The War in Asia and Pacific
The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, left the US Pacific Fleet powerless to halt Japan’s expansion. During the next six months, Japanese forces swept across Southeast Asia and the western Pacific Ocean. Japan’s empire reached its greatest size in August 1942. It stretched northeast to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, west to Burma, and south to the Netherlands Indies. The Allies halted Japan’s expansion, in the summer of 1942. They nibbled away at tis empire until Japan agreed to surrender in August 1945.
Early Japanese Victories
On December 8th, 1941, within hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese bombers struck the British colony of Hong Kong on the South coast of China and two US islands in the Pacific Ocean Guam and Wake.
The Japanese invaded Thailand the same day. Thailand surrendered within hours and joined the Axis. The Japanese troops took Hong Kong, Guam, and Wake Island by Christmas.
From Thailand, Japanese forces soon advanced into Malaya and Burma. Great Britain had then ruled that region.
The British wrongly believed that soldiers couldn’t penetrate the trick jungles of the Malay Peninsula.
They expected an assault by sea instead. But the Japanese troops streamed through the jungles and rapidly overran the peninsula.
By late January 1942, the Japanese had pushed the British of the Malay Peninsula. The Japanese stored the island on February 8th, and Singapore surrendered a week later. Japan captured about 85,000 soldiers, making the fall of Singapore Britain’s worst military defeat ever.
Japan’s nest target was the petroleum-rich Netherlands Indies, south of Malaya. Allied warships protected those islands. Japan’s navy mauled the ships in February 1942 in the Battle of the Java Sea. The Netherlands Indies fell in early March.
Meanwhile, Japanese forces had advanced into Southern Burma. China sent troops into Burma to help Britain hold onto the Burma Road. Weapons, food, and other goods traveled over that supply route from India to China. In April 1942, Japan seized and shut down the Burma Road. The Japanese had driven Allied forces from most of Burma by mid-May.
Only the conquest of the Philippines took longer than Japan expected. Japan had begun landing troops in the Philippines on December 10th, 1941.
The American and Philippine forces commanded by US General Douglas MacArthur defended the islands. In late December, MacArthur’s forces abandoned Manila, the capital of the Philippines, and withdrew to nearby Bataan Peninsula.
Although suffering from malnutrition and disease, they beat back Japanese attacks for just over three months.
Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964)
was an American five-star general and Field Marshal of the Philippine Army. He was Chief of Staff of the United States Army during the 1930s and played a prominent role in the Pacific theater during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for his service in the Philippines Campaign, which made him and his father Arthur MacArthur Jr., the first father and son to be awarded the medal. He was one of only five men ever to rise to the rank of General of the Army in the US Army, and the only man ever to become a field marshal in the Philippine Army.
Raised in a military family in the American Old West, MacArthur was valedictorian at the West Texas Military Academy, and First Captain at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated top of the class of 1903. During the 1914 United States occupation of Veracruz, he conducted a reconnaissance mission, for which he was nominated for the Medal of Honor. In 1917, he was promoted from major to colonel and became chief of staff of the 42nd (Rainbow) Division. In the fighting on the Western Front during World War I, he rose to the rank of brigadier general, was again nominated for a Medal of Honor, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross twice and the Silver Star seven times.
From 1919 to 1922, MacArthur served as Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he attempted a series of reforms. His next assignment was in the Philippines, where in 1924 he was instrumental in quelling the Philippine Scout Mutiny. In 1925, he became the Army’s youngest major general. He served on the court martial of Brigadier General Billy Mitchell and was president of the American Olympic Committee during the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. In 1930, he became Chief of Staff of the United States Army. As such, he was involved in the expulsion of the Bonus Army protesters from Washington, D.C. in 1932, and the establishment and organization of the Civilian Conservation Corps. He retired from the US Army in 1937 to become Military Advisor to the Commonwealth Government of the Philippines.
MacArthur was recalled to active duty in 1941 as commander of United States Army Forces in the Far East. A series of disasters followed, starting with the destruction of his air forces on 8 December 1941, and the invasion of the Philippines by the Japanese. MacArthur’s forces were soon compelled to withdraw to Bataan, where they held out until May 1942. In March 1942, MacArthur, his family and his staff left nearby Corregidor Island in PT boats and escaped to Australia, where MacArthur became Supreme Commander, Southwest Pacific Area. Upon his arrival in Australia, MacArthur gave a speech in which he famously promised “I shall return” to the Philippines. After more than two years of fighting in the Pacific, he fulfilled that promise. For his defense of the Philippines, MacArthur was awarded the Medal of Honor.
He officially accepted Japan’s surrender on 2 September 1945, aboard USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay, and oversaw the occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1951. As the effective ruler of Japan, he oversaw sweeping economic, political and social changes. He led the United Nations Command in the Korean War with initial success, however the controversial invasion of North Korea provoked Chinese intervention. Following a series of major defeats he was removed from command by President Harry S. Truman on 11 April 1951. He later became chairman of the board of Remington Rand.
President Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to Australia and he left the Philippines in March 1942. He promised the Filipinos, “I Shall Return”.
On April 9th, about 75,000 exhausted troops on Bataan surrendered to the Japanese. Most of them were forced to march about 65 miles to prison camps. Many prisoners died of disease and mistreatment during what became known as The Bataan Death March. Some soldiers held out on Corregidor Island, near Bataan, until May 6h. By then, the Japanese were victorious everywhere.
Japan’s string of quick victories astonished even the Japanese. It terrified the Allies. The fall of the Netherlands Indies left Australia unprotected. The capture of Burma brought the Japanese to India’s border. Australia and India feared invasion. The Japanese planes bombed Darwin on Australia’s North Coast in February 1942.
There were three events in 1942 helped turn the tide against Japan.
The Doolittle Raid
To show that Japan could be beaten, the US staged a daring bombing raid on the Japanese homeland. On April 18th, 1942, Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle led 16 B-25 bombers in a surprise attack on Tokyo and other Japanese cities. The bombers took off from the deck of the Hornet an aircraft carrier more than 600 miles east of Japan. The raid did very little damage. But it advanced Japan’s leaders, who had believed that their homeland was safe from Allied bombs. To prevent future raids, the Japanese determined to capture more islands to the south and the east and so extend the country’s defenses. They soon found themselves in trouble.
The Battle of the Coral Sea
In May 1942, a Japanese invasion force sailed toward Australia’s base at Port Moresby lay at Australia’s doorstep.
The American warships met the Japanese force in the Coral Sea, northeast of Australia. The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought from May 4th to the 8th, was unlike all earlier naval battles.
It was the first naval battle in which opposing ships never sighted one another. The planes based on aircraft carriers did all the fighting. Neither side won a clear victory.
But the battle halted the assault on Port Moresby and temporarily checked the threat to Australia.
The Battle of midway
Japan next sent a large fleet to capture Midway Island at the westernmost tip of the Hawaiian Chain. The United States had cracked Japan’s naval code and thus learned about the coming invasion. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, gathered the ships that had survived the raid on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Coral Sea. He prepared to ambush the Japanese.
Chester W. Nimitz (1885-1966)
was a fleet admiral of the United States Navy. He played a major role in the naval history of World War II as Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CinCPac) and Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas (CinCPOA), commanding Allied air, land, and sea forces during World War II.
Nimitz was the leading US Navy authority on submarines. Qualified in submarines during his early years, he later oversaw the conversion of these vessels’ propulsion from gasoline to diesel, and then later was key in acquiring approval to build the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, whose propulsion system later completely superseded diesel-powered submarines in the US. He also, beginning in 1917, was the Navy’s leading developer of underway replenishment techniques, the tool which during the Pacific war would allow the US fleet to operate away from port almost indefinitely. The chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation in 1939, Nimitz served as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) from 1945 until 1947. He was the United States’ last surviving officer who served in the rank of fleet admiral
The Battle of Midway opened on June 4th, 1942, with a Japanese bombing raid on Midway. Outdated the US bombers flew in low and launched torpedoes against Japanese warships. But Japanese guns downed most of the slow-moving planes. American dive bombers swooped in next. They pounded enemy aircraft carriers while their planes refueled on deck. During the three-day battle, the Japanese lost 4 aircraft carriers and more than 200 planes and skilled pilots. Japan sank I US aircraft carrier and shot down about 150 US planes.
The Battle of Midway was the first clear Allied victory over Japan in World War II. The aircraft carriers’ lad become the most important weapons in the war in the Pacific. Japan’s naval power was crippled by the loss of 4 of its 9 aircraft carriers. Although Japan failed to capture Midway, it seized two islands at the tip of Alaska’s Aleutian Chan on June 7th, 1942. The Americans drove the Japanese out of the Aleutians in the springs and summer of 1943.
After the Battle of Midway, the Allies were determined to stop the Japanese expansion in the South Pacific. In the battles that followed, American soldiers and marines fought many jungles campaigns on the Pacific islands. The jungle itself was a terrifying enemy. Heavy rains drenched the troops and turned the jungle into a foul-smelling swamp. The men had to hack their way through tangled, slimy vegetation and wade through knee-deep mud. The Japanese hid everywhere, waiting to shoot unsuspecting servicemen scorpions and snakes were a con start menace. The malaria and other tropical diseases took a heavy toll.
The Americans also encountered Japan’s strict military code in the South Pacific. The code required Japanese soldiers to fight to the death. The Japanese soldiers believed that surrender meant disagree, and the Allies rarely captured them alive. When cornered, the Japanese sometimes changed at Allied troops in a right time suicide attacks. Rather than admit defeat, Japan’s military leaders took their lives by stabbing themselves in the abdomen according to the tradition of hara-kiri.
The Allies developed two major campaigns against Japan in the South Pacific. One force under MacArthur checked the Japanese of New Guinea/. Another force under Nimitz battled the Japanese in the Solomon Islands northeast of Australia. MacArthur and Nimitz aimed at taking the port of Rabaul on New Britain. Rabaul was Japan’s chief base in the South Pacific. The Japanese aircraft and warships attacked Allied ships from Rabaul, and Japan supplied other islands in the South Pacific from that base.
In the summer of 1942, Japanese troops began an overland drive across New Guinea’s rugged, jungle-covered mountains to the Australian base of Port Moresby on the south coast.
An Allied force made up chiefly of Australians quickly counterattacked. By November, the Japanese had been pushed back across the mountains.
MacArthur then attacked Japanese positions along the north coast in a series of brilliant operations that combined air, seas, and land forces. Brutal fighting continued New Guinea until mid-1944.
On August 7th, 1942, the US Marines invaded the island of Guadalcanal in the first stage of a campaign in the Solomon Islands. The Japanese were building an air base on Guadalcanal for which to attack the Allied ships. The invasion took the Japanese by surprise. But they fought back, and a fierce battle developed. The six-month battle for Guadalcanal was one of the most vicious campaigns of World War II. Each side depended on its navy to land supplies and troops reinforcements. In a series of naval battles, the Allies gained control of the waters surrounding Guadalcanal. They then cut off Japanese shipments. Until that time, the Allied supplies had been short, and the marines had depended on rice captured from the enemy. By February 1943, the starving Japanese had evacuated Guadalcanal.
After taking Guadalcanal, American forces led by Admiral; William F. Halsey worked their way up the Solomon Islands. In November 1943, the Americans reached Bougainville at the top of the island chain. They defeated the Japanese there in 1944.
In the summer of 1943, the Allied military leaders canceled the invasion of Rabaul. Instead, American bombers pounded the Japanese base, and aircraft and submarines sank shipments headed for Rabaul. About 100,000 Japanese defenders waited there for an attack that never came. The Allies spared many lives by isolating Rabaul rather than capturing it.