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Archived - V-J (Victory over Japan) Day - August 15, 1945
After more than six long years of fighting, the end of the Second World War finally came on August 15, 1945, when Japanese forces surrendered in the Far East, Southeast Asia and Pacific. V-J (“Victory over Japan”) Day was declared and large crowds gathered in Canada and around the world to celebrate the coming of peace while also remembering the great sacrifices that had been made.
Canada and the War against Japan
The bulk of Canada’s military efforts in the Second World War were focused on the defeat of Germany in Europe and on the North Atlantic. Our country also committed forces in the struggle against Japan in Asia, however, and more than 10,000 Canadians would serve in that theatre of war. The best-known of these efforts was the defence of Hong Kong where some 1,945 Canadian soldiers saw heavy action when the Japanese attacked there in overwhelming numbers on December 8, 1941. The beleaguered garrison fought bravely without any realistic hope of success and held out until the Allied forces in Hong Kong were forced to surrender on Christmas Day 1941. Some 290 Canadians died in the hard-fought battle and the survivors would suffer great hardships as prisoners of war for almost four years. Forced to carry out backbreaking labour on construction sites and in mines while being beaten frequently and fed a starvation diet, more than 260 more men died before the weakened survivors were finally freed when the war came to an end in 1945.
Japan’s entry into the war in late 1941 forced Canada to step up its military operations on the West Coast. The army’s Canadian Pacific Command defences were greatly enhanced with infantry, artillery and anti-aircraft. Engineer and field ambulance units were added by early 1942. Pacific Command reached its peak strength in June 1943 with more than 34,000 Active Army soldiers under command.
Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) squadrons were based in places such as Vancouver, Patricia Bay, Ucluelet, Tofino, Coal Harbour, Port Hardy, Bella Coola, Prince Rupert and Alliford Bay. Western Air Command spent many long hours patrolling for possible enemy threats, ranging from enemy submarines to balloons carrying incendiary bombs that the Japanese sent across the Pacific.
The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) also helped guard the West Coast and had installations at places such as Esquimalt, Prince Rupert, Comox and Vancouver. RCN warships were involved in convoy defence and performing escort duties for vessels traversing the B.C. coast. Our navy also maintained harbour defences while its minesweepers, motor launches, armed yachts, armed merchant cruisers, Corvettes, and converted fishing boats undertook regular patrol operations for coastal defence.
Overseas in the Far East, many RCAF members were assigned to Royal Air Force (RAF) squadrons and went wherever those squadrons were sent. This resulted in several hundred Canadian airmen serving with the British forces in Asia during the war as they fought against the rapidly advancing Japanese forces in Malaya, Singapore, Java (now Indonesia), Burma (now Myanmar) and India. RCAF squadrons also played important roles overseas. In March 1942, the RCAF No. 413 General Surveillance Squadron was dispatched to Ceylon where one of its patrol aircraft detected a Japanese fleet steaming towards the island to launch a surprise attack. A warning was radioed back to Allied head-quarters before the plane was shot down, allowing the island's defences to be ready when the Japanese attack came.
In June 1942, Japanese forces landed on the islands of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians off the coast of Alaska, and on June 20 a Japanese submarine shelled Estevan Lighthouse on the west coast of Vancouver Island, causing minor damage. In response to this new threat, Canada committed two army divisions to the defence of the West Coast, plus four bomber-reconnaissance and fighter squadrons to Alaska and the Aleutians. In 1943, the Americans launched a campaign to retake Attu and Kiska, and Canada provided an infantry brigade, troops for the combined American-Canadian First Special Service Force and naval and air forces. The Japanese fought to hold Attu, but when the Allied force (including some 5,300 Canadian soldiers) landed on Kiska on August 15-16, 1943, they found that the Japanese had actually left unobserved weeks earlier under cover of fog and cloud.
Back in Asia, the Allies began a campaign in November 1944 to push the Japanese invaders out of eastern India and Burma. While no Canadian regiments took part in these efforts, our air force did. There were no roads over the mountains in this region; as a result large numbers of supply aircraft would be needed and RCAF No. 435 and 436 Transport Squadrons would be involved. The squadrons’ twin-engined Dakota planes carried troops, ammunition and food and were often fired on, with two of our transports being shot down by Japanese fighters.
The RAF found that the B-24 Liberator was an effective long-range bomber in the Far East and soon had several squadrons of the huge planes operating there attacking targets such as railways, ships, bridges and enemy troop concentrations. Many members of these units (which called themselves the “Burma Bombers”) came from a Canadian training station in B.C.
Canadians were involved in other military units in Southeast Asia and the Far East, such as the “Sea Reconnaissance Unit,” a group of frogmen (military divers) who spearheaded the Allied assaults across the rivers of Burma. Another special group included 40 Japanese-Canadians and Chinese-Canadians who volunteered to fight in the Far East. Their language skills were of great benefit to the Allies as they worked as interpreters with intelligence units or with the secret “Force 136” teams that went behind enemy lines and worked with local guerillas to harass enemy supply lines.
Our naval efforts on the Pacific reached a new level when the RCN cruiser HMCS Uganda joined the British Pacific Fleet in time to participate in the Allied operations around Okinawa in the spring of 1945. The auxiliary cruiser HMCS Prince Robert also returned to the Western Pacific in the closing phases of the war and assisted in the liberation of our prisoners of war in Hong Kong.
During this period, a small group of Canadian airmen were also flying with the Fleet Air Arm off British aircraft carriers. Canadian merchant seamen also served throughout the Pacific on ships of both Canadian and Allied registry.
As the war in Europe neared its end, preparations increased for Canada’s contribution to the invasion of the Japanese home islands planned for the fall of 1945. A complete infantry division and several air force squadrons were being readied—a Canadian force of more than 24,000 men. These preparations came to an end when American forces dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, forcing the Japanese to surrender unconditionally on August 15, 1945. This long-awaited milestone would be known as V-J (Victory over Japan) Day. On September 2, 1945, the formal surrender documents were signed on board the American battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Harbour. Colonel Lawrence M. Cosgrave signed on behalf of Canada, and the Second World War was officially over.
Canadian Ships, Squadrons and Regiments that Participated Overseas in the War against Japan
Royal Canadian Navy
- HMCS Uganda
- HMCS Prince Henry
- HMCS Ontario
- HMCS Prince Robert
Royal Canadian Air Force
- No. 413 General Surveillance Squadron
- No. 435 Transport Squadron
- No. 436 Transport Squadron
- Royal Rifles of Canada
- Winnipeg Grenadiers
- Various other Canadian units served with the Headquarters group in Hong Kong including the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, Royal Canadian Army Services Corps, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, Royal Canadian Ordinance Corps, Royal Canadian Army Pay Corps, Canadian Provost Corps and the Canadian Postal Corps.
- Canadian Fusiliers
- Winnipeg Grenadiers
- Rocky Mountain Rangers
- Régiment de Hull
- The First Special Service Force
- Various other Canadian Army elements also took part in the assault force in smaller numbers, such as artillery, engineer and medical units.
Notable Canadian Servicemen in the War against Japan
Company Sergeant Major John Osborn of the Winnipeg Grenadiers was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his brave actions during the Defence of Hong Kong. His group had been surrounded by the attacking Japanese who lobbed grenades on their position. Osborn deliberately fell on one grenade just before it exploded, thereby saving the lives of several nearby comrades.
Major Charles Hoey of Duncan, B.C. had joined the British Army in the mid-1930s. In Burma in February 1944, Hoey led his infantry company in an assault on a hill defended by a Japanese machine gun position. Hoey was killed in the course of his brave actions, but his great gallantry earned him the Victoria Cross.
Lieutenant Robert “Hammy” Gray of Nelson, B.C., flew his Corsair dive-bomber from the British aircraft carrier HMS Formidable. When the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve airman attacked a Japanese destroyer in Onagawa Bay in August 1945, his plane was hit repeatedly by anti-aircraft fire but he followed through and sank the ship. Gray crashed and died but he was subsequently awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.
Squadron Leader Leonard Birchall of the RCAF No. 413 Squadron commanded the patrol aircraft that warned the Allies of the Japanese invasion fleet steaming towards Ceylon. Their plane was shot down but the actions of Birchall and his crew led them to be dubbed “the Saviours of Ceylon.” After the war, Birchall was decorated not only for his distinguished flying but also for his courage and leadership in resisting his Japanese captors during his years of being a prisoner of war.
Flight Lieutenant G.H. Avery of the Sea Reconnaissance Unit was awarded the Military Cross—the first one ever awarded to a "frogman" (military diver)—for his great bravery in the British Army’s assault crossing of the Irrawaddy River in Burma in February and March 1945.
Citations for Bravery Awarded to Canadians in the Defence of Hong Kong
DISTINGUISHED SERVICE ORDER
- Maj. Wells Arnold Bishop
- Maj. Ernest Hodkinson
- Cap. Frederick Temple Atkinson
- H/Cap. Uriah Laite
- Cap. Robert William Philip
- Lt. Thomas Alexander Blackwood
- Lt. Collinson Alexander Blaver
- Lt. William Francis Nugent
- Lt. Francis Gavan Power
DISTINGUISHED CONDUCT MEDAL
- C.Q.M.S. Colin Alden Standish
- Cpl. Derek Everard Rix
- C.Q.M.S. Stanley Walter Wright
- Sgt. Emile Bernard
- Sgt. Selden Grant Stoddard
- Sgt. Cecil Thomas Whalen
- L/Sgt. Murray Thomas Goodenough
- Cpl. Lionel Curtis Speller
- L/Cpl. Ronald Edward Atkinson
- L/Cpl. Meirion Price
- L/Cpl. John Leslie Varley
- Rfn. Ernest Irwin Bennett
- Pte. William Morris
- Pte. Gordon Edward Williamson
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