War in the Pacific

Page 4 – The final stages

Once the tide had turned in favour of the United States and its allies, American troops began 'island hopping' through the central Pacific, taking one island after another. Japanese naval power was destroyed in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines in October 1944, and invasions of Okinawa and Iwo Jima followed.

Many New Zealand seamen served on Royal Navy ships which were bombarding the Japanese coast at this time. Some New Zealand ships were also present, including Achilles and Gambia.

Allied naval and air forces battered the Japanese homeland virtually at will, but ending the war still seemed to require an invasion. On 6 August 1945 the first of two atomic bombs was dropped on Hiroshima, followed by one on Nagasaki three days later. The effect on the civilian population was devastating; over 100,000 people lost their lives in the catastrophic explosions and aftermath.

A week later, New Zealanders celebrated VJ Day — victory over Japan — although Japan did not formally surrender until 2 September. The long war in the Pacific was over, and the region would never be the same again.

Reflections and consequences

Some men and women involved in the Pacific War have thought that their service was not recognised in New Zealand once the war was over. 'We were branded as coconut bombers as distinct from the men of steel in the desert', one man said. Yet these were people who served their country quietly, efficiently, and when given the opportunity, with great skill and courage in an environment completely different from anything they'd ever encountered.

The war in the Pacific had profound consequences for New Zealand and the region. The relationships forged with the United States during the conflict grew stronger in the years after the Second World War. In 1951 it entered a formal alliance with the United States (and Australia) that would last another 30 years.