It was heartbreaking. I’ve seen the driver of my jeep carrying out virtually the skeleton on his two hands and loading him in the jeep and then another one and they didn’t take up any space.

Captain Tom Arnold, 2nd Field Ambulance, on liberating Indian soldiers taken as Japanese prisoners of war at Rabaul

Japanese surrender

On 6 and 9 August, the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The last Allied airstrike on Rabaul took place on 8 August 1945. On 15 August, Japanese Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender. The official Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed on 2 September. The signing took place aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

The official instrument of surrender for the Rabaul garrison was signed on 6 September. The signing took place aboard the British aircraft carrier HMS Glory. The ship was anchored in St George's Channel between New Britain and New Ireland.

The Officer Commanding First Australian Army, Lieutenant General Vernon Sturdee, accepted the surrender of Commander in Chief of the Japanese Imperial South Eastern Army, Lieutenant General Hitoshi Imamura. Imamura commanded the Japanese land forces in New Britain, New Ireland, New Guinea, the Solomons and adjacent islands. Vice Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka surrendered on behalf of Imperial Japanese Naval Forces in the area.

Liberation of Rabaul

After the Japanese surrender, Australian forces moved into Rabaul. They started liberating the prisoners of war (POWs) and internees held there. Australian ships HMAS Vendetta, HMAS Manoora and HMAS Katoomba arrived to help.

The Australians had hoped to find Allied prisoners, including members of Lark Force. But they only found one Australian, one New Zealander, seven Americans and 18 Britons. The rest—thousands of men—had been killed.

The Australian forces also liberated many Asian POWs. These included:

  • 5,589 Indians
  • 1,397 Chinese
  • 688 Malayans
  • 607 Indonesians.

Other internees, mostly pre-war residents including missionaries, were also liberated.

There was no sign of the Lark Force POWs and Australian internees. It was later discovered they had died in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru. Only the Lark Force officers and nurses, who had been transported to Japan on a different ship, survived.

It took several months to return the survivors to their home countries.

Papua New Guinea
1943 to 1945
Image caption
Lieutenant General Hitoshi Imamura, Commander of the Japanese 8th Area Army, signing the Instrument of Surrender on board HMS Glory near Rabaul, 6 September 1945. Vice Admiral Jinichi Kusaka, Commander of the Japanese Southeast Area Fleet, stands by to add his signature to the document.
Image attribution
Australia War Memorial. AWM 045213. Photographer unknown.

Related Trails

The Islands Remembrance Trail

9 Steps