paul Tibbets had practiced the special procedure for dropping the bomb in the B-29 bomber. On 5th August he selected the aircraft to undertake the mission and decided to name it after his mother, Enola Gay – it was then that the aircraft was given the simple nose art that was to make it so famous.

After a six hour flight from Tinian island in the Pacific to the port of Hiroshima on the Japanese mainland. Then it became a simple technical process, beginning with an eleven minute bomb run:

Up to this point it was common practice in any theatre of war to fly straight ahead, fly level, drop your bombs, and keep right on going, because you could bomb several thousands of feet in the air and you could cross the top of the place that you had bombed with no concern whatsoever.

But it was determined by the scientists that, in order to escape and maintain the integrity of the aircraft and the crew, that this aeroplane could not fly forward after it had dropped the bomb. It had to turn around and get away from that bomb as fast as it could. If you placed this aeroplane in a very steep angle of bank to make this turn, if you turned 158 degrees from the direction that you were going, you would then begin to place distance between yourself and that point of explosion as quickly as possible.

You had to get away from the shock wave that would be coming back from the ground in the form of an ever expanding circle as it came upwards. It’s necessary to make this turn to get yourself as far as possible from an expanding ring and 158 degrees happened to be the turn for that particular circle.

It was difficult. It was something that was not done with a big bomber aeroplane. You didn’t make this kind of a steep turn — you might almost call it an acrobatic manoeuvre — and the big aircraft didn’t do these things. However, we refined it, we learned how to do it.

It had been decided earlier that there was a possibility that an accident could occur on take-off, and so therefore we would not arm this weapon until we had left the runway and were out to sea. This of course meant that had there been an accident there would have been an explosion from normal powder charges but there would not have been a nuclear explosion.

As I said this worried more people than it worried me because I had plenty of faith in my aeroplane. I knew my engines were good. We started our take-off on time which was somewhere about two-forty-five I think, and the aeroplane went on down the runway. It was loaded quite heavily but it responded exactly like I had anticipated it would. I had flown this aeroplane the same way before and there was no problem and there was nothing different this night in the way we went.

We arrived over the initial point and started in on the bomb run which had about eleven minutes to go, rather a long type of run for a bomb but on the other hand we felt we needed this extra time in straight and level flight to stabilize the air speed of the aeroplane, to get everything right down to the last- minute detail.

As I indicated earlier the problem after the release of the bomb is not to proceed forward but to turn away. As soon as the weight had left the aeroplane I immediately went into this steep turn and we tried then to place distance between ourselves and the point of impact. In this particular case that bomb took fifty-three seconds from the time it left the aeroplane until it exploded and this gave us adequate time of course to make the turn.

We had just made the turn and rolled out on level flight when it seemed like somebody had grabbed a hold of my aeroplane and gave it a real hard shaking because this was the shock wave that had come up. Now after we had been hit by a second shock wave not quite so strong as the first one I decided we’ll turn around and go back and take a look.

The day was clear when we dropped that bomb, it was a clear sunshiny day and the visibility was unrestricted. As we came back around again facing the direction of Hiroshima we saw this cloud coming up. The cloud by this time, now two minutes old, was up at our altitude. We were 33,000 feet at this time and the cloud was up there and continuing to go right on up in a boiling fashion, as if it was rolling and boiling.

The surface was nothing but a black boiling, like a barrel of tar. Where before there had been a city with distinctive houses, buildings and everything that you could see from our altitude, now you couldn’t see anything except a black boiling debris down below.

This account first appeared in Mark Arnold-Forster: The World at War.

The mushroom cloud rises above Hiroshima minutes after the 'Little Boy' bomb exploded.
The mushroom cloud rises above Hiroshima minutes after the ‘Little Boy’ bomb exploded.
A post raid photo reconnaissance of the flattened city of Hiroshima where around 80,000 people died.
A post raid photo reconnaissance of the flattened city of Hiroshima where around 80,000 people died.

USS Indianapolis torpedoed – 900 men in the water

The U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) underway in 1939. An Omaha-class light cruiser and several Clemson/Wickes-class "flushdeck" destroyers are visible in the background.
The U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) underway in 1939. An Omaha-class light cruiser and several Clemson/Wickes-class “flushdeck” destroyers are visible in the background.

As soon as the Trinity nuclear test had been successfully concluded on the 16th July the USS Indianapolis had been despatched from Mare island, San Francisco to Tinian island in the mid Pacific. The heavy cruiser carried the Uranium that would arm the Little Boy bomb.

By 29th July she was en route back to the Philippines across the remotest reaches of the ocean. Her captain had discretion not to zig-zag and it may have made no difference that she was not.

A new study of the sinking published in 2018 reconstructs the events aboard the Japanese submarine I-58, captained by Hashimoto

I-58’s crew waited, breathless. The black shape on the horizon soon gathered itself into the shape of a triangle suspended in the moon’s silver light. But looking through the night periscope, Hashimoto still could not determine her class. Neither could he see the height of her mast in order to estimate the range. This lack of data opened the door to an array of possible mistakes, and his mind ticked through them all.

Without the range, course, and speed of the target, he could not make the proper calculations to obtain a hit. If the class of ship were known, he could estimate the speed by counting the target’s propeller blade frequency, but the hydrophones remained silent. And with the target pointed directly at him, its hull was masking sonar sounds.

He would have to wait until the target was on a broader line of sight to ferret out its speed. Also, changes in the target’s speed and course could throw off Hashimoto’s aim, especially at night, so the moment of ring had to be determined in advance.

A whole kingdom of errors loomed. But if Hashimoto could keep them small and fire six torpedoes in a fanwise spread, he could ensure a hit. Even if he guessed wrong on one of the variables – or even if the target zigzagged, as it was almost sure to do.

A crisp demand interrupted his calculations: “Send us!” It was the suicide pilots. Hashimoto had been so preoccupied with his Type 95 torpedo calculations that he had not followed up on his earlier order for the kaiten. “Why can’t we be launched?” the pilots clamored.

Hashimoto understood their desire. The kaiten could steer to the target, regardless of its speed or course. But the touch-and-go, obscured visibility would make it difficult for the pilots to home in visually on the target over a period of tens of minutes.

To get a Type 95 torpedo hit, all he needed was a reasonable estimate of speed and range, along with one good bearing, and he could send his sh to their target. That was the better option here, so he decided not to use the kaiten unless the oxygen torpedoes failed to hit their mark.

Hashimoto put his eye to the scope again and saw the top of the triangle resolve into two distinct shapes. He could make out a large mast forward and estimated its height at ninety feet. His heartbeat quickened. She appeared to be a large cruiser, ten thousand tons or bigger. Now I-58’s hydrophones gurgled to life, announcing enemy propeller revolutions that were moderately high. Using visual observations, Hashimoto adjusted and put the target’s speed at twelve knots, course 260, range three thousand yards.

He alone could see all this. Without him, the crew could know nothing. As they awaited his word, straining in the deadly quiet, an exhilarating thought formed in his mind: We’ve got her.

Aboard I-58, a sonarman thought he heard the clinking of dishes.‘ Twenty-seven minutes had passed since I—58’s navigator spotted the enemy ship. It now became apparent that the target was approaching off the starboard bow. He ordered the torpedo director computer set to “green sixty degrees”——the torpedoes would turn sixty degrees starboard after launch.

The target closed the distance: twenty-five hundred yards… two thousand… fifteen hundred. “Stand by…” Hashimoto commanded in a loud voice. “Fire!” At two-second intervals, six torpedoes ejected from tubes carved into the sub’s forward hull, one tube after another until all six were away. A report came from the torpedo room: “All tubes fired and correct.”

It was about five minutes after midnight, and six warheads streaked toward the enemy warship in a lethal fan. Hashimoto snatched a look through the periscope, brought his boat on a course parallel to the target, and waited. Every minute seemed an age.

The Indianapolis was steaming straight ahead when she was hit by three Type 95 torpedoes from the Japanese submarine I-58 at 23:35. Some U.S accounts put the time at 00:14.

USS_Indianapolis-last_voyage_chart

Contrary to US Navy claims during the war and after, the Indianapolis was not observing radio silence because of the secrecy of her mission – she managed to transmit distress signals which were received by three separate US Navy monitoring stations, a matter that has only emerged from later de-classified documents. None of the three stations acted on the information. At 00:27 on 30 July, Indianapolis capsized and sank carrying around 300 men with her. The remainder of her 1,196 crew went into the water, only a limited number of lifeboats had been deployed and a minority of the men had life jackets.

Approximately 900 men now faced a hellish ordeal as they struggled to survive in the warm seas, with little or no water. They faced severe sun burn, dehydration, hypothermia – and sharks. Some have argued that the incident amounts to the largest single shark attack in human history. An account by the surviving Chief Medical Officer on board, Dr Lewis Haynes throws some light on the extent of the shark hazard:

I slowly walked down the side of the ship. Another kid came and said he didn’t have a jacket. I had an extra jacket and he put it on. We both jumped into the water which was covered with fuel oil. I wasn’t alone in the water. The hull was covered with people climbing down.

I didn’t want to get sucked down with the ship so I kicked my feet to get away. And then the ship rose up high. I thought it was going to come down and crush me. The ship kept leaning out away from me, the aft end rising up and leaning over as it stood up on its nose. The ship was still going forward at probably 3 or 4 knots. When it finally sank, it was over a hundred yards from me. Most of the survivors were strung out anywhere from half a mile to a mile behind the ship.

Suddenly the ship was gone and it was very quiet. It had only been 12 minutes since the torpedoes hit. We started to gather together. Being in the water wasn’t an unpleasant experience except that the black fuel oil got in your nose and eyes. We all looked the same, black oil all over – white eyes and red mouths. You couldn’t tell the doctor from the boat seamen. Soon everyone had swallowed fuel oil and gotten sick. Then everyone began vomiting.

At that time, I could have hidden but somebody yelled, ‘Is the doctor there?’ And I made myself known. From that point on – and that’s probably why I’m here today — I was kept so busy I had to keep going. But without any equipment, from that point on I became a coroner.

A lot of men were without life jackets. The kapok life jacket is designed with a space in the back. Those who had life jackets that were injured, you could put your arm through that space and pull them up on your hip and keep them out of the water. And the men were very good about doing this. Further more, those with jackets supported men without jackets. They held on the back of them, put their arms through there and held on floating in tandem.

When daylight came we began to get ourselves organized into a group and the leaders began to come out. When first light came we had between three and four hundred men in our group. I would guess that probably seven or eight hundred men made it out of the ship. I began to find the wounded and dead. The only way I could tell they were dead was to put my finger in their eye. If their pupils were dilated and they didn’t blink I assumed they were dead. We would then laboriously take off their life jacket and give it to men who didn’t have jackets. In the beginning I took off their dogtags, said The Lord’s Prayer, and let them go. Eventually, I got such an armful of dogtags I couldn’t hold them any longer. Even today, when I try to say The Lord’s Prayer or hear it, I simply lose it.

…The second night, which was Monday night, we had all the men put their arms through the life jacket of the man in front of him and we made a big mass so we could stay together. We kept the wounded and those who were sickest in the center of the pack and that was my territory. Some of the men could doze off and sleep for a few minutes. The next day we found a life ring. I could put one very sick man across it to support him.

There was nothing I could do but give advice, bury the dead, save the life jackets, and try to keep the men from drinking the salt water when we drifted out of the fuel oil. When the hot sun came out and we were in this crystal clear water, you were so thirsty you couldn’t believe it wasn’t good enough to drink. I had a hard time convincing the men that they shouldn’t drink. The real young ones – you take away their hope, you take away their water and food – they would drink salt water and then would go fast. I can remember striking men who were drinking water to try and stop them. They would get diarrhea, then get more dehydrated, then become very maniacal.

In the beginning, we tried to hold them and support them while they were thrashing around. And then we found we were losing a good man to get rid of one who had been bad and drank. As terrible as it may sound, towards the end when they did this, we shoved them away from the pack because we had to.

The water in that part of the Pacific was warm and good for swimming. But body temperature is over 98 and when you immerse someone up to their chin in that water for a couple of days, you’re going to chill him down. So at night we would tie everyone close together to stay warm. But they still had severe chills which led to fever and delirium.

On Tuesday night some guy began yelling, ‘There’s a Jap here and he’s trying to kill me.’ And then everybody started to fight. They were totally out of their minds. A lot of men were killed that night. A lot of men drowned. Overnight everybody untied themselves and got scattered in all directions. But you couldn’t blame the men. It was mass hysteria. You became wary of everyone. Till daylight came, you weren’t sure. When we got back together the next day there were a hell of a lot fewer.

I saw only one shark. I remember reaching out trying to grab hold of him. I thought maybe it would be food. However, when night came, things would bump against you in the dark or brush against your leg and you would wonder what it was. But honestly, in the entire 110 hours I was in the water I did not see a man attacked by a shark. However, the destroyers that picked up the bodies afterwards found a large number of those bodies. In the report I read 56 bodies were mutilated, Maybe the sharks were satisfied with the dead; they didn’t have to bite the living.

Their ordeal had been lengthened because the failure of the Indianapolis to arrive in the Philippines when expected was also not reported, and no search for the ship was ever undertaken. Instead they were spotted by chance at 10:25 on 2 August by a PV-1 Ventura on a routine patrol. They still had to spend the rest of the day in the water before help arrived:

It was Thursday [2 Aug] when the plane spotted us. By then we were in very bad shape. The kapok life jacket becomes waterlogged. It’s good for about 48 hours. We sunk lower down in the water and you had to think about keeping your face out of water. I knew we didn’t have very long to go. The men were semicomatose. We were all on the verge of dying when suddenly this plane flew over. I’m here today because someone on that plane had a sore neck. He went to fix the aerial and got a stiff neck and lay down in the blister underneath. While he was rubbing his neck he saw us.

The plane dropped life jackets with canisters of water but the canisters ruptured. Then a PBY [seaplane] showed up and dropped rubber life rafts. We put the sickest people aboard and the others hung around the side. I found a flask of water with a 1-ounce cup. I doled out the water, passing the cup down hand to hand. Not one man cheated and I know how thirsty they were.

Towards the end of the day, just before dark, I found a kit for making fresh water out of salt water. I tried to read the instructions, but couldn’t make sense of it or get it to work right. My product tasted like salt water and I didn’t want to take a chance so I threw it into the ocean. I then went to
pieces.

I watched the PBY circle and suddenly make an open-sea landing. This took an awful lot of guts. It hit, went back up in the air and splashed down again. I thought he’d crashed but he came taxiing back. I found out later he was taxiing around picking up the singles. If he hadn’t done this, I don’t think we would have survived. He stayed on the water during the night and turned his searchlight up into the sky so the Cecil J. Doyle (DE-368) could find us. The ship came right over and began picking us up.

See Lewis L. Haynes, “Survivor of the Indianapolis.” Navy Medicine 86, no.4 (Jul.-Aug. 1995)

I-58(II), modified B type 2 of submarine of the Imperial Japanese Navy, on trial run inside the Tokyo Bay.
I-58(II), modified B type 2 of submarine of the Imperial Japanese Navy, on trial run inside the Tokyo Bay.

Winston Churchill falls from power

The Churchill Coalition Government 11 May 1940 - 23 May 1945: The Churchill Coalition War Cabinet: standing, from left to right, Sir Archibald Sinclair, Mr A V Alexander, Lord Cranborne, Herbert Morrison, Lord Moyne, Captain Margesson and Brendan Bracken. Seated, from left to right, Ernest Bevin, Lord Beaverbrook, Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill, Sir John Anderson, Arthur Greenwood and Sir Kingsley Wood.
The Churchill Coalition Government 11 May 1940 – 23 May 1945: The Churchill Coalition War Cabinet: standing, from left to right, Sir Archibald Sinclair, Mr A V Alexander, Lord Cranborne, Herbert Morrison, Lord Moyne, Captain Margesson and Brendan Bracken. Seated, from left to right, Ernest Bevin, Lord Beaverbrook, Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill, Sir John Anderson, Arthur Greenwood and Sir Kingsley Wood.
The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, accompanied by Air Marshal the Hon. Sir Ralph Cochrane, Air Officer Commanding in Chief, Transport Command, walks from his Douglas Skymaster Mark I, EW999, at Northolt, Middlesex, on his return from the Three Power Conference at Potsdam.
The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, accompanied by Air Marshal the Hon. Sir Ralph Cochrane, Air Officer Commanding in Chief, Transport Command, walks from his Douglas Skymaster Mark I, EW999, at Northolt, Middlesex, on his return from the Three Power Conference at Potsdam.

On the 25th Winston Churchill had returned to Britain midway through the Potsdam conference to be present for the results of the General Election. Throughout the war he had led a government of National coalition, containing members of the opposition parties. He had not enjoyed unanimous support throughout the war – in 1942 he had faced two votes of no confidence in his leadership.

His wartime achievement was no longer in any doubt. But he, and the greater part of the Conservative Party, had been focussing almost exclusively on the war, and had neglected the mood of the ordinary man and woman in the country. The “Socialists” – the Labour Party – had developed some innovative policies that were directly aimed at improving the lot of the average citizen. The introduction of a true ‘Welfare State’, a ‘National Health Service’ as a well as the nationalisation of key industries had huge appeal to people who wanted not just to win the war but to build a better world for themselves after it.

In an age without opinion polls Churchill and many other Conservatives had failed to see that the mood of the country had dramatically turned against them. There must have been subtle signs present, because they finally crystallised in Churchill’s mind as he slept:

The latest view of the Conservative Central Office was that we should retain a substantial majority. I had not burdened myself unduly with the subject while occupied with the grave business of the Conference. On the whole I accepted the view of the party managers, and went to bed in the belief that the British people would wish me to continue my work.

My hope was that it would be possible to reconstitute the National Coalition Government in the proportions of the new House of Commons. Thus slumber.

However, just before dawn I woke suddenly with a sharp stab of almost physical pain. A hitherto subconscious conviction that we were beaten broke forth and dominated my mind.

All the pressure of great events, on and against which I had mentally so long maintained my “flying speed”, would cease and I should fall. The power to shape the future would be denied me. The knowledge and experience I had gathered, the authority and goodwill I had gained in so many countries, would vanish. I was discontented at the prospect, and turned over at once to sleep again.

I did not wake till nine o’clock, and when I went into the Map Room the first results had begun to come in. They were, as I now expected, unfavourable. By noon it was clear that the Socialists would have a majority. At luncheon my wife said to me, “It may well be a blessing in disguise.” I replied, “At the moment it seems quite effectively disguised.”

The Labour Party had won 393 seats in Parliament while the Conservative Party slumped to 197. The result was so decisive that Churchill resigned that day and by evening Clement Attlee had seen the King and had been invited to form a government. As Prime Minister he would return to Potsdam the next day, as the new leader of the British delegation.

Churchill left one final message to the public, upon which he concludes his memoirs of World War II :

26 Ju1y 45

The decision of the British people has been recorded in the votes counted to—day. I have therefore laid down the charge which was placed upon me in darker times.

I regret, that I have not been permitted to finish the work against Japan. For this however all plans and preparations have been made, and the results may come much quicker than we have hitherto been entitled to expect.

Immense responsibilities abroad and at home fall upon the new Government, and we must all hope that they will be successful in bearing them.

It only remains for me to express to the British people, for whom I have acted in these perilous years, my profound gratitude for the unflinching, unswerving support which they have given me during my task, and for the many expressions of kindness which they have shown towards their servant.

See Winston S. Churchill: The Second World War.

The 1945 General Election: King George VI standing with the Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, London.
The 1945 General Election: King George VI standing with the Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, London.

Truman and Allies approve use of atomic bomb

Rare color photograph of the first nuclear test at Trinity site, July 16, 1945. Blurriness is in the original photograph (done when color photography was still fairly new).
Rare color photograph of the first nuclear test at Trinity site, July 16, 1945. Blurriness is in the original photograph (done when color photography was still fairly new).

The death of Roosevelt had catapulted Harry S. Truman into a position of awesome responsibility for which he had little preparation. He had not been privy to the work of the Atomic research programme while Vice President but now he had to give the final authorisation for the use of the new weapons.

The Allies were still actively planning Operation Downfall, the invasion of the Japanese mainland, and their forecasts of anticipated casualties varied widely. In June President Truman had been briefed that it might cost over 250,000 US fatalities. Another study, after the bloody experience on Okinawa had been absorbed into the thinking, placed the range at up to 4 million U.S. casualties with fatalities between 400,000 – 800,000 – Japanese casualties were assumed to be several times greater, including a high proportion of civilians.

It was in this context that Truman was presented with the news of the successful Trinity test and the option of using the new Atomic Bomb. He outlined the circumstances in his diary, in which, curiously, he refers to himself as the US President:

Diary: Potsdam 25 July 1945

We met at eleven today. That is Stalin, Churchill, and the US President. But I had a most important session with Lord Mountbatten and General Marshall before that. We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark.

Anyway we “think” we have found the way to cause a disintegration of the atom. An experiment in the New Mexican desert was startling — to put it mildly. Thirteen pounds of the explosive caused the complete disintegration of a steel tower 60 feet high, created a crater 6 feet deep and 1,200 feet in diameter, knocked over a steel tower 1/2 mile away and knocked men down 10,000 yards away. The explosion was visible for more than 200 miles and audible for 40 miles and more.

This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old capital or the new.

He and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I’m sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance.

It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler’s crowd or Stalin’s did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful.

See Mr. President: THE FIRST PUBLICATION FROM THE PERSONAL DIARIES, PRIVATE LETTERS, PAPERS AND REVEALING INTERVIEWS OF Harry S. Truman, THIRTY-SECOND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

On the 26th July the Allies issued a statement calling upon Japan to surrender or face “prompt and utter destruction”.

Stalin, Truman and Churchill at the Potsdam conference. Clement Attlee, Churchill's political opponent in the British General Election, stands in the background between Truman and Churchill.
Stalin, Truman and Churchill at the Potsdam conference. Clement Attlee, Churchill’s political opponent in the British General Election, stands in the background between Truman and Churchill.

Mountbatten meets the US Chiefs and Churchill

Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia: Mountbatten conferrring with Lieutenant General J W Stilwell Commander-in-Chief US Forces in China, Burma and India.
Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia: Mountbatten conferrring with Lieutenant General J W Stilwell Commander-in-Chief US Forces in China, Burma and India.

At the beginning of the war Lord Louis Mountbatten, at the time a minor member of the British Royal family (and uncle of the relatively unknown naval officer Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark) had been commander of a Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Kelly. He had saved the Kelly after a torpedo attack in 1940 and had still been commanding her when she was sunk off Crete the following year.

He had then made extraordinary progression through the ranks under the patronage of Winston Churchill. First he had been appointed Chief of Combined Operations and had had ultimate responsibility for the Dieppe Raid.

Then Churchill had elevated him to the even more prestigious position of Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, a post equivalent in stature to Eisenhower’s position in Europe. It was in this role that he arrived at the Potsdam conference in Berlin on 24th July, where he was expecting to discuss the finer points of the final attack on Japan, which he expected to take the war into 1946. On the day that he arrived he had informal meetings with the most senior US officers and then with Churchill:

I can never describe the friendliness of the reception I had from the American Chiefs of Staff. Hard-boiled old Fleet Admiral King took my hand in both his hands and shook it a dozen times with great warmth. Bill Somervell appeared even more pleased to see me. General Marshall and General Arnold invited me to come back and have a drink with them.

Then Marshall swore me to secrecy and said he would reveal to me the greatest secret of the war.

It appeared that the team of British and American scientists who had been working on the release of atomic energy had atlast succeeded in utilizing the release of energy from the fission of element 2.3 5, an isotope of uranium, and that when this had been applied in a bomb the results had been quite shattering. An experimental bomb exploded in New Mexico and had had unbelievable results.

A steel girder structure half a mile away had either melted or been vaporized; there was nothing left of it. It was estimated that all human beings within a radius of two or three miles would be killed, and those beyond this radius for a mile or two, would be so burned as to be unlikely to recover.

Marshall told me they now had an atomic bomb on the way over to Okinawa, ready for release round about the 5th August.

I said: ‘This will surely mean the end of the war within the next few days, or anyway within the next few weeks?’

Marshall and Arnold both agreed that this was so, and that they couldn’t possibly visualize the war going on beyond the end of 1945 in any case.

I then asked why the meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff that afternoon had given the official date of the end of the war as the 15th November 1946; and they pointed out that on account of secrecy the planners had had to work without knowledge of the bomb’s existence, and that this was a fair estimate of how long it might have taken if there had been no bomb.

Finally General Marshall reminded me of my promise not to tell a living soul — not even the Prime Minister, with whom General Marshall knew I was dining that night.

After dinner we moved into the study, and the Prime Minister closed the doors. After looking round in a conspiratorial manner, he said: ‘I have a great secret to tell you’ — and proceeded to tell me the story of the atomic bomb.

He said it would be dropped on the 5th and that the Japanese would surrender on the 15th. He advised me to take all necessary steps to compete with the capitulation as soon after this date as possible. I therefore sent a telegram to Boy Browning to take all the necessary steps, without of course being able to give him the reason.

I had come back convinced that Labour would get in by a handsome majority and was astounded to find that the Prime Minister and indeed everyone I met at Potsdam was quite confident that the Conservative Party would get in.

The most pessimistic majority I heard was 30, and the Prime Minister himself told me he thought he would have 1OO.

The Prime Minister has never been so friendly to me in his life. He kept on telling me what a good job I had done, and how I had vindicated his judgement when he selected me for the job. He said: ‘When the war is over I am going to arrange a great ovation for you and for your battle-green jungle warriors. When we get back to London come and see me and we will talk about your future, as I have great plans in store.’

It was a mournful and eerie feeling to sit there talking plans with a man who seemed so confident that they would come off, and I felt equally confident that he would be out of office within 24 hours.

However, I was particularly glad to have a three-hour heart-to-heart talk with him, when he was in such a good mood. It would indeed have been terrible if I had not been able to see him until after his defeat at the elections. For once he did not keep me up late, and I was home before midnight.

See Personal Diary of Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten Supreme Allied Commander, South-East Asia, 1943-1946.

Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, sits astride a captured Japanese 75mm gun while addressing men of the Royal Armoured Corps in Mandalay, 21 March 1945.
Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, sits astride a captured Japanese 75mm gun while addressing men of the Royal Armoured Corps in Mandalay, 21 March 1945.