W orld War II effectively stopped the world between 1939 and 1945. To this day, it remains the most geographically widespread military conflict the world has ever seen. Although the fighting reached across many parts of the globe, most countries involved shared a united effort aimed at ending the aggression of the Axis Powers—Germany, Italy, and Japan. Despite the fact that Germany and Japan were technically allies, however, they had vastly different motives and objectives, and their level of cooperation was primarily one of distracting the attention of each other's enemies rather than of attaining any specific common goals. Therefore, most studies of the war cover the conflicts with Germany and Japan separately, dividing treatment of the war between the European and Pacific theaters of operation.
Japanese expansion in East Asia began in 1931 with the invasion of Manchuria and continued in 1937 with a brutal attack on China. On September 27, 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, thus entering the military alliance known as the "Axis." Seeking to curb Japanese aggression and force a withdrawal of Japanese forces from Manchuria and China, the United States imposed economic sanctions on Japan. 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 Asia and seize the resources of Southeast Asia.
The USS Shaw explodes after being hit by bombs during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Japan launched a surprise attack on the United States Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The attack severely damaged the American fleet and prevented, at least for the short term, serious American interference with Japanese military operations. In response, the United States declared war on Japan. Following Germany's declaration of war on the United States, the United States also declared war on Germany.
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. Thailand remained officially neutral. Only in mid-1942 were Australian and New Zealander forces in New Guinea and British forces in India able to halt the Japanese advance.
Navy fighters during the attack on the Japanese fleet off Midway, in June of 1942. At center a burning Japanese ship is visible.
The turning point in the Pacific war came with the American naval victory in the Battle of Midway in June 1942. The Japanese fleet sustained heavy losses and was turned back. Following its attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), the Japanese Imperial Navy occupied islands throughout the western Pacific Ocean. Japan's goal was to create a defensive buffer against attack from the United States and its allies - one that would ensure Japan mastery over east Asia and the southwest Pacific. After the US strategic victories at the Battles of the Coral Sea (7-8 May 1942) and Midway (4-7 June 1942), the Japanese Imperial Navy was no longer capable of major offensive campaigns, which permitted the Allies to start their own offensive in the Pacific.
On Guadalcanal, American servicemembers battled heat, mosquitos, disease, dense vegetation, and a determined enemy.
In August 1942, America mounted its first major amphibious landing of World War II at Guadalcanal, using innovative landing craft built by Higgins Industries in New Orleans. By seizing a strategic airfield site on the island, the United States halted Japanese efforts to disrupt supply routes to Australia and New Zealand. The invasion ignited a ferocious struggle marked by seven major naval battles, numerous clashes ashore, and almost continuous air combat. For six long months US forces fought to hold the island. In the end they prevailed, and the Allies took the first vital step in driving the Japanese back in the Pacific theater.
Late in 1944, American forces liberated the Philippines and began massive air attacks on Japan. British forces recaptured Burma. In early 1945, American forces suffered heavy losses during the invasions of Iwo Jima (February) and Okinawa (April), an island of strategic importance off the coast of the Japanese home islands. Despite these casualties and suicidal Japanese air attacks, known as Kamikaze attacks, American forces conquered Okinawa in mid-June 1945.
On 6 August 1945, a mushroom cloud billows into the sky after an atomic bomb was detonated above Hiroshima, Japan.
On August 6, 1945, the United States Air Force dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Tens of thousands of people died in the initial explosion, and many more died later from radiation exposure. Three days later, the United States dropped a bomb on the Japanese port city of Nagasaki. Approximately 120,000 civilians died as a result of the two blasts. On August 8, two days after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the Soviet Union, having renounced its nonaggression pact with Japan in April, attacked the Japanese in Manchuria, fulfilling its Yalta pledge to attack the Japanese within three months after the end of the war in Europe. The attack was made by three Soviet army groups. In less than two weeks, the Japanese army in Manchuria, consisting of over a million men, had been destroyed by the battle-hardened Soviets.
The Japanese surrendered on August 15, 1945, or V-J day, signing the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on September 2. The Japanese troops in China formally surrendered to the Chinese on September 9, 1945.
SparkNotes Editors. (2005). SparkNote on World War II (1939–1945).
Retrieved February 9, 2010, from http://www.sparknotes.com/history/european/ww2/
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Retrieved March 4, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II