The sunset of the Rising Sun

(To Mario Veronesi)

After the Battle of Leyte Gulf, in October 1944, the Americans carried out the last major offensives of the Pacific War: Luzon, Iwo Jima and Okinawa calmly, because they knew that the Imperial Navy would no longer pose a serious threat. To the Japanese high command it was unthinkable that the emperor's last warships should be bombed in their ports or hit at sea when they found themselves isolated. For this reason the kamikaze strategy it was also applied to the Imperial Navy.

The ambitious plan “Sho” that had hurled the concentrated forces of the Combined Fleet against the Americans on Leyte was born of the kamikaze mentality of causing as much damage as possible with limited resources. Precisely for this purpose the "special marine attack force" was formed, which consisted of Yamato (opening photo) and a small escort of destroyers.

The battleship Yamato using the last supply of fuel it would head towards the beaches of Okinawa and should cause maximum damage to the American invasion force, then it would approach the coast continuing to fire every last shell from its 457 mm guns.

But we all know how it ended (photo). After this sinking, the remnants of the Imperial Navy remained in Japanese ports. In Yokosuka there was the Nagato, the strongest battleship in the world, her last action had taken place in Leyte Gulf where she had escaped the battleship disaster. In 1945 she was moored, inactive, deprived of her chimneys and mainmast to aid camouflage. In Kure there were theMyself andHyuga absurdly transformed into seaplane transport. L'Haruna, last cruiser of the class Congo, and the old man Settsu.

The planes of the American aircraft carriers, now able to fly without problems over Japanese territory, planned the destruction of these melancholy survivors, it was a formal revenge of Pearl Harbor.

Revenge took the form of a terrifying three-day raid on Japanese naval bases and focused on Kure, sinking theAmagi,Myself,Hyuga,HarunaSettsu and five cruisers, completely destroying Japanese hopes of forming a possible suicide squad with their last units. We can define the date between July 24 and 26, 1945, as the date of the annihilation of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

After the war the fate of the Japanese battleships, which had survived in July 1945, was inglorious. The Nagato, the last remaining of the battle fleet, was used as a target ship in the Bikini atomic test (1946), together with the cruiser Insertion. The other cruisers were used as targets, or dismantled or sunk at sea, the Americans massacred the Japanese submarines that had surrendered, sinking them in April 1946.

Following the American victories in the Pacific, which had interrupted all connections between the Japanese archipelago and the rich regions of south-east Asia and, with the aim of containing the growing and unstoppable power of the American air force, which also used the bases Chinese troops to attack Japan, at the end of 1944 Japanese troops launched a decisive offensive campaign against the armies of Chang Kai Shek (1887-1975).

This offensive had two main objectives: to re-establish the connection with Indochina and Indonesia by land, and to occupy the areas where the major bases of the 14th American air force of General Chennault, commander of the famous "Flying Tigers" were located. , who had been fighting in China since the beginning of the conflict. An equal offensive had already taken place in the spring of the same year, with the result of having incorporated vast territories of central China into the Japanese empire, and of having achieved control over the entire Peking-Hankow railway.

The offensive in the autumn of 1944 led to the joining of Japanese forces in central China with those located in Indochina and Canton, as well as the occupation of the major American bases. Furthermore, with this advance, the Japanese dealt a heavy blow to the Chinese, completely isolating large areas and numerous armies in southeastern China.

An attempt to exploit this success was to focus on Kweiyang, to cut the "Burma road", which passed through that city and invest the city of Chung-King from the south. Attempt failed thanks to the intervention of elite Chinese forces.

The situation in China, which the Americans now considered unsustainable for Chang Kai Shek's nationalistic army, suddenly changed in the spring of 1945, when the Japanese, following the strategically unsustainable general conditions of their still gigantic military apparatus, began to withdraw from China , pursued by Chinese troops, settling on the Yangtze River.

Meanwhile in Burma, after the battle of Imphal in September 1944, military operations resumed, with an offensive by the Anglo-Indians, Americans and Chinese, which had as its objective the conquest of the entire country.

By the end of October, the three Allied fronts in north-central Burma were unified, and the entire northern part of the country was occupied. On May 3, 1945, Rangoon, the capital of Burma, fell, and by the end of the same month, almost the entire country was liberated from Japanese occupation.

It is estimated that with the "frog jumping" tactic, the Americans, passing from one island to another, had isolated no less than 235.000 Japanese. In the meantime, 50.000 Japanese from New Britain, 30.000 from Wewak, the last area of ​​New June, and 25.000 from Bougainville, were attacked by American and Australian troops. The others were left to their fate, waiting for the end of the war.

The final offensive against the 25.000-man garrison of Bougainville began at the end of 1944 and after extensive efforts, the allies failed to entirely conquer the island, so much so that in August 1945 small Japanese units were still present , who were still fighting. Marshal Terauchi's 555.000 men who still occupied Indonesia, Malaya, Siam and French Indochina could not be overlooked. Forces still qualitatively valid, concentrated and in an area rich in raw materials.

American, Dutch and British Commonwealth air, naval and land units began the offensive against these forces. These forces, between May XNUMXst and July XNUMXst, carried out numerous landings in northern and eastern Borneo, completely isolating the islands of Java, Sumatra, and Malaysia still in Japanese hands.

At the same time, the final attack on metropolitan Japan was being planned. As soon as the fighting on Okinawa was over, the Americans reactivated the air bases on the island, from these and from those of Iwo Jima and Saipan, with the help of the embarked air forces, a subsequent air offensive against the archipelago began Japanese. From these three bases, the Americans launched attacks on Japanese territory every day and night, without encountering any resistance. The remaining Japanese fighters had been transferred to Korea, in order to preserve them for the day of the American landing in the Japanese archipelago. Due to the total absence of enemy planes, the Americans could therefore descend to bomb and machine-gun targets of all kinds, especially communications lines. Violent attacks began on Japan's cities and major industrial centers, particularly Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya, and Kobe.

An important turning point came with the entry into production of the B-1944 in 29 Superfortress (Model 341/345) was a four-engine propeller-driven heavy bomber. It was also the largest aircraft to have served in the conflict.

Initially, high-altitude daytime precision bombing was attempted over Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe. Given the poor results, General LeMay, commander of the XXI Bomber Command stationed in the Mariana Islands, switched to incendiary bombings.

The first city hit was Kobe on February 3, 1945. Tokyo was hit three times, on February 24, March 10 and May 26. Over 41 square kilometers of the city, almost entirely built of bamboo, burned; estimates indicate approx 100.000 victims.

In June 1945 two American four-engine planes of the "Liberator" type reached the Sea of ​​Japan for the first time, between the metropolitan archipelago and the coast of Siberia, attacking merchant shipping. This attack deprived Japan of the certainty of having unattackable areas. At the end of the same month, 450 American superfortresses attacked the ports and islands of Kyu-Shu and Honshu, placing a complete blockade on all sides of Japan. On 14 July 1945, the first shelling of the Japanese coast occurred near Kamaishi by battleships of the III Fleet.

On the 24th, the heaviest air attack ever conducted before by embarked aircraft fell on Japan: 2000 planes departed from American and British aircraft carriers and heavily bombed Osaka, Sakai and Nagoya, which had already been seriously affected in the past. On 30 July 1945, 1.200 planes belonging to "task force 28", of the American III fleet, attacked the 80 airports in the Tokyo area. In the first days of August, the bad sea conditions prevented the aircraft on board from continuing with the raids on Japan, which, however, were replaced by bombers and the new "P 61-Black Widow" fighters, which left from land bases. Meanwhile, the bombing of the superfortresses of Okinawa, Saipan and Iwo Jima continued. These attacks now completely paralyzed life in Japan, communication routes no longer worked, all transport blocked and made impossible, industries completely reduced to zero, cities destroyed.

At 8.45am, on 6 August 1945, the "B29" superfortress called "Enola Gay" dropped the first atomic bomb from a height of 6.000 meters on the center of Hiroshima, a city located at the western end of the island of Honshu. The device was suspended from a parachute, which opened at a height of 500 metres, a device used with the aim of hitting a larger area with the explosion. It is estimated that 160.000 people died in the explosion.

Three days later another bomb of the same type was dropped on the important city of Nagasaki, located on the western coast of the island of Kyushu, causing 120.000 victims. On August 8, 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan.

On August 14, Japan capitulated unconditionally, having received assurances of its only demand concerning the person of the emperor.

On August 15, the United Nations announced to the world the end of the Second World War. In the same days, Soviet troops occupied Manchuria, North Korea, the Kurile Islands and Port Arthur. After 40 years, Russian forces regained control of that city.

On September 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay, aboard the battleship Missouri, the armistice was signed. Signed by General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz for the United States, General Derevyanko for the Soviet Union, Admiral Fraser for England, General Blamey for Australia, General Leclerc for France, General Hsu Yan-Chang for China and Admiral Helfrich for Holland.

On that day, on the calm waters of Tokyo Bay, the Japanese imperial sun set forever.

Photo: US Navy / web