Seventy-five years ago, on 15 August 1945, Emperor Hirohito publically announced Japan’s acceptance of the Allies’ terms and Japan’s surrender. Nazi Germany had surrendered to the Allies three months earlier. The Second World War was over. It had been the bloodiest conflict in human history.
While there were many contributors to Japan’s defeat – including battlefield defeats in many theatres, the Allied naval blockade and the bombing of home islands, and the Soviet Union’s declaration of war and invasion of Manchuria – the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945 brought the conflict to a sudden end. “The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage” and the Allies had “begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb” the power of which is “incalculable” ”, Emperor Hirohito told his people on 15 August.
Although spared from much of the conflict’s destruction and displacement, Australia’s mobilisation for total war was unprecedented. Close to one in seven Australians served in the forces, over half of whom served overseas. Forty thousand Australian servicemen and servicewomen died in the conflict, and more than 30,000 suffered as prisoners of war, while 1,500 Australian civilians were interned by the Japanese in Asia and the Pacific. Tens of thousands of Australians were wounded or injured. Moral injuries were uncounted.
During the war, the Australian mainland was attacked nearly 100 times by enemy aircraft; areas of Australian administered territory in New Guinea and the islands were invaded and occupied by Japanese forces; and there were Axis attacks on Allied shipping in Australian waters from surface raiders, submarines, and sea mines.
Away from the battlefront, the Australian government, industry, agriculture and civilian population were mobilised. Food, coal, fuel and textiles were rationed. Hundreds of thousands of men and women were employed directly in war work, constructing roads, aerodromes, military camps, gun positions, and docks, and working in armament, munitions or aircraft factories. Australian industry rapidly modernised and expanded during the war, heralding a period of engineering and technical achievement.
During 1945, Australian forces were engaged in campaigns across the Pacific – in New Guinea, Bougainville, New Britain, Borneo, and in the Philippines – and Australian prisoners of the Japanese were spread throughout Asia. Most had expected the war against Japan to continue for many more months. After the atomic bombings, however, Japanese surrender was anticipated from about 11 August. On the morning of 15 August, people across the country listened to a broadcast from Prime Minister Ben Chifley: