The War of the Pacific is the name given to the fighting between the Japanese Empire and the Republic of China, and later in particular the United States and its allies in East Asia and the Pacific region. With the theater of war in Europe, it is part of the Second World War. The beginning of the Pacific War is considered to be the Second Japanese-Chinese War, which broke out on July 7, 1937. The Pacific War, as well as World War II, ended with Japan”s surrender on September 2, 1945. The war involved complex military operations on land, sea, and air.
Initially started as a conflict between Japan and China, the fighting expanded to the entire Pacific after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, marking the beginning of the struggle between the Axis powers and the Allies on and around the Pacific Ocean. Fighting on the side of the United States and China were Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and the Soviet Union, among others. On Japan”s side, some of the countries they occupied, such as Manchukuo, declared war on the Allies during the course of the war. Towards the end of the war, some Asian countries, having defeated the Japanese on their territory, entered the war on the side of the Allies.
Since one of the objectives of the war was to gain supremacy in the Pacific, the naval and air forces of the main opponents (the U.S. and Japan), in addition to the armies, were particularly important. New military approaches to naval and air warfare were discovered and developed, which had been unknown until then, such as carrier battles. In addition, it was the only war in which both nuclear (by the U.S. through Japan) and biological and chemical weapons (both mainly by Japan in China) were used.
Initially characterized by successful Japanese offensives in China, Oceania, and the Pacific, which were based on a policy of expansion, the balance of power and thus combat decisions changed in favor of the United States and its allies beginning around mid-1942. Japan was increasingly put on the defensive during the course of the war-among other things, due to massive losses in defeats such as the Battle of Midway-and suffered from an overextension of its military and economic resources for the duration of the war. The final phase of the war was marked by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the entry of the Soviet Union into the war on the Japanese Western Front. The end of the war marked the de facto end of the Empire of Japan and reordered geopolitical events throughout the Pacific and East Asia. In total, the Pacific War claimed approximately 36. million lives, a large proportion of them civilian casualties.
The official Japanese name for the overall conflict, which consisted of the ongoing war against the Republic of China and the confrontation with the United States that had just begun, was Daitōa sensō (Jap. 大東亜戦争), Greater East Asian War. The name was adopted by the Japanese parliament on December 10, 1941. Two days later, the name was announced to the Japanese people.
Another designation was Taiheiyō sensō (太平洋戦争), which literally means Pacific War. The Imperial Japanese Navy had already proposed this designation as the official name for the overall conflict at the Daihon”ei Liaison Conference in December 1941, but had been unable to get it accepted. The term “Greater East Asian War” was then banned by the Allied occupation authorities (SCAPGHQ) in December 1945 and the use of the term “Pacific War” was ordered. After the end of the occupation period, both terms were in use in Japan since the 1950s.
The third term Jūgonen sensō (十五年戦争), 15-year war, was not used as frequently. It assumes that the Second Japanese-Chinese War, which lasted until the end of World War II, began as early as 1931 with the Mukden Incident. This war is known in Japan as the Japanese-Chinese War (jap. 日中戦争, Nitchū Sensō) or HEI, Operation C, or Invasion of China. Today, the term Ajia Taiheiyō sensō (アジア太平洋戦争), Asiatic-Pacific War, is gaining acceptance in Japan in general, which, like 15 Years” War, refers to the period between 1931 and 1945 and emphasizes the interconnectedness of the conflicts, but does not, like Pacific War, virtually exclude China as a theater of war. Representative of this trend was the publication in 2005 of the 8-volume Ajia Taiheiyō sensō series by the publishing house Iwanami Shoten (岩波書店), which is a summary of the most recent research on the Asia-Pacific War.
The names for the war vary: In the People”s Republic of China and the Republic of China, War of Resistance against Japan (Chinese 抗日戰爭, pinyin kàngrì zhànzhēng) is the official name of the war. However, the term is also used in other Southeast Asian countries for their own resistance to Japanese occupation. The war is also referred to in China simply as the War of Resistance (抗戰, kàngzhàn). In addition, the neutral term Tàipíngyáng zhànzhēng (太平洋戰爭 太平洋战争 – “Pacific War”) also generally exists in Chinese.
USA and allies
The designation Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) was chosen by the United States for all military actions in the Pacific and surrounding states.
Because the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps had roughly equal roles in the conflict and the area of operations extended across the expanse of the Pacific and Southeast Asia to India, unlike the European theater of war, no overall commander-in-chief was designated, as Eisenhower was there.
The two U.S. commanders in the PTO as of 30 March 1942 were Commander in Chief Pacific Ocean Areas Admiral Chester W. Nimitz and Supreme Allied Commander Southwest Pacific Area Douglas MacArthur. Additionally subordinate to them were the Allied units of the British, Australians, New Zealanders, and Dutch.
A third combat area was the South-East Asian Theater (SEAT), which included the nations of India, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. Indian, British, and American troops operated here. The commander-in-chief from 7 December 1941 was General Sir Archibald Wavell, who also took over ABDACOM a month later with additional Dutch and Australian units. After the latter”s breakup in late February 1942, the SEAT came under British India Command for the time being, then was reconstituted in August 1943 on Winston Churchill”s orders. From October, the new commander-in-chief was Admiral Louis Mountbatten. The designation China Burma India Theater (CBI) referred to the Allied battle space from which British India and Burma attempted to fight the Japanese invasion of China.
The Pacific War differed in many respects from the war in Europe. While the battlefield in Europe was predominantly on the mainland from the beginning to the end of the war, the battlespace in Southeast Asia shifted from the mainland to the vast Pacific sea area. The naval battles between the Allies and Japan contributed significantly to the outcome of the war from 1942 onward.
In the Pacific region, fighting on land mostly took place in impassable rainforest areas, which is why heavy equipment such as tanks was usually not used. Therefore, the coordinated action of land, air and naval forces was of crucial importance. By implementing this strategy, the Japanese conquered a vast area in a short time. Later, the Americans copied and perfected this approach.
The crisis in East Asia that had prevailed since the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and the formation of the puppet state of Manchukuo between Japan and China led to the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War on July 7, 1937, at the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. By 1940, when there was a stalemate on the front lines, the Japanese army had conquered northern China and many of the coastal cities were under its influence. Despite many diplomatic attempts to prevent the war from expanding into Southeast Asia and to force the Japanese to withdraw from the occupied territories by means of economic embargoes, the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941.
After this sensitive blow to the United States, the Japanese continued to advance southward according to plan and, under the ideology of Asia to the Asians, occupied European and American colonies such as Hong Kong (→ Battle of Hong Kong), the Philippines, and the Dutch Indies.
Within four months, Japanese forces had all of Southeast Asia and much of the Pacific Ocean under their control, with about 450 million people. This was the largest expansion in Japan”s history.
By mid-1942, however, after the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway, in which the Japanese fleet was severely weakened by the loss of four large aircraft carriers, the situation changed fundamentally: American troops were able to prevent further Japanese advances and put the imperial troops permanently on the defensive. Thus, Australia”s isolation from America was thwarted and U.S. troops were able to advance steadily into Japanese-occupied territory.
From then on, the Japanese tried to inflict as many casualties as possible on the attacking Allies in order to force the U.S. in particular to negotiate a peace. The toughest battles raged from the end of 1942 to mid-1944 in the South Seas on the Solomon Islands, the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands and the Marianas. One successful tactical tool was island hopping, in which the Americans bypassed the heavily fortified Japanese bases and captured island after island in the direction of Japanese territory.
In late October to early November 1944, the naval battle of Leyte (Philippines) occurred, in which the Japanese lost almost their entire naval force. In military terms, total defeat of the imperial forces had thus become inevitable. Nevertheless, Japan refused to surrender.
After bloody fighting on the Japanese islands of Iwojima and Okinawa, American bombers dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and the second on Nagasaki on August 9. Moreover, on August 8, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. Six days after the attack on Nagasaki, the Japanese Tennō announced the surrender (Gyokuon-hōsō) over the radio, which was signed on September 2 in Tokyo Bay on the USS Missouri.
The main theater of war in the Pacific War was the Pacific Ocean theater of World War II The war zone was determined by the Pacific Ocean Areas and their subdivisions. Therefore, the Philippines, Dutch East Indies, Borneo, Australia, and most of the Territory of New Guinea were not part of it. These were subordinate to the Southwest Pacific Area.
Other theaters of war included China and the rest of mainland Asia, summarized in the China Burma India Theater of World War II.
At its greatest extent, the war zone covered a space with a radius of more than 5000 kilometers across the Pacific and Indian Oceans. In the north, it extended to the Soviet Union and the Aleutian Islands, and in the west to Burma and India. In the south, the war zone bordered the coast of Australia up to about 200 km, and in the east up to the military base Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
From 1937 to the end of 1941, the war was almost exclusively confined to mainland China, but in 1942 the main battlefield shifted to the Pacific Ocean. There, marshes and rainforest usually awaited the soldiers on the islands, hindering the use of tanks and heavy guns. Therefore, it was important to gain air superiority and establish air bases on strategically located islands.
At the beginning of the 20th century, most of East Asia and the Pacific was under the rule of European and American colonial powers, for example Indochina (France), Philippines (USA), Hawaii (USA), Indonesia (Netherlands), Northeast New Guinea (Germany) and Malaya (Great Britain). Korea and Taiwan were Japanese colonies.
Japan had been involved in several wars before the Pacific War. In 1894, it captured Port Arthur, among other places, in the First Sino-Japanese War. This was followed by the Russo-Japanese War from 1904 to 1905. Under Tennō Yoshihito, Japan fought alongside the Allies in World War I, in which Japan was able to take over German colonies of the Empire, such as German New Guinea and Kiautschou (Qingdao). At the preliminary end of this series of wars in 1919, Japan was the largest power in East Asia, along with China: the country controlled not only the present Japanese islands, but also Korea, Taiwan, Sakhalin, several island territories in the South Seas and numerous coastal cities of the mainland.
From 1912 to 1926, the Taishō-Tennō Yoshihito, a mentally ill man, ruled, shifting power from the Tennō and his confidants, the Genrō, to the parliament and the newly formed parties. In 1926, Hirohito”s enthronement marked the beginning of the Shōwa period. He ruled a country in which nationalist forces had been gaining increasing influence since the end of World War I.
After failing to contain the economic crisis from 1929 within the framework of the global economic situation, voices were increasingly raised in Japan that saw territorial expansion as the solution to the problems. Due to the restructuring of the economy that had taken place, with a strengthened heavy industry, influential financial groups (Zaibatsu) also emerged with the same goal.
Several coup attempts and massive persecution of socialists from the 1930s onward eventually led to the rise of an ultranational grouping of military leaders who gained increased control of the government, including the office of prime minister of Japan. Political opponents were persecuted, and mass media were censored. The aggressive campaign for a reorganization of the Pacific region was ostensibly aimed at ending the hegemony of the Asian countries and colonies by Western, European states and replacing it with a Japanese one (→ Panasianism).
The main interest of Japanese expansion was the territory of the then Republic of China.After the Mukden Incident on September 18, 1931, presumably generated by the Japanese themselves, the Manchurian crisis occurred and the Kwantung Army occupied Manchuria – allegedly without major consultation with the Japanese government. On March 1, 1932, the puppet state of Manchukuo was proclaimed there, with Puyi as its official president and later emperor. Due to international protests about its actions in China, Japan withdrew from the League of Nations in 1933, and in 1936 it concluded the Anti-Comintern Pact with the German Reich.
On July 7, 1937, the Marco Polo Bridge incident occurred, triggering the Second Sino-Japanese War, which marked the beginning of the Pacific War in the Asian region and is also considered the beginning of World War II in Japan.
Whether this incident, in which Japanese and Chinese soldiers engaged in firefights, was provoked by Japan is disputed. As a result, the Japanese opened an attack on Beijing, which the Chinese defenders were unable to counter. Beijing surrendered on July 29 and Tianjin a day later (see also: Battle of Beijing-Tianjin). The Japanese continued their advance into China from the north and south, and the Kuomintang National Government under Chiang Kai-shek declared war on them on August 7. The Japanese expected a quick victory, but the Second Battle for Shanghai, which raged from August 13, lasted an unexpectedly long time and claimed a great many casualties, with about 70,000 Japanese and about 200,000 Chinese soldiers. Japan was not able to win the battle until mid-November, when the Japanese 10th Army landed in Hangzhou Bay and threatened to encircle the Chinese troops defending Shanghai in fierce house-to-house fighting.
The Communist Chinese Army won a small tactical victory at the Battle of Pingxingguan on September 25, which went down in Communist Party history as “The Great Victory of Pingxingguan.” In the narrow valley of the pass to Pingxingguan, which some 10,000 Japanese were passing through without reconnoitering, a Communist unit under Marshal Lin Biao succeeded in using hand grenades and rifle fire to create a panic among the Japanese and send them fleeing. In the process, they captured about 100 trucks carrying arms and ammunition supplies. The Japanese side mourned about 1000 dead and captured and the Chinese about 500.
Prince Konoe Fumimaro announced Japan”s goal of reordering Asia on November 5. At the same time, the Japanese government made an offer to the Chinese government to settle the incident if China adhered in the future to the three principles formulated by Japanese Foreign Minister Hirota Kōki in 1934. The principles were:
The Kuomintang initially refused to enter into negotiations and did not change this stance until December 2. By that time, however, the Japanese had already conquered Shanghai and the Chinese troops were in retreat. Therefore, the Japanese government was no longer willing to settle the conflict under the previously mentioned conditions, but made much tougher demands: the demilitarization of northern China and Inner Mongolia, the payment of compensation, and the establishment of political structures to regulate the coexistence of Manchukuo, Japan, and China. These conditions were rejected by the Chinese government.
Around December 8, Japanese troops reached Nanking, the capital of the Kuomintang, and encircled it. The bombardment lasted day and night, and on December 12, the Chinese city commander ordered the troops to retreat, which ended in a panic at the Yangtze River. Many people drowned in the cold river. During the evacuation of American citizens from Nanking on the same day, the Japanese strafed the gunboat USS Panay (Panay Incident), which was fully loaded on the Yangtze River, with fighter planes. The boat was sunk. Three people died and 48 were injured. Although the Japanese government apologized for the incident, along with reports of atrocities by Japanese soldiers that were now coming to light, it caused the image of Japan in the U.S. to begin to change.
On December 13, Japanese troops occupied Nanking. In the ensuing three-week Nanking Massacre, more than 300,000 Chinese civilians were believed to have been murdered and some 20,000 women raped (see also Japanese Army War Crimes in World War II).
Chiang Kai-shek had the capital moved to distant Chongqing.
In January, after the final failure of negotiations, the Japanese government announced that the Chinese national government was to be wiped out. Japan decided to launch an offensive toward Wuhan. To make this offensive possible, the first step was to capture the main rail junctions in the north. In order to capture the city of Xuzhou, an important junction, the Japanese soldiers first attempted to capture the Chinese garrison city of Tai”erzhuang. However, the Chinese troops allowed the Japanese to walk into a trap and encircled the Japanese troops in the Battle of Tai”erzhuang on March 24. According to Chinese figures, about 30,000 Japanese soldiers fell. This was the first major defeat of the Japanese in the war.
In March, Japan passed the National Mobilization Law, which focused all economic and social aspects on more efficient warfare and went into effect in April. Hopes for a peaceful resolution of the conflict with China arose when Ugaki Kazushige, a former general and opponent of further escalation, became foreign minister in May of that year. Instead of achieving a calming of the situation, however, there were renewed disputes with the Soviet Union over Manchuria and, subsequently, the Japanese-Soviet border conflict.
In a second attempt, the Japanese captured the city of Tai”erzhuang on May 19, and the battle for Xuzhou also ended victoriously, but the political myth of Japan”s invincibility had been broken by the earlier incidents.
Chiang Kai-shek ordered the dams of the Yellow River to be broken open on June 9, thus flooding the country. He hoped to slow down the Japanese advance. However, because of the failure to warn his own civilian population, about 890,000 people died and about 3.9 million people were left homeless. Four thousand villages and eleven cities were swept away by the floods. However, the floods also halted the Japanese campaign against Wuhan for months. It was not until October 25 that the Japanese captured Wuhan with heavy losses (→ Battle of Wuhan). Shortly thereafter, they succeeded in capturing Canton without much resistance. Since the hoped-for Chinese surrender did not take place, Japanese strategists realized that the war would last considerably longer than planned.
The Chinese began using the tactic of magnetic warfare after the loss of Wuhan. The idea was to lure Japanese troops to certain positions that would serve as magnets, where they would be easier to attack or where at least their advance could be slowed. The best example of this is the battle for the city of Changsha, which was successfully defended in 1939, 1941 and 1942 and not captured until 1944.
The Battle of Nanchang, which was the first major battle between the Japanese and the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) since the loss of Wuhan, ended on May 9 with the loss of the main supply line for the Chinese. This, in principle, opened the way for the Japanese into the southeastern provinces.
In the Battle of Suixian-Zaoyang, which had been going on since April, two Japanese divisions managed to capture the two cities of Suixian and Zaoyang on May 7. The very next day, however, the Japanese withdrew again to continue southward. The Chinese pursued them and opened a major attack on May 15, forcing the Japanese to retreat after three days of intense fighting. By May 24, the two cities were once again in Chinese hands.
In two consultations between U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull and the Japanese ambassador in Washington in July and August of that year, in which Hull repeatedly denounced Japanese annexation of Manchuria and parts of China and expressed his fears that the islands off China would also be “Manchurianized,” the Japanese did not address these comments. However, they did announce that they would enter into a military pact with Germany and Italy in the near future.
Since Japan”s economic future depended primarily on raw material supplies from colonies of Great Britain and France, they took advantage of the outbreak of World War II in Europe and blackmailed Great Britain into blocking the Burma Strait to cut off Chinese troops from supplies.
In 1940, the Japanese multiparty state was at an end, and a central organization called Taisei Yokusankai took over all functions. The Japanese set out to conquer southern Henan on January 30, which the Chinese managed to prevent after a month of fierce fighting. However, the battle for southern Shanxi, which broke out on March 14, was won by the Japanese.
Thus, the fighting in China had reached a stalemate. Japan occupied the eastern part of China and suffered from Chinese guerrilla attacks. The rest of China was shared by the Kuomintang, led by Chiang Kai-shek, with Mao Zedong”s Communist Party. The Japanese set up the so-called Reorganized Government of the Republic of China under Wang Jingwei in Nanking on March 30 to represent Japanese interests. Given the brutality of the Japanese, the puppet regime was extremely unpopular among the population.
In July 1940, the Japanese increased the pressure on French Indochina, which they maintained into the summer.
In a press interview on August 1, Japanese Foreign Minister Matsuoka Yōsuke announced the establishment of the Greater East Asian Prosperity Sphere. This economic and defense community of Asian countries under Japanese domination was to be free of Western influence.
Meanwhile, the Communist Party in China had managed to recruit more than 400,000 soldiers in 115 regiments. On August 20, they opened the Hundred Regiment Offensive, which lasted until December 5. They attacked the railroad lines between Dezhou and Shijiazhuang in Hebei, between Shijiazhuang and Taiyuan in central Shanxi, and Taiyuan to Datong in northern Shanxi. To do this, they blew up tunnels and bridges and destroyed railroad tracks. They also did not shy away from direct attacks on Japanese garrisons. The coal mine in Jingxing, which was important for the Japanese, could be put out of operation by the communists for half a year. However, after the Japanese gave General Okamura Yasuji command in North China, he began to target and attack the Communist bases. Gradually, the Communists lost control of more than 420 districts they had previously controlled as a result. Toward the end of the fighting, Peng Dehuai, the Communists” military leader, and Mao Zedong fell out.
The U.S. Navy on Sept. 9 awarded contracts to contract shipyards for the construction of 210 warships, including 12 aircraft carriers and seven battleships.
On September 22, the Japanese extorted a military agreement from the French after a previous ultimatum. This included the use of three airports and the transit of their own troops through Indochina to China. In a note to the Japanese, the U.S. disapproved of this action and rejected it.
On September 27, 1940, Japan signed the Three-Power Pact with Germany and Italy, which expanded the existing Anti-Comintern Pact to include mutual military support. The Japanese emperor thus discarded the neutrality he had proclaimed on September 5, 1939, and underscored his aggressive foreign policy, especially toward China. The U.S. government then called on all civilians in the Far East to return to the United States on October 8 because of the indifferent situation in the area, and on October 23 imposed a total ban on exports of aviation fuel and scrap iron and steel to Japan. On October 23, three passenger liners left the U.S. to evacuate all Americans from China and Japan.
The German auxiliary cruiser Atlantis brought up the British cargo ship Automedon west of Sumatra on November 11 (Automedon incident). In addition to the current code tables of the British merchant fleet, the current Far East Situation and Strategy Assessment of the Planning Division of the British General Staff also fell into the hands of the Germans. In December, the Japanese obtained this important document through Berlin, which gave them a variety of insights, particularly into British troop strength in the Far East, and contributed significantly to future Japanese strategy. In particular, the documents indicated that the Royal Navy could not station enough ships in the Far East for the foreseeable future to implement the Singapore strategy and prevent Japan from advancing to the Indian Ocean.
On January 7, 1941, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto penned a memorandum to Japanese Navy Minister Koshirō Oikawa indicating that a wait-and-see strategy involving classic naval engagements was not winnable for the Japanese Navy in the planning games and maneuvers to date and that sea-based air forces therefore needed to be expanded. A concentrated attack on the U.S. fleet right at the start of the war would not only deal a severe blow to its morale as well as prevent attacks on Japan itself, but also give the Empire a window of opportunity of six to twelve months to conquer Southeast Asia with its important sources of raw materials.
As early as January 27, 1941, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew reported that one of his diplomatic colleagues had told an embassy official that many sources, including a Japanese one, were talking about a planned major attack on Pearl Harbor if it came to a disagreement with the United States.
In April, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a secret order allowing reserve officers to leave the military and go to China as volunteers. As a result, Captain Claire Lee Chennault established the American Volunteer Group (also called the “Flying Tigers”) in Kunming, an aviation squadron that was placed on active duty in the U.S. Air Force beginning in 1942.
Two years after the Japan-Soviet border conflict, the two parties signed the Japan-Soviet Neutrality Pact on April 13. On the one hand, the pact had the purpose of keeping the Soviet Union”s back in case of a German attack. On the other hand, Japan also did not want to get involved in a German-Soviet conflict – which Japan expected.
The Japanese made an offer of a Pacific peace settlement to the United States on May 12, asking the United States to invite Chiang Kai-shek to negotiate peace with Japan and to abandon support for his regime. This was to be followed by a withdrawal of Japanese troops from China. Only smaller occupation units were to remain. Furthermore, Japan sought normalization of trade relations with the United States. However, Japan”s representatives also spoke of a “peaceful” territorial expansion into the Southwest Pacific and called on the U.S. to support it in the extraction and production of raw materials such as oil, rubber, tin and nickel. Literally, it said, “The Japanese ambassador continued to speak of working with the U.S. to guarantee independence to the Philippines and establish it as a neutral state. In return, the U.S. demanded assurances from Japan that the three-power pact it had entered into was purely a defensive alliance, and rejected Japan”s more far-reaching proposals.
On July 2, more than one million men were drafted into military service in Japan, and the government received approval from the Vichy regime for the occupation of French Indochina (now Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia), which was carried out on July 29. Two days later, the U.S. and Britain imposed an export embargo on Japan and froze its financial resources.
Another peace offer for the Pacific on August 6, made in response to Roosevelt”s demands in the preceding embargo, was again rejected by the United States. The Japanese then proposed a meeting between their prime minister, Konoe Fumimaro, and Roosevelt, but this did not take place because the U.S. saw too great a gulf between the interests of the two states.
Japan did not comply with repeated U.S. demands to leave China, and a revised Japanese peace offer on September 6 did not advance either party. On September 3, the American ambassador telegraphed from Tokyo to Washington that, in his opinion, war in the Pacific was inevitable.
When a small Chinese guerrilla group met a Japanese division in the mountains southeast of Yueyang on September 6, the Battle of Changsha broke out for the second time. The capture of the city failed again. From the end of September, the Japanese units retreated to the Yueyang region.
Diplomatic efforts in November also failed to produce a decision and rapprochement (see Hull Note). On November 25, reconnaissance aircraft sighted and reported on large Japanese fleet movements from Formosa toward Southeast Asia. As a result, U.S. Admiral Stark transmitted a war warning to the U.S. Pacific and Asian fleets two days later.
Because of the embargo imposed by Britain and the United States, and because Japan was cut off from supplies of raw materials from its European allies, war with the United States and Britain appeared to be the only alternative to the loss of the empire in its previous form.
On December 1, the Gozen Kaigi informed the Tennō of the forcible expansion of the Japanese sphere of influence southward and the planned war of aggression against the United States. Meanwhile, Japanese Ambassador Admiral Nomura Kichisaburō continued to hold peace talks with U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull in Washington, D.C.
With the situation worsening, the British put their troops on the Malay Peninsula on high alert that same day. The fleet under Admiral Tom Spencer Vaughan Phillips was ordered to search the waters east of Singapore for enemy ships.
American planes sighted twelve Japanese submarines off the coast of Indochina on December 2, running a course south, possibly toward Singapore. That same day, Yamamoto signaled the start of all operations with the words, “Mount Niitaka” and the announcement of the day of the attack.
Admiral Phillips flew to Manila on December 4 and met with Admiral Thomas C. Hart and General Douglas MacArthur to finalize an agreement for a cooperative arrangement in the Far East. In the South China Sea at the time, three Japanese divisions were on their way to invade Thailand and Malaysia.
All Japanese consulates in the U.S. were ordered to destroy all their coding records and secret documents. This was done over Radio Tokyo, which ran the words “Higashi no kaze ame” (German: “East wind, rain”) in a weather forecast. This was one of the possible phrases to announce war with the United States. This announcement was also received in the Dutch colonies by the Kamer 14 listening station on Java, whose significance was known to the top leadership. Therefore, they immediately relayed the message to their embassy in Washington to arrange for notification of the American government.
Japanese troop movements in Indochina also did not go unnoticed. Although the U.S. was certain that these were “purely precautionary measures,” Roosevelt subsequently sent Emperor Hirohito a diplomatic note on December 6 in which he spoke of the “tragic repercussions” of recent events. Roosevelt again expressed his hope that peace would be maintained in the Pacific and that the peoples of the Pacific would not be permanently threatened by war. He appealed to the Emperor for help in preventing death and destruction in the world.
As early as November 27, the Kidō Butai, the Japanese Navy”s intervention fleet, had left its Japanese bases and set course for Hawaii to eliminate the American Pacific Fleet assembled there. The Japanese military leadership received the information that almost the entire American naval force was assembled there from its spy network, which had been established in the United States since early 1941.
On December 6, Australian reconnaissance planes sighted the Japanese convoy heading south from Indochina. Admiral Phillips then left the round of talks in Manila. British and American ships were ordered to sail to protect the East Asian islands, and British reconnaissance planes took off from their bases to make constant patrol flights.
The actual Pacific War began on December 7 with the laying of mines off the coast of the Malay Peninsula by Japanese submarines. One and a half hours before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan began its invasion of the Malay Peninsula at Kota Bharu. Since it was already December 8 in Southeast Asia due to the International Date Line, the attack on Pearl Harbor is nevertheless usually also considered the temporal beginning of the war.
Shortly before midnight, the Japanese began their landings on the Malay Peninsula and the coast of Thailand (→ Japanese Invasion of Thailand). To this end, they had departed from Cam Ranh Bay and Saigon in Indochina with a large convoy of transports accompanied by quite a few warships. In the Gulf of Thailand, smaller convoys split off to approach the beaches of Prachuap Khiri Khan (→ Battle for Prachuap Khiri Khan), Chumphon, Bandon, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Pattani, and Songkhla in Thailand and Kota Bharu in Malaysia. On the Isthmus of Kra in southern Thailand, the landings succeeded without significant opposition. Only in Kota Bharu did Indian, British and Australian units defend the landing beach, but after a few hours they had to acknowledge Japanese superiority and withdraw with losses.
The objective of the bombing of the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941, was to eliminate the U.S. Navy for a limited period of time so that Japan could seize what its leaders believed were needed resource areas in Southeast Asia. Until that day, an attack on the Hawaii base had been considered unlikely because of its great distance from Japan. The inadequately prepared U.S. forces suffered a severe defeat, which was the impetus for the U.S. to actively enter World War II after its previous passive support of the Allies.
Although U.S. intelligence had been aware of Japan”s preparations to conquer Southeast Asia three weeks before the attack, the fact that Japan would also attack the United States at the same time had escaped them.
At 6:10 a.m., Vice Admiral Nagumo issued the attack order to the flying squadrons of his carrier group, which had gone unnoticed. The first attack wave reached the coast of Oʻahu at about 7:45 am. The first casualties occurred an hour earlier: two Japanese crewmen died in their small submarine when it was discovered in the Pearl Harbor entrance and sunk by the destroyer Ward.
After the last Japanese aircraft departed at about 1:00 p.m. local time, numerous ships in port, including all battleships, were sunk or badly damaged.
However, there is conflicting information about the outcome of the attack on Pearl Harbor. This is because insignificant ships were often not counted or there were inconsistencies in counting damaged or destroyed ships. The dead and wounded were sometimes recorded separately by civilian, naval, and army affiliation; in some accounts, civilian casualties were not recorded at all. However, it can be assumed that on the American side about 2400 people died and about 160 aircraft were destroyed. On the Japanese side, about 30 planes were shot down and 65 soldiers died.
Even though the attack on Pearl Harbor hit the U.S. Navy hard, the Japanese were unable to destroy one of their most important targets – the American aircraft carriers – because the two carriers otherwise stationed at Pearl Harbor were at sea transporting fighter planes to Wake and Midway (a not uncommon task for aircraft carriers at the time). Moreover, Vice Admiral Nagumo Chūichi”s decision not to fly a third wave of attacks left almost all fuel tanks and shipyards undamaged, the destruction of which would have delayed an American counteroffensive for a long time. Nevertheless, the losses suffered effectively disabled the American fleet for several months, allowing Japan to concentrate its forces on the conquest of Southeast Asia.
The elimination of the battle fleet further had the effect of rendering obsolete from one day to the next the conception of a decisive battle of heavy artillery carriers, which had hitherto dominated in the U.S. Navy.
The aircraft carriers and submarines remaining in the Pacific Fleet became the decisive naval means of defense and offense. This was most evident in the appointment of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who had a background in submarine warfare, as the new Commander-in-Chief, Pacific.
Due to the stationing of the ships in Pearl Harbor, the loss of life for the U.S. Navy – in relation to a battle on the high seas – was relatively low. In the long run, this was to have a significant impact on the training of officers and crews in the further course of the war.
One day after the attack, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the American declaration of war on Japan, sealing the U.S. entry into World War II. The start of the war, surprising and deeply humiliating for the U.S., brought about a unification and strengthening of the will to resist in the U.S. Congress and among the population – a psychological factor that the Japanese military leadership had underestimated.
At the same time, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Honduras, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua declared war on the Japanese.
The Japanese now had a decisive advantage: they possessed air and naval supremacy against the decimated and shell-shocked Americans. Britain was increasingly forced to concentrate its forces against Germany and Italy as the war in Europe progressed. This allowed the Japanese army to continue its strategy of lightning-fast surprise attacks.
Less than three hours after the war began, Japanese bombers launched from Saipan bombed Apra Harbor on Guam and sank the American minesweeper USS Penguin. Shortly thereafter, a bombardment of Wake Island airfield began by 34 bombers of the 24th Japanese Air Fleet stationed at Kwajalein Atoll. Due to hazy weather conditions, the island”s defenders did not see the planes approaching and were taken completely by surprise by the attack, which cost the lives of 52 defenders. Seven of the Grumman F4F Wildcats delivered only a week earlier by the USS Enterprise were also destroyed on the ground.
On the way back from Pearl Harbor, some ships separated from the main Japanese Kidō Butai fleet and on December 8 additionally attacked Wake Island, which fell to the Japanese on December 23 despite dogged defense by the American marines stationed there (→ Battle of Wake).
The British Crown Colony of Hong Kong was also attacked by the Japanese shortly after 8:00 on the morning of December 8. Quickly gaining air superiority, the Japanese were able to advance rapidly. By December 10, the Gin Drinkers Line, an extended British defensive line, had already fallen, and Kowloon had to be evacuated the next day under heavy artillery fire and bombardment.
When a confrontation in Asia could no longer be avoided, the British Navy moved several ships, including the new battleship HMS Prince of Wales, the now 25-year-old (and only limitedly modernized) battlecruiser HMS Repulse, and the destroyers HMS Electra, HMS Express, HMS Tenedos, and HMS Vampire to Southeast Asia to protect its colonies. After arriving in Singapore Harbor on October 27, 1941, these ships formed Battle Group Force Z under the command of Admiral Sir Tom Phillips. Admiral Phillips” flagship was HMS Prince of Wales.
On the afternoon of December 8, 1941, Force Z set out for the Gulf of Siam to intercept Japanese troop convoys or convoys destined for the invasion of Malaysia to prevent further advance by Japanese forces. The Force Z commander, Admiral Phillips, knew that the British Royal Air Force air forces on the ground were unable to provide air cover for his unit. Nevertheless, he decided to proceed against Japanese troop convoys even without air support, assuming – erroneously – that his ships would be relatively safe against air attack, especially since the largest unit sunk by land-based aircraft up to that time had been only a heavy cruiser, not a battleship or battlecruiser. Moreover, he assumed, again erroneously, that it would not be possible for the Japanese to fly effective air attacks so far from the mainland in the open sea without an aircraft carrier.
By the morning of 10 December 1941, HMS Repulse, along with the Prince of Wales, was already on its way back to Singapore after the unit failed to find and engage the Japanese troop convoys. At 11:00 a.m. local time, Japanese aircraft were sighted from HMS Prince of Wales, their numbers indicating an imminent heavy attack. As a result, both ships were attacked with bombs and aerial torpedoes in a total of seven waves by a total of 86 land-based Japanese bombers or torpedo bombers of the Japanese Navy”s 21st and 22nd Air Flotillas (21st and 22nd Naval Air Squadrons), launched near Saigon, Indochina, of the Mitsubishi G3M Chukou (Nell) and Mitsubishi G4M Hamaki (Betty) types, respectively, in the waters of Malaysia near Kuantan, near Tioman (Pahang Province). After heavy hits, HMS Repulse sank first, followed 45 minutes later by HMS Prince of Wales (which was quickly rendered maneuverable or unable to fight due to an early torpedo hit in the wave pants by water penetration), killing a total of 840 crewmen, including the commanding admiral, Sir Tom Phillips.
British naval forces were severely weakened as a result, and further support could not be sent because all available forces at sea as well as in the air were tied up in Africa and Europe.
The islands of Guam, Makin and Tarawa fell into Japanese hands on December 10 – the same day they began the invasion of the Philippines on the main island of Luzon. The Allied units of Americans and Filipinos stationed there under the command of General Douglas MacArthur were vastly outnumbered by the advancing Japanese. On the first day of the invasion, Japanese planes succeeded in knocking out most of the American planes on the ground, thus gaining air superiority. This allowed them to land ground forces almost unopposed at Legaspi (12 December) and in the Gulf of Lingayen (22 December). MacArthur then decided on an orderly withdrawal of all units to the Bataan Peninsula.
Japanese troops landed on Borneo at Miri, Lutong and Seria on December 16 (→ Japanese invasion of Borneo) and on Mindanao in the southern Philippines on December 19. The bombing of the Burmese capital Rangoon by Japanese aircraft cost the lives of 2000 people on December 23. On the same day, two Japanese battalions landed in Kuching, West Borneo.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the Allied British, Indians, Canadians, and native troops concentrated on the defense of Hong Kong Island, where they were under constant fire from the Japanese. However, after their landing on December 18 and the cutting off of the water supply on December 20, the defenses could no longer be maintained. Thus, the last Allied units surrendered on December 25. The day has since been known as “Black Christmas” in Hong Kong.
In the interior of China, four Japanese divisions regrouped at Yueyang beginning on December 24. The renewed attempt to capture the Chinese city of Changsha failed in the Third Battle of Changsha on January 15, 1942, after the Chinese defenders managed to encircle three divisions of the Japanese, who subsequently escaped.
The most important Japanese conquest took place on January 23, when the small Australian garrison at Rabaul on the northeastern tip of New Britain was overwhelmed and the port city captured (→ Battle of Rabaul). To do so, they mustered a number of ships similar to the attack fleet for Pearl Harbor. The Japanese sailed to Rabaul with four aircraft carriers, two battleships, nine cruisers, 16 destroyers, several minelayers and gunboats, a seaplane tender, several fleet tankers and troop carriers, and seven submarines.
This gave the Japanese a very good starting point for a further advance towards the East Pacific and the South Seas, which was expanded into a veritable fortress in the following years. The mountains in the hinterland of the city, which are made of pumice, served as a shelter. There, the Japanese had prisoners of war dig tunnels with a total length of more than 500 kilometers, which served as supply depots, intermediate troop camps and military hospitals (15 of them alone). In addition, there were five runways, a station for seaplanes, a submarine base and a military port. Rabaul was at times manned by up to 200,000 soldiers.
To protect colonial territories and their own sphere of influence in Southeast Asia, the Allies established ABDACOM on January 8, a joint American, British, Dutch, and Australian command in Singapore under which land, air, and naval forces were to be coordinated. Despite some minor successes, such as in the naval battle off Balikpapan on January 24, ABDACOM units could not hold off the Japanese. Thus, Tarakan (→ Battle of Tarakan), Balikpapan (→ Battle of Balikpapan), Thailand and British Malaysia fell to the Japanese before the end of January. The British suffered a particularly bitter setback during the siege of Singapore, when a combined British-Indian-Australian army of around 80,000 soldiers was defeated on February 15 and fell into Japanese captivity.
During the Battle of Makassar Strait on 4 February, ABDACOM naval forces suffered a setback when they were attacked and routed by Japanese bombers in pursuit of an invasion convoy.
Other Japanese invasion targets in February were Sumatra, which belonged to the Dutch Indies (→ Japanese Invasion of Sumatra), and in particular its oil fields, as the ongoing war was slowly depleting fuel reserves. For the same reason, the Japanese ground forces also tried to capture Borneo completely as quickly as possible (→ Japanese Invasion of Borneo and Japanese Invasion of West Borneo). Thus, after Samarinda and Balikpapan, Banjarmasin also fell into the hands of the Japanese on February 10 (→ Battle of Banjarmasin). The battle for the coveted oil fields near Samarinda continued into March (→ Battle of Samarinda).
To prevent the occupation of Bali by the Japanese, ABDACOM naval units engaged in a battle with the Japanese in the Badung Strait from February 18 to 19, which they lost (→ Naval Battle in the Strait of Badung). On the night of February 19-20, the Japanese began their invasion of neutral Portuguese Timor. The Portuguese colony had been occupied by Dutch and Australian troops in 1941 to serve as a buffer between the Japanese and Australia. After protests from the Portuguese governor, only the Dutch left the colony; the Australians remained and, together with local volunteers, engaged the Japanese in a guerrilla warfare until 1943, which became known as the Battle of Timor.
On February 19, 71 Japanese dive bombers, 81 torpedo planes along with 36 fighters attacked Darwin Harbor in northern Australia. They had launched from four aircraft carriers which, along with two battleships, three cruisers, and nine destroyers, had sailed from Palau four days earlier and were now in the Banda Sea. The air attack on Darwin sank a U.S. destroyer and seven freighters and caused considerable damage to an American aircraft tender, six freighters, and port facilities.
The Allies decided on 25 February to disband ABDACOM because of their own powerlessness against the Japanese. Two days later, the ABDA fleet attempted to prevent the landing of a Japanese invasion force in South Java. In the ensuing battle in the Java Sea and the days that followed (→ Battle of the Sunda Strait), the entire ABDA fleet was routed by the Japanese units. Further landing units could be dropped by the Japanese on Java on March 1 (→ Japanese invasion of Java). After only a few days, the Allies on the island were on the verge of defeat, and the Dutch in charge under Lieutenant General Hein ter Poorten surrendered on March 8. The signing of the formal surrender declaration followed two days later.
The United States began moving troops to American Samoa on 6 January and transferred three battleships and seven destroyers from the Atlantic to the Pacific Fleet on 12 January. Additional units of Marines were embarked for Pago Pago on 20 January, accompanied by two aircraft carriers.
To at least slow the further advance of the Japanese, the Americans launched an attack on the Marshall and Gilbert Islands. The task force of two aircraft carriers, five cruisers, and eleven destroyers launched on January 21 and reached its objective on January 27. The fleet was divided and began an artillery bombardment from the ships, as well as aircraft attacks from the carriers on Japanese bases. Japanese counterattacks caused minor damage to an American carrier and a cruiser. As a result of the attacks, the Japanese withdrew their aircraft carriers to home waters.
To reinforce the troop contingent in the Pacific area, the United States withdrew additional soldiers from the Atlantic area beginning January 21 and moved them through the Panama Canal by troop transport convoys.
On February 23, shelling of an oil refinery near Ellwood, California, by the Japanese submarine I-17 sparked invasion fears on the West Coast. However, the bombardment caused only minor damage to a pier and a pumping station. Ascending American aircraft were unable to locate the submarine. As a result, the guard on the American west coast was significantly strengthened.
On January 29, at the urgent request of the Australian government, the ANZAC defense zone was adopted in Washington. The zone covered the Pacific between Australia, New Zealand, and French Caledonia; exclusive of troops stationed in New Zealand proper. The ANZAC forces were under the command of Vice Admiral Herbert F. Leary of the United States Navy.
In March, the Japanese succeeded in completely capturing Java and the Dutch East Indies, and the first invasion forces landed on the beaches of New Guinea. The South Sea Islands of the Solomon Islands also moved into the Japanese interest as a forward base against the Americans, and the first units landed there on February 13.
Japanese troops, who had invaded Burma from neighboring Thailand in January, captured Rangoon on March 8 after evacuating the city the previous day.
The Americal Division was moved from Melbourne to Nouméa in mid-March. As part of this operation, two aircraft carriers and several other warships accompanied the convoy. Meanwhile, the Japanese landings on New Guinea began at Lae and Finschhafen in the east of the island (→ Operation SR). To counterattack, 104 aircraft took off from U.S. aircraft carriers on March 10 as the fleet passed through the Coral Sea south of the landing zones. The planes flew over the Owen Stanley Mountains and attacked the Japanese ships. They succeeded in sinking four transport ships and damaging seven others, some badly. However, this attack did not prevent the landings.
On North Sumatra, Japanese units landed at Sabang and Iri on March 12 to capture the productive oil fields there.
The Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, as a base for the planned jump to India, fell on March 23 (→ Operation D), and a Japanese attack with five aircraft carriers on the British base on Ceylon resulted in a loss of two heavy cruisers for the British.
With the launch of large-scale Operation C on March 30, in which six aircraft carriers, accompanied by four battleships and quite a few cruisers and destroyers, entered the Indian Ocean, the Japanese sought to eliminate the British fleet and the rest of the Allied naval units still operating in the Indian Ocean.
On the same day, Japanese special landing units of the 4th Fleet landed in the Shortland Islands (→ Japanese invasion of the Shortland Islands). This was to protect the southern flank against Allied attacks and to provide a base for supplying their own troops in Tulagi in the southern Solomon Islands, which they were to occupy. For this purpose, they established bases for seaplanes on the islands and stationed 5000 soldiers there.
Japanese N-Force landing units landed at Fakfak in the northwest of the Bomberai Peninsula on April 1. This marked the beginning of their invasion of Dutch New Guinea. By April 22 of that year, Babo, Sorong, Manokwari, Moemi, Nabire, Seroei, Sarmi, and Hollandia had been taken.
The Japanese were off Ceylon on April 5 with their Operation C units. Using aircraft carrier planes, they began an intensive air attack on Colombo Harbor, but were only able to sink a British destroyer and an auxiliary cruiser. On the return flight, the planes spotted two heavy cruisers in the open sea, which they promptly attacked and sank. 424 Britons were killed in the process.
On April 9, Allied troops surrendered on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines. After capture by the Japanese, the Bataan Death March took place, in which prisoners had to walk from the south of the peninsula to a railroad station about 100 km away. About 16,000 soldiers were killed in the process.
On the same day, Operation C units of the Japanese attacked Trincomalee Harbor and discovered parts of the British East Asia Fleet in the open sea. The Japanese succeeded in sinking a light aircraft carrier, a destroyer, a corvette and two tankers.
Since the Allies and U.S. forces had suffered further defeats since the start of the war and had been unable to halt the Japanese advance, high-ranking military officials were already discussing in January the possibility of using specially modified bombers to reach the main Japanese islands and bomb targets in the Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya and Kōbe area in order to turn the tide at a relatively early stage of the war. To this end, volunteer bomber crews were trained in the spring on the converted planes to take off on a short run with the full auxiliary tanks and cargo installed. On April 2, an escorted aircraft carrier left San Francisco harbor bound for Japan. At a distance of about 1200 km from the target, the 25 bombers took off on 18 April to carry out the so-called Doolittle Raid. After the bombings, which, however, hardly caused any significant damage, but gave the Americans a propaganda victory, most of the planes landed in the Republic of China.Due to the propagandistically inflated success, the slogan: “Doolitt” do it” became synonymous with the demand for harsh retaliation against Japan.
In Burma, the Japanese were able to capture the city of Lasio on April 30, thus blocking the Allied route to China. On May 1, they entered Mandalay.
The Solomon Islands capital, Tulagi, on the island of the same name, fell into Japanese hands on May 3 in Operation SN, a sub-operation of Operation MO. The Japanese ships in port were bombed the very next day by 99 American aircraft from an aircraft carrier. In the process, they managed to sink one Japanese destroyer and three minesweepers and damage four other ships.
Corregidor, the last Allied bastion on Luzon in the Philippines, fell on May 6. The Japanese took 11,574 prisoners of war. The following day, the Allied command in the southern Philippine Islands also surrendered. The remaining troops were ordered to wage guerrilla warfare against the Japanese.
On May 7, the Battle of the Coral Sea ensued and lasted until the next day. Two American task force units successfully prevented the Japanese from capturing Port Moresby. In the first major naval battle between Japanese and American carrier units, both sides lost one aircraft carrier each and several other ships.
An attempt by Imperial Japanese Navy units to advance to Nauru and Ocean Island in Operation RY resulted in the sinking of the minelayer Okinoshima by the American submarine S-42 off New Britain on May 11. The operation was aborted shortly thereafter when a Japanese reconnaissance plane sighted two American aircraft carriers heading for the islands.
To secure the sea area around the Aleutian Islands, an American North Pacific Fleet was assembled on May 21, with headquarters at Kodiak, because Japanese submarines were repeatedly sighted there, their boarding planes making reconnaissance flights.
By intercepting Japanese radio traffic, the U.S. succeeded in identifying the next target of a major Japanese attack – the Midway Islands. A major factor in the run-up to the ensuing Battle of Midway was the decryption of the Japanese JN-25 naval codebook and the combined radio reconnaissance efforts of American, British, Australian, and Dutch forces. In defense, two Marine Corps companies and an artillery battery were moved there on 25 May. Further reinforcements arrived on May 26 with armored vehicles and aircraft.
The Kidō Butai, designated for the Midway attack, departed Hashirajima Bay on May 27 and set course for its target. The day before, a smaller unit had already started moving from Ominato toward the Aleutian Islands. Landing units for this northern archipelago and Midway followed on May 28.
Also on May 28, two American aircraft carriers with five heavy cruisers and several destroyers left the base at Pearl Harbor. Another carrier and escort units followed two days later. Ships were transferred from the Central Pacific to reinforce the North Pacific Fleet.
As a diversion from the Midway attack, Japanese small submarines entered Sydney Bay on May 31 to torpedo several ships. A U.S. cruiser was narrowly missed, a residential ship was sunk, and a Dutch submarine at anchor was damaged. The Japanese were able to escape.
On June 3, 1942, the Japanese fleet conducted a minor operation against Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands as a diversion for Midway. However, the action was seen through by the Americans ahead of time, rendering it ineffective.
The Battle for Midway began on June 4 with a Japanese air attack on the islands. Because of heavy damage they had sustained in the Coral Sea, two Japanese aircraft carriers could not be used; nevertheless, four large aircraft carriers were available for the attack on the Midway Islands. Although the American fleet could muster only three carriers, it possessed a tactical advantage because it had deciphered the Japanese radio code. On June 4, 6, and 7, the decisive engagements took place in which one American and all four deployed Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk. Japanese losses amounted to 3500 men, and the U.S. Navy suffered 307 casualties. Due to the heavy losses, the Japanese Navy had to withdraw for the time being.
At the same time, the Japanese began the invasion of the Aleutian Islands on Attu and Kiska. The ensuing Battle of the Aleutian Islands was not over until August 15, 1943.
To reinforce the Pacific Fleet, the Americans moved an aircraft carrier, an escort carrier, a battleship, a heavy cruiser, and nine destroyers from the Atlantic area to the Pacific on June 10. Five days after that, a new organization of Pacific task forces went into effect.
On July 1, six American troopships with Marines aboard, accompanied by an aircraft carrier, a battleship, four cruisers, and ten destroyers, departed San Diego for Operation Watchtower in the direction of Fiji. Also for this operation, two aircraft carriers, six cruisers and 14 destroyers departed Pearl Harbor on July 7 for the same area.
Port Moresby on New Guinea remained a coveted Japanese target, so that from July 21 onward, the Japanese landing units succeeded in establishing a bridgehead at Buna and Gona (→ Operation RI). Allied air raids frequently hindered troop transports. Subsequently, the Japanese attempted to advance over the Owen Stanley Mountains toward Port Moresby (→ Kokoda Track Campaign). They did not succeed in capturing the city, which was defended by Australian units, despite heavy fighting in the jungle that lasted until mid-November.
With the landing on the Solomon Islands of Guadalcanal on August 7, the Americans began Operation Watchtower, one of the most costly and bitterly fought battles during the Pacific War. It lasted into the next year and marked another turning point in favor of the Americans.
The target of the landings was Lunga Point airfield, the westernmost base of the Japanese for land-based air operations. It was captured as early as the afternoon of August 8, but was fiercely contested over the next few months as the Japanese tried mightily to regain control of it.
The fighting took place not only on the island itself, but also in the waters between the main island of Guadalcanal and the islands of Savo Island and Florida Island with the offshore Tulagi. The area became known as Ironbottom Sound (Iron Bottom Strait) because many Allied and Japanese ships sank there in naval battles. This began at the battle off Savo Island on August 8, when Japanese ships managed to break through American cover and enter the area between the islands.
After the landing on Guadalcanal was conveyed to the Japanese leadership, it moved units of the Imperial Japanese Navy from Japan to Truk beginning on 11 August. Five days later, the first convoys ran to Guadalcanal to deliver troops and supplies. However, a detachment that landed was almost completely routed by the Americans shortly thereafter, leaving only a small number of them to continue fighting with soldiers from subsequent convoys.
The first fighters launched from a U.S. escort carrier for what was now called “Henderson Field” arrived on August 20.
Even American supply convoys did not always reach their destination. On August 22, for example, an American troop carrier was sunk.
On August 23, the Japanese opened Operation Ka to land 1500 troops in support of fighting units on Guadalcanal. The next day, this resulted in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, in which a Japanese aircraft carrier was sunk and an American one damaged. The Americans succeeded in preventing a landing of Japanese supplies. Just a few days later, however, the Japanese were able to use fast destroyers to drop troops on Guadalcanal. They lost one destroyer in the process.
The tactic of using fast destroyer convoys to bring supplies to Guadalcanal was expanded into a steady procedure by the Japanese on 28 August, when the first Tokyo Express, so named by the Americans, was launched. Destroyers sailed south from Bougainville in the northern Solomons through the slot, then landed troops on the northwest coast of Guadalcanal. These destroyer convoys led to many one-on-one engagements over the next few months.
The Japanese continued to doggedly pursue their objective of capturing Port Moresby on New Guinea. To this end, more Japanese troops landed at Buna on 12 and 13 August and attempted to cross the Owen-Stanley Mountains via the Kokoda Track. For cover, Milne Bay was bombarded from the air.
With a bombardment by a fleet of destroyers on Nauru, the Japanese resumed Operation RY, which had failed in May, and landed on Nauru on 26 August and on Ocean Island the following day.
The Japanese advance over the Owen Stanley Mountains on New Guinea was brought to a halt by two Australian brigades within sight of Port Moresby on September 17 (→ Battle of Ioribaiwa).
A Japanese convoy departing from Rabaul, consisting of two seaplane carriers and an escort of destroyers covered by a cruiser flotilla, was captured by American air reconnaissance on 11 October. Shortly thereafter, American ships north of Guadalcanal stopped the convoy. The naval battle at Cape Esperance broke out, preventing the Japanese landing. Two days later, a U.S. transport convoy coming from Noumea was able to land some 3,000 troops and supplies at Lunga Point. The following night, Japanese cruisers and destroyers shelled Henderson Field airfield and managed to destroy 48 of the 90 fighter planes stationed there. Only one aircraft suffered no damage in the bombardment. The next day, the Tokyo Express landed 4500 Japanese troops at Tassafaronga.
On October 25, the Japanese fleet, which had been at sea since October 11, moved toward Guadalcanal to launch a major attack. It consisted of four aircraft carriers, two battleships, and several cruisers and destroyers. Opposite her, the Americans had two aircraft carriers, one battleship, several cruisers and destroyers at their disposal for defense.
The approaching Japanese units were spotted later in the day by reconnaissance aircraft. However, neither side was able to locate the respective enemy carriers. It was not until the next day that the battle occurred at the Santa Cruz Islands, in which the Americans lost one carrier and two Japanese carriers were badly damaged.
Until mid-November, Japanese fast destroyers repeatedly ran to Guadalcanal to bring supplies of soldiers, guns and ammunition, as well as other equipment. This involved repeated clashes with American units operating from Tulagi. Fighter planes stationed at Henderson Field also repeatedly attacked these convoys. Nevertheless, the Japanese also made successful landings. The U.S. also brought more soldiers to the island, as on November 11, when some 8,000 men attempted to land at Lunga Point. In turn, the Japanese launched a major attack against the Americans, so that the landing operation had to be aborted.
In the naval Battle of Guadalcanal, which lasted until November 15, the Japanese shelled Henderson Field intensively, but were forced to withdraw after suffering very heavy losses of their own. This American victory marked the turning point in the Battle of Guadalcanal.
Following the capture of Kokoda on November 2, Japanese forces beat a hasty retreat to Buna on the northeast coast of New Guinea after the Battle of Oivi-Gorari on November 19. This marks the end of the Kokoda Track campaign.
On November 30, the Japanese once again attempted to bring supplies to the troops on Guadalcanal at night with a fast destroyer flotilla. Thanks to American long-range reconnaissance, however, the venture was uncovered early. In the Battle of Tassafaronga, the Japanese sank one American heavy cruiser and severely damaged three others. They lost only one destroyer themselves. The Japanese supplies, however, fell into the hands of the Americans. This was the last major naval battle for Guadalcanal, but the land battle continued until early February 1943, with the Tokyo Express continuing to try to bring supplies to the island. However, the ships usually dropped the containers into the sea a few kilometers from the island, hoping to quickly escape American torpedo boats and submarines. As a result, Japanese landing units were often only able to recover a few of the supply containers. By the end of the year, the Japanese leadership decided to abandon Guadalcanal and evacuate the remaining soldiers.
In mid-December, the Australians and also the Japanese upgraded their forces on New Guinea. From December 10 to 16, the Australians dropped eight armored vehicles in Oro Bay. Shortly thereafter, 1460 soldiers arrived at the bay. The Japanese landed 800 soldiers at Cape Ward Hunt, north of Buna, about the same time.
To compensate for losing Henderson Field, the Japanese began establishing an air base at Munda Point on New Georgia in the New Georgia archipelago in December.
The first Allied victory with land combat troops is achieved by the Australians and Americans over the Japanese units that had retreated to the coast at Buna, Gona and Sanananda after the failed advance on Port Moresby in Papua Territory on New Guinea. The fighting ended on January 22 with the escape of the Japanese from the battle area (→ Battle of Buna-Gona-Sanananda). Subsequently, from January 29 to February 4, the Battle of Wau took place, where Australian units managed to repel Japanese units advancing from Sanananda with the help of newly flown-in troops via an airlift from Port Moresby.
Australian Air Force and U.S. Navy aircraft won the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, which lasted from March 2 to 4. This prevented the transfer of some 7,000 Japanese troops to New Guinea.
Two days later, American destroyers shelled the Japanese airfield at Munda Point, but were unable to achieve any particular success with them. To attack another airfield on Kolombangara, the Vila airfield, a U.S. task force of three cruisers and three destroyers entered the Gulf of Kula. There they encountered two Japanese destroyers, which they sank after a brief engagement.
On occupied Nauru, the Japanese attempted to continue exports of the phosphate deposits there for their own benefit, but were prevented from doing so by bombardments by U.S. aircraft. A particularly fierce attack was flown on March 25. In its aftermath, the Japanese deported 1200 Nauru residents to labor camps in Truk.
On March 26, the naval battle of the Komandorski Islands occurred when a Japanese convoy en route to Attu in the Aleutian Islands was attacked by an American fleet of one heavy and one light cruiser and four destroyers. However, the Japanese escort group, which outnumbered the Americans and consisted of two heavies, two light cruisers, and four destroyers, withdrew after about three and a half hours of combat.
Early April saw a massive Japanese buildup at Rabaul and Buka bases. Four aircraft carriers brought over 160 fighter planes to the bases. They were used to prepare for a large-scale air offensive against Guadalcanal and Tulagi, Operation I-GO. In this effort, torpedo and dive bombers attacked the islands on April 7, sinking an American destroyer and tanker and a New Zealand corvette. Other Japanese air attacks were directed against Ore Bay near Buna on April 11 and Milne Bay in New Guinea on April 14, where two American transport ships were sunk. There, the Allies began the Salamaua-Lae campaign on April 22.
In mid-April, U.S. communications reconnaissance succeeded in decoding a radio message that Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy, was planning to visit the base on Bougainville. To intercept his aircraft, 16 Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters took off from the new second runway at Henderson Airfield on Guadalcanal on April 18 and headed north. Losing one of their own, they succeeded in shooting down three of the nine Japanese escort planes and the two transport planes. One of these contained Yamamoto, who was killed. Admiral Koga Mineichi was appointed to succeed him as Japanese commander-in-chief.
Due to the deciphered Japanese codes, the successes of the American submarines increased significantly in the middle of the year. They succeeded more and more often in penetrating Japanese waters and damaging or even sinking mainly incoming and outgoing transport and cargo ships. Japanese warships were less frequently attacked directly. The main focus was on the convoy route from Japan to Palau and from there to Rabaul.
Due to the bottlenecks caused by the supply shortages, the Japanese military leadership was also forced, for example, to station large parts of the fleet near Indonesian oil wells. The threat to cargo ships from U.S. submarines also meant that some Japanese submarines had to take over the transport of food, medicine and ammunition.
In June, the Japanese made several attempts to interdict American transport operations from the air. On June 5, this resulted in a major air battle between 81 Japanese fighter planes and 101 American planes over the Russel Islands in the Solomons. The Japanese lost 24 aircraft, whereas the Americans suffered a loss of only 7.
In the North Pacific, during the bombardment of Kiska Island in the Aleutian Islands on July 22, the mysterious phantom Battle of the Pips occurred, in which an American battleship and cruiser flotilla fired on nonexistent Japanese ships, visible only as blips on radar screens. A few days later, the Japanese actually managed an undetected evacuation of their 5183 soldiers from Kiska in just 55 minutes.
During the evacuation of Japanese troops from Kolombangara in Operation SE in late September to early October, about 1000 Japanese soldiers died under fire from American destroyers. However, the Japanese also managed to get 9400 men off the island alive. Subsequently, the Japanese also attempted to evacuate Vella Lavella, but were initially prevented from doing so by the Americans in the Battle of Vella Lavella. While the Americans were conducting rescue and recovery operations after the battle, Japanese submarine hunters managed to get past them with a transport group and evacuate 589 soldiers from Vella Lavella.
During a Japanese attempt to conduct air attacks on Bougainville, American carrier aircraft intercepted the attackers and shot down 33 of 110 aircraft without a single loss of their own. The total Japanese loss after their unsuccessful attacks was so high that the carriers” air units were barely operational.
The Battle of the Gilbert Islands, under the code name Operation Galvanic, got underway on November 19 with the scheduled bombardment of the landing areas. With aircraft from eleven carriers, artillery from five battleships, six cruisers, and 21 destroyers, the beaches of Makin and Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, and Mili in the Marshall Islands and Nauru were shelled. The next day, American landings began on Makin and Tarawa atolls. Makin fell on the 23rd and Tarawa as late as the 28th of November after fierce, losing battles in which 4300 Japanese and 1000 Americans were killed.
At Cape St. George, southeast of Rabaul, a clash between five U.S. and five Japanese destroyers occurred on November 25. The Americans sank three enemy ships in the Battle of Cape St. George, of which 178 sailors were rescued by a Japanese submarine.
The American landings on December 13 near Arawe on New Britain, dropping 1600 soldiers, went under the camouflage designation Operation Director. In preparation for the landings, the U.S. Air Force flew an air strike and dropped 433 tons of bombs over the landing zone.
On Christmas Eve of that year, the Americans opened Operation Dexterity, the Cape Gloucester landings, with a mock attack on Buka and Buin on Bougainville. The actual landing operations began on Boxing Day with the dropping of 13,000 U.S. Marine Corps men in several waves. In a major attack by 60 Japanese fighter planes, the Americans lost one destroyer from their covering group; another was badly damaged.
As part of Operation Hailstone on February 16 and 17, which was also intended as a cover operation for the capture of Eniwetok Atoll, Truk Island in the Caroline Islands was bombed heavily by U.S. Navy aircraft. In the process, the important Japanese base and large parts of the island were almost completely destroyed. Japanese defenses were almost nonexistent. More than 70 anchored Japanese warships were sunk. However, the large battleships and cruisers anchored in the harbor shortly before had already left Truk and could not be tracked down. The bombardment of Truk is often referred to as the Japanese Pearl Harbor.
On April 17, Japanese troops advanced in southern China toward the new U.S. air bases.
In preparation for the landings at Hollandia (→ Operation Reckless) on New Guinea, the Americans launched air strikes from aircraft carriers against the islands of Wakde and Sarmi west of Hollandia on April 21. Destroyers also attacked the same targets. Advances continued on subsequent days in support of landings at Humboldt Bay and Tanahmerah Bay near Hollandia, which began on 22 April. Additional landings took place at Aitape (→ Operation Persecution). Japanese resistance was very light, so that it was possible to occupy all airfields at Hollandia and Aitape by 28 April. The carrier groups then ran toward Truk, which was bombed intensively on April 29 and 30.
Increased U.S. production of submarines meant that they now had so many boats available in the Pacific that they switched from single tactics to group tactics. The gross tons sunk increased sharply. Still, freighters and transports from convoys were the main targets. Occasionally, the sinking of a destroyer or a smaller military unit was successful. The area of operation of the American submarines covered the entire Pacific area up to close to the Japanese coast.
The British Asiatic Fleet, along with other Allied units, opened Operation Transom, a carrier attack on Surabaja, Java, on May 6 that had been coordinated with the United States. It served as a diversion from the American attacks on Wakde. On May 17, simultaneously with the American action, nearly 100 fighter planes flew several waves of attacks against the city”s harbor and oil refineries. The Japanese lost twelve aircraft, a patrol boat, and a freighter.
Meanwhile, the Japanese were preparing to defend the Mariana Islands. For Operation A-GO, three fleets departed Japan for the Marianas on May 11 and 12. These included four large battleships, nine aircraft carriers, and quite a few cruisers and destroyers.
U.S. units in a force of 7,000 landed at Arara on May 17 and on Wakde on the north coast of New Guinea the next day to capture the airfield there (→ Operation Straightline). Of the 759 Japanese defenders, only one soldier was taken prisoner; the Americans lost 110 men. This was followed by the landing on Biak on May 25 (→ Battle of Biak). Fierce and prolonged fighting ensued until June, with 10,000 Japanese fighting the U.S. landing forces. Requested reinforcements were intercepted by the Americans while still at sea and forced to turn back. On June 6, for example, Allied planes bombed a convoy on its way to Biak. They succeeded in sinking one destroyer and damaging three others.
The objective of the U.S. attack on the Marianas was to capture two important airfields on the island of Saipan from which to launch air strikes on the Japanese mainland. Establishment of additional air bases in the Marianas enabled control of the Central Pacific for this purpose, since land-based U.S. aircraft could monitor this sector. Likewise, it was possible to attack convoys coming from Indonesia to supply Japan and the occupied Philippines with raw materials vital to the war effort, especially oil, from there, even without aircraft carriers and submarines.
Shortly before the start of the American Operation Forager to land in the Mariana Islands, a false report led to the attack of all available Japanese submarines against the invasion fleet expected in the east. However, since the latter was operating west of the Marianas, only individual American ships, including a battleship and two aircraft carriers, could be attacked unsuccessfully. Of the 18 Japanese submarines launched, U.S. Navy sub-hunters sank six.
At about the same time on June 11, American carrier aircraft launched from the western fleet to fly attacks against the Marianas, which continued in subsequent days. The main targets were the islands of Saipan, Tinian and Guam.
On June 15, U.S. Marines landed on the main island of the Marianas, Saipan, which was 20 km long and 9 km wide (→ Battle of Saipan). The fierce fighting lasted three weeks and claimed some 43,000 lives on the Japanese side. The Americans lost 3,500 soldiers. The main Japanese islands were within range of B-29 bombers from early July 1944.
On June 18, the first large-scale American bomber raids reached Honshū, but from bases in China.
The Japanese fleet of Operation A-GO captured American ships near the Marianas with reconnaissance aircraft on June 18 and launched four waves of attacks early the next morning using carrier aircraft. The battle broke out in the Philippine Sea. Since the Americans were able to intercept the planes early on, few of the Japanese planes broke through to the American ships (→ Marianas turkey shoot). They were able to inflict only minor damage. In turn, the Americans sank three Japanese aircraft carriers.
During Operation Tabletennis, 7100 men were brought ashore on Noemfoor Island, east of New Guinea, on July 2. Prior to this, cruisers and destroyers shelled the island.
For a second time, American carrier aircraft attacked the Ogasawara Islands of Iwojima and Chichi-jima on July 4 as a diversion to the Marianas actions. Guam, in particular, which had been repeatedly shelled heavily by American naval artillery since early June, was under a carpet of bombs from American fighter-bombers on July 5 and then again under intense naval bombardment until July 19. On July 21, American troops finally landed on Guam with nearly 55,000 men (→ Battle of Guam). They were opposed by some 19,000 Japanese defending the island. The fighting cost the lives of 10,693 Japanese. Only about 100 could be captured. For the rest of the Japanese, the almost impenetrable jungle offered protection; they continued their guerrilla attacks on the Americans until the end of the war. As late as 1972, the old Japanese fighter Yokoi Shōichi was discovered on the island, and it had to be explained to him that the war was long over.
In the Indian Ocean, Allied Operation Crimson began on July 22. The British East Asia Fleet, consisting of two aircraft carriers, four battleships, eight cruisers and several destroyers, left for Sumatra and launched an air and sea attack on the Japanese base at Sabang on July 25. One cruiser, along with three destroyers, was even able to enter the harbor and fire several torpedoes at Japanese ships.
Under heavy artillery fire from Saipan, the Americans began landing on the neighboring island of Tinian on July 24. The 15,600 men did not meet as fierce resistance as on Guam, yet about 390 Americans fell. The Japanese lost 6050 soldiers; 252 were captured. With the Marianas now completely conquered, the northern flank was now in place for an attack on the Philippines; in addition, the Americans now threatened the sea route between Japan and its sources of raw materials in Indonesia.
The units met no resistance during Operation Globetrotter, the July 30 capture of Amsterdam and Middelburg Islands, east of Cape Sansapor on New Guinea.
On August 8, Japanese forces destroyed the American air base at Hengyang. By October 11, they had succeeded in capturing the other bases and establishing a land link between Japanese-held southern China and Japanese forces in more southern Indochina.
Fast Carrier Task Force 38 began preparations for Operations Tradewind and Stalemate II on Aug. 28. The 15 aircraft carriers, six battleships, nine cruisers, and 60 destroyers departed Eniwetok for the Palau Islands and Morotai. Carrier aircraft repeatedly attacked Iwojima and Chichi-jima during the cruise on Aug. 30 and Sept. 2. Naval artillery from two cruisers and four destroyers also shelled Japanese installations on the islands. Wake was bombarded by one carrier, four cruisers, and three destroyers on 3 September. The first attacks against Palau began on 6 September and continued for three days. Yap Island was the target of further attacks. Three sub-combat groups began air strikes against Japanese-occupied airfields on Mindanao in the southern Philippines on 10 September. Meeting no significant defenses there, air attacks could be extended to the Visayas in the central Philippines beginning Sept. 12. Within three days, the Americans were able to destroy more than 200 Japanese fighters.
On September 15, the Americans began landing operations on the Palau islands of Peleliu and Angaur. The Japanese on Peleliu had dug in on a ridge and were putting up considerable resistance with about 5300 troops. Only with further personnel support did the Americans succeed in securing the island until mid-October, but individual Japanese groups managed to hold on until almost the end of the year. The Japanese also defended themselves doggedly on Angaur Island. The island finally fell into American hands on October 23.
Also on September 15, the Americans landed on Morotai with nearly 20,000 troops and met virtually no resistance. Troops were reinforced by another 18,200 by early October, including more than 12,000 Seabees alone and ground personnel for the airfields to be operated. During a hunt for a Japanese submarine, American ships accidentally sank their own submarine USS Seawolf on October 3, killing 79 crewmen.
Encouraged by these air attack successes in the southern Philippines, aircraft from 15 aircraft carriers attacked airfields on Luzon on September 21 and 22. The attacks were particularly directed at the area around Manila. Two days later, sorties were flown again in the Visayas. The Japanese lost more than 1000 aircraft, a destroyer, a corvette, a minelayer, and a seaplane mother ship. Many other smaller units were sunk by the Americans, totaling about 150 ships. The Americans lost 54 fighter planes in the process (18 of which were killed in various accidents). The actual American plan to land on Mindanao on October 20 was overturned due to the successes. The new target was now Leyte.
In early October, the U.S. used attack drones for the first time, firing them from aircraft at Japanese positions on Bougainville and Rabaul.
In preparation for the Philippine invasion, units of Fast Carrier Task Force 38 departed Ulithi on 6 October. Two days later, their ships shelled Marcus Island and on the same day joined the rest of the units landing west of Palau. Together they launched major carrier air attacks against the Sakishima Islands in the East China Sea and Okinawa on 10 October. The air battle broke out over Formosa, during which they also attacked the airport at Aparri on Luzon on 11 October and airfields and installations on Formosa on 12, 13, and 14 October. They received support from bases in China, which sent B-29 bombers. The Japanese flew defensive waves from Kyūshū, Okinawa, and Formosa against the attackers, also using many kamikaze aircraft. In the process, they managed to damage some U.S. ships, some very badly. Retreating on October 15, the Americans once again bombed airfields north of Manila, engaging in very heavy fighting with defending Japanese aircraft. After all the fighting was completed, the Japanese falsely reported the sinking of eleven American aircraft carriers, two battleships, and one cruiser. This had a fatal effect on the subsequent defense strategy for the Philippines.
The British also participated again with a diversionary action (→ Operation Millet). The Asiatic Fleet attacked the Nicobar Islands on October 17 and 18, while the Battle of Leyte began in the central Philippines. The Americans prepared for the landings with air strikes on Mindanao from Biak and Sansapor, and from aircraft carriers against Leyte and Cebu. A submarine group sealed off the area between Mindanao and Samar. When an American minesweeper sank in a typhoon in Leyte Gulf, it was discovered by the Japanese, who immediately set in motion Operation Shō-Gō 1 to defend the Philippines and ordered all available ships there. On October 19, the first American units landed on the island with little resistance, and from there they began their conquest of the Philippines in the Battle of Leyte. For the time being, the Japanese retreated to prepared defensive positions. From October 22 to 25, the Japanese Navy attempted to prevent further landings. The naval and air battle in Leyte Gulf inflicted the heaviest and most war-decisive losses on the Imperial Japanese Navy; it lost three battleships and four aircraft carriers.
During support runs by Task Force 38 for soldiers landed on Leyte, kamikaze attacks on American ships occurred repeatedly over the next few days, with aircraft carriers especially targeted by the Japanese. Some aircraft struck the decks of carriers and destroyers. Two carriers were severely damaged. The Americans also flew more sorties against airfields near Manila, succeeding in destroying 71 Japanese planes in aerial combat on 29 October. Thirteen others were disabled while still on the ground.
One of the most curious weapons used during the war was first launched by the Japanese on November 3 – a FUGU balloon. Balloon bombs of this type were developed by the Japanese since the humiliation of the Doolittle Raid conducted in April 1942. The paper balloons, devised by Kusaba Sueyoshi and equipped with a control device, drifted with the jet stream to North America within three days during the winter months. About 1000 balloons reached their destination, but caused virtually no damage.
Fighting south of the Philippines continued throughout November with various mutual successes. The Japanese also succeeded at times in landing new troops and supplies on Leyte. In turn, American naval units were supported by elements of Task Force 34. On November 5 and 6, fighters from eleven American carriers flew concentrated air attacks on Luzon, again focusing particularly on the area around Manila. In Manila Bay, the planes sank a cruiser and a guard boat. The main target, however, was again the Japanese planes, 400 of which were destroyed in 25 of their own kills. Meanwhile, at sea, a kamikaze plane struck and severely damaged a U.S. carrier.
To stop the Japanese supply convoys, American carrier aircraft and bombers launched from Chinese airfields flew sorties against them. On November 11 alone, 347 carrier aircraft sorties were counted. The U.S. achieved another success on November 14 with the sinking of one cruiser, four destroyers, and ten steamers in Manila Bay.
The Japanese first launched four one-man kaiten torpedoes on November 20 to attack American ships off Ulithi. One tanker was destroyed, and all other Kaiten were shot down by the Americans beforehand. Nevertheless, the Japanese reported significant success with their new wonder weapon.
Meanwhile, the British reorganized their East Asia Fleet. The older ships were consolidated into the British East Indies Fleet, while the more modern units formed the new British Pacific Fleet. Supreme command in Ceylon was turned over to Admiral Bruce Fraser. He instructed Rear Admiral Philip Vian to launch Operation Outflank in November, which would bomb oil refineries in and around Palembang in West Sumatra in several carrier raids. The undertakings continued until January 1945, when the largest British carrier fleet inflicted considerable damage on oil industry facilities in two waves, leaving them unable to supply aviation fuel to the Japanese for about two months.
On November 24, the U.S. began a series of heavy air strikes on Tokyo. The B-29 Superfortress bombers had taken off from the newly established base on Saipan. Further attacks followed on November 26, 29, 30, and December 3. This was the real beginning of strategic air attacks on Japan.
Fighting for Leyte continued. The Japanese launched an airborne operation on November 27 to bring new troops to Leyte. The operation, however, was a failure. Kamikaze attacks on the four American battleships, four cruisers, and 16 destroyers lying in Leyte Gulf also failed to produce the hoped-for results. Air landings were repeated with greater success on 5 and 6 December, and the airfield at Burauen was under heavy Japanese fire for two days. A Japanese and an American destroyer sank in naval engagements in the Gulf of Ormoc. The following day, U.S. troops landed at Ormoc and met little resistance. In a kamikaze attack by 21 aircraft shortly thereafter, the Japanese succeeded in sinking two destroyers and a landing craft.
From Ulithi, three task groups of Task Force 38 departed Dec. 11 in preparation for and support of the Mindoro landings. Already during the approach to the southern Philippines, air strikes were again flown by the carriers in the area around Manila. The landing units of Task Group 78.3 succeeded in dropping troops on 15 December, although their flagship had been badly hit by kamikaze attacks two days earlier, killing much of the command staff. The Japanese dive attacks continued until the end of December.
An air raid on a Japanese troopship carrying 1600 POWs killed many prisoners in Subic Bay (Luzon) on December 16. Even of those rescued, only about 500 later reached their destination in Japan, as they were subjected to further air raids on Formosa Island.
In a severe typhoon on December 18, three destroyers of Task Force 38 sank off the southern Philippines (→ Typhoon Cobra). Four aircraft carriers, four escort carriers, one cruiser, six destroyers, one tanker and one tug were damaged, in some cases significantly. Following this incident, the operation had to be aborted and the ships returned to Ulithi.
A Japanese force consisting of two cruisers and six destroyers began Operation REI from Cam Ranh Bay, Indochina, on December 24. Their objective was Mindoro, which they reached on December 26. There they began shelling the American beachhead. After the U.S. Army Air Force flew air strikes on the unit and a Japanese destroyer was sunk by a PT boat, the unit turned back and escaped total destruction.
In the territory of New Guinea, the Australian 6th Division had already replaced the American units stationed there in November. Supported by naval and air forces, it fought the remnants of the 18th Army of the Japanese Empire, whose soldiers were suffering from hunger and disease due to previous defeats. The Aitape-Wewak campaign lasted until the end of the war.
On January 3, the British captured Akyab and thus began the occupation of Burma. The full length of the Burma Road had been passable since about the turn of the year, allowing the Allies to transport troops and supplies all the way to China.
American Task Force 38, which had already departed Ulithi toward the end of 1944, began intensive air attacks on Japanese ships around the northern Philippines on January 3 and 4 in preparation for and to distract the landings on Luzon. The airfields on Luzon were again targets, with 100 aircraft destroyed. Over the next few days, the Americans destroyed another 80 Japanese aircraft to establish air superiority over Luzon. Other sorties were directed at Formosa, the Ryūkyū and Pescadores Islands on January 9. A destroyer, a corvette, a submarine hunter and several tankers and freighters were sunk.
That same day, the Battle of Luzon began with the landing in the Gulf of Lingayen on Luzon. 170,000 Americans went ashore against little resistance, as the Japanese defensive plan called for a retreat into the Sierra Madre mountains. However, kamikaze planes attempted to attack the ships in the Gulf. One escort carrier and several transport ships, a destroyer, and two minelayers were sunk. Three battleships and four cruisers continued to be hit with varying degrees of severity and mostly had to be taken away. Two days later, the Japanese sent demolition boats to attack the ships, damaging several of them. Fighting continued through the end of the month. The Americans brought more and more supplies of troops and weapons to Luzon, which the Japanese tried to prevent with vehement air attacks, almost always using kamikaze planes. U.S. escort carriers flew well over 6,000 sorties until the landed soldiers were no longer dependent on air support as of January 17.
In attacks on American bases on Ulithi, Hollandia, Palau, Guam, and Manus in Operation Congo, the Japanese attempted to sink several ships with kaiten submarines beginning on January 11. One sunken landing craft may be attributable to these attacks.
Task Force 38, operating west of the Philippines, increasingly attacked ships off the coasts of Formosa, China, Hong Kong and Hainan in mid-January. They succeeded in sinking several ships.
In the Indian Ocean, the British landed additional troop contingents in Burma. In Operation Matador, the British brought two brigades ashore on Ramree on 16 January and additional infantry detachments ashore at Kangaw on 21 January. Cheduba Island was the target of Operation Sankey, in which 500 British landed on 26 January, followed by an Indian brigade the next day. Finally, on January 30, soldiers were dropped on Sagu in Operation Crocodile. Simultaneous with these landings, the British Pacific Fleet was moved from Trincomalee to the Pacific. In Operation Meridian, its fighters and bombers flew attacks against oil refineries north of Palembang on 24 and 29 January. The fleet arrived at Fremantle on February 4.
A Japanese commando company that had landed at Peleliu (Palau Islands) attempted to gain access to an American airport there on January 18 to destroy aircraft and munitions. The enterprise failed.
Task Force 38 aircraft repeatedly attacked targets in the Pescadores, Sakishima Gunto, Okinawa and Ryūkyū Islands. In the process, 13 Japanese ships were sunk and three destroyers and two landing ships were damaged. Japanese counterattacks with kamikaze planes and bombers severely damaged two aircraft carriers and a destroyer on January 21.
Meanwhile, on Luzon, more American troop reinforcements arrived. Two divisions landed in the Gulf of Lingayen on January 27. Additional landings took place at Zambales and San Antonio on 29 January, where 30,000 Americans disembarked. On 30 January, another battalion in Subic Bay was able to take Grumble Island, and other units took Grande Island. The 11th U.S. Airborne Division was put ashore southwest of Manila Bay at Nasugbu on 31 January. Japanese submarines attempted to disrupt the landings but achieved only minor marginal success.
From late January to mid-February, American bomber squadrons attacked Iwojima daily in preparation for landing operations there. The total bomb load dropped during this period was about 6800 tons.
From February 4, the liberation struggle for Manila began in its outskirts. In the fighting, the Japanese, under orders from Tokyo, perpetrated the Manila Massacre during the last three weeks of February, killing some 111,000 civilians.
Task Force 58 launched its first major carrier attack against Tokyo and in support of the Iwojima landings on 10 February. About 125 nautical miles south of the city, fighters took off from the carriers on 16 February to knock out Japanese defenses. The bombers then took off to attack aircraft factories in the Tokyo area in particular, but were hardly successful because of bad weather. A day later, the attacks were continued and extended to targets near Yokohama. After the retreat to the south had taken place, the task force split up. Some battleships and cruisers went to Iwojima for artillery support, while the other units waited at sea and then were further divided for new tasks. Carrier aircraft flew further attacks against Tokyo on 25 February, but these were also severely hampered by bad weather. Artillery attacks were then directed against Okinawa and Iwojima.
At the southern tip of Bataan near Mariveles, the landing of 5300 American soldiers succeeded. A day later, paratroopers parachuted over Corregidor and an American battalion landed on the island. The fighting lasted until February 26. After that, the island was declared secured. With Corregidor, the Americans had recaptured an important symbol of the former defeat in the Philippines.
In preparation for the landings on Iwojima, six battleships, five cruisers, and 16 destroyers began artillery bombardment of the beaches and Japanese positions on the island beginning February 16. The actions were covered by ten escort carriers and their destroyer escorts. Aircraft from these carriers were used repeatedly against Japanese coastal batteries and the three airfields. The Japanese were able to score some hits on the large ships.
The landings on Iwojima, code-named Operation Detachment, took place on February 19. Artillery fire from the ships was moved further inland as 30,000 troops went ashore. During the Battle of Iwojima, the island was fiercely defended by the Japanese to the last man. They retreated into the prepared, well-constructed cave hideouts where weapons ranging from the heaviest naval guns to small arms had been stored. The Americans had to gradually capture each position in painstaking hand-to-hand combat with hand grenades and flamethrowers. On February 21, a surprise kamikaze attack was made on the ships offshore, sinking one escort carrier and damaging three others. The fighting on the island, which cost about 20,800 casualties on the Japanese side and about 7,000 casualties on the American side, lasted until March 26. Only then could the island be declared safe. Iwojima was one of the most important bases of the U.S. Army Air Force for the rest of the war, landing the first B-29 on the island as early as March 6. By the end of March, Iwojima was already serving 36 bombers as a base for attacks on the main Japanese islands.
The Japanese army, after the fall of the Vichy regime and the complete liberation of France in Europe, disarmed French troops in Indochina on March 9 and installed a puppet government there.
Heavy air strikes were flown on Tokyo in the early morning hours of March 10. 334 Twentieth Air Force B-29 bombers dropped about 2,000 tons of incendiary bombs on an area of the city about 710 the area of Manhattan, about 44 square kilometers, containing factories and docks, but mostly the wooden homes of workers. The attack lasted about 2.5 hours and unleashed a massive firestorm in which nearly 100,000 people died. Other sources even speak of 150,000 dead. This was the largest and bloodiest air raid in the history of mankind until today.
Task Force 58, which had sailed from Ulithi on March 14, began attacks against airfields in Kyūshū while lying off Japan on March 18. The Japanese fought back with kamikaze counterattacks that set fire to one American aircraft carrier and damaged two others. A day after that, the Americans launched attacks against Kure. Several Japanese aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers and destroyers were anchored there. Many bore damage. Again, the Japanese succeeded in setting fire to two American carriers in return. In further attacks against the expiring task force, the Japanese also used Ōka bombs.
After a brief refueling stop, Task Force 58 units turned south to run to the Ryūkyū Islands. Here, on 23 March, the ongoing naval artillery bombardment and air attacks began in preparation for the landing on Okinawa. It received support in this effort two days later from the British Pacific Fleet, which covered the area south of the island, and additional U.S. task groups, which brought in, among others, the combat swimmer groups that began clearing underwater obstacles on March 25. The Japanese responded with air strikes from the Formosa area and from Kyūshū. Kamikaze planes managed a few hits on smaller units, but on 30 March the flagship of Task Force 58 was badly hit.
To obstruct Japanese shipping, B-29 bombers launched 1529 sorties from Tinian on March 27 in the large-scale Operation Starvation to mine the navigable waters of Shimonoseki, Kure, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kōbe, Osaka, Nagoya, Tokyo, Yokohama, and quite a few other port cities on the Japanese islands. Likewise, ports in Korea were mined. The Americans lost 15 aircraft in the process, 102 sorties were aborted and the aircraft turned back before dropping their mines. A total of 12,135 mines were dropped.
On April 1, the U.S. 10th Army landed in Operation Iceberg on Okinawa, which was vehemently defended by the Japanese. Together with reserve units, the Americans deposited 451,866 troops on the island. As in the capture of Iwojima, U.S. naval artillery continued to bombard the rear during the landings here. The Japanese retreated into the island”s prepared cave systems from which to attack U.S. forces in guerrilla warfare. Ships offshore were repeatedly targeted by kamikaze planes and Ōka bombs, damaging a British aircraft carrier. Japanese coastal batteries were able to apply five hits to an American battleship on April 5. A day later, the Japanese began Operation Kikusui I, a major attack against the landing fleet off Okinawa. For this purpose, 198 kamikazes launched from Kyūshū, 67 of which were able to penetrate to the ships. Of the 27 ships hit, some multiple times, two destroyers, one landing ship and two ammunition carriers sank. Five ships were irreparably damaged and another 17 were able to continue operating despite their damage. The following day, a second wave of 54 kamikazes launched, only a few of which were able to penetrate. Nevertheless, they managed to severely damage one battleship and one destroyer and lightly damage four other ships.
In the course of the fighting for Okinawa, the last major battleship of the Japanese Navy, the Yamato, was called up for a kamikaze action as part of Operation Ten-gō. The ship was ordered to run up the beach at Okinawa after fighting with the American landing fleet; after firing munitions, the crew was then to join Army troops on the island in defensive combat. An American air attack by 386 carrier aircraft on the afternoon of April 7 sank the Yamato along with five escort ships in the East China Sea. The loss-laden capture of Okinawa dragged on until June 21.
While the British Asian Fleet, with battleships, cruisers, and destroyers, covered by carrier aircraft, attacked targets in Sabang, Padang, and Emmahaven in Operation Sunfish on 11 April, the Americans prepared to surrender some of their ships to the Soviet Pacific Fleet. Since April 5, the Soviet Union had rescinded the Soviet-Japanese neutrality treaty and was prepared to cooperate with the Americans in the Pacific theater of conflict. In mid-April, training on American minesweepers began at Cold Bay on the southern tip of Alaska, where some 2,400 Soviet naval personnel had arrived on five steamers (→ Operation Hula). These were the first preparations for an invasion of the main Japanese islands (→ Operation Downfall).
In a large-scale kamikaze attack (→ Operation Kikusui III) on April 16 against the landing fleet off Okinawa, 126 Japanese aircraft and six Ōka bombers flew in. They managed to sink one destroyer and damage three others so severely that they could not be repaired. One aircraft carrier was severely damaged, and one battleship and one convoy destroyer were lightly damaged. Kamikaze attacks continued on subsequent days, but with far fewer aircraft.
To land on Tarakan, the southern coast was taken under fire by Allied ships beginning April 27. Operation Oboe began on May 1 with the landing of 28,000 Australian troops.
On May 1, British troops landed at Rangoon in Burma as part of Operation Dracula. Operation Bishop, in which British carriers, battleships, cruisers, and destroyers shelled Port Blair and Car Nicobar in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, provided cover. Since Rangoon had been vacated earlier by the Japanese, the British occupied the city on 3 May without opposition. However, smaller pockets of Japanese resistance were still able to hold west of the Irrawaddy River.
The U.S. Army Air Force began continuing to mine Japanese industrial installations to blockade them on May 3. On these mines, the Japanese lost more than 50 ships by the end of the month. Most were smaller merchant units; only one minesweeper sank. Many warships and merchant vessels suffered damage.
After the surrender of Germany on May 8, Japan declared its determination to continue fighting alone against the Allies. Although the first voices were raised among the military and in particular in the parliament, which spoke about an early surrender, the majority of the leadership was already preparing the defense of the country to the last man.
The British carrier planes flew air attacks on airfields at Sakashima-Gunto and Kyūshū to repel the kamikaze planes, which repeatedly attacked the ships lying off Okinawa, and were joined shortly thereafter by American aircraft carriers with their planes. The major Japanese offensive Kikusui VI, begun on 10 May, was launched with 150 kamikaze aircraft. In the process, an American aircraft carrier was very badly damaged on May 11. As the task force was withdrawing, a kamikaze plane severely hit another carrier. In subsequent Kikusui operations on May 24, 25, 27, 28, and 29, the Americans lost eight ships. Several others were damaged but were still able to operate.
At Wewak, Papua New Guinea, 623 Australians went ashore on 11 May to capture the peninsula. They were followed by another Australian division on 14 May to capture the airport. The peninsula could be considered secured on 23 May.
Between May 17 and 26, the United States turned over 17 minesweepers and six submarine hunters to the Soviet Union under the Operation Hula agreement, which were assigned to the Soviet Pacific Fleet. This was followed in early June to mid-June by 13 more submarine hunters, one minesweeper, and two landing craft. Also in mid-June, more than 1100 USSR marines arrived at Cold Bay for training on frigates.
In a severe typhoon on June 6, eight aircraft carriers, three battleships, seven cruisers, 14 destroyers and smaller units were damaged. Some were so badly damaged that they had to be withdrawn from service. Marines landed on Aguni-jima Island on June 9.
Continuing Operation Oboe, ships dropped nearly 30,000 Australian troops in Brunei Bay on June 10 after previous artillery fire.
The British carried out a carrier attack to neutralize the Japanese units on Truk on 14 June with 48 Seafires, 21 Avengers and eleven Fireflies (→ Operation Inmate), which was repeated again the next day. In addition, they shelled the atoll with approached battleships.
To capture the oil fields and oil refineries at Balikpapan on Borneo held by the Japanese, mine-clearing operations began offshore in mid-June. On June 24, underwater work began to remove the laid-out landing obstacles. Shortly thereafter, shelling of the landing zones by cruisers and destroyers commenced, after which nearly 33,500 Australian infantrymen went ashore beginning 1 July in a continuation of Operation Oboe. The capture of the airfield and oil fields was completed on 4 July.
Task Force 38 again flew major attacks on Tokyo and surrounding air bases with 1022 aircraft on July 10. Four days later, 1391 aircraft attacked additional targets on northern Honshū Island and southern Hokkaidō. On the same day, the battleships, cruisers, and destroyers that arrived with fired directly at targets on the main Japanese islands for the first time. These included the Kamaishi steel and iron works and, the following day, the Muroran steel and iron works. Tokyo and Yokohama were again the targets of attack on July 17 and 18, with heavy damage to a large Japanese battleship. In a night attack conducted in conjunction with British units, naval artillery bombed industry at Hitachi, north of Tokyo, and the next night important radar posts at Cap Nojima in southeastern Tokyo.
In a continuation of Operation Hula, the United States handed over to the Soviet Union ten frigates, six minesweepers, 12 minesweepers, one submarine hunter, and 15 landing craft from mid to late July.
From Okinawa, Task Force 95 made its first attacks on shipping in the China Sea and Yellow Sea. Success between July 16 and 23, however, was initially moderate. One destroyer was sunk in kamikaze attacks and two others were partially damaged.
As a result during the Potsdam Conference, the Allies issued a surrender ultimatum to Japan and the Soviet Union promised to take action in the Pacific region three months after the end of the war in Europe. Japanese Prime Minister Suzuki Kantarō rejected the ultimatum on July 27.
In order to increase the pressure on the Japanese military, the government and also on the population, the attacks on Japan were intensified even further at the end of July, while the U.S. leadership continued to prepare Operation Downfall in the background. To this end, more and more new and also reconditioned ships of all classes were launched from bases on the U.S. West Coast and Pearl Harbor toward Japan. Additional units were moved from the European theater of war to the Pacific theater. Night raids, especially on the Inland Sea near Kure and Kōbe, resulted in the sinking of or total damage to more large Japanese warships. In addition, American ships again shelled war materiel production facilities, especially the aircraft factories at Hamamatsu.
On July 28, the last successful kamikaze attack of the Pacific War took place. A US destroyer was sunk off Okinawa.
Heavy air strikes by U.S. Air Force B-29 bombers on port cities in Japan caused severe damage to the port facilities of Nagasaki on August 1.
The military leadership decided to try to extract from President Harry S. Truman a commitment to use the new atomic bomb that had been successfully detonated in the Trinity test. Although many of the scientists involved in its development advised against its use, Truman gave his consent after some hesitation. Preparations began on July 24, two days before the Potsdam ultimatum to Japan.
Four possible cities were designated as targets for the drop beginning on August 3: Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata and Nagasaki. Hiroshima was chosen as the primary target because it was possible to hit production facilities important to the war effort and stationed Japanese divisions. Furthermore, a great psychological effect could also be achieved here. If Japan did not surrender within three days, the second bomb was to be dropped on the next target.
In the meantime, the Soviet Union had also declared war on Japan on August 8 and invaded Manchuria one day later (→ Operation August Storm). The Soviets were joined by the Red Chinese with the 4th and 8th Revolutionary Armies, which occupied several cities. The Soviet Pacific Fleet was deployed and immediately began mining shipping lanes off its own coast for defense. Two days later, a Soviet unit landed on the east coast of Korea.
Meanwhile, air strikes on the main Japanese islands from U.S. and British aircraft carriers continued. Targets included Honshu and Hokkaido and the capital, Tokyo. On 14 August, 828 B-29 bombers were once again in action against Japanese cities, operating from Iwojima, escorted by P-51 fighters. On August 15, U.S. military leaders recalled a squadron that had just been launched against Tokyo to cease combat operations. Not all aircraft received the radio call, and the last fierce air battles with Japanese kamikaze planes developed.
The Japanese government announced on August 14 that it would accept the ultimatum issued. One day later (→ V-J Day) at 12:00 noon, a speech by Emperor Hirohito recorded the day before was broadcast on the radio, in which he issued an order to all Japanese armed forces to cease fire. However, a feared mass suicide, especially at the Japanese command level, failed to materialize. It was expected to take about a week for word of the surrender to spread to all fighting Japanese units in the various countries.
Soviet soldiers with some units occupied the South Sakhalin from August 16 and the Northern Kuril Islands from August 19.
Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek called on all Japanese troops to surrender to the National Chinese units on August 19. At the same time, he ordered the Red Chinese soldiers to stop fighting. However, the latter was not heeded by the troops under Mao Zedong, so there was no surrender by the Japanese. Civil war fighting between National and Red Chinese units continued. Only after the National Chinese 6th Army occupied Nanking on August 25 were the approximately one million Japanese able to surrender. On September 9, the surrender treaty was signed in Nanking. However, in the mountainous region of Manchuria, about 15,000 Japanese soldiers were still trapped between the fronts of the civil war. They stayed completely out of the fighting and remained in hiding until their final surrender at the end of 1948.
To secure the armistice, the carrier aircraft of Task Force 38 flew daily patrols over the Japanese islands. Their second task was to locate and map POW camps. The carrier fleet itself entered Sagami Bay off Tokyo on August 27 with 22 aircraft carriers, 14 battleships, 23 cruisers, 123 destroyers, and twelve submarines. A first small unit of American soldiers secured Atsugi Airport near Tokyo on August 28. They were followed two days later in an airborne operation by the 11th U.S. Airborne Division, which occupied the airport and Yokohama Harbor. Late in the afternoon, Commander-in-Chief of the 8th U.S. Army Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger and Supreme Allied Commander Army General Douglas MacArthur landed at Atsugi Airport. At about the same time, the Japanese surrendered their naval base at Yokosuka to the Allies.
On September 2, on the U.S. battleship Missouri in Sagami Bay, the Pacific War, and with it World War II, ended with the signing of the Japanese surrender document. Japan was occupied by U.S. forces in Operation Blacklist. In Korea, the 38th parallel was to form the border between the U.S. occupation area in the south on the one hand and that of the Soviets in the north on the other.
In Operation Magic Carpet, the Americans brought their troops back home from September 6 to March of the following year. All available ships in the Pacific area were used for this purpose.
The occupation units on the Japanese islands consisted, in effect, only of U.S. troops. The most important project of the occupation government, whose head became General Douglas MacArthur as “SCAP” (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers), was the drafting of a new constitution. It was promulgated on November 3, 1946. In it, all the points of the Potsdam Declaration were implemented. In addition, the Emperor renounced his divine status in the constitution.
The Tokyo Trials, which began on May 3, 1946, indicted Japan”s leading wartime military officers and politicians, most notably Prime Minister and Chief of General Staff General Tōjō Hideki. He and six other defendants were sentenced to death when the verdict was handed down on November 12, 1948. Some 20 others were sentenced to life imprisonment, though most were released in 1955 when Japan regained sovereignty. Other trials took place in Manila in the Philippines and in China. The latter became known as the Nanking War Crimes Tribunals (→ War Crimes Trials in China). In the process, the Chinese investigated 650 cases, of which 504 came to trial in 13 hearings. 149 Japanese were sentenced to death. The controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo contains all the souls of Japanese who “gave their lives for the fatherland.” In 1978, the parliament decided to include the souls of executed Japanese war criminals. Since then, there have been repeated protests, especially from China and Korea, when Japanese officials visit the shrine. The inclusion of the “Class A” war criminals in particular is condemned.
Even during the last months of hostilities, the Cold War between the superpowers Soviet Union and USA had begun. The rising power of Communist China also played a far-reaching role, which was evident, for example, in the division of Korea.
The Soviet Union administered North Korea and Sakhalin Island, the United States and Great Britain South Korea and Japan”s remaining possessions in the Pacific. Japan itself was occupied by Allied forces from the end of the Pacific War. The end of Allied occupation of Japan was established in the San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed on September 8, 1951. With its entry into force on April 28, 1952, Japan was once again an independent country. However, with the exception of the Amami Islands, which were returned to Japan in 1953, the Ryūkyū Islands remained formally under trusteeship by the United States for another 20 years. In a referendum in 1971, a majority of the population favored rejoining Japan. In 1972, sovereignty over the Ryūkyū and uninhabited Senkaku Islands was returned to Japan. Japan concluded a peace treaty with the People”s Republic of China in 1978. Peace negotiations with the Soviet Union (and from 1991 with Russia) have repeatedly failed due to unresolved issues (→ Kuril conflict).
A side effect of the Pacific War was the increased emergence of the cargo cult among the primitive peoples of the Pacific islands, especially Papua New Guinea. It resulted from the masses of war materials (ready-made clothing, canned food, tents, weapons, and other goods) dropped on the islands by the Americans and Japanese, and brought drastic changes in the lifestyle of the islanders.
As with all major conflicts, it is difficult to give concrete casualty figures. The figures provided by historians and even by the official bodies of the individual countries vary considerably in some cases.
Most of the dead were in China. It should be noted that in the final months of the war, the internal conflict between Red and National Chinese also led to heavy casualty fighting on both sides. A total of 4,000,000 soldiers died, and the losses among the civilian population, among whom the Japanese carried out several massacres, amounted to about 10,000,000 people.
The Japanese lost about 1,200,000 soldiers and about 500,000 civilians, most in the two atomic bombings and the conventional bombing of Tokyo on March 9, 1945.
Allied losses (British, Indians, Australians, New Zealanders, Dutch) were about 150,000 dead. The U.S. lost about 130,000 men in the Pacific theater. POW losses under Japanese guard are included.
Furthermore, there were also countless civilian casualties among the natives of various Pacific islands who died during the invasions, abductions and reconquests.
Although at the beginning of the Pacific War the Japanese had the best structured and most powerful fleet in the world, the Imperial Japanese Navy was no longer a match for American superiority in the course of the war. This was mainly due to economic reasons.
With a national budget around seventeen times that of Japan, steel production five times that of Japan and coal production seven times that of Japan, the USA”s production capacities were far superior to those of Japan. In addition, production facilities were more modern and more efficient. Thus, the per capita productivity of the Americans was the highest in the world at that time. The adjacent table shows the ship production of the Americans and the Japanese during the Pacific War. From this it is clear that toward the end of the war the material superiority of the USA was overwhelming. This does not take into account the fleet units available before the outbreak of the war and the war losses of ships.
The imbalance in military productivity was known to the Japanese even before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese military leadership therefore assumed throughout its planning that it would be able to exploit a short-term “window of vulnerability” on the part of the U.S. military. While still in peacetime, the U.S. Senate had approved a naval buildup on a scale that would have declassified Japan”s navy simply by the number of warships produced. While Japan”s forces were often technologically superior, especially at the beginning of the war, for example in aircraft or submarines, the U.S. overtook Japan in many crucial areas during the course of the war, for example in important radar technology.
The following cemeteries and monuments were largely established by the American Battle Monuments Commission, which has been in existence since 1923, and have been managed and maintained by that organization ever since.
The USS Arizona Memorial spans the wreckage of the USS Arizona, which sank on December 7, 1941. It marks the resting place of the 1102 of 1177 servicemen who died in the sinking of the USS Arizona.
The site was inaugurated in 1962 and opened in 1980. It spans the wreck without touching it. On May 5, 1989, the wreck was designated a National Historic Landmark. It is visited by more than 1 million visitors annually.
The American memorial and military cemetery are located about ten kilometers southeast of Manila. The site is adjacent to Fort Bonifacio, the former U.S. Fort William McKinley.
The 61.5-acre area is home to the largest U.S. burial ground of World War II. There are 17,206 soldiers buried here. Most of them died during service in New Guinea and the Philippines.
Inside the stone chapel are 25 mosaic maps documenting successfully completed American missions in the Pacific, China, India and Burma. A large limestone tablet lists the names of 36,285 missing persons.
The Honolulu Memorial is part of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and is located in a small external volcanic crater near downtown Honolulu on Oʻahu, Hawaii. There are the names of 18,096 missing persons of the Pacific War, excluding those of the Southwest Pacific (see above). In addition, the names of 8196 Korean War missing persons and 2504 Vietnam War missing persons are engraved there.
Here, too, are mosaic maps of American successes in the Pacific. There are also maps from the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Located above the Solomon Islands capital, Honiara, the memorial was built jointly by the American Battle Monuments Commission and the Guadalcanal-Solomon Islands Memorial Commission. It commemorates the fallen of the U.S. and its allies during the battle from August 7, 1942 to February 9, 1943.
The memorial consists of a square column, the edge length of which is about 1.2 m and the height of which is about 7.3 m. On the column is engraved an inscription.
Four walls aligned with the main battle sites in the Solomons contain the names of the battles and lists of U.S. and Allied ships lost there.
Above Tanapag Harbor on Saipan, the Saipan American Memorial was built by the United States. Placed as part of a memorial park, it honors the Americans and native Chamorras who died during the Battle of the Marianas. Specifically, it commemorates the 24,000 Americans who died in the liberation of Saipan, Tinian and Guam between June 15 and August 11, 1944.
The memorial consists of an approximately 3.6 m high rectangular obelisk made of rose granite, embedded in an environment of native flora. A little to the north is a tower about 7 m high with a carillon.
This bronze plaque was unveiled to commemorate the 50th anniversary of General MacArthur”s arrival in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on November 6, 1992, at the chancery of the local U.S. Embassy.
This monument was built after the war by survivors of the Bataan Death March and the Cabanatuan POW camp. Since 1989, ABMC has been responsible for its management and maintenance.
On December 5, 2008, President George W. Bush proclaimed the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument as the organizational umbrella for nine previously disjointed Pacific War memorials in the states of Alaska, Hawaii, and California. In Alaska, three sites in the Aleutian Islands commemorating the Battle of the Aleutian Islands were recorded; in Hawaii, existing and new memorials in Pearl Harbor were organizationally combined and turned over to the National Park Service. In California, the largest camp of internment of Japanese Americans was designated as a memorial. To date (late 2008), the National Monument is still under construction and has no facilities of its own.
At Yasukuni Shrine, a Shintō shrine in Tokyo, those members of the Japanese military who died in battle on the side of the imperial armies are venerated as kami and heroic souls (英霊, eirei). This includes the soldiers of the Pacific War, who were grouped together in soul registers.
The fact that officers sentenced to death at the Tokyo war crimes trials are also venerated, as well as, for example, members of the infamous Unit 731, which conducted biological weapons experiments on prisoners of war and Chinese civilians during the war in Manchuria, is criticized particularly harshly both at home and abroad. Japanese Emperors Hirohito and Akihito have not visited the shrine since it became known in 1979 that Category A war criminals (crimes against world peace) had been added to the kami list the year before. The shrine itself refers to the Tokyo trials as show trials in brochures and now on its website, and is thus considered revisionist.
This is also true of the Yūshūkan Museum, which stands next to the shrine. Here, self-sacrifice for emperor and fatherland is presented as a sacred offering. The tenor of the museum, and indeed of the entire shrine complex, is expressed on a bronze plaque unveiled on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor: “Nearly six thousand men died in suicide attacks whose tragic heroism knows no precedent and which froze the hearts of our enemies with fear. The entire nation has shed tears of gratitude in the face of their unwavering loyalty and self-sacrifice.”
The destroyed downtown area of Hiroshima has been rebuilt, with only the central island in the Ōta River preserved as Peace Memorial Park Hiroshima (heiwakōen). The site contains a number of memorials, including a flame to be extinguished when the last atomic bomb has been destroyed, the Atomic Bomb Dome (Gembaku), the Hiroshima Peace Museum, the Children”s Peace Memorial commemorating Sadako Sasaki, and a memorial to the Korean forced laborers who were killed.
Every year since August 6, 1947, Hiroshima has commemorated the victims of the atomic bombing with a large memorial service.
Also in Nagasaki there is a park for peace (Matsuyama-machi), with a monument and with numerous sculptures of different countries and twin cities, which commemorates the victims of the atomic bombing there. In the Peace Hall, which like the Peace Museum in Hiroshima was built as a joint memorial for peace and against nuclear weapons, a tour tells the story of the bombing and its victims.
The Peace Memorial Park on Okinawa is located at the southern end of the island. Part of it is the War Museum, which documents the road to battle, the battle itself, and the reconstruction of Okinawa. A few kilometers to the west is the Himeyuri Monument, which commemorates the students of the Himeyuri Gakutotai who served in the worst conditions in military hospitals on the island. The underground tunnels of the former Japanese naval headquarters are also nearby and can be visited.
Near Mount Austen, about 14.5 km from Henderson Airfield, there is a small white pillar with a plaque on Hill 27. It was erected in 1994 by Japanese from Fukuoka to commemorate the infantrymen under the command of Akinosuke Oka who fell here in the battle for the island. On the opposite Hill 31 is a mass grave where 85 Japanese soldiers lie. The remains were excavated by Japanese in the surrounding area in 1984 and interred in this grave.
At the foot of Hill 35 is the main Japanese memorial, opened in 1984. On a white pedestal stands a fisherman looking over the wide sea. Over his shoulder hangs a fishing net. The sculpture represents Seiichi Takahashi, a soldier who fell there.
Near today”s international airport on Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands is a Japanese memorial that includes on plaques the names of Japanese soldiers who died there. The former Isely Airfield was a battlefield between the U.S. and Japan.
For the approximately 300,000 Chinese murdered by the Japanese at the beginning of the war in December 1937, a hall was erected in Nanking in 1985 in their memory. The known names of the victims are engraved on the so-called “Cry-Wall”. The hall stands near the Jiangdong City Gate, in the immediate vicinity of which is a mass grave containing some 10,000 bodies from the massacre.
In 1946, a monument was erected in the Taibesi district of Dili, the capital of the country, in memory of the victims of the Japanese occupation. It consists of the coat of arms of Portugal, the colonial power at the time, and two crossed rifles.
On July 1, 1987, the Japanese and the U.S. erected a joint monument on the Aleutian Island of Attu. The 5.5 m high steel monument stands on a hilltop 9.5 km above the US Coast Guard station. Right next to it is a memorial stone placed there in 1978 by a Japanese private citizen.
See also Portal:Pacific WarLiterature List
Miniseries: The Pacific
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