V-J Day: The Formal Surrender of Japan

Gen. Umezu signs instrument of surrender on Sept. 2, 1945. (U.S. Department of Defense)
Gen. Yoshijiro Umezu signs instrument of surrender on Sept. 2, 1945. (U.S. Department of Defense)

V-J Day commemorates the Allied victory over Japan in World War II. On Sept. 2, 1945, the Japanese signed the formal surrender documents, ending the war.

After Germany's defeat in May 1945, the United States embarked upon a huge logistical effort to redeploy to the Pacific more than a million troops from Europe, the U.S. and other inactive theaters. The aim was to complete the redeployment in time to launch an invasion of Japan on Nov. 1.

The task had to be undertaken in the face of competing shipping demands for the demobilization of long-service troops, British redeployment and civil relief in Europe. By the time the war in Europe ended, some 150,000 men had moved from Europe directly to the Pacific; but a larger transfer from the United States had scarcely begun.

In the Pacific, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur and Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz had been sparing no effort to expand ports and ready bases to receive the expected influx and to mount invasion forces. By midsummer of 1945, most responsible leaders in Japan realized that the end was near. In June, those favoring a negotiated settlement had come out in the open, and Japan had already dispatched peace feelers through the Soviet Union, a country it feared might also be about to enter the war in spite of a nonaggression treaty between the nations.

Related: Army Soldier Recalls the Day Victory over Japan Was Declared

As early as the Tehran Conference in late 1943, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had promised to enter the war against Japan, and all agreed at Yalta in February 1945 that the USSR would do so three months after the defeat of Germany. At the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, the Soviet Union reaffirmed its agreement to declare war on Japan. The United States, Britain and China issued the Potsdam Declaration calling upon Japan to surrender promptly; at about the same time, President Harry S. Truman employed the newly tested atomic bomb against Japan in the event of continued Japanese resistance.

Japanese representatives at surrender ceremonies, Sept. 2, 1945. (Department of Defense)

Despite the changing climate of opinion in Japan, the still-powerful Japanese military blocked negotiations by insisting on fighting a decisive battle to defend the empire's home shores. The Japanese government thus announced its intention to ignore the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. Accordingly, on Aug. 6, a lone American B-29 from the Marianas dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. On Aug. 9, the Soviet Union entered the war, and a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The next day, Japan sued for peace, and on Aug. 15, Japan's surrender was announced.

    On the morning of Sept. 2, 1945, the Allied and Japanese delegations met aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay for the formal signing of the surrender documents. After finishing an eloquent introductory statement, Gen. MacArthur directed the representatives of Japan to sign the two instruments of surrender, one each for the Allied and Japanese governments. They were followed by representatives of the United States, China, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, Australia, Canada, France, the Netherlands and New Zealand. World War II had formally ended, and Truman declared Sept. 2 to be the official VJ Day.

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