WW2 – The Japanese Conflict
During the summer months of 1945 life for me in India, was neither dull, nor comfortable. I was a 19 year old Lance-Corporal, Leicestershire Regiment, seconded to a Beach Landing Group, attached to the 25th Indian Infantry Division – a mix of Indian and British regiments.
The war in Europe was over. The Japanese were vanquished from Burma and Churchill now wanted Singapore back! So, ‘Operation Zipper’ was conceived. In short, for our Beach Landing Group, it involved depositing some thousands of troops on a hostile beach, 200 miles north of Singapore.
And so it was that the months of August found me posted to Madras (now Chennai), where an impressive armada of shipping was being assembled. They were to convey our invasion force across the Indian Ocean, down the Malacca Straits, for a rendezvous on Morib Beach, In Malaya.
Suddenly, the unheard of happened! The two atom bombs were dropped, to be followed by the pronouncement of his country’s surrender, by Emperor Hirohito.
But what of ‘Operation Zipper’? The answer came both swiftly and surely! The show was still on the road! The massive build-up of men, materials and shipping had, by this time, gained its own momentum and logistically, was unstoppable. Added to which, the Japanese military commander in Singapore, General Seishiro Itagaki, defiantly announced that, as far as he was concerned, his considerable military machine would fight on, regardless of what his emperor had decided. Hence we were still in business.
In the event, I next found myself assigned to a Polish ship, ‘SS Pulaski’, and to my astonishment, discovered that I was even allocated a cabin!! As a generous gesture, my unit commander had promoted me to Acting Sergeant for the voyage and so it was that I went off to war in unaccustomed luxury.
‘D-Day’ was scheduled for 9th September, but meantime, matters were on the move. Late in the day, General Itagaki had a change of mind and on 4th September, he signed the surrender document, for the troops under his command. It had indeed been a close run thing! And as events unfolded, this was just as well!
Without any enemy to contend with, the whole operation turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. In the first place, it was a surprise to discover that Morib’s sandy beach, deceptively concealed a veritable quagmire of underlying, gooey mud. Consequently, all the armour, vehicles and mechanised transport got bogged down in this unforgiving mire, thereby to be engulfed by the incoming tide. Some landing craft were even stranded on hidden sandbars. It was, in fact, a total shambles from beginning to end!
Had the landing been opposed, the general opinion, by all and sundry, was the unlikelihood of many of us surviving that fiasco in one piece! Indeed, it had the potential of a hideous massacre; perhaps a latter-day Gallipoli. I later learnt that there were 80,000+ Japanese soldiers on the ‘reception committee’, supported by an array of Kamikazi suicide planes. Thus it was, in this fashion, that my personal world of war prematurely and mercifully ended!
I felt a deep sense of gratitude that our weary world, soaked with oceans of blood, across a thousand battlefields, with its legacy of countless acres of military cemeteries and accompanied by unspeakable expressions of pain, grief and abject misery, across half the world, was now at peace.
Yet the final bill was paid by Hiroshima and Nagasaki – awesomely horrific beyond words, in scale and agony and far exceeding our understanding or imagination! Where indeed did it fit in with the bewildering kaleidoscope of war and peace?
For those of us floundering on that far-away, muddy beach, 69 years ago, no one had the slightest notion that there could be any question regarding the morality of using the atom bombs. They certainly saved the lives of many of us! The slaughter from these bombs was hideous indeed. Nevertheless, but for the bombs, the Japanese military would have carried on the conflict with characteristic, fanatical zeal. It would have taken many months, deploying the weaponry of conventional warfare, before the inevitable defeat of Japan was achieved.
But what of the cost of such a scenario? The final toll of destroyed lives, Japanese in particular, but also of course, American, British and others, would have been numbered in the millions, rather than the tens of thousands lost in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Perhaps Churchill’s apt phrase at the time, “A miracle of deliverance!”, really did have some credible validity!