Original Photos of the Pacific Theatre during the Second World War, including Nagasaki

February 19, 2016

Original Photos of the Pacific Theatre during the Second World War, including Nagasaki

Our most recent acquisition is an evocative collection of photographs documenting life in the Pacific fleet at the end of the Second World War, including the ruins of Nagasaki less than two months after the detonation of the atomic bomb.

It seems that the principal photographer of this collection was a young Coast Guard serviceman named Hal Garret, who is credited on the backs of many of the photos. We have been unable to trace Hal in the historical record, but it seems he was taking photographs in an official capacity and spent at least part of his time on the USS Cambria APA-36, a manned assault transport that was present at battles in the Marshall Islands, the Marianas, the Philippines, and Okinawa, and then participated in the redeployment of troops in the Pacific after the war ended. Some of the photos are printed “Official US Coast Guard Photograph”; in many cases Hal has been granted access to areas that would have been off-limits for ordinary seamen; and a few of the photos are professional aerial shots. Most tellingly, one of the photos (above) depicts a young man in uniform taking a picture of a ruined cityscape - this evocative image has been annotated by hand on the back with “Tokyo Dec. 10, 1945 ‘at work’”, making it likely this is Hal himself.

Hal’s presence as a Coast Guard photographer at important moments of the Pacific campaign makes sense given the role that the organisation played in the Second World War. Coast Guard coxswains, who were skilled at managing small ships and landing craft in the treacherous waters around coasts, served not only as trainers for Navy and Marine personnel but were themselves key figures during Allied landings in both theatres of war. “Incredibly, the Coast Guard fully manned more than 350 naval ships, including 76 LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank), 21 cargo and attack-cargo ships, 75 frigates, and 31 transports. In addition, the Coast Guard manned more than 800 cutters, nearly 300 ships for the Army, and thousands of amphibious-type assault craft. In the ships and craft of the amphibious forces, the Coast Guard discharged its most important role during the war - that is getting the men to the beaches and providing support” (Browning, The Coast Guard and the Pacific War, p. 1).

The photographs in the collection include a variety of subjects, from ships and planes to landscapes, ruined cities, and portraits of servicemen. Some are light-hearted depictions of military life:

Many images record life in the Philippines and Japan after the Americans landed. There are portraits of islanders and a number of images of the bombed-out shells of administrative buildings in Manila...

...as well as street scenes in port cities, including sailors riding in rickshaws.

One of the most poignant photographs captures a young woman in despair, begging on the sidewalk with a sleeping child in her lap as passersby look on.

As noted on the back of one of the images, Hal sailed into Nagasaki harbour on 26 September aboard the USS-Cambria, which was carrying some of the first occupation troops to the city. The earliest photographs of the ruined city had been taken on August 10, only one day after the bombing, by the Japanese military photographer Yōsuke Yamahata, and the first Western journalists arrived during the first week of September. By the time that Hal landed, the city, though still a ruin, had been swept clean of much of the horror of the immediate aftermath, and his photographs reflect aspects of life returning. Some people salvage things from the rubble:

and groups of people pass by - men with carts and bicycles and women with bundles and children.

One traveller poses for a portrait in the ruined landscape (see the first image above), and in another picture a group of men sits atop a massive pile of soy beans removed from a building near the waterfront.The most affecting photograph depicts a pile of rubble and burned corpses. Other shots document general destruction across the landscape, including the wrecked train station, the Mitsubishi “midget submarine” yard at the harbour, and a shot from one of the hills with the Catholic Urakami Cathedral in the background.

Overall an intriguing and evocative collection. For more information or to purchase it, please visit it in our online shop. You may also be interested in our stock of rare books on engineering and technology, which includes works on the atomic bomb and military technology.