Many People Forget That WWII Ended On September 2nd 1945 on a US Battleship. Did You?

The formal surrender of Japan occurred on the 2nd of September, 1945, at around 9am Tokyo time. While many believe that the Second World War ended with the fall of Hitler and the Nazis in Berlin, but this is not the case.

The conflict only drew to a close after representatives from the Empire of Japan signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri. The Japanese Foreign Minister, Mamoru Shigemitsu, signed for the Japanese government, and General Yoshijirō Umezu signed for the Japanese armed forces.

The road to this point had been a long and bloody one. It began on the 7th of December, in 1941, when Japan launched its now infamous attack against the United States base at Pearl Harbor.

Up until this point, America had stayed out of the war, as public opinion did not favor direct intervention overseas. The First World War was still fresh in recent memory, and the prospect of another campaign in Europe was not an appealing one.

Despite their distance from the war, Japan fully expected America to join the Allies at some point in the future. In their opinion, it was only a matter of time, and as they were fighting on the same side as Nazi Germany and the Axis powers, the United States posed a serious potential threat. Their attack on Pearl Harbor, as they saw it, was a preemptive measure.

Although the Japanese Empire was a part of the Axis Powers, it was largely unaided in the ensuing Pacific War. The Allied forces, on the other hand, consisted of troops from multiple different nations, and the campaign against Japan would see almost four million American servicemen in action, along with another fourteen million Chinese soldiers.

On top of this, there were hundreds of thousands of Russian, Australian, Dutch and British soldiers fighting at various points throughout the war, and at least two million Indian fighters as part of the British Raj.

It was a tremendously deadly conflict, and although both sides would suffer enormous causalities, the Allies lost roughly four million soldiers, about three million more casualties than the Japanese suffered. Chinese soldiers made up most of the Allied losses, although more than 400,000 American lives were also lost.

The war raged on for almost four years, but in the end the Allied factions seemed to be winning. Then, on the 26th of July, 1945, the heads of state of America, Great Britain and China issued the Potsdam Declaration. This stated the terms by which Japan would have to surrender, and threatened “prompt and utter destruction” should they continue hostilities.

Japan did not immediately comply and, less than a month later, the promised destruction was unleashed. On the 6th of August, 1945, the first use of an atomic bomb took place. An American plane dropped a nuclear weapon on Hiroshima, killing thousands of people and changing the course of history forever.

Following the bombing of Hiroshima, the President of the United States announced that, if Japan did not surrender, they could “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth”. The second and final use of a nuclear bomb then occurred, when the United States bombed Nagasaki, killing thousands more.

Roughly a month later, the war was over. The Empire of Japan agreed to terms, its representatives signing the Japanese Instrument of Surrender. There in Tokyo Bay, on the American ship USS Missouri, the largest and most deadly war in the history of mankind came to a close.

Here, in these striking photographs, you can see this incredible scene. From the Japanese delegation boarding the vessel to the moment that American fighter planes filled the sky overheard following the surrender, these images offer a fascinating look at the last day of the Second World War.


11th Airborne Division Reconnaissance Battalion honor guards presented arms as Allied represented arrived to board destroyer Buchanan for battleship Missouri

The Japanese delegation arriving aboard USS Missouri, Tokyo Bay, Japan

The Japanese delegation arriving aboard USS Missouri, Tokyo Bay, Japan

General Douglas MacArthur speaking aboard USS Missouri, Tokyo Bay, Japan, 2 Sep 1945

MacArthur signing Japanese surrender aboard USS Missouri, 2 Sep 1945

Mamoru Shigemitsu signing the surrender instrument aboard USS Missouri

General Umezu signing the instrument of surrender, Tokyo Bay

Aerial photograph of battleship Missouri during the Tokyo Bay surrender ceremony

battle_japansurrender65Admiral Conrad E. L. Helfrich signing the Japanese surrender document on behalf of the Netherlands aboard USS Missouri, 2 Sep 1945; note MacArthur next to Helfrich.

The Missouri filled with spectators for the signing of the instrument of surrender

Japanese delegation leaving USS Missouri, 2 Sep 1945

Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and General Yoshijiro Umezu led along the deck of destroyer Lansdowne by US Army Colonel Sidney Mashbir after the surrender ceremonies

USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, 2 Sep 1945

American aircraft fly over USS Missouri after the surrender

All images courtesy of WWII DB


Joris Nieuwint

Joris Nieuwint is a battlefield guide for the Operation Market Garden area. His primary focus is on the Allied operations from September 17th, 1944 onwards. Having lived in the Market Garden area for 25 years, he has been studying the events for nearly as long. He has a deep understanding of the history and a passion for sharing the stories of the men who are no longer with us.