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The War in the Pacific
Transcript of The War in the Pacific
Japan as a Rising Power
• Japanese expansion began years before World War II ever started, first with the invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and later in 1937 with a brutal attack on China.
• Looking to expand their power even further Japan signed the “Tripartite Pact” with Germany and Italy in 1940, entering the military alliance known as the "Axis"
• However, not everyone appreciated this early Japanese aggression, and hoped to force Japan to withdrawal from Manchuria and China.
• It is for this reason that the United States imposed economic sanctions on Japan in 1941- refusing to trade oil with Japan.
Attack on Pearl Harbor
• Faced with severe shortages of oil and other natural resources and driven by the ambition to displace the United States as the dominant Pacific power, Japan decided to attack the United States and British forces in the Pacific region.
• On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the United States Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
• The attack severely damaged the American fleet and prevented, at least for the short term, serious American interference with Japanese military operations.
• In response, on December 8, 1941 the United States declared war on the Empire of Japan.
Japan's Winning Streak
• After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan achieved a long series of military successes.
• In December 1941, Guam and Wake Island fell to the Japanese, followed in the first half of 1942 by the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, and Burma.
• Only in mid-1942 was the Japanese military halted in New Guinea and India.
Bataan Death March, the Philippines
America Fights Back
• In the weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an order that an effort must be made to directly attack Japan as soon as possible.
• In addition to achieving a degree of revenge, Roosevelt sought to show the Japanese that the United States was not vulnerable.
• On April 17, 1942 an aircraft carrier, the USS Nashville, was sailing in the Pacific carrying B25 bombers who were set on attacking key Japanese cities.
• However, after being spotted early the attack was advanced quickly, and on April 18, 1942 the bombers took off from the carrier with the eyes set on Japan.
• The bombing raid, known as the “Doolittle Raid”, came ashore as the raiders spread out and struck ten targets in Tokyo, two in Yokohama, and one each in Kobe, Osaka, Nagoya, and Yokosuka.
• While the attack was much smaller than the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor it was a huge morale boost to the American military and citizenry.
Fun Fact: The Doolittle Raid was the first time in world history that bombers were launched off of an aircraft carrier
• Despite the success of the Doolittle Raid, it was not realistic for the United States to continue attacking the Japanese mainland until they had seized control of many of the Pacific islands en route to Japan.
• For this reason, the United States, behind Navy Admiral Chester Nimitz, developed a strategy called “island-hopping” by which the United States would attempt to seize control of 1 island at a time to make the distance of launching a future raid at Japan- much shorter
• With this plan in place the first major turning point in the Pacific Theater came with the American naval victory in the Battle of Midway in June 1942.
• The Japanese fleet sustained heavy losses, forcing it to turn back in the midst of their movement across the Pacific- but more importantly the United States gained an island that was halfway across the enormous Pacific Ocean.
• In August 1942, American forces attacked the Japanese in the Solomon Islands, forcing a costly withdrawal of Japanese forces from the island of Guadalcanal in February 1943.
• One island at a time the Allied forces slowly gained naval and air supremacy in the Pacific, and moved methodically from island to island, conquering them and often sustaining significant casualties.
America Approaches Japan
• Late in 1944, after brutal fighting, American forces liberated the Philippines and began massive air attacks on nearby Japan.
• Nonetheless, a mass invasion into Japan would not be possible from the Philippines so the US continued its stretch towards Japan in early 1945 during the invasions of Iwo Jima (February) and Okinawa (April).
"Not So" Fun Fact: In all of WWII Iwo Jima and Okinawa were the 3rd and 10th most deadly battles
• Both islands were of strategic importance off the coast of the Japanese home islands and resulted in heavy losses for both sides.
• Despite these casualties and suicidal Japanese air attacks, known as Kamikaze attacks, American forces conquered Okinawa in mid-June 1945.
Kamikaze airplane exploding as it crashing onto an aircraft carrier
Takeaways from the War in the Pacific
• The Pacific Theater of World War II was amongst the most deadly regions of war in all of US history.
• New technology made new styles of warfare possible, especially at sea, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths.
• In addition, the disorganized style of “guerilla warfare” that was used fighting in the jungles of the Pacific, allowed for thousands of more deaths on both sides who refused to give up at any cost.
• Following the death of FDR in April 1945, President Harry Truman would face extraordinary decisions in the Pacific Theater that would bring an end to the war and forever change world history.