There are always peace and war factions. As Japan continued to lose the war, leading politicians tried to walk the changing line between reducing the suffering of the people in a lost cause and national pride of never having been defeated. Decisions to change policy were, by tradition, unanimous. To make a change as dramatic as surrender was difficult to bring about. Some hoped to enlist Russia on their side or at least to open trade in war materials. The War faction believed Japan retained the capability to win one final battle: the invasion of the home islands. The empire was amassing their most powerful weapon, the kamikaze, in the form of airplanes, motor launches, submarines, and human torpedoes. The people were rallied (as with Churchill's "We will fight them on the beaches ..." speeches) , in the Japanese mode, "It will be time for the bamboo spear". People were told if they did not take an allied soldier with them, they did not deserve to die for the Emperor. The peace faction, not denying that the military could throw back the invasion, simply observed that there would be a second invasion that would succeed after the kamikaze were gone.
Upon the successful testing of the atomic bomb, the Americans believed Japan could be forced to quickly surrender and enlisted the allies at Potsdam on 26 July 1945 to prepare a proclamation defining the conditions for the surrender of Japan. Japan made no response, thereby rejecting the last chance to negotiate for peace.
The war in Europe had ended in May 1945. Russia was obligated by agreements made at Yalta, 11 Feb 1945, to enter the war in the Pacific within three months of VE day. On 5 April, the Soviets announced their intention to not renew the Neutrality Pact with Japan, signed 13 April 1941, at a time before either had entered into a war. Word came from attaches in Europe that Allied troops were being sent to the Pacific. Russia massed troops on the Mongolian border. Oil was so short in Japan, they could no longer fight except on the home islands; she could not fuel planes to defend from the air raids that were destroying military production. All defenses were conserved for the final battle, even as B-29s proceeded unopposed. The atomic bomb was dropped on August 6. It was not until President Truman addressed his nation the next day that the leaders in Tokyo understood what had happened. They were assured there was not enough uranium in the world to allow a repeat an atomic attack and that wearing white clothing would defeat the bomb.
On 9 August, the Japanese ambassador to Moscow was told of the repudiation of the existing treaty as a means to bring peace nearer and at the request of its allies, a state of war existed. Two hours later, Soviet troops attacked the hollow shell of the remaining Japanese troops in Manchuria.
The cabinet meeting over the night of 9-10 August was deadlocked with six in favor of surrender under certain conditions, three to fight on until after the final battle had shown Japan's will, and with five neutral members. Issues discussed that night were: that the Emperor must remain; that Japan must disarm her own troops and not surrender arms to a foreign power; and that Japan must try her own war criminals. Word came during the meeting that a second city had been destroyed by atomic attack. The meeting was moved to an audience with the Emperor who listened to the arguments on both sides and concluded that the time had come to "bear the unbearable". The Emperor had no direct authority other than the loyalty of those who would listen to him. A diplomatic message was drafted to the Allies describing Japan's conditions of accepting the Potsdam proclamation.
The army felt that the troops must be keep fighting until the terms were formally agreed and broadcast this announcement : "We shall fight on to the bitter end, ever firm in our faith that we shall find life in death . . . and surge forward to destroy the arrogant enemy." The peace side decided to counteract the martial effect of that news release with an announcement of their own. This was for several reasons. The government sponsored news agency was in Morse code only and not covered by military censorship; it would speed the receipt of the Japanese offer going through diplomatic channels and could possibly postpone destruction of another city; and it was hoped that rejoicing created among the allies by an end to the war would make them unable to reject Japan's counter offer. On the morning of the 11th, the army was furious, but did not resort to violence. That evening the Emperor agreed to broadcast to the nation on acceptance of the offer.
The stern Allied response, written by the Americans and approved by the Allies, was also released by radio news to let Japan know under what terms the agreement was accepted. It was received about midnight August 11-12, eighteen hours before the diplomatic note. As word spread within the government, about midnight of the 13th, a plea was made to commit twenty million lives (kamikaze) to victory. On the morning of the 14th Allied leaflets erased the secrecy of the negotiations. Noon on the 14th saw another imperial conference in which the three military leaders in the cabinet spoke for rejection. The Emperor considered the Allied response to be acceptable. The cabinet met immediately after and endorsed the Emperor's wishes, thereby making the acceptance legal. By three in the afternoon, the government Morse code station announced that an "acceptance will be forthcoming soon." The Allies stopped attacks and went on alert status.
A coup attempt was to be expected. Insurgents assassinated the commander of the Imperial Guards and issued orders under his name, but the insurrection was put down by morning. Separately, the War Minister committed suicide. Also overnight, the Emperor recorded his address to the nation which was broadcast at noon, 15 August. Wording was so carefully drafted, about saving innocent lives from a new and cruel bomb, that it was not immediately known that it meant full surrender. The cabinet resigned as a duty and an Imperial Prince was made premier.
The imperial family, government and military leaders travel to remote military units to assure that acceptance was the will of the Emperor. Japanese concern about the willingness of their military to lay down their arms before death, plus the suddenness of acceptance on an Allied military preparing for invasion, both act to postpone the signing of the unconditional surrender by two weeks while members of the imperial family fan out to assure regional military leaders it was the emperor's wish for them to stop fighting.
14Aug45. Japan accepts the provisions of the Potsdam Declaration and agrees to surrender.
15Aug45. "VJ Day." Emperor speaks to the nation: "... the enemy has recently made use of an inhuman bomb. ..." Second strike of morning is canceled while en route; pilots jettison their ordnance and return to carriers. The first strike had splashed 26 of 45 defenders. Four former enemy were shot down as background while Halsey read his "the war is ended" speech to the fleet. Three more attacking bombers were downed later in the day.
25Aug45. Carrier aircraft begin daily flights over Japan to patrol airfields, shipping movements, and to locate and supply prisoner of war camps.
27Aug45. Third Fleet (Adm Halsey) stands into Sagami Wan, the outer bay to Tokyo, Japan.
28Aug45. USAAF technicians land at Atsugi Airdrome, near Tokyo; these are the first American troops to land in Japan.
29Aug45. Emergency evacuation of Allied POWs in waterfront areas.
30Aug45. Landings by the occupation forces begin in the Tokyo Bay area under cover of guns of the Third Fleet plus Naval and USAAF aircraft.
2 September 1945. Signing of unconditional surrender aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay by one government official and one military leader on the Japanese side and its acceptance by representatives of nine Allied nations.
"Japan's Decision to Surrender" by Robert J.C. Butow. Stanford University Press, 1954.
'The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II', by Robert J. Cressman, Naval Historical Center, rev 1999.
What about negotiations with Russia? As far as I can tell this is a myth.
Should the Atomic Bombs Have Been Used in 1945? - American Heritage, 14 pages of facts, not conclusion.
Return to: WW2 Menu
About this page: Surrender - World War II, the final days. Last updated on July 4, 2001
Contact us at URL: http://www.ww2pacific.com/surrender.html