France created the colony of Indochina between 1858 and 1909 in a series of conquests and annexations that encompassed Vietnam, Cambodia and a disparate group of tributary states in the Thai cultural world that were bundled together as Laos. Vietnam itself was divided into three zones: Cochinchina, including the commercial capital, Saigon, was a directly ruled colony, while Annam and Tonkin were nominally protectorates in which the Vietnamese emperor at Hue ruled following French ‘advice’. In practice, … (click below to continue reading Cribb and Li’s Prelude)
10 August. Uncertainty about who will do what, and when, characterizes the entire region in mid-August. While the Philippines, for example, is beginning to rebuild after years of war and Japanese occupation, the country seethes with preparations for the invasion of Japan. U.S. military supplies pour in. Hospitals and other facilities are established in anticipation of the invasion efforts. Elements of the Philippine Army are also involved. Early but unconfirmed news of Japan’s surrender on the 10th results in premature celebrations in Manila, including the firing of weapons. Similar early celebrations erupt four days later when the U.S. Office of War Information newspaper Free Philippines prematurely announces the end of the war.
16 August. Upon hearing of the Japanese surrender, forced labourers in North Borneo begin slowly working their way back home to Java. Elsewhere across the vast extent of Japanese-occupied Asia, tens of thousands of people drafted into supporting Japan’s war effort take their futures into their own hands and slip away from their masters. Many more must await repatriation after Allied troops arrive; they are stranded too far away from home. The fate of the many ‘comfort women’ forced into military brothels is also uncertain.
15 August. The operational boundaries of the British-led South East Asia Command (SEAC), based in Kandy and headed by Lord Louis Mountbatten, are extended to include southern Indochina and Thailand. Java, Borneo and Eastern Indonesia are also transferred from the American-led South-West Pacific Area, Australia made responsible for the latter two. With the war ended, SEAC’s primary tasks are to accept the Japanese surrender, disarm and repatriate Japanese troops, rescue and repatriate Allied POWs and internees, and eventually hand over the administration to civilian authorities. Except for Thailand, the restoration of colonial rule is assumed.
15 August. Just four hours after Emperor Hirohito’s broadcast ending the war, Japanese Ambassador Yamamoto Kuma’ichi explains and reassures Thai Prime Minister Khuang Aphaiwong about the surrender. He also raises no objections to news that Thailand’s Regent is planning to renounce the Thai–Japanese alliance.
17 August. In a disturbing reminder of events leading up to the mass famine earlier in the year, flood waters breach dikes on the Red River upstream from Hanoi. Within days, 150 breaches are reported around the delta, about one third of Tonkin’s summer rice crop being inundated as a result. Its inability to deal with the situation dispels any remaining credibility that the royal government may have had. The floods also inhibit vehicle movement by both Japanese and Chinese troops, offering a temporary benefit to local insurgents.
9 August. A seven-man group tries to seize power in Phnom Penh. Its members are young nationalists with Japanese links but no clear guidance from anywhere. By next day, the coup has failed without any bloodshed and its participants are soon arrested (and released shortly afterwards). Although probably not the instigator, the nationalist, pro-Japanese foreign minister, Son Ngoc Thanh, emerges as a beneficiary, his power enhanced. Probably at about this time, King Sihanouk turns against him.
14 August. Son Ngoc Thanh becomes prime minister, the first in Cambodian history. He assembles a new, largely unaltered cabinet and calls for resistance to France. Next day, in a wide-ranging speech, Thanh calls for continuing co-operation with Japan and with the ‘yellow skinned’ (jaune) inhabitants of Southeast Asia. The following week, Thanh’s proposal of ‘moral resistance’ to France is unanimously approved in a cabinet meeting.
17 August. General Order No. 1, prescribing when, where and to whom Japanese forces may surrender, is approved by President Truman after having been hastily negotiated between the Allies. The formal surrender of Japan to the Americans takes priority, even though elsewhere this will leave a power vacuum until local surrenders can be accepted.