The Rising Sun Has Risen, and Now Sets on the Empire of Japan: From Peleliu to Okinawa

8 May


From the first engagements in late 1941 and early 1942, where the Japanese juggernaut seemed unstoppable, trampling over a negligible four-nation naval coalition at Java Sea and Makassar Strait, further adding to Allied woes in the Pacific, to the first Japanese landings in the Philippines and on New Guinea, the Japanese stood inexorable, the sheer might of their multi-million-man army steamrolling over all opposition. By the summer of 1942, the Japanese had conquered nearly one-third of the world, from the Home Islands and great swathes of land in China down to the southernmost of the Solomon Islands in the Coral Sea. Yet reverses came all too soon for the Japanese, from the bombing of Tokyo in April 1942 by sixteen B-25 bombers commanded Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle, to the loss of an aircraft carrier and two damaged at the May 1942 battle of the Coral Sea, where the United States lost an aircraft carrier of their own in order to halt a potential Japanese landing on New Guinea, all the way to the June 1942 battle of Midway, one in which the Imperial Japanese Navy, the lifeblood of Japan’s overseas empire and the sinew in which it functioned, never recovered, losing four irreplaceable aircraft carriers in two days of combat, while the United States suffered with the loss of just one, which had not recovered from damage sustained at Coral Sea. With the landing of American forces on Guadalcanal in August of that year, just three months after the loss of the Philippines and nine months after the loss of Guam and Wake Island, the offensive tide shifted in the United States’ favor. The Imperial Japanese Navy had suffered a setback that would require years to overcome with Japan’s inherent lack of sufficient natural resources to compensate and reconstruct, and the Imperial Japanese Army was now suffering similar reverses, with the remainder of troops being withdrawn from Guadalcanal in December 1942, while starving Japanese troops resorting to cannibalism on the Kokoda Trail were forced to retreat from Port Moresby by stout Australian resistance, only to be hemmed in by American landings at Gona and Buna. Attempts to reinforce the beleaguered defenders culminated in the March 1943 battle of the Bismarck Sea, a decisive Allied victory. With the dawn of 1943, American forces began landings on Bougainville during April’s Operation Cherryblossom, attempting to complete the goal of Operation Cartwheel, the systematic surrounding and annihilation of the port of Rabaul, a major hub of the Imperial Japanese Navy. With fighting underway on Bougainville and New Guinea to neutralize Rabaul and prevent Japanese forces from assaulting Port Moresby, fighting that would continue until war’s end in August 1945, American forces came ashore at Makin, an island that had been the scene of a daring Marine raid in August 1942, and Tarawa during Operation Galvanic in November 1943. Both islands had taken just three days to capture, yet the casualties had been astounding, with nearly 2,000 Marines perishing in their attempt to take Tarawa, with the island’s 5,000 Japanese defenders being completely annihilated. Only 125 were captured alive. In December of that year, in order to further the potential capitulation of Rabaul, American forces of the 1st Marine Division waded ashore off Cape Gloucester on New Britain, the island harboring the bustling naval port. In January and February 1944, American forces waded ashore on Kwajalein, Roi, Namur, and Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands while aircraft of Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s 3rd Fleet pounded Truk Atoll in the Caroline Islands, a similar Japanese naval stronghold, in order to tie down the Imperial Japanese Navy to prevent a potential counterattack that could threaten the landings there. As the United States leapfrogged past major Japanese strongholds toward the Mariana Archipelago, and, potentially, the Philippines, it became clear to the Imperial General Headquarters that the war was tilting ever-further in America’s favor. With newly arrived B-29 Superfortress long-range heavy bombers striking Japan from China (although their airfields would soon be overrun), American forces came ashore at Saipan, the first of the Mariana Islands to fall. The American landings prompted the Japanese to attempt a naval counterattack to destabilize the landings, something they had succeeded in doing in the August 1942 battle of Savo Island, yet the counterattack, the June 1944 battle of the Philippine Sea, went down in flames, with the Japanese losing nearly 300 aircraft in a disastrous endeavor to bomb the American fleet in a similar fashion to Midway, as well as the Japanese loss of three more fleet carriers, the Shokaku, a veteran of Coral Sea, Taiho, and Junyo. The future landings on Guam and Tinian went relatively unopposed by the Imperial Japanese Navy, primarily due to the fact that in the aftermath of the engagement at the Philippine Sea, Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, who had been promoted to replace the late Isoroku Yamamoto, mastermind behind the attack on Pearl Harbor and victim of an aircraft crash off Bougainville in April 1943, had committed suicide. By August 1944, the Marianas were in American hands, and the 8,500-foot airfield on Saipan, named Isley Field, was being prepared to land American B-29s in China, who had been forced back due to Japanese offensives targeting their airfields to neutralize the threat. The first B-29, the Joltin’ Josie, commanded by General Haywood Hansell, who would command the 21st Bomb Group stationed on Saipan, landed there in October 1944, just as American forces waded ashore on the island of Leyte in the Philippines, avenging MacArthur’s humiliating loss in 1942. Soon after the arrival of Joltin’ Josie came more bombers, and with them, the 509th Composite Group, consisting of the aircraft Enola Gay and Bockscar, which would deliver the devastating 4,000 pound atomic bombs that would level Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

The fall of Marianas spelled disaster for Japan, not just because the islands acted as a link between the Home Islands and Japan’s garrisons in Southeast Asia, notably in New Guinea and the Dutch East Indies, who now were without real command, but also because the Marianas were the first islands to fall that placed the Home Islands within the range of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, and a strategic precision bombing campaign similar to the one being undertaken by the United States 8th Air Force in England and 15th Air Force in Italy against Germany. Prior to the arrival of the first B-29 bombers, the United States relied heavily on submarines to tie the noose around Japan, strangling its supply lines and asphyxiating the Home Islands, yet the submarine war was becoming increasingly costly, as the Imperial Japanese Navy developed more sophisticated counters to this invisible threat. Similar to the German U-boat campaign, where 40,000 men were sent into the Atlantic to disrupt Allied shipping to and from Great Britain, with 30,000 of them perishing at sea, American casualties were mind-boggling. One in five men would die at sea, while only eight submarine captains were awarded the coveted Medal of Honor, all posthumously. By war’s end, the American submarine fleet, which had been commandeered by Admiral Charles Lockwood in 1943, had sunk nearly 1,000 Japanese merchantmen, reducing shipping to the Home Islands by nearly 80 percent. Combined with the strategic bombing campaign undertaken by the 21st Bomb Group on Saipan and others stationed in the Marianas and later on Peleliu and Iwo Jima, which targeted Japanese war-related industries and civilian centers to slow or halt Japan’s wartime industrial output and destroy morale, these campaigns proved brutally effective by war’s end. With the fall of Tinian and Guam in early August 1944 as part of Operation Forager, the first battles in the Second World War in which napalm was utilized to destroy heavily defended Japanese positions in the thick, rocky, jungle-coated terrain on the islands, American attention turned not to the Philippines, but instead to the next piece in the puzzle, the next area that Americans would have to take to win an open door to the Philippines: the Palau Islands. Specifically, the islands of Peleliu and Anguar. Both Admiral Chester Nimitz and General Douglas MacArthur had plans for the future capitulation of Japan, which both believed was just around the corner. With the war almost daily being brought closer to Japan, the American command believed the Japanese were demoralized and on the brink of defeat. Yet they were far from it. The closer the Americans got to Japan, the more desperate the Japanese defense became, and the more dangerous the defenders became. The Japanese were now fighting for the Home Islands, whether they were hundreds of miles away on Peleliu or on Okinawa, and in that regard, they would fight with every bullet, every grain of gunpowder, every breath to keep even a millimeter of land out of American hands. They were not afraid of death, in fact, the Japanese embraced it as a doctrine of their Bushido, the code of the warrior samurai, which essentially stipulated death before dishonor. The Japanese would defend these islands to the death, and in doing so, would take as many American soldiers with them as they could.

Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the United States Pacific Fleet, and General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the United States Army in the Pacific theatre, had both drawn up plans for the ultimate victory of Japan, and what objectives needed to be accomplished in order to secure said victory. Nimitz proposed circumventing the Philippines, as they had little strategic value for the United States, and instead land on Formosa, neutralize Japanese positions there, and then follow up with a landing on Okinawa. Once completed, invade the southernmost islands of Japan, primarily Kyushu, Shikoku, and southern Honshu. MacArthur, on the other hand, stated that a landing in the Philippines would be strategically necessary to accomplish an American victory, and follow up with landings on Iwo Jima, which possessed an airfield that could be utilized by the United States to launch fast, twin-engine bombers against Japan, and finally Okinawa and then an invasion of Japan itself. The landings in the Philippines were of no actual strategic value. In reality, MacArthur wanted to land in order to rectify his humiliating loss at the beginning of the war, and fulfill his vow to “return to the Philippines.” After consulting President Roosevelt on his preferred course of action in a meeting at Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt gave priority to MacArthur. Both Nimitz’s and MacArthur’s plans called a landing on the island of Peleliu, with MacArthur stating the island, along with its neighbor, Anguar, would be secured along with its airfield and give protection to future American landings on Leyte and Luzon. Operation Stalemate II, as the landing came to be dubbed, got underway on September 15th, 1944, with American troops of the 1st Marine Division coming ashore under intense fire. The American forces were slated to seize Peleliu within three days to prepare for the upcoming landing on Leyte, which was planned to be undertaken that October. 11,000 Japanese troops had dug themselves into the island, crisscrossed by a series of tunnel networks, machine gun nests, rifle pits, spider holes, earthen bunkers, and the like, all of which were camouflaged for ambush. American forces coming ashore were told they would be landing against little resistance, yet this overoptimistic report proved, for as American forces came ashore, they could hear Japanese small arms fire ricocheting off the front of their landing vessels, and artillery rounds, namely from 200mm naval guns on a limestone promontory overlooking the beaches dubbed ‘The Point’, exploded in the water around them. Coral reefs and the tide offered natural barriers to the landings, as the 1st Marines rapidly became pinned down by an intense Japanese crossfire at “Orange Beach”, while the 5th Marines landed to the south, and, although caught in a similar situation, managed to make early progress toward the Japanese airfield on the southern end of the island. As the Americans came ashore, the landing was not reminiscent of Guadalcanal, where the Japanese had erected shore defenses but had abandoned them during the intense naval bombardment, but instead resembled closely the landing on Saipan, where American forces managed to reach the beach under intense machine gun fire, and only broke the backs of the defenders by naval barrage. As the Marines moved ashore, they came under fire from Japanese forces as they withdrew toward the airfield. The Marines pursued in nearly 115 degree heat, with many suffering from sunstroke. Peleliu possesses no fresh water, and gathering rainwater was how the Japanese had gotten by. The Marines were unaware of this, and many drank through their canteens without replacement water. The Marines were cautioned to eat salt pills to conserve water in their system as they moved further inland. The following day, with a combined force of the 1st and 5th Marines in position to take the airfield on the southern edge of Peleliu, the Japanese attempted an armored counterattack, the second largest tank battle in the Pacific war, to force the Marines back. 13 Japanese light tanks moved out onto the airfield, but soon came under intense mortar and bazooka fire from the Americans, as well as fire from howitzers and tanks coming ashore from the landing sites. Following the engagement, American forces stormed the airfield in a daring frontal assault, and, as conversion got underway to prepare the airfield for use, the Americans moved inland to secure the Umerbrogal Ridge, the island’s central highlands. This area would not be under American control until October, with Japanese positions deep inside the hills that had to be flushed out with high explosives, grenades, flamethrowers, air strikes, and napalm. American forces reported that they could even smell Japanese soldiers cooking rice beneath them. Futile Japanese banzai charges rapidly became commonplace as the fighting on Peleliu intensified. The largest banzai charge of the war had been undertaken on Saipan, with the island’s last defenders, a desperate group of 500 men who had lost the highlands, primarily Mount Tapotchau, dashed at American lines in the middle of the night on July 9th, yet small banzai charges were not uncommon on Peleliu and Anguar, the latter of which had a much less intense campaign. With the airfield secure the day after the landing, MacArthur was ready to undertake his landings on Leyte. They had been nearly two and a half years in the making, and would result in the largest naval engagement in history.

On October 20th, 1944, as fighting was still underway on Peleliu and Anguar to root out the last of the islands’ stubborn defenders, hiding out in tunnels and caves crisscrossing the island, American forces of the 6th Army waded ashore on the southeast coast of the island of Leyte, a relatively small island located just north of Mindanao in the Philippine Sea. These men, commanded by General Walter Krueger, were the first American forces to return to the Philippines since the surrender of Bataan in April and Corregidor in May of 1942, prompting the Japanese to march their rich bounty of prisoners from the tip of Bataan north to Camp O’Donnell, a journey that many Marines failed to complete, giving the blood-sodden trek its infamous nickname: the Bataan Death March. As the Marines waded ashore, Admiral Soemu Toyoda, who had succeeded the late Chuichi Nagumo has head of the Japanese Combined Fleet following Nagumo’s committing suicide in the wake of the defeat at the Philippine Sea in June, drafted a plan that could potentially thwart the American landings on Leyte, and reverse the American momentum. Toyoda drafted Admirals Jisaburo Ozawa, Takeo Kurita, and Shoji Nishimura to command this proposed three-pronged assault that would storm through the San Bernadino Strait, the Sibuyan Sea, and Surigao Strait to jeopardize the American landings on Leyte. Guarding the landings and offering air and naval firepower to help uproot entrenched Japanese defenders were the 3rd Fleet, commanded by Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, Jr., and the 7th Fleet under Admiral Thomas Kinkaid. Toyoda’s plan was to lure Halsey’s 3rd Fleet away by offering him bait, in this case, a task force consisting of Japan’s only surviving fleet carrier that had participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor, the I.J.N. Zuikaku. This northern task force fell under the command of Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa. After Ozawa successfully lured Halsey from the northeast coast of Leyte, Admiral Takeo Kurita would assault through the Sibuyan Sea and into the San Bernadino Strait, supported in this daunting task by the super-battleships I.J.N. Yamato and Musashi, the largest warships ever constructed. Equipped with nine monstrous 18-inch guns that could strike targets over 25 miles away, the Yamato, the Japanese word meaning “God”, and Musashi, named for a sixteenth century Japanese poet, philosopher, and expert Samurai swordsman, were manned by crews numbering close to 3,000 men. Both would participate in the attack, both within the jurisdiction of Kurita’s Center Force. With Halsey lured away with the prospect of sinking the last of the veteran Japanese fleet carriers, his aircraft would be impotent to assist Kinkaid, who Kurita and Nishimura, commanding the much weaker Southern Force, would fall upon in a dual attack through San Bernadino Strait to the north and Surigao Strait to the south. If the plan succeeded, Kinkaid would be pinched within two much stronger forces possessing greater firepower, with his carriers, mostly escort carriers–old merchantmen converted into flattops to assist in amphibious landings–being impotent and unable to defend the fleet. On October 23rd, Kurita’s Center Force was underway, penetrating the numerous islands and islets of the Sibuyan Sea and steaming for the San Bernadino Strait. That same day, Nishimura’s Southern Force steamed south of the Sibuyan Sea for Surigao Strait, placing his fleet in position to assault Kinkaid. Unfortunately, due to delays and poor timing, Ozawa’s Northern Force arrived late, leaving Halsey’s 3rd Fleet in position. He had not taken the bait. In the early morning hours of October 24th, with Kurita’s Center Force, the main arm of the squadron, underway, the submarines U.S.S. Darter and U.S.S. Dace spotted Kurita’s task force, and shadowed it for several minutes before torpedoing two cruisers, including Kurita’s flagship, the Atago. Kurita transferred his flag to the I.J.N. Yamato. Shortly after this setback, the skippers of the submarines reported seeing the battleships Yamato and Musashi, which had just arrived from anchorage in Brunei, and seeing as they were perfect targets ripe for the picking, Halsey replied by dispatching several air squadrons to assault the ships. With air cover for the task forces having to come from land-based aircraft in Luzon or all the way in Formosa due to Japan’s inherent lack of aircraft carriers following Midway and the Philippine Sea, as well as the sheer losses incurred on Japan’s already abysmal air power, air supremacy was immediately achieved by the American aircraft, who fell upon Musashi and Yamato, the former bearing the brunt of the bombers’ fury. After sustaining damage from nineteen torpedoes and seventeen bombs, one of which buckled the ship’s forward armor belt, causing the forward compartments began to flood uncontrollably as bulkheads could not be properly secured in time, and Musashi sank soon after, around 7:30 p.m. Out of just under 2,400 hands aboard, nearly 1,030 went down with the ship, whose crew had hailed it as unsinkable. Yamato had been struck as well during the events of the day, but just by sustaining damage from a single, armor-piercing 1,000-pound bomb that had penetrated the ship’s forward armor and exploded deep below the waterline, but caused no serious damage or threatened the ship’s structural integrity in any way, allowing it to continue to operate in the capacity of Kurita’s flagship, and also allowed him to withdraw his force to prevent further attacks by Halsey’s marauding aircraft. The loss of the Musashi had struck a terrible blow to the morale of both Kurita and his men, and had filled them with a terrible resolve to exact revenge. The following day, October 25th, 1944, without consulting Kurita, Nishimura attempted an assault through the Surigao Strait. The assault had been uncoordinated and premature, and cost Nishimura a number of his ships in the process, as Halsey and Kinkaid were still fighting together. The assault had even caused Nishimura’s death, with Admiral Jesse Oldendorf crossed Nishimura’s “T”, the process by which one naval task force in formation can bring all its guns to bear against another naval formation steaming vertically, making a “T” shape, and pounded his fleet to death, including striking Nishimura’s flagship, the Yamashiro, and sinking her. Yet Kurita had a force assisting him from the other side of the fence. Halsey and Kinkaid reported to separate commanders, with Kinkaid’s 7th Fleet, which had protected a number of MacArthur’s amphibious landings throughout the Pacific, operating under the jurisdiction of General MacArthur, while Halsey’s 3rd Fleet operated under the command of Admiral Nimitz, causing lapses in communication between the two, who often had to utilize an intermediary to talk to one another. This awkward command structure was fortuitously exploited by Kurita when the three task forces, with all three in position, finally coordinated an attack. With Ozawa’s Northern Fleet moving just close enough to Halsey to lure him away–Kinkaid only became away Halsey had departed when he received an uncoded message that had been dispatched to Nimitz reporting Halsey’s move. Just as Halsey fell away to assault Ozawa, and assault him he did, Kurita fell upon the unsuspecting Kinkaid, forcing his heavily outnumbered and outgunned squadron to lock itself into a death grip with Kurita’s task force, with each side pummeling each other’s ships into smoldering wrecks. As the fighting raged, Kinkaid frantically dispatched uncoded messages, as there was no time to encode them, to Halsey, demanding he double back to fight off this new threat. Halsey grudgingly obliged, with his aircraft torpedoing and sinking the Zuikaku shortly before his departure. With Halsey’s arrival, the outnumbered, outgunned, and beleaguered Kinkaid mustered the support to fight of Kurita’s fleet on October 26th, saving the landings on Leyte and not replaying the events of Savo Island in August 1942, in which Admiral Frank Fletcher’s Task Force 17 was caught sleeping the night following the August 7th landings and was ambushed by a Japanese task force and annihilated, forcing Fletcher to withdraw and abandon the men on Guadalcanal until it was save for his ships to return a few days later. The battle of Leyte Gulf, as this massive engagement was known, went down in history as the largest naval engagement in history, and was also the first documented use of the terrifying, albeit strategically worthless, kamikaze.

Infamous suicide pilots known for their daredevil tactic of plummeting a bomb-laden fighter aircraft into the deck of enemy ships, the kamikaze program, meaning “divine wind” in Japanese, derived its title from a typhoon that saved the Japanese Home Islands from a Mongol invasion in the 13th-Century. The program was based on this ancient event, which many Japanese soldiers and politicians believed a supernatural occurrence derived from the hand of providence, and was centered around the prospect of acting as this “divine wind” to save Japan from an American invasion, and the threat of American naval might off Japan’s shores. With the American Navy turning out ships regularly, several every week, the Japanese were sorely outmatched production-wise, and were attempting new programs to essentially scare off the American Navy. Admiral Takijiro Onishi, commander of the 1st Air Fleet, the main aircraft carrier squadron within the Imperial Japanese Navy that had participated in all major naval engagements between American and Japanese carriers from the attack on Pearl Harbor to Leyte Gulf, had originally objected to the use of kamikaze pilots as a waste and misapplication of valuable military resources, mostly aircraft and trained pilots the Japanese, in their current state, could not afford, and would not be able, to replace. After the loss at the Philippine Sea, with nearly 350 aircraft shot down in a single day, the war was becoming increasingly costly for the Japanese, and with industries, mostly ammunition and aircraft factories, being bombed almost round-the-clock by American strategic bombers stationed in the Marianas, Japanese industry was severely crippled, and they could not compensate for losses. Outmatched by America’s sheer industrial power and virtual stockpile of native natural resources, Japan was forced to combat a war with losses it could not replace, and losses it could not afford to take in the first place. Yet with the loss of three aircraft carriers at the Philippine Sea in June 1944, Onishi soon hopped aboard the kamikaze band wagon, with the first kamikaze pilot plummeting into the superstructure of the heavy battle cruiser H.M.A.S. Australia on October 21st, 1944. The Australian cruiser had been assisting American ships in protecting the landings, and was the first ship to fall victim to a kamikaze attack. The American aircraft carrier U.S.S. Saint-Lo, an escort carrier named for the July 1944 battle that allowed American forces to breakout of Normandy’s daunting bocage along with a simultaneous British offensive at Caen and nearly encircle 100,000 men of Gunther von Kluge’s Army Group B near Falaise, was struck on the 25th, shattering the ship’s stern in a fantastic explosion when the aircraft’s fuselage struck an ammunition magazine, with the ship going down in thirty minutes, losing 113 hands. Kamikaze attacks slowly escalated as the war progressed past the Philippines, with the vast majority occurring during the American landings on Okinawa in the spring of 1945, mostly due to Okinawa’s proximity to Japan, and that the Ryukyu Archipelago, in which Okinawa was a part, is Japanese territory, and considered its home turf, prompting sterner, more suicidal, Japanese resistance. The most infamous assault, besides the assault on the U.S.S. Bunker Hill, an Essex-class aircraft carrier, on May 11th, 1945, when she was struck by two kamikaze attacks within thirty seconds, tearing open the superstructure and ripping a hole in the flight deck, the U.S.S. Laffey, an Allen M. Sumner-class destroy manning a picket station 30 miles north of Okinawa, was struck by six kamikazes on April 15th. The ship survived the assault, and went on to participate in the Korean War and 1956 Suez Crisis. The kamikaze program would claim the lives of over 4,000 Japanese pilots by war’s end, sinking 34 American ships and damaging over 368 others, killing 4,900 U.S. Navy sailors and wounding 4,800 others. 14 percent of kamikazes would survive the normally forbidding antiaircraft barrage to strike their targets, with 8.5 percent of those strikes sinking their target. In order to ensure that pilots would not back down from the opportunity, as most kamikaze airmen were university students recruited as horrifically under-trained volunteers to fill the ranks of professional airmen already dead, the men were ordered to drink sake, a rice-based Japanese wine, prior to flying as part of standard ritual, as well as taking primitive forms of amphetamines to provide a sort of euphoric high to artificially augment their willingness to die. Kamikazes were regarded by the Japanese people as heroes, as chrysanthemums, the symbol of the Empire of Japan, falling to a graceful grave, offering a euphemistic approach to a fiery, explosive death.

As American soldiers pushed into the mountains of Leyte, Japanese forces continued to hamper American progress by waging a guerrilla war in the jungle-coated slopes. With the terrain already formidable, the Japanese resistance, far more determined than that that had been witnessed in Guadalcanal, New Guinea, or New Britain, added to American woes. Japanese forces were still being supplied by the port of Ormoc on the southwest coast, and due to the 7th and 3rd Fleets’ inability to reach it, American forces had to neutralize it overland, a task involving trekking through jungle concealing not only life-threatening tropical diseases, such as dengue fever, bush typhus, and mosquito-borne malaria, yet also Japanese defenders intent on dying for what little was left of the once proud Empire of Japan. By late November and early December, Ormoc had fallen, in a similar fashion to Rabaul, and American forces shifted their attention north, to the island of Luzon, the largest of the Philippine islands, which also held the capital of Manila. Following landings on the island of Mindoro, just south of Luzon across Lingayen Gulf, on December 15th against minimal resistance, American forces came ashore on the southern coast of Luzon on January 6th, 1945, once again against little resistance, a surprising turnaround following the intense Japanese contest of American landings on Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. General Tomoyuki Yamashita had made the decision to pull his forces back from his shore defenses into the island’s rugged, mountainous interior and fight a guerrilla war, a war that would last until Japan’s formal surrender on September 2nd, 1945. As American forces waded ashore, General Douglas MacArthur and Philippine president Sergio Osmena waded ashore in a replay of the events during the landings on Leyte, this time with the landing being captured by photographers to bolster American morale, and show to the Philippine people that MacArthur had honored his March 1942 promise to return to the islands he lost. As American forces fought their way north toward Manila against mounting Japanese resistance, MacArthur pressured his men on, keeping them on task to take the capital. As American paratroopers clouded the skies of the island fortress of Corregidor, whose Malinta Tunnel system once housed the command and control center for MacArthur and his successor Jonathan Wainwright, American forces entered Manila, blasting their way past stout Japanese resistance. With civilians in the city, collateral damage became a part of the fighting, with the city being liberated in early March, with American forces wading ashore on the volcanic island of Iwo Jima and the first American B-29 Superfortress bombers dropping incendiaries on Tokyo. As paratroopers attempted to blast defenders out of the dank tunnels on Corregidor utilizing high explosives, grenades, and flamethrowers, American soldiers inside Manila discovered what veritable horrors awaited them, including the San Tomas University campus, which had been transformed into a prisoner camp for hundreds of American military personnel, as well as American and Filipino civilians captured by the Japanese in the spring of 1942. Among them was General Jonathan Wainwright, whom MacArthur had placed in command following his departure from the islands in March 1942. The prisoners resembled walking skeletons, nothing but skin and bone, horribly malnourished and and treated even worse by their oppressive captors. The scene was reminiscent of the Holocaust in Europe, with poorly treated, horrifically underfed prisoners, mostly civilians, corralled into a small area where disease was rampant and few steps were taken by their overseers to control it, although the circumstances surrounding each event, of course, were very, very different. With the Philippines campaign wrapping up by early spring 1945, with the December 1944 Typhoon Cobra injuring Halsey’s 3rd Fleet, American attention again shifted to another target, one pressured to be taken not by MacArthur or Nimitz, but instead by another general who had just arrived in the Pacific: General Curtis LeMay.

In January 1945, General Curtis LeMay, having served with the 8th Air Force in England and witnessed the effects of its strategic, precision bombing campaign against German industry and the combined effects of Britain’s Bomber Command raids against Germany’s civilian population to destroy morale, LeMay arrived packed with ideas to reshape the bombing campaign being undergone by the 20th Air Force, stationed on Tinian, Guam, and mainly Saipan’s 8,500-foot Isley Field. The Boeing B-29 Superfortress, introduced in the summer of 1944, were the world’s first pressurized aircraft, capable of flying at altitudes up to and exceeding 30,000 feet, without the requirement that their crew where oxygen, something the crews aboard Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Consolidated B-24 Liberator, flown in Europe from air bases in England and Italy, had to do once they rose above 10,000 feet. The main issue facing the Superfortress, though, was not its pressurization, but instead its accuracy in bombing. At altitudes over 30,000 feet, the bombers would become subjected to jet stream currents, winds blowing from 100-250 miles per hour, blowing aircraft severely off course, with bombers dispensing their munitions often in either neighborhoods or farmland, instead their actual targets, which consisted of factories and wartime production industries. Yet LeMay arrived ready to order those bombers to fly at altitudes around 5-10,000 feet, low enough that not only fighters, which could attack the bombers at 30,000 feet, yet also flak could cause damage the aircraft. Fuel and machine guns would also be stripped to give the massive, four-engine bombers a much needed speed boost in order to outrun the flak, and also supported not only bombing industries with high explosives, yet also dropping incendiary bombs into neighborhoods, which was done in early March, causing a massive firestorm that killed over 100,000 people and leveled 16 square miles of downtown Tokyo, made up of largely wooden and paper buildings. Yet with Saipan being over 1,500 miles from Tokyo, a bomber stricken by flak could never make the return trip, and would be forced to crash in the ocean, with the crew either going down with the plane, or bailing out and drowning before a rescue ship could find them in time. To remedy this problem, LeMay proposed Operation Detachment, the invasion of the tiny volcanic island of Iwo Jima. At just over 5 miles long and 2 miles wide, Iwo Jima was a tiny strip of black sand located in the Bonin Archipelago in which, throughout 1944, the Japanese, under General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, had constructed two airfields, with a third underway, to raid American airbases in the Marianas, and also maraud American bombers flying to and from Japan on routine raids. In late 1944, the first Japanese aircraft based on Iwo Jima struck Isley Field, severely damaging several bombers in hangars or on the runway. With this new threat assaulting American bombers en route to Japan and Saipan on raids, and with the threat of stricken bombers unable to return safely to the Marianas having to crash-land in the ocean, with the aircraft turning into its crew’s tomb, LeMay, who championed strategic bombing of Japan to help beat it into submission alongside MacArthur’s island hopping campaign, proposed a landing on Iwo Jima that could kill two birds with one stone, by both silencing the Japanese airbases on the island while simultaneously claiming them for the United States 20th Air Force, allowing wounded B-29s to land and seek safety, while also allowing faster, lighter twin-engine bombers to fly against Japanese targets closer to the island, such as Okinawa. Unbeknownst to the Americans, General Kuribayashi had dug is nearly 22,000 defenders into tunnels and caves within Mount Suribachi, the 500-foot dormant volcano looming on the island’s southern end. With tunnels and caverns teeming with Japanese soldiers filling the mountain’s interior, artillery could be brought to bear against landing American forces, such as the Point on Peleliu, while also giving the Japanese the vital high ground. On February 19th, 1945, with Kuribayashi’s 22,000 men dug into caverns and tunnels crisscrossing the island, as well as in rifle pits, spider holes, foxholes, and machine gun nests camouflaged to resemble the local terrain, the first waves came ashore near the center of the island under an intense naval and air bombardment. As Vought F-4U Corsair fighters sped over the landing craft and fired unguided rockets and deposited unguided high explosive munitions on the island, primarily around Mount Suribachi, to soften the defenses, the first landing craft came ashore, dropping their bow ramps and allowing their men to dash ashore onto the soft, sulfuric black sand on the island. Resembling the dark grey chert beaches at Dieppe, the black sand on Iwo Jima had been deposited by previous volcanic eruptions and the island’s volcanic makeup, as it was part of a volcanic chain of islands. Nothing grew in this soil, devoid of vital nutrients, save for several small, scraggly shrubs and weeds that managed to barely survive in the island’s harsh climate, where rain was a scarce commodity. As the Marines of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marines stormed ashore, Kuribayashi ordered his men to hold their fire and wait for more Marines to land. Kuribayashi’s proposed strategy had horrified his colleagues, who supported thwarting the landings on the beaches, much like they had attempted on Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian, Guam, and Peleliu. Yet Kuribayashi had a strategy all his own. He would allow almost five waves of men to come ashore before ordering his men to open fire, not only giving the Marines on the beach a false sense of security in thinking the Japanese defenders had been killed or stunned by the naval barrage, but also maximizing casualties when he did indeed order his men to open fire. As patrols walked cautiously inland from the landing site, the Japanese troops on the shore, manning rifle pits and machine gun nests camouflage with indigenous flora, prepared to open fire, and when they were finally ordered to do so, artillery rained down from Mount Suribachi, while small arms fire rained down in a deathly cloud of lead onto the unsuspecting Marines, who still thought the Japanese dead. By nightfall, nearly 30,000 Marines had landed, with another 40,000 close behind. Fighting would continue well into the night, with some Marines finding exits from the beach through Japanese positions weakened by high explosives, hand grenades, flamethrowers, naval or air barrages, or the recently arrived Sherman tanks. Yet most remained pinned down by Japanese fire until the morning of the next day. The Marines expected the Japanese defenders to attempt their traditional banzai suicide bayonet charge, which had been attempted in almost every landing since Saipan, in the middle of the night, when this tactic was most popular, due to the poor light, which not only helped veil the attackers in darkness and compromise American accuracy, yet also heighten fear and suspense. Yet since the landings on Saipan in mid-June 1944 during Operation Forager, American troops had learned to anticipate these attacks. But Kuribayashi had ordered his men against the use of such tactics, which he viewed as wasteful, and ordered his men to consolidate in a stronger defense in the tunnels and caverns of the island, and fight to the death, taking as many American soldiers with him as he could. Iwo Jima, after all, was regarded as actual Japanese soil to the men defending it, and they would fight to the last man, last bullet, and last drop of blood to keep it in Japanese hands. Yet as more men and material came ashore, it became clear to the Japanese that throwing the landings back into the sea and holding Iwo Jima would be impossible, and fighting to the death in a glorious suicide battle would be the best way to terminate this campaign. As fighting unfurled on the southern end of the island to neutralize the Japanese positions overlooking the landing beaches on Mount Suribachi, on February 23rd, 1945, six men scaled the mountain, still occupied by suicidal Japanese forces, and planted a small American flag. That same day, another group of six men would scale the mountain and replace the small flag, which was barely visible on the beaches, with a much larger flag, inspiring photographer Joe Rosenthal, who had accompanied the men, to take his iconic photograph of the six men raising the flag. Within days, three of them–Sergeant Michael Strank, Private First Class Franklin Sousley, and Corporal Harlon Block–would be dead. Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class John Bradley, a United States Navy corpsman, Corporal Rene Gagnon, and Corporal Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian, would be immortalized in the photograph, and would return to the United States to sell war bonds to help fund the war effort, which was gradually losing popular support in the United States for not only the length of time it was taking to win, but also the sheer loss of life it had incurred. As with all wars, popular support was gradually declining, but Rosenthal’s photograph breathed new life into America’s fervor to defeat the Japanese, wherever they stood. As American forces cleared out Mount Suribachi, they discovered that the majority of the defenders, who had been blasted out with high explosives, hand grenades, and flamethrowers, had either been killed by American fire, or committed suicide with hand grenades or hand guns, with the Americans discovering the gruesome sight. The Japanese had escaped as the Americans were advancing on the mountain, making a mad dash to fight a suicidal guerrilla war on the northern end of the island, leaving their dead and wounded in Suribachi, many of whom committed suicide to avoid capture. As the fighting unveiled, with American forces combating the Japanese across the island for control of the incomplete third airfield, as the other two in the center of the island under the shadow of Suribachi were already under American control, the casualties continued to mount. After 37 days of fighting, the battle came to a close on March 27th, 1945. Out of the 22,000 Japanese troops defending Iwo Jima, only 216 had been captured alive, with the rest either being killed in battle or committing suicide. Among the dead was General Kuribayashi, who attempted, in the early morning of March 26th, to launch a futile attack on American positions by assaulting sleeping Marine and Air Force personnel, by bayoneting sleeping men and slitting throats. When his men were discovered, a shootout soon erupted between the Japanese and American troops, leaving most of Kuribayashi’s men dead. Kuribayashi was believed killed in the fighting, or he committed suicide soon after. Just four days after the capitulation of Iwo Jima, which soon began supporting bombers soon after, American forces of the 10th Army under General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., came ashore on the island of Okinawa, just 340 miles from Kyushu. Okinawa was the last piece in the puzzle before MacArthur’s planned November 1945 Operation Olympic, the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. With nearly seven thousand men dead and 20,000 wounded on Iwo Jima, American casualties were steadily rising the closer to Japan they got. Okinawa would prove a far harder nut to crack. On April 1st, 1945, Operation Iceberg, the invasion of Okinawa, began.

American landings on Okinawa went relatively smoothly, with Japanese commander Mitsuru Ushijima having withdrawn his men into the hills and ridges crisscrossing the island to fight a guerrilla war to the death rather than attempt to thwart the landings as the men came ashore and launch a suicidal banzai charge in the middle of the night following the landings. Ushijima mirrored the strategies of both the late Kuribayashi and Yamashita on Luzon in the Philippines, who had since withdrawn into the island’s mountainous interior to fight to the death, although he would be captured in early September following the Japanese surrender and would be executed following a sentencing by an American military tribunal for war crimes. Ushijima had established two defensive lines, the first at Wana Ridge, closest to the American landings, and the second at Shuri Ridge just before Shuri Castle, an ancient pagoda acting as Ushijima’s command post. Both sat on the southern end of the island, unknown to the American attackers. Also unknown to the Americans was the strength of the Japanese opposition they would landing against: 100,000 men, all prepared to die for the name of the Emperor. As Buckner’s men of the 10th Army, consisting of the 7th, 27th, 77th, and 96th Infantry Divisions with assistance from the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions, came ashore on April 1st, 1945, Easter Sunday and April Fool’s Day, they came ashore against no resistance, and quickly advanced across the center of the island, cutting it in two, against minimal resistance, if any, capturing the island’s two major airfields, Yomitan and Kadena, within hours of the initial landings. As American forces stormed ashore, the Japanese, with a suicidal mindset as it finally sank in that the war had been lost, hatched the idea for Operation Ten-Go, their last ditch attempt to thwart the overwhelming strength of the United States military. With 100,000 men hiding in caverns and tunnels around Shuri Castle prepared to fight to the death, the Japanese mobilized the super-battleship I.J.N. Yamato, supported by a task force of six other smaller destroyers and cruisers, to launch a suicide attack against the American Task Force 58, which was operating north of the island to protect the landings. On April 7th, the ships made contact several miles north of the island after being stricken by submarines, and within hours, Yamato had gone down after being struck by eleven torpedoes and six armor-piercing bombs. Her engines had begun to falter due to bomb damage and she had begun to capsize after water flooded into her port side due to torpedo damage, and after attempts to counterflood to lower the waterline and lessen the ship’s visible list failed, she was struck in her forward magazine by a high explosive, detonating in a blast similar to that that sank the U.S.S. Arizona on the morning of December 7th, 1941. The mushroom cloud from the explosion was so large, it could be seen in Kyushu. Following the blast, the Yamato sank within minutes, taking over 2,055 of her crew with her of her original crew of 2,332 hands. The remaining destroyers, four in all, and all severely damaged, limped back to Japan with the remaining crew of the Yamato, the once proud super-battleship whose inglorious death closely mirrored that of her sister ship, the Musashi, who was sunk in a similar attack that relied on faith rather than careful strategy to be accomplished. As fighting unfurled north of the island in the East China Sea, with kamikaze attacks targeting American vessels, most notably the U.S.S. Laffey, struck by six kamikazes, and U.S.S. Bunker Hill, struck by two kamikazes within thirty seconds, American forces completed General Buckner’s second phase of the operation by clearing northern Okinawa of Japanese resistance, which, like the center of the island, was next to none. With it determined that the island’s defenders were holed up in two stoutly defended lines to the south, Buckner shifted his attention in that direction just as the first torrential downpours of the monsoon season came down, turning the island into a muddy quagmire. American forces came to Wana Ridge in early April, with American forces clearing the Pinnacle and Cactus Ridge of enemy opposition by April 8th. As American forces arrived at Sugar Loaf Hill, the fighting soon unraveled, as American forces came into contact with the first real Japanese defenses on the island. As the fighting pressed on, with American forces attempting to take the hill a total of nine times before succeeding in taking the heavily defended summit, the Japanese 32nd Army under Ushijima attempted a suicidal counterattack, driven back by American armor and air bombardment. Japanese positions were more stoutly defended than any other campaign in the Pacific to that time, with American forces of the 6th Marines finally taking Sugar Loaf Hill and turning their attention to Shuri Castle in late May, learning of the German surrender on May 8th just days before they were to attack the most stoutly defended portion of the island, where the last of nearly 100,000 suicidal defenders planned to make their final stand. The Japanese were losing men nearly exponentially, and as the fighting on Wana Ridge began to shift to the last-ditch Shuri Line in late May and early June, the Japanese dead began to be exposed by the torrential rain, with men discovering decomposing Japanese bodies by digging foxholes and mistakenly unearthing makeshift Japanese graveyards, or the rain washing topsoil away and exposing the dead. Most were left without the benefit of burial, with decomposing bodies lying in heaps where they fell across the southern portion of the island, with American and Japanese troops forced to sleep, eat, and fight to the death alongside those who were already dead. By late May, American forces were prepared to take Shuri Castle, a brutal, hand-to-hand battle that would take until June 22nd to complete. By campaign’s end, in late June 1945, nearly 12,000 American soldiers lay dead, including General Buckner, with an additional 40,000 wounded, bringing the total American casualties between Okinawa and Iwo Jima close to 80,000 men, while nearly 95,000 Japanese troops lay dead across the southern end of the island, with Shuri Castle laying in ruins. Fewer than 7,000 Japanese troops had surrendered on Okinawa, most surrendering because they had realized that the war was over for them, and that to continue fighting meant death. They had realized Japan’s utter defeat was imminent. Most of Japan’s commanders had realized the same, and steps were being taken to decide what would be the best course of action with the current situation. With hundreds of thousands of American soldiers pouring into Okinawa and the Philippines in preparation for the invasion of Kyushu, scheduled for November 1945, the Japanese needed to think quickly. Nearly one and a half million troops remained in the Imperial Japanese Army, most in China and Burma, where fighting still raged between the forces of General Joseph Stilwell and Chiang Kai-shek against the Japanese along the Indian and Chinese frontier. On July 16th, as the Potsdam Conference in Berlin was underway, with the first meeting between the new American president Harry Truman meeting Soviet premier Joseph Stalin, as well as in the introduction of Clement Attlee, Churchill’s successor who was elected to power in the House of Commons after the Labor Party, his liberal party in Parliament, gained majority seats, electing the Labor Party’s chairman, Attlee, to the position of prime minister by default. During the Conference, in which Stalin and Truman, who succeeded the late Roosevelt following his death of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia, on April 12th, 1945, Truman received news from nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, working alongside General Leslie Groves to head the Manhattan Project, that the first atomic bomb had been detonated at Alamogordo, New Mexico, with pleasing results. After Truman brought the news to Stalin’s attention at Potsdam, hoping to intimidate the Soviet premier, he replied he already knew. The Cold War was just beginning, and the Manhattan Project would spearhead its arrival.

In August 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt received a letter from German nuclear physicist Albert Einstein that Nazi Germany was working on a weapon capable of splitting an atomic through nuclear fission and releasing an enormous amount of energy, capable of leveling an entire city in the blink of an eye if such a weapon were completed. Roosevelt immediately realized he was need to beat Germany to the punch, and developed a team of physicists to design and construct a fission bomb to rival that of Germany’s, which, until the end of the war, was one whose existence was based on mere speculation derived from Einstein’s enigmatic letter. The team was headed by J. Robert Oppenheimer, a New Jersey-born physicist teaching theoretical physics at the University of California, Berkeley. With the first sessions being held at Columbia University in New York, where the Manhattan Project garnered its name, the men worked ceaselessly throughout the war, with the first bomb, Trinity, being readied and detonated on July 16th, 1945, at Alamogordo, New Mexico. The blast yielded the same capacity as 20,000 tons of TNT, with a projected mushroom cloud, if dropped by aircraft, of over 30,000 feet. With 16 seconds of the initial blast, the mushroom cloud had already begun to grow, vaporizing anything within miles of the blast radius. The bomb dropped at Alamogordo, and the two that would soon be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to hasten the end of the war, were fission explosives, utilizing the process known as the gun-method, which essentially was a bomb casing with a hollow tube in the center. At one end of the center, the back end near the tail fins, sat a hollow “bullet” shaped block of, in the case of the bomb “Little Boy”, dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th, uranium-235 (Fat Man, dropped on Nagasaki, utilized the same method but with subcritical blocks of plutonium-239). At the other end was another block of the same material in a cylindrical shape, designed to fit into the hole on the bullet, fusing them together. Behind the bullet was a pack of explosives, designed to fire the bullet down the tube into the cylinder, fusing the two subcritical masses together, and forcing them to enter a controlled, fissile train reaction when they reached critical mass, in which atoms of uranium-235, or plutonium-239, collided, forcing neutrons in the atoms’ center to split apart, releasing massive amounts of energy. Within seconds of the drop, the bombs exploded over the cities, dropping a massive cloud of radioactive fallout down upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki, denoting the iconic mushroom cloud shape of the blast. Following the detonation of Trinity on July 16th, and the arrival of the news to Truman a few days later, the bombs “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” were prepared and stowed aboard the cruiser U.S.S. Indianapolis, which had orders to take the disassembled prototypical bombs from San Francisco to the island of Tinian, where they would be packed aboard two Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers of the newly created 509th Composite Group, designed to train pilots specifically for the task of ferrying the bombs to the designated cities, and dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indianapolis reached Tinian on July 26th, carrying the pieces and blocks of enriched uranium for both bombs, which would be constructed on site. During her voyage from San Francisco to Tinian, during which she stopped at Pearl Harbor on July 19th, the Indianapolis set a world speed record, covering a distance of nearly 20,000 miles in just ten days. Shortly after the bomb parts were dropped off, a package that only a select few on the Indianapolis knew of, she departed en route for the Philippines. During her journey, in which she was ordered to recognize strict radio silence in order to preserve the integrity of her secret mission, she was torpedoed shortly after midnight on July 30th in the Philippine Sea between the Marianas and the Philippines. The Japanese submarine I-58 struck her starboard bow with two Type 95 torpedoes, and within 12 minutes she had completely capsized, leaving nearly 900 of her 1,196-man crew in the water. Having been observing strict radio silence, the captain of the Indianapolis had not dispatched a distress signal, and for nearly a week, the men of the Indianapolis struggled in the water of the Philippine Sea, attempting to live on little food and fresh water, yet the horror of their stranded situation had only begun. Within minutes of the ship’s sinking, sharks began to circle the marooned crew. Of the 880 men who went into the water on the night of July 30th, only 321 were pulled out after the discovery of the crew by a Lockheed Ventura, scouting the area to find the ship, which was nearly a week overdue in port. Only 317 men survived the incident, the worst shark attack in history. By early August, with preparations underway for the invasion of Japan, Truman was handed the outline for the unconditional surrender of Japan, authored by Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy. The terms were incredibly stringent, including that Japan must abolish a military and allow for military occupation following the war by the United States, although the original copy by McCloy to Truman stipulated that Emperor Hirohito could retain the Japanese throne, acting primarily as a ceremonial figure rather than someone possessing real authority. The reasoning was to ensure that the Japanese would accept the surrender terms, while also being unable to rally military support around the Emperor, who had allowed such military aggression to spark war between the United States and Japan in the first place. The copy sent by Truman to the Japanese government was, unbeknownst to McCloy, edited, omitting that Hirohito could retain the throne. Overtures for Japanese surrender were sent three times prior to the first bomb being dropped, each time with a Japanese refusal. Truman allowed the experimental bomb, which had only learned about in April following Roosevelt’s death due to the Project’s heavily classified status, to be dropped on Hiroshima. Prior to the bombings, the 20th Air Force had four cities crossed off its list of cities to bomb, the most prominent by Kyoto, which was on the list due to historical significance, but two others were Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No one in the 20th Air Force understood why, considering both were major hubs for Japanese industry, with Hiroshima possessing a population of just over 245,000 people, and Nagasaki around 200,000. Yet on August 6th, that reason became evident. Early in the morning on August 6th, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress dubbed Enola Gay, named for his mother and piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets, took off from an airfield on Tinian en route to Hiroshima. Around 8:15 a.m, after a radar operator in Hiroshima dismissed the three bombers as too small to be an air raid, accompanied by the bombers Necessary Evil and the Great Artiste, which would photograph the explosion and take scientific data regarding the blast, the Enola Gay dropped the 4,000-pound Little Boy to earth. The bomb had been armed just before takeoff by Captain William Parsons of the United States Navy in order to avoid a blast on Tinian if the Enola Gay crashed when attempting takeoff. The bomb fell for nearly 43 seconds before detonating at 2,000 feet above the city’s downtown, vaporizing nearly 70,000 people instantly in a shock wave that was hotter than the surface of the sun. Many were fused to buildings, which, if left standing by the blast, still bear what appears to be a shadow of an individual, but was instead a person literally vaporized into the wall. Many people who were close enough to the blast’s hypocenter, the area over which the bomb was slated to detonate, but far enough away not to be instantly vaporized felt the intense heat, and many had their clothing fused into their skin, wearing that pattern on their skin for the rest of their lives. Nearly everyone in the hypocenter was killed instantly, and fifteen miles away window panes were shattered by the blast’s shock wave. Almost every building within one to two miles had been completely blown away. ” My god,” said Captain Robert Lewis, Tibbets’s copilot, ” what have we done?” In the days that would come, nearly 70,000 more would perish from bomb-related injuries, some brought on by the black rain that fell soon after the blast. The falling rain was heavily radioactive fallout that fell in the form of black, acid rain, searing skin and causing life-altering injuries, many that would come later in life, including radiation poisoning, cancer, and birth defects in the children of the survivors. Downtown Hiroshima had been completely flattened in the blink of an eye, with only a handful of buildings, mainly constructed of steel reinforced concrete, standing, including the Natural History Museum, which still stands to this day. At the time of the blast, around 8:16 a.m, Enola Gay and her three-bomber flight had moved nearly 11 and a half miles away, flying at an altitude of 32,000 feet. They still felt the searing heat and an intense shock wave, and were ordered to wear specially designed tinted goggles to prevent blindness from looking directly into the blast, which was brighter than the sun. Three days later, the bomber Bockscar, piloted by Major Charles Sweeney, dropped Fat Man on the city of Nagasaki. In Nagasaki, the bomb had been blown off course, similar to Hiroshima, which as slated to detonate over a bridge but instead exploded over a hospital, detonating over an ammunition factory instead an aircraft factory, causing fewer casualties than Hiroshima, yet still between 40-75,000 upon impact and the days to come. Since the blasts, casualties in Nagasaki that have been related to the explosion range near 800,000, while in Hiroshima, the casualty statistics related to deaths since the blast are impossible to count. Ushering in night in midday in the cities they destroyed, the bombs also ushered in a period of atom-splitting that would form the basis for the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. The Japanese failure to acknowledge the American threat before the bombing of Hiroshima, and following Hiroshima prior to Nagasaki, allowed both bombs to be dropped. The United States appealed four times to Japan to surrender, even stating that they would use their new super weapon in the event Japan failed to surrender. The constant infighting between Hirohito and the Imperial Army General Staff caused delays in Japan’s inevitable surrender, leading to both bombings, as the General Staff wished to prolong the war and die as samurai, fighting American forces to the death, yet following the bombings, it became clear that Japan would have to surrender or face total annihilation. On August 14th, Hirohito publicly stated Japan’s surrender to the Allies, after an attempted coup to overthrow the General Staff and replace them with more sympathetic generals in favor of surrender. Hirohito knew the war had been lost, as Japan’s government was obviously faltering, with mounting infighting. After a conversation with his uncle, Prince Asaka, Hirohito stated that the war would continue if the Japanese government could not be preserved. Yet it was clear the war was over. On September 2nd, 1945, the Japanese surrendered aboard the battleship U.S.S. Missouri, with every battleship sunk at Pearl Harbor in attendance, except for Arizona and Oklahoma, whose damages were too severe to permit them to be raised and salvaged. Shortly thereafter, Japan entered military occupation, headed by General Douglas MacArthur, who signed the Japanese surrender terms. Hirohito maintained his throne, yet just for ceremonial purposes. The Soviet Union, who had entered the war in the Pacific on par with the January 1945 Yalta Conference, had invaded Manchuria and entered northern Korea, a Japanese possession. After the war had ceased, the peninsula was separated along the 37th Parallel, yet this was moved north to the 38th Parallel shortly thereafter, with the north run by the Soviet Union and south by the United States, prompting an invasion in June 1950 that would lead to the Korean War, and the current cold war between those two nations that continues to this day. Following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, J. Robert Oppenheimer, realizing what his research and development had accomplished, and the age of science it had ushered in, along with the military and technological rivalry between the Soviet Union and United States, quoted, from the Bhagavad Gita, an Ancient Hindu text, ” I have become death. The destroyer of worlds.” 


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