The pre-dawn half-light hummed with the roar of aero engines. Lined up on the flight deck of HMS Indefatigable, six Avengers, eight Seafires and four Fireflies. Their target: airfields around Tokyo. Their secondary target: factories.
In Indefatigable’s wardroom the night before there had been talk of an impending ceasefire. 820 Naval Air Squadron’s senior pilot, New Zealander Lieutenant Gwynne Woodroffe, urged the ship’s commanding officer to cancel the early-morning strike. Captain Quentin Graham put the young officer down brusquely: “We must fly the flag to the end.”
And so at 4am on Wednesday August 15, the signal was given to take off and “knock the hell out of a 70-fighter airbase”. Within an hour, the formation was over enemy territory at 10,000 feet, and a few minutes later over the target. It was hidden by low cloud. The fliers scoured the ground for another target when the cry ‘Bandits’ was yelled across the airwaves. A dozen Zero fighters had climbed to intercept the attackers. Tokyo’s flak guns joined in, their muzzles barking furiously. At least four Zeros were shot down in the ensuing dogfight, another four were seriously damaged.
But not without Fleet Air Arm losses. Sub Lieutenant Johnny Bonass, an observer, baled out of his stricken Avenger near Odaki on the south-east side of Tokyo Bay but died of his wounds. The fate of Sub Lt Fred Hockley, who also jumped out of a damaged aircraft, a Seafire, in this final sortie is even sadder. Captured by the Japanese east of Tokyo, he was frogmarched to an army headquarters and put before a firing squad. As the aircraft returned to Indefatigable late that morning, they noticed a flag had been hoisted: Cease hostilities with Japan.
The Japanese people gathered under loudspeakers, or huddled around radio sets at mid-day, to hear the voice of their Emperor, Hirohito, for the first time. In convoluted language – never for once saying that Japan had lost the war, rather that things had “developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage” – Hirohito told his people they had to “endure the unendurable and suffer the insufferable.”
Japan’s downfall meant liberation for hundreds of thousands of Allied prisoners, largely captured over the winter of 1941-42 when the Rising Sun ran rampant across Southeast Asia. Royal Marine Sergeant Terry Brooks watched as his Japanese guards marched past – without admonish camp inmates for failing to show the proper marks of respect.
A British officer rushed across. “It is over,” he told the marine curtly. The men spontaneously struck up the National Anthem and Abide With Me – singing curtailed by the sudden sound of explosions. “The Japanese soldiers and Korean privates and corporals were committing hara-kiri by blowing themselves to pieces,” the NCO recalled.
“It’s hard to be believe that it’s all over, but knowing that there will be no more action stations, no more suicide attacks, makes us all very jubilant. Great night in the mess,” Jim Dodds on carrier HMS Victorious noted.
Aboard HMS Formidable, flight deck officer Lt Geoffrey Brooke struggled to comprehend the war’s sudden end. “It really is incredible that it is all finished when two weeks ago it might have lasted two years,” he wrote. “I’m glad I got out here and saw it finished I must say.”
This article appears courtesy of Royal Navy News and may be found in its original form here.
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