1995 32¢ 1945: Victory at Last
Issue Date: September 2, 1995
City: Honolulu, HI
Quantity: 5,000,000 panes of 20
Printed By: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Lithographed and engraved
The fifth and final installment of the World War II series commemorates the 50th anniversary of the war's final year. Titled "1945: Victory at Last," these 10 stamps chronicle the events leading to Germany's surrender, the Japanese surrender, and ultimately the Allied victory. Nearly 300,000 American service personnel lost their lives between 1941 and 1945.
By early 1945 Japan had lost most of her empire and faced certain defeat, but she continued to fight. To make their Pacific campaign successful the Allies needed more bases. A tiny island 750 miles south of Japan called Iwo Jima became their primary target.
Seven months before the actual invasion, aircraft began bombing the island. Then on February 19, 1945, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th U.S. Marine divisions landed. The Japanese had prepared elaborate mine fields and underground tunnels, and a remarkable communications system for the island’s defense. The fight for Iwo Jima proved to be one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
On February 23rd, after three days of intense combat, the Marines captured Mt. Surbachi and hoisted the Stars and Stripes. A Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of this moment has become one of the most famous images of the war, and served as the model for the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. After 26 days of fierce fighting, the Japanese surrendered on March 16th – nearly 21,000 Americans had been lost.
A strategic base for the U.S. in the last stages of the war, Iwo Jima served as a base for the P-51 Mustangs that escorted the formidable B-29s on their bombing raids, as well as an emergency landing airstrip.
Fighting Frees Manila
Manila is the capital, largest city, and leading port of the Philippines. The Japanese seized this city, located on the island of Luzon, just four weeks after World War II began in the Pacific. On January 9, 1945, the Allies landed on the island with the largest landing force used in the Pacific campaign, and began fighting their way to Manila. The Japanese were ready with an impressive army of 250,000 men.
But despite their size, the Japanese had been weakened by Filipino guerrilla attacks and steady bombings by U.S. aircraft. U.S. forces defeated the Japanese in the north and east, then prepared for their final drive on Manila, which coincided with the 8th Army’s drive across the base of the Bataan Peninsula. Liberation of the city began on February 3, 1945.
It took 29 days to clear the city, and in the desperate house-to-house struggle much of Manila was destroy-ed. On March 4th, the city was liberated. U.S. troops freed more than 5,000 Allied prisoners. Although small bands of Japanese remained and continued to fight, MacArthur was able to establish a base from which to invade Japan itself. The Filipinos began rebuilding Manila almost immediately. Today Manila is again the country’s chief cultural, social, and commercial city.
Only 325 miles south of mainland Japan, the island of Okinawa was a prime strategic objective. The landing on Okinawa began on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, and was the last and largest amphibious assault of the Pacific Campaign. Expecting immediate resistance, as at Iwo Jima, troops were surprised to find little enemy activity. Hours after troops had swarmed ashore, a vital airstrip was captured without a single shot being fired. For five days U.S. troops waited to engage the enemy.
Then on April 6th the Japanese struck – General Ushijima had pulled his forces back to the southern part of the island and was waiting to trap the Marines! For two days, nearly 700 enemy aircraft, including 350 kamikazes, pounded the beachheads and the offshore forces. From that point on, Okinawa was won in a series of bloody battles. After 82 days of fighting the island was captured. More than 110,000 Japanese were dead – nine for every American.
America’s sea power, encroaching land force, and formidable air power now posed an immediate threat to the Japanese mainland. Some members of the Japanese government favored surrender, others wanted to fight on. With their bases in line, the Allies proceeded with their plans to force Japan into unconditional surrender.
Allies Link at Elbe
When the Battle of the Bulge ended in January 1945, Hitler’s forces were no longer a serious threat on the Western front. With reserves exhausted, armor scarce, motor fuel drying up, and the Luftwaffe virtually gone, the defeat of Germany was inevitable. Despite the obvious however, Hitler gave orders to fight on.
In an effort to effectively eliminate the enemy, the Allies began their final campaign on the Western front. Russian forces already in Poland and East Prussia began a massive offensive from the east on January 12th. Meanwhile, the U.S. began its own offensive in the west. Strategic bombing continued, raining destruction upon German cities day and night. In April, the great industrial Ruhr, with its entire force of 400,000 soldiers was captured by U.S. troops. Meeting no real opposition in the east, Soviet forces continued to push forward, fighting their last great battle in Berlin.
On April 12th – the day President Roosevelt died – the U.S. Army crossed the Elbe River, the agreed upon dividing line between Soviet and Western zones of postwar occupation. On April 25th, amid much celebrating, Soviet and U.S. troops met for the first time, cutting Germany in half. Hitler ordered his soldiers to fight on, and then committed suicide on April 30th.
The Holocaust was the mass murder of European Jews and other ethnic groups, such as Gypsies, Poles, and Slavs, by the Nazis during World War II. Adolf Hitler considered the Jews and these other groups to be genetically inferior to his “Aryan” master race. Removing the Jews was one of the steps in Hitler’s plan for world domination.
To facilitate this mass murder the Nazis built concentration camps. At first these highly organized camps were used to terrorize and intimidate, but in 1941 when Hitler decided to murder all of the Jews, the camps became efficient killing factories. About 2.5 million people were murdered at the concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland alone. As many as 2,000 people were killed at a single time in the gas chambers there. Bodies were disposed of in crematoriums.
The battle-hardened Allied soldiers who liberated the camps were shocked at what they found. By the end of the war approximately 6 million Jews, about two-thirds of all the Jews in Europe, had been killed by the Nazis. Total number of civilians killed by the Nazis is estimated to be at least 11 million.
Surrender at Reims
Hidden from harm in his bunker under Berlin, Hitler continued ordering his troops to fight, somehow believing the Third Reich could defeat its enemies. But, when Soviet forces smashed their way into Berlin on April 25th, and with U.S. forces waiting at the Elbe River, reality overcame Hitler’s visions.
On April 30th Hitler and his wife, Eva Braun, decided to commit suicide to “escape the shame of overthrow or capitulation.” Two days later portions of the German forces began asking for a cease-fire. The little resistance left in Germany was crumbling fast.
Germany’s actual surrender came at 2:41 A.M. on May 7th. General Eisenhower refused to attend the signing in person. With the words, “...the German people and armed forces are, for better or worse, delivered into the victor’s hands,” German Field Marshal Alfred Gustav Jodl signed the surrender. The representatives were then ushered into Eisenhower’s office, where he confirmed that they understood the unconditional surrender. The ceremony was repeated for the Soviets the next day – history has recorded May 8th as V.E. Day or Victory in Europe Day ever since.
During World War II destructive force was used against civilians in an unprecedented manner. Civilians were specifically targeted, and subjected to starvation, bombing raids, massacres, epidemics, and other war-related hazards. The results were catastrophic.
The war uprooted millions of people – more than 12 million were displaced in Europe alone. These included orphans, prisoners of war, Holocaust survivors, and people who had fled from armies and war-torn areas. Many people left their homes due to the reorganization of natural boundaries during the war – large numbers of Germans had moved into Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other Eastern European countries under Nazi control, but they were later expelled. After the war many refugees from Eastern European nations were unwilling to return to their homelands due to the totalitarian communist governments that had taken power.
To remedy this immense problem the Allies created the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration or UNRRA. It first began operating in 1944 in areas freed from Nazi occupation. UNRRA efforts involved setting up camps that supplied food, clothing, and medical care. In 1947 there were still one million refugees in the camps waiting for homes.
By the summer of 1945 the Allies were preparing to invade the Japanese mainland. Military experts estimated one million U.S. casualties would be incurred in this invasion, which was planned for November 1945. Japanese losses would have been much higher.
In 1939 Albert Einstein told President Franklin Roosevelt about the possibility of building an atomic bomb, and in 1942 the Manhattan Project, a top-secret program to develop such a bomb, was launched. Shortly after the defeat of Germany, in July of 1945, the first bomb was tested in New Mexico. President Truman learned of the success while attending the Potsdam conference with Churchill and Stalin. The U.S., Great Britain, and China issued an ultimatum to Japan – surrender unconditionally or be destroyed. Unfortunately the Japanese chose to fight on.
On August 6, 1945, a B-29 bomber called the “Enola Gay” dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, killing an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 people. The Japanese still did not respond, so a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9th; 40,000 perished. On August 14th the Japanese surrendered. Historians from both countries agree that the atomic bombs actually saved American and Japanese lives.
Sailor and Nurse Kissing
The people of Japan heard the voice of their emperor for the first time ever when he announced, in a radio broadcast, that the war was over. The Japanese were devastated – most responded by openly weeping. America’s response to the news was one of pure joy.
V-E Day celebrations had been stifled by the sobering realization that the war in the Pacific was still to be fought. But with the Japanese surrender, the war was truly over. Whistles blew, church bells rang, crowds filled the streets, employees left work early, and strangers embraced as the nation erupted in celebration.
Japan surrendered on August 14th, but the official ceremony was held September 2nd aboard the U.S. battleship Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay. Two Japanese officials, as well as representatives from the U.S., Great Britain, China, Russia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Canada, France, and Australia signed the surrender document. September 2nd has been celebrated as V-J Day or Victory over Japan Day ever since.
Excitement subsided as serious speculation about the future began. People everywhere wanted to be sure the world would never suffer through such a calamity again. This hope was expressed on October 24, 1945, when the United Nations was signed into existence.
Hometowns Honor Vets
With the war over the folks back home eagerly awaited their servicemen’s return. Some had quite a wait, as soldiers were given various occupational duties, but each returning veteran was treated to a hero’s welcome. Parades and celebrations featuring these heroes were held everywhere. As you can see in the photo, the servicemen were equally enthusiastic.
America had changed while the veterans had been away. Although the country looked much the same, with the addition of some new factories, social and political changes had permanently reshaped the nation. Millions of women had taken jobs outside of their homes and experienced the benefits and high pay of industrial jobs. African-Americans were given new opportunities – the Fair Employment Practices Committee created by President Roosevelt in 1941 prevented job discrimination in defense industries. And due to higher wartime wages, a larger property-owning middle class had been created.
Surveys showed that returning servicemen had been worried about their future employment and the return of the Great Depression, but the years following World War II were quite prosperous. For most Americans simply being at peace was the best reward.