The fighting on Borneo during World War II is often forgotten because in the larger picture of the Pacific War it was relatively insignificant compared to the battles in New Guinea, the Philippines, and smaller islands of the central Pacific and southwest Pacific. The fighting on Borneo occurred near the end of the war between March and September 1945. Most of the heavy fighting took place on the small island of Tarakan, along the east coast near Balikpapan, and in Northern Borneo along the coast near Laubuan.
India’s Andaman Islands, closer to Burma than India itself, share with Britain’s Channel Islands, closer to France than Britain itself, the (perhaps dubious) distinction of being the rare if not only parts of the larger polity to have been occupied by Axis forces during the Second World War. Japan invaded the Andamans in March 1942, which fell (much like the Channel Islands) with hardly a shot fired. Unlike the Channel Islands, however, the Andamans, home to a notorious prison for political prisoners, largely poverty-stricken and under a particularly oppressive colonial administration, was not a happy place before occupation.
The World War II fighting on Mindanao, the southernmost and second-largest island of the Philippine archipelago, rarely gets mentioned in conventional histories of the Pacific War, even in those histories that focus on the battles in the Philippines. Still less do those histories recount the heroic struggle of the Moro resistance fighters who conducted a costly insurgency against the conquering armies of Imperial Japan from 1942 to 1945. Thomas McKenna, an anthropologist who lived and worked in Moro communities on Mindanao, tells the story of one of the unsung heroes of the resistance, Mohammad Adil, in his new and groundbreaking book Moro Warrior.
At the end of the Second World War, about 600,000 Japanese soldiers were taken prisoner after the Soviet Union swept through Manchuria in the very final days of the war. Instead of returning them to Japan, the Soviet Union held them in prison camps in the Russian Far East for over a decade. The last group was released in 1956, eleven years after the Japanese surrender.
“World War II in the Asia Pacific created the modern world,” writes Peter Harmsen in the beginning of Volume 3 of his War in the Far East, which examines the final twenty months of the War in the region and its immediate aftermath. The United States emerged from the war as the leading world power, and the defeat of Japan led to a renewal of civil war in China, the coming to power of the Chinese communist regime, and ultimately China’s emergence as the world’s other superpower. And China’s rise, Harmsen contends, is “the defining event of the 21st century.”
The ’30s and ’40s were some of the first instances of aerial bombardment of civilian populations—and an indication of their destructive power. We often point to the Nazi bombing in Guernica, Spain in 1937—immortalized by Pablo Picasso—as the first instance of what happens when “the bomber gets through”, to paraphrase then-Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. But just a few months later, across a continent, the world got a glimpse of what bombardment would look like in one of the world’s most built-up and international cities of the time: Shanghai, and “Bloody Saturday”: 14 August 1937.
On 9 August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki and three Soviet armies invaded imperial Japan’s puppet state of Manchukuo. Six days later, Emperor Hirohito’s recorded broadcast to the Japanese people told them that the end of the war had arrived. Most Japanese troops in Manchukuo surrendered or withdrew by August 19. The fate of 2.7 million Japanese soldiers and citizens in the former Manchurian colony would be determined by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.