75 years ago: VJ Day

Friday, August 14, 2020 - Saturday, December 19, 2020
12:00 am - 11:59 pm

The war in the Pacific started in December 1941 after Japan attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and British territories in the Far East. Brutal fighting on land and at sea over the following years, caused a huge number of casualties on both sides. More than 190,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers and civilians became Prisoners of War, and were subjected to a brutal regime of violence, terrible living conditions and forced labour.

The Route to VJ (Victory over Japan) Day


7 December 1941, Japan attacks the American naval base at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii and later declares war on Britain and the United States. The British colony of Hong Kong is attacked the next day. It surrenders on 25 December.


Japanese forces make rapid advances through Malaya. By 25 January 1942 they have fought their way south to the island of Singapore. This is Britain’s major military base in the Far East.

Singapore’s defences are primarily designed to repel a sea-borne attack. The landward defences are much weaker. British, Indian and Commonwealth soldiers are unable to repel the Japanese landings. On 15 February British forces unconditionally surrender to the Japanese.

Major Wylde is amongst the men captured. He is seated, 2nd from the right in this photograph taken in 1927. Find out more

In the first months of 1942, the Japanese launch further attacks against British Burma (now Myanmar), Australian-administered New Guinea and Papua, and the islands of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).

8 March 1942 the Burmese capital, Rangoon is captured by the Japanese. British and Commonwealth troops, together with Chinese Army units carry out a difficult fighting retreat, withdrawing to India. Many thousands of civilians also attempt to flee to the safety of India. They make their way on foot across Burma’s mountainous border. Thousands die along the way from disease, exhaustion, or through drowning while trying to cross Burma’s many rivers.

Captain Wilson took part in operations to rescue people fleeing from the Japanese invasion.Find out more


February 1943 British and Indian soldiers of the Long Range Penetration Force, nicknamed ‘the Chindits’, undertake the first of two missions far behind enemy lines in Burma. They attack Japanese railways and roads, and encourage local Burmese, Kachin and Keren resistance groups to attack the enemy.

Seated first on the left is Captain Arthur Huyshe Yeatman-Biggs who served with the ‘Chindits’. Find out more


Late 1943, the 14th Army, under the command of Lieutenant General William Slim is created. More men, aircraft, equipment and supplies are now available. The policy is to stand firm, rely on air supply when cut off, and to fight on through the harshest conditions until relieved.


March 1944, the Japanese launch an attack on British bases behind the Indian Border at Imphal and Kohima. At Kohima, 2,500 British-Indian troops defend Garrison Hill against 15,000 Japanese. For seventeen days the two sides engage in bitter close-quarter fighting. Finally, the Japanese begin to withdraw. It is now possible to plan a new offensive. Starting in northern Burma troops begin the drive south towards Mandalay and Meiktila.

The Green Howards 2nd Battalion have spent much of the war in India. It is now time for them to join the fight against Japan. In September 1944 they have their first experience of jungle warfare in the Arakan, a coastal region in southern Burma.


21 January 1945 the 2nd Battalion take part in the almost unopposed amphibious landing on Ramtree Island. Their objective is to seize airstrips from which General Slim’s main attack towards Mandalay can be supported. After crossing to the mainland, the battalion spend the next three months fighting the Japanese and disease.

The taking of the large Japanese administrative base at Meiktila is a critical element in Slim’s plan. Lieutenant Basil Weston, recently attached from the Green Howards to the 1st West Yorkshires, takes part in the attack. For his leadership and self-sacrifice he is awarded the Victoria Cross.

The reverse of Lieutenant William Basil Weston’s VC on display at the Green Howards Museum, find out more

Meiktila and Mandalay are captured in March 1945. The capital, Rangoon, is taken in early May 1945.

Elsewhere the gruelling battles in New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the Philippines and the Pacific Islands have convinced the Allies that invading Japan will result in extremely high casualties. The United States believes that dropping an atomic bomb will force a quick surrender without risking casualties on the ground. The US President is also concerned about the Soviet Union’s influence in the Far East. On August 8, 1945, the Soviet Union declares war on Japan, pouring more than 1 million Soviet soldiers into Japanese-occupied Manchuria, northeastern China.

On the 6 and 9 August 1945 atomic bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is estimated that about 140,000 of Hiroshima’s 350,000 population are killed, and that at least 74,000 people die in Nagasaki.

Japan surrenders to the Allies on 14 August 1945. Japan publicly announces its surrender on 15 August 1945. This day has since been commemorated as Victory over Japan – or ‘VJ’ – Day. The Japanese Instrument of Surrender document is formally signed on 2 September 1945 on board the ‘USS Missouri’ in Tokyo Bay. This finally ends the Second World War.

Green Howards, who had fought in Burma, have to wait until 1946 to return home. Sergeant John Smith later recalled, ‘When we came home, after a long voyage via the Suez Canal, everything was so different. It was dark and wet with the men on the docks all wearing flat caps. Eventually we ended up in Bridlington. We were still wearing our jungle slouch hats. It created quite a stir, I can tell you, but we were proud of our hats and that we had served in Burma with the 2nd Battalion.’

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