Island hopping in the Central Pacific
From late 1943 until the fall of 1944, the Allies hopped from island to island across the Central Pacific toward the Philippines. During the island-hopping campaign, the Allies became expert at amphibious (seaborne) invasions. Each island they captured provided a base from which to strike the next target. But rather than capture every island, the Allies by-passed Japanese strongholds and invaded islands that were weakly held. That strategy, known as leapfrogging, saved time and lives. Leapfrogging carried the Allies across the Gilbert, Marshall, Caroline and Marina islands in the Central Pacific.
Admiral Nimitz selected the Gilbert Islands as the first major objective in the island-hopping campaign. American marines invaded Tarawa in the Gilberts in November 1943. The attackers met heavy fore from Japanese troops in concrete bunkers. But they inched forward and captured the tiny island after four days of savage fighting. About 4,500 Japanese soldiers died defending the island. Only 17 remained alive. More than 3,000 marches were killed or wounded in the assault. The Allies improved their amphibious operations because of lessons they had learned at Tarava. As a result, fewer men died in later landings.
In February 1944, the US Marines and infantrymen leaped north to the Marshall Islands. They captured Kwajalein and Enewetak in relatively smooth operations. The Allied military leaders mean while had decided to bypass Turk, a key Japanese naval base in the Caroline Islands west of the Marshalls. They bombed Truk instead and made it unusable as a base.
The Americans made their next jump to the Mariana Islands, about 1,000 miles northwest of Enewetak. Bitter fighting for the Marianas began in June 1944.
In the Battle of the Philippine Sea on June 19th and 20th, Japan’s navy once again attempted to destroy the US Pacific Fleet. During the battle, which was fought near the island of Guam, the Allies massacred Japan’s navy and destroyed its airpowers Japan lost 3 aircraft carriers and about 480 airplanes, or more than three fourths of the planes it sent into battle.
The loss of so many trained pilots was also a serious blow to Japan. By August 1944, the American forces occupied Guam, Saipan, and Tinian the three largest islands in the Marianas. The occupation of the Marianas brought Nimitz forces within bombing distance of Japan. Tojo resigned as Japan’s prime minister in July 1944 after the loss of Saipan. In November, American B-29 bombers began using bases in the Marianas to raid Japan.
A final hop before the invasion of the Philippines took US forces to the Palau Islands in September 1944. The islands lie between the Marianas and the Philippines. The attackers met stiff resistance on Peleliu. About 25 percent of the Americans were killed or injured in a month-long fight.
The Liberation of the Philippines
The campaigns in New Guinea and the Central Pacific brought the Allies within striking distance of the Philippine Islands. MacArthur and Nimitz combined their forces to liberate the Philippines. The Allied leaders decided to invade the island of Leyte in the central Philippines in the fall of 1944.
The Allies expected the Japanese to fight hard to hold the Philippines. They therefore assembled the largest landing force ever used in the Pacific campaigns. About 750 ships participated in the invasion of Leyte, which began on October 20th, 1944.
It had taken MacArthur more than 2 1/2 years and many brutal battles to keep his pledge to return to the Philippines.
While the Allied troops poured ashore on Leyte Japan’s navy tried yet again to crush the Pacific Fleet, The Battle of Leyte Gulf, which was fought from October 23rd-26th, 1944, was the greatest naval battle in history in total tankage.
In all, 282 ships took part. The battle ended in a major victory for the United States. Japan’s navy was so badly damaged that it was no longer a serious threat for the rest of the war.
During the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Japanese unleashed a terrifying new weapon called the Kamikaze (suicide pilot).
The Kamikazes crashed their planes filled with explosives onto Allied warships and died as a result. Many kamikazes were shot down before they crashed. But others caused great damage. The kamikaze became one of Japans major weapons during the rest of the war.
The fight for Leyte continued until the end of 1944. On January 9th, 1945, the Allies landed on the island of Luzon and began to work their way toward Manila.
The city fell in early March. The remaining Japanese troops on Luzon pulled back to the mountains and went on fighting until the war ended. About 350,000 Japanese soldiers died during the campaign in the Philippines. American casualties numbered nearly 14,000 dead and about 48,000 wounded or missing.
Japan was clearly doomed to defeat after losing the Philippines. But it didn’t intend to surrender.
While fighting raged in the Pacific, the Allies also battled the Japanese on the Asian mainland. The chief theater of operations (area of military activity) involved China, Burma, and India. By mid-1942, Japan held much of eastern and southern China and held much of eastern and southern China and had conquered nearly all Burma. The Japanese had closed the Burma Road, the overland supply route from India to China. China lacked equipment and trained troops and barely managed to goon fighting. But the Western Allies wanted to keep China in the war because the Chinese tied down hundreds of thousands of Japanese troops. For three years, the Allies flew war supplies over the world’s tallest mountain system, the Himalaya, from India to China. The Route was known as the “the Hump”.
By 1942, five years after Japan had invaded China, the opposing armies were near exhaustion. Japanese troops staged attacks especially to capture China’s food supplies for themselves and to starve the country into surrender. As a result, millions of Chinese people died from lack of food during the war.
A struggle between China’s Nationalist government, headed by Chiang Kai-Shek, and Chinese Communists further weakened the country’s war effort. At first, the Nationalist forces and the Communists had joined in fighting the Japanese invaders. But their Cooperation gradually broke down as they prepared to fight each other after the war.
The United States sent military advisers as well as equipment to China. Colonel Claire L. Chennault, for example trained pilots established an air force in China, as the First American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force, also known as the Flying Tigers. By the end of 1943, his pilots controlled the skies over China. But they could not help exhausted Chinese troops on the ground.
Major General Joseph W. Stilwell served as Chiang’s Chief of Staff ad trained the Chinese army. Stilwell also commanded the US forces in China and Burma.
The Allied Campaign in Burma was closely linked to the fighting in China. From 1943 until early 1945, the Allies fought to recapture Burma from the Japanese and reopen a land route to China. But rugged jungle, heavy rains, and a shortage of troops and supplies hampered the Allies in Burma.
Admiral Louis Mountbatten of Great Britain became Supreme Allied Commander in southeast Asia in August 1943. He directed several successful offensives in Burma in late 1943 and in 1944. By the end of 1944, the Allied forces had battled their way through the jungles of northern Burma. They opened a supply route across northern Burma to China in January 1945. Rangoon, Burma’s capital, fell to the Allies in May. The Allies had finally regained Burma after a long, horrible campaign.
India became an important supply base and tracing center for the Allied forces in World War II. Japan’s conquest of Burma in 1942 placed India in great danger. In early 1944, the Japanese troops invaded India and encircled the towns of Imphal and Kohima just inside India’s border. The British supplied the towns by air. The attackers finally began to withdraw from India in late June. Thousands of Japanese soldiers died of disease and starvation during the retreat.
Closing on Japan
Superiority at sea and in the air enabled the Allies to close in on Japan in early 1945. By then, Japan had lost much of its warships. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers remained stranded on Pacific islands by-passed by the Allies. American B-29 bombers were pounding Japan’s industries, and American submarines were sinking vital supplies leaded for Japan.
In January 1945, Major General Curtis E. LeMay took command of the air war against Japan. LeMay ordered more frequent and more during raids. American bombers increased their accuracy by flying in low during nighttime raids. They began to drop incendiary (fire-producing) bombs that set Japanese cities aflame. A massacre incendiary raid in March 1945, destroyed the heart of Tokyo. By the end of the month, about 3 million people in Tokyo were homeless.
Japan’s military leaders went on fighting, though they faced certain defeat. The Allies decided they needed more bases to step up the bombing campaign against Japan. They choose the Japanese islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Battle of Iwo Jima
Iwo Jima lies about 750 miles south of Japan. About 21,000 Japanese troops were stationed there. They prepared to defend the tiny island from fortified caves and underground tunnels. The Allied aircraft began bombarding Iwo Jima seven months before the invasion. The American marines landed on February 19th, 1945 and made slow progress. The Japanese hung on desperately until March 16th. About 25,000 marines about 30 percent of the landing force were killed or wounded in the campaign for Iwo Jima.
During the Battle of Iwo Jima, there was the Raising the US Flag on Iwo Jima an iconic photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal on February 23, 1945, which depicts six United States Marines raising a U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi.
Three Marines in the photograph, Sergeant Michael Strank, Corporal Harlon Block (misidentified as Sergeant Hank Hansen until January 1947), and Private First Class Franklin Sousley were killed in action over the next few days.
The other three surviving flag-raisers in the photograph were Corporals (then Private First Class) Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, and Harold Schultz (misidentified as PhM2c.
John Bradley until June 2016). Both men originally misidentified as flag raisers had helped raise a smaller flag about 90 minutes earlier, and were both still on the mountaintop and witnessed – but were not part of – the specific moment of raising the larger flag that was captured in the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo. All men were under the command of Brigadier General Harry B. Liversedge.
Battle of Okinawa
Okinawa, the next stop on the Allied route toward Japan, lies about 350 miles southwest of Japan. The Allied troops began to pour ashore on Okinawa on April 1, 1945. Japan sent kamikazes to attack the landing force. By the time the battle ended on June 21st, the kamikazes had sunk at least 30 ships and damaged more than 350 others.
The capture of Okinawa cost the Allies about 50,000 casualties. About 110,000 Japanese died including many civilians who chose to commit suicide rather than be conquered. By the summer of 1945, some members of Japan’s government favored surrender. But others insisted that japan fight on. The Allies planned to invade Japan in November 1945. American military planners feared that the invasion might cost as many as 1 million US lives. Some Allied leaders believed that the Soviet help was needed to defeat Japan, and they had encouraged Stalin to invade Manchuria. However, the Allies found another way to end the war.
The Atomic Bomb
In 1939, the Berman-born scientist Albert Einstein informed President Roosevelt about the possibility of creating superbomb. It would produce an extremely powerful explosion by splitting the atom. Einstein and other scientists feared that Germany might develop such a bomb first. In 1942, the United States set up the Manhattan Project, a top-secret program to develop an atomic bomb. The first test explosion of an atomic bomb occurred in the New Mexico desert in July 1945.
Franklin D. Roosevelt died in April 1945 while in office, and Vice President Harry S. Truman became the 33rd President of the United States.
Truman met with Churchill and Stalin in Potsdam, Germany, in July 1945, shortly after Germany’s defeat. At the Potsdam Conference, Truman learned of the successful test explosion of the atomic bomb and informed the other leaders of it. The United States, Britain and China then issued a statement threatening to destroy Japan unless it surrendered. Despite the warning, Japan went on fighting.
Harry S. Truman (1884-1972)
was an American statesman who served as the 33rd President of the United States (1945–1953), taking office upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. A World War I veteran, he assumed the presidency during the waning months of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. He is known for implementing the Marshall Plan to rebuild the economy of Western Europe, for the establishment of the Truman Doctrine and NATO against Soviet and Chinese Communism, and for intervening in the Korean War. In domestic affairs, he was a moderate Democrat whose liberal proposals were a continuation of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, but the conservative-dominated Congress blocked most of them. He used the veto power 180 times, more than any president since and saw 12 overridden by Congress; only Grover Cleveland and Franklin D. Roosevelt used the veto so often and only Gerald Ford and Andrew Johnson saw so many veto overrides. He is the only world leader to have used nuclear weapons in war. He desegregated the U.S. Armed Forces, supported a newly independent Israel and was a founder of the United Nations.
Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri and spent most of his youth on his family’s 600-acre farm near Independence. In the last months of World War I, he served in combat in France as an artillery officer with his National Guard unit. After the war, he briefly owned a haberdashery in Kansas City, Missouri, and joined the Democratic Party and the political machine of Tom Pendergast. Truman was first elected to public office as a county official in 1922, and then as a U.S. Senator in 1934. He gained national prominence as chairman of the Truman Committee, formed in March 1941, which aimed to find and correct waste and inefficiency in Federal Government wartime contracts.
After serving as a United States Senator from Missouri (1935–1945) and briefly as Vice President (1945), he succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945 upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Germany surrendered just a few weeks after he assumed the presidency but the war with Imperial Japan raged on and was expected to last at least another year. Truman approved the use of atomic bombs to end the fighting and to spare the U.S. and Japanese lives that would inevitably be lost in the planned invasion of Japan and Japanese-held islands in the Pacific. This decision and the numerous resulting issues remain the subject of debate to this day. Critics argue that the nuclear bombings were unnecessary since conventional methods could have achieved surrender, while defenders assert that it ultimately saved more lives that would have been lost during an invasion.
Truman presided over an unexpected surge in economic prosperity as the U.S. sought readjustment after long years of depression and war. His presidency was a turning point in foreign affairs as the United States engaged in an internationalist foreign policy and renounced isolationism. Truman helped found the United Nations in 1945, issued the Truman Doctrine in 1947 to contain Communism and got the $13 billion Marshall Plan enacted to rebuild Western Europe. His political coalition was based on the white South, labor unions, farmers, ethnic groups and traditional Democrats across the North. Truman was able to rally these groups of supporters during the 1948 presidential election and win a surprise victory that secured a presidential term in his own right.
The Soviet Union, then led by Joseph Stalin, became an enemy in the Cold War. Truman oversaw the Berlin Airlift of 1948 and the creation of NATO in 1949, but was unable to stop Communists from taking over China in 1949. In 1950, he survived unharmed from an assassination attempt. When Communist North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, he sent U.S. troops and gained UN approval for the Korean War. After initial successes in Korea, the UN forces were thrown back by Chinese intervention and the conflict was stalemated throughout the final years of Truman’s presidency. On domestic issues, bills endorsed by Truman often faced opposition from a conservative Congress, but his administration was able to successfully guide the U.S. economy through the post-war economic challenges. Truman maintained that civil rights were a moral priority and in 1948 submitted the first comprehensive civil rights legislation and issued Executive Orders to start racial integration in the military and federal agencies. Allegations were raised of corruption in the Truman administration, linked to certain cabinet members and senior White House staff; this became a central campaign issue in the 1952 presidential election and helped account for Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower’s electoral victory. Starting in 1962, scholars ranked Truman’s presidency as “near great” and since then he has been ranked between 5th and 9th in historical rankings of U.S. Presidents.
On August 6th, 1945, an American B-29 bomber called the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb used in warfare on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The explosion killed from 70,000 to 1000,000 people, it is estimated, and destroyed about 5 square miles. After Japanese leaders failed to respond to the bombing, the US dropped a larger bomb on Nagasaki on August 9th. It killed about 40,000 people. Later thousands more died of injuries and radiation from the two bombings. Meanwhile, on August 8th, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria. The Soviet troops raced south forward Korea.
Victory in the Pacific
Although Japan’s emperors had traditionally stayed out of politics, Hirohito urged the government to surrender August 14th, Japan agreed to end the war. Some of the country’s military leaders committed suicide.
On September 2nd, 1945, representatives of Japan signed the official statement of surrender aboard the US battleship Missouri, which lay at anchor in Tokyo Bay. Representatives of all the Allied nations were present Truman declared September 2nd as V-J Day or Victory over Japan Day. World War II had ended.