In December 1941 Japan, already at war with China, attacked British, Dutch and American territories in Asia and the Pacific. By June 1942, Japanese conquests encompassed a vast area of south-east Asia and the western Pacific. Under Japanese occupation, prisoners of war and enslaved civilians were forced to work for their captors in harsh and often inhuman conditions.

A series of land battles were fought in China, Burma and New Guinea. Although Japan achieved early successes, its resources were overstretched. In contrast, America was able to mobilise huge economic resources to intensify its efforts, beginning with amphibious landings in the Pacific. Tokyo and other Japanese cities suffered unprecedented destruction by conventional bombing. Finally, after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and following Soviet intervention, Japan surrendered in August 1945.

Japanese occupation hastened the end of European colonialism and the rise of communism in Asia, while post-war American occupation transformed Japanese society.


Lieutenant-General Percival

This photograph shows British commander Lieutenant-General Percival (far right) on his way to negotiate the surrender of Singapore, 15 February 1942. The Union Flag being carried by Brigadier Newbigging (second left) was hidden in captivity and flown in Singapore after Japan's surrender. it is now in IWM's collections.

Related Content

Sherman tanks of 'C' Squadron, 9th Queen's Royal Lancers, 2nd Armoured Brigade, 1st Armoured Division, 5 November 1942.
Second World War

A Short Guide To The War In Africa During The Second World War

In 1940, Italy's fascist dictator Benito Mussolini wanted to expand his African Empire. His forces in Ethiopia attacked neighbouring British possessions, but in 1941 were expelled and defeated.

Japanese troops mopping up in Kuala Lumpur during their advance through Malaya, 11 January 1942.
Second World War

Britain's War In The Far East During The Second World War

In 1941, Britain was an imperial power with colonies across south and south-east Asia. In December 1941, Japan attacked British territories in Hong Kong, Malaya (now Malaysia), Singapore and Burma (now also known as Myanmar).

Sergeant Franklin G Talley assisted by an RAF airman, holds up a copy of the Evening News while seated on traffic lights in Oxford Circus, London. The headline reads "Japan Surrenders".
© IWM (EA 75893)
Second World War

11 Photos Of VJ Day Celebrations

Japan publicly announced its surrender on 15 August 1945. This day has since been commemorated as Victory over Japan - or ‘VJ’ - Day. On 2 September, a formal surrender ceremony took place on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, officially bringing the Second World War to an end.

A bomb thumbnail
Second World War

Why were Atomic Bombs Dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 brought an end to the Second World War, but at a terrible cost to the Japanese civilian population, and signalling the dawn of the nuclear age. What had led to the fateful decision to deploy these new weapons of mass destruction?

Visitors exploring the Second World War exhibition
Permanent Display

Second World War Galleries

IWM London