United States of America

The United States officially entered World War 2 on 11 December 1941. Mobilization began when the United States declared war on Japan on 8 December 1941, one day after the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. The US' declaration of war caused Nazi Germany, an ally of Japan at the time, to declare war on the United States on 11 December, sucking the United States into the European Theater of this global conflict, and taking the United States, in just four short days, from a peacetime nation to one that was preparing for all-out war with two enemies on opposite sides of the globe.

Pacific Theater

The Pacific Ocean theater of World War II was a major theater of the Pacific War, the war between the Allies and the Empire of Japan. It was defined by the Allied powers' Pacific Ocean Area command, which included most of the Pacific Ocean and its islands, while mainland Asia was excluded, as were the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, Borneo, Australia, most of the Territory of New Guinea, and the western part of the Solomon Islands.

The Attack on Pearl Harbor

Because of Japanese advances in French Indochina and China, the United States, in coordination with the British and Dutch, cut off all oil supplies to Japan, which had imported 90% of its oil. The oil embargo threatened to grind the Japanese military machine to a halt. Japan refused American demands to leave China and decided that war with the United States was inevitable; its only hope was to strike first. President Roosevelt had months earlier transferred the American fleet to Hawaii from California to deter the Japanese. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto argued the only way to win the war was to knock out the powerful main American fleet immediately.

Pearl Harbor ablaze after the Japanese attack.
Pearl Harbor ablaze after the Japanese attack.

World War II came to the United States of America on Sunday morning, 7 December 1941, with a massive surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Japanese carrier attack planes (in both torpedo and high-level bombing roles) and bombers, supported by fighters, numbering 353 aircraft from six aircraft carriers, attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in two waves, as well as nearby naval and military airfields and bases. The enemy sank five battleships and damaged three; and sank a gunnery training ship and three destroyers, damaged a heavy cruiser, three light cruisers, two destroyers, two seaplane tenders, two repair ships and a destroyer tender. Navy, Army, and Marine Corps facilities suffered varying degrees of damage, while 188 Navy, Marine Corps, and U.S. Army Air Force planes were destroyed. Casualties amounted to: killed or missing: Navy, 2,008; Marine Corps, 109; Army, 218; civilian, 68; and wounded: Navy, 710; Marine Corps, 69; Army, 364; civilian, 35. Japanese losses amounted to fewer than 100 men and 29 planes.Japan's declaration of war was published after the attacks began.

While damage to the U.S. Pacific Fleet's battleline proved extensive, it was not complete. In broader perspective, the attack was a failure. The lost battleships reflected obsolete doctrine and were not needed. The lost planes were soon replaced and the casualty list was short by World War II standards. The attack failed to damage any American aircraft carriers, which had been providentially absent from the harbor. Our aircraft carriers, along with supporting cruisers and destroyers and fleet oilers, proved crucial in the coming months. The Japanese focus on ships and planes spared our fuel tank farms, naval yard repair facilities, and the submarine base, all of which proved vital for the tactical operations that originated at Pearl Harbor in the ensuing months and played a key role in the Allied victory. American technological skill raised and repaired all but three of the ships sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor. Most importantly, the shock and anger that Americans felt in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor united the nation and was translated into a collective commitment to victory in World War II.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt officially pronounced 7 December 1941, as "a date which will live in infamy" and asked for a declaration of war on Japan before a joint session of Congress on 8 December 1941. The motion passed with only one vote against it, in both chambers. Just three days later, on 11 December 1941, Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States, and had already remarked on the evening of the date of the Japanese attack that "We can't lose the war at all. We now have an ally which has never been conquered in 3,000 years".

The Fall of the Philippines and Dutch East Indies

The attack on the Philippines started on 8 December 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. As at Pearl Harbor, the American aircraft were entirely destroyed on the ground. Lacking air cover, the American Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines withdrew to Java on 12 December 1941. Japanese troops landed at the Lingayen Gulf on 22 December 1941 and advanced across central Luzon towards Manila. On the advice of Philippine President Manuel Quezon, General Douglas MacArthur declared Manila an open city on 25 December 1941, and moved the Commonwealth government to Corregidor. The Japanese occupied Manila on 2 January 1942. MacArthur concentrated his troops on the Bataan peninsula to await the relief of reinforcements from the United States that, after the destruction at Pearl Harbor, could never come.

Roosevelt evacuated General Douglas MacArthur and the nurses on 11 March 1942, but there was no way to save the trapped men against overwhelming Japanese naval power. MacArthur, landing in Australia, vowed "I came out of Bataan and I shall return." Major-General Wainwright remained behind in command but despite a determined defense by the hungry and disease-ridden American and Filipino troops, Bataan was forced to surrender on 9 April 1942.

US and Filipino prisoners of war captured by the Japanese at the start of the Death March near Mariveles on April 9, 1942. (AP Photo)
US and Filipino prisoners of war captured by the Japanese at the start of the Death March near Mariveles on April 9, 1942.

The almost 78,000 surrendered Filipinos and Americans soon were rounded up by the Japanese and forced to march some 65 miles from Mariveles, on the southern end of the Bataan Peninsula, to San Fernando, in what was to be known as the "Bataan Death March." The men were divided into groups of approximately 100, and the march typically took each group around five days to complete. The exact figures are unknown, but it is believed that thousands of troops died because of the brutality of their captors, who starved and beat the marchers, and bayoneted those too weak to walk. Survivors were taken by rail from San Fernando to prisoner-of-war camps, where thousands more died from disease, mistreatment and starvation.

In the meantime, on the island of Corregidor, known as the "Rock," American and Filipino holdouts were enduring intense day-and-night aerial and artillery bombardment. When the Japanese invaded the little island on the night of 5 May, they met stiff resistance from American Marines, Philippine Scouts, and civilian volunteers. Although the Japanese invasion force was smaller than the Allied defense, the Japanese managed to land artillery and tanks. On 6 May, General Wainwright surrendered Corregidor, the last American stronghold in the Pacific. The disaster in the Philippines was to become the worst military defeat in U.S. history. The war in the Philippines appeared over.

Thousands of Americans and Filipinos refused to obey the surrender orders and continued to fight the Japanese forces in a lengthy guerrilla war that lasted until the American recapture of the 7,000-island nation in October, 1944. One technique used during the early part of the guerrilla movement was to dig road pits. Japanese trucks carrying search parties crashed into the pits; soldiers were killed, and the guerrillas took their weapons and ammunition. This greatly infuriated the Japanese commanders, who ordered their troops to literally chain their rifles to themselves to prevent easy guerrilla access.

Starting in January 1942 and until the end of the campaign, the guerrillas were also supplied by American submarines, which provided arms, ammunition, and medical supplies. To qualify as a "recognized" guerrilla unit and receive Allied assistance, each guerrilla group had to meet criteria established by the Allied commanders in Australia. The guerrillas not only harassed the occupying Japanese through hit-and-run raids and sabotage, but also provided invaluable intelligence to the Allied forces.

U.S. troops surrendering to Japanese soldiers at Corregidor Island, Philippines, May 1942.
U.S. troops surrendering to Japanese soldiers at Corregidor Island, Philippines, May 1942.

The Japanese Navy seemed unstoppable as they seized the Dutch East Indies to gain its rich oil resources. The American, British, Dutch, and Australian forces were combined under the ABDA command but its fleet was quickly sunk in several naval battles around Java.

America avenged its defeat in the Philippines with the invasion of the island of Leyte in October 1944. General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), who had famously promised to return to the Philippines, made good on his word. In February 1945, U.S.-Filipino forces recaptured the Bataan Peninsula, and Manila was liberated in early March.

After the war, an American military tribunal tried Lieutenant General Homma Masaharu, commander of the Japanese invasion forces in the Philippines. He was held responsible for the death march, a war crime, and was executed by firing squad on 3 April 1946.

The Doolittle Raid

Conceived in January 1942 in the wake of the devastating Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the "joint Army-Navy bombing project" was to bomb Japanese industrial centers, to inflict both "material and psychological" damage upon the enemy. Planners hoped that the former would include the destruction of specific targets "with ensuing confusion and retardation of production." Those who planned the attacks on the Japanese homeland hoped to induce the enemy to recall "combat equipment from other theaters for home defense," and incite a "fear complex in Japan." Additionally, it was hoped that the prosecution of the raid would improve the United States' relationships with its allies and receive a "favorable reaction [on the part] of the American people."

A pair of alert escorts follow the USS Hornet to protect her lethal cargo of B-25 bombers.  (U.S. Air Force Photo)
A pair of alert escorts follow the USS Hornet to protect her lethal cargo of B-25 bombers. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

In the first attack of the Japanese mainland during World War II on 18 April 1942, sixteen U.S. Army Air Force B-25B "Mitchell" bombers launched from USS Hornet (CV-8) approximately 600 miles off Japan. Led by Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, USAAF, the bombers departed earlier than expected due to being discovered by a Japanese guard-boat. Each bomber had a five-man crew for the Tokyo attack. Additional U.S. Navy support came with a small surface force led by Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, USN, onboard his flagship USS Enterprise (CV-6). The aircraft began arriving over Japan about noon Tokyo time, six hours after launch, climbed to 1,500 feet (460 m) and bombed 10 military and industrial targets in Tokyo, two in Yokohama, and one each in Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe, and Osaka. Although some B-25s encountered light antiaircraft fire and a few enemy fighters, no bomber was shot down. Only the B-25 of 1st Lt. Richard O. Joyce received any battle damage, minor hits from antiaircraft fire. B-25 No. 4, piloted by 1st Lt. Everett W. Holstrom, jettisoned its bombs before reaching its target when it came under attack by fighters after its gun turret malfunctioned.

All 16 bombers and their crew slipped out of Japan, escaping over the sea toward China. One was forced to land in the Soviet Union - which had wanted no part in the raid, as it was neutral with regards to the war against Japan - because it was so low on fuel. The Soviets interned the plane’s crew and held them until 1943, when they paid a smuggler to take them to Iran. The remaining 75 airmen all reached China, but each one of them crash-landed, killing three. Eight others were captured by the Japanese, four of whom died in captivity. One died of disease, and the other three were executed. The Chinese managed to help sneak the remainder out of the country and back to Allied territory.

Doolittle himself survived and returned to the U.S. Though he believed the endeavor to be a failure, he was promoted to brigadier general and awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership in the raid. The Doolittle Raid, while successful, was not a great tactical victory. Japan's infrastructure and troops went largely unscathed. It was, however, a strategic triumph for American morale and a blow to Japanese confidence. Japan had been exceedingly confident that their own soil couldn’t be touched; now they were proven wrong and left shaken. The raid compelled the Japanese to enlarge their strategic perimeter, attempting to take Midway Island from the U.S. This led to a major Japanese strategic defeat and was the turning point in the Pacific Theater of World War II.

Chinese carry Americans to safety following Doolittle's Raid in 1942.
Chinese carry Americans to safety following Doolittle's Raid in 1942.

The heaviest price of the Doolittle Raid was paid by the Chinese. In retaliation for assisting the Americans, the Japanese swelled their military presence in occupied China, targeting the towns that had aided the American raiders. Beginning in June, the Japanese ravaged some 20,000 square miles in China, ransacking towns and villages, setting crops on fire, and torturing those would had helped the Americans. "They shot any man, woman, child, cow, hog, or just about anything that moved," Father Wendelin Dunker of Ihwang wrote in his memoir. "They raped any woman from the ages of 10-65, and before burning the town they thoroughly looted it." According to one Chinese newspaper, the city of Nancheng, once home to 50,000 people, "became charred earth" after three days of burning. For helping the U.S. in the small but mighty Doolittle Raid, the Chinese paid the ultimate price.

Battle of the Coral Sea

The Battle of the Coral Sea was the first time since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that the enemy's seemingly relentless advance into the Pacific was checked. It was also the first major U.S. Navy fleet action against Japan and the first naval engagement in history in which the participating ships never sighted or fired directly at each other.

The Battle of Coral Sea.
The Battle of Coral Sea.

The battle’s strategic background was set by the Japanese plan formulated in early 1942 that saw the country’s forces advance south and southeastward from the Bismarcks and Solomons, with the capture of Tulagi in the Solomons and Port Moresby, New Guinea, as immediate objectives. Secondary objectives were the central Pacific island of Nauru and Ocean (Banaba), in the Gilberts chain northeast of the Solomons, for their phosphate resources, essential for Japanese agriculture.

Over 29 April–4 May, Japanese forces successfully attacked, invaded, and occupied Tulagi, although several of their warships were surprised and sunk or damaged by aircraft from USS Yorktown (CV-5). Alerted to the presence of U.S. carriers, the Japanese Carrier Strike Force advanced toward the Coral Sea with the intention of finding and destroying the Allied naval forces. Beginning on 7 May, the two sides exchanged air strikes over two consecutive days.

The American aircraft carrier USS Lexington explodes on 8 May 1942, several hours after being damaged by a Japanese carrier air attack.
The American aircraft carrier USS Lexington explodes on 8 May 1942, several hours after being damaged by a Japanese carrier air attack.

The resulting maneuvers and clashes between two U.S. Navy task forces and a combined U.S.­Australian cruiser force with the Japanese Carrier Strike Force and supporting units resulted in a Japanese tactical victory. The Japanese Imperial Navy sank USS Lexington (CV-2), USS Sims (DD-409), and USS Neosho (AO-23), and damaged Yorktown. The Japanese only lost one small carrier (Shoho) and suffered damage to a fleet carrier (Shokaku). Allied forces were forced to withdraw from the operational area. However, with their air groups too battered to support a further advance, the Japanese were brought to a standstill. Although the Japanese had managed to capture Tulagi, Port Moresby remained in Allied control. Shokaku had been hit so severely that she could not join the Midway force. Due to losses of pilots and planes, another carrier (Zuikaku) also did not take part in that operation. Thus, Coral Sea reduced Japanese carriers available for Midway by a third. Eminent U.S. Navy historian Samuel Eliot Morison notes that “so many mistakes were made by both sides in this new mode of fighting that it might be called the Battle of Errors; but more were made by the enemy, and he failed to profit by them.”

Battle of the Aleutian Islands

One 3 June 1942, Japanese forces kicked off the 14-month Aleutian Islands Campaign. The campaign's two Japanese invasions were the only ones on US soil during the war. Before World War II, Japan had gathered information on Alaska's Aleutian Islands, though none of it was up-to-date by 1942. It was in 1942 that the Japanese decided to attack the Aleutian Islands to prevent the US from launching their own attack across the Northern Pacific. Some historians have also suggested that the invasion of the Aleutian Islands was a diversion to draw the US Pacific Fleet away from the Midway Atoll, which the Japanese attacked on 4 June.

Japanese troops raise the Imperial battle flag on Kiska Island in the Aleutians on 6 June 1942.
Japanese troops raise the Imperial battle flag on Kiska Island in the Aleutians on 6 June 1942.

The Japanese plan was to launch an air attack on Dutch Harbor followed by an amphibious attack on the island of Adak, 480 miles west. Japanese troops were ordered to destroy any American defenses there. However, the island was undefended. After this, they would conduct landings at Kiska, 240 miles west of Adak, and Attu, 180 miles west of Kiska. Fortunately, US Naval intelligence had cracked the Japanese code and knew of the looming attack by 21 May 1942. At the time, there were about 45,000 US soldiers in Alaska, many of which were air force personnel and engineers, with only about 2,300 infantry troops spread across three bases.

Once American intelligence learned of the impending Japanese attack, Air Force reconnaissance planes were sent out to search for the fleet. On 2 June, one of these planes spotted the fleet 800 miles southwest of Dutch Harbor. However, bad weather prevented them from tracking the fleet later in the day. On 3 June 1942, the Japanese started a two-day bombing of Dutch Harbor. Approximately half of the bombers achieved their goals as many got lost in the dark and fog and crashed in the ocean. Seventeen Japanese planes reached the base, but were immediately subjected to intense anti-aircraft fire and attacks from Air Force fighters. The Japanese pilots were surprised by the American response, quickly dropped their bombs, and rushed back to their carriers, inflicting minimal damage. The Japanese returned the next day better prepared and inflicted more damage to the oil storage tanks, hospital, and beached barracks ship.

Bad weather made it difficult for American pilots to sink the Japanese ships as they were ordered. However, the weather also forced the Japanese to cancel their planned invasion of Adak. Nevertheless, they proceeded with their attacks on Kiska on 6 June and Attu on 7 June. These invasions shocked America with many fearing that if the Japanese retained control of the Aleutian Islands, they could launch attacks on the US West Coast.

American troops at Massacre Bay, Attu, Aleutian Islands, US Territory of Alaska, 11 May 1943.
American troops at Massacre Bay, Attu, Aleutian Islands, US Territory of Alaska, 11 May 1943.

The US Air Force set up a base on Adak Island from which to bomb the Japanese on Kiska. Navy ships and submarines also patrolled the area, engaging the Japanese fleet on several occasions. In March 1943, American forces successfully eliminated the Japanese supply convoys in the Battle of the Komandorski Islands. In May 1943, American infantry launched Operation Landcrab, to recapture Attu. The grisly battle saw one of the largest banzai charges of the Pacific campaign, but ultimately the Japanese force there was decimated. In August 1943, a combined force of 34,426 US and Canadian troops landed on Kiska, after a three-week barrage. However, they found the island had been abandoned two weeks earlier and the campaign was declared over by August 15.

Battle of Midway

Having learned important lessons at Coral Sea, the United States Navy was prepared when the Japanese navy under Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto launched an offensive aimed at destroying the American Pacific Fleet at Midway Island. The Japanese hoped to embarrass the Americans after the humiliation of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. Midway was a strategic island that both sides wished to use as an air base. Yamamoto hoped to achieve complete surprise and a quick capture of the island, followed by a decisive carrier battle with which he could destroy the American carrier fleet. Before the battle began, however, American intelligence intercepted his plan, allowing Admiral Chester Nimitz to formulate an effective defensive ambush of the Japanese fleet. On 3 June, in the preliminary moves of the Battle of Midway, American land-based aircraft from Midway located and attacked Japanese transports about 600 miles west of Midway Island. U.S. Army Air Forces Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses inflicted no damage, however, and four Consolidated PBY Catalina patrol bombers were sent out from Midway for a night attack on the approaching landing forces. As part of the overall Japanese plan, planes from light carriers Ryujo and Junyo bombed Dutch Harbor.

USS Yorktown and USS Enterprise dive bombers attacking Japanese aircraft carriers during the Battle of Midway.
USS Yorktown and USS Enterprise dive bombers attacking Japanese aircraft carriers during the Battle of Midway.

Just after midnight on 4 June, Admiral Nimitz, based on patrol plane reports, advised Task Forces 16 and 17 of the course and speed of the Japanese "main body," also noting their distance of 574 miles from Midway. Shortly after dawn, a patrol plane spotted two Japanese carriers and their escorts, reporting "Many planes heading Midway from 320 degrees distant 150 miles!" The first engagement on 4 June, however, took place when the four night-flying PBYs attacked the Japanese transports northwest of Midway, with one PBY torpedoing a fleet tanker. Later that morning, at roughly 0630, Japanese carrier aircraft bombed Midway installations. Although defending U.S. Marine Corps fighters suffered disastrous losses, the Japanese only inflicted slight damage to the island’s facilities on Midway.

Over the next two hours, Japanese fighter aircraft on combat air patrol (CAP) and antiaircraft fire from the Japanese fleet annihilated the repeated attacks by Midway-based Marine Corps scout bombers and Navy torpedo bombers. Army Air Forces heavy bombers and torpedo-carrying medium bombers likewise bombed the Japanese carrier force without success, although without losses to themselves. Between 0930 and 1030, Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bombers from the three American carriers attacked the Japanese carriers. Although nearly wiped out by the defending Japanese fighters and antiaircraft fire, they drew off enemy aircraft, leaving the skies open for dive bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown. Douglas SBD Dauntlesses from Enterprise bombed and fatally damaged carriers Kaga and Akagi, while SBDs from Yorktown bombed and wrecked carrier Soryu.

Scene on board USS Yorktown (CV-5), shortly after she was hit by three Japanese bombs on 4 June 1942.
Scene on board USS Yorktown (CV-5), shortly after she was hit by three Japanese bombs on 4 June 1942.

At 1100, Hiryu, the one Japanese carrier that escaped destruction that morning, launched dive bombers that temporarily disabled Yorktown around noon. Three and a half hours later, Hiryu's torpedo planes struck a second blow, forcing Yorktown's abandonment. In return, Dauntlesses from Enterprise mortally damaged Hiryu in a strike around 1700 that afternoon. The destruction of the Carrier Strike Force compelled Admiral Yamamoto to abandon his Midway invasion plans, and the Japanese fleet began to retire westward. On 5 June, TF 16 under command of Rear Admiral Spruance pursued the Japanese fleet westward, while work continued to salvage the damaged Yorktown. Both Akagi and Hiryu, damaged the previous day, were scuttled by Japanese destroyers early that day.

The last air attacks of the battle took place on 6 June, when dive bombers from Enterprise and Hornet bombed and sank heavy cruiser Mikuma, and damaged destroyers Asashio and Arashio,,as well as the cruiser Mogami. At Spruance's express orders, issued because of the destruction of the three torpedo squadrons on 4 June, Enterprise Devastators that accompanied the strike did not attack because of the threat to them from surface antiaircraft fire. After recovering its aircraft, TF 16 turned eastward and broke off contact with the enemy. COMINT intercepts over the following two days documented the withdrawal of Japanese forces toward Saipan and the Home Islands.

Also on 6 June, Japanese submarine I-168 interrupted the U.S. salvage operations on Yorktown, torpedoing the carrier and torpedoing and sinking destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412). Screening destroyers depth-charged I-168, but the Japanese submarine escaped destruction. Yorktown finally rolled over and sank at dawn on 7 June.

The Japanese lost approximately 3,057 men, four carriers, one cruiser, and hundreds of aircraft, while the United States lost approximately 362 men, one carrier, one destroyer, and 144 aircraft. This critical US victory stopped the growth of Japan in the Pacific and put the United States in a position to begin shrinking the Japanese empire through a years-long series of island-hopping invasions and several even larger naval battles.

Island Hopping

Following the resounding victory at Midway, the United States began a major land offensive. The Allies came up with a strategy known as Island hopping, or the bypassing of islands that either served little or no strategic importance[38] or were heavily defended but could be bypassed, such as Rabaul. Because air power was crucial to any operation, only islands that could support airstrips were targeted by the Allies. The fighting for each island in the Pacific Theater would be savage, as the Americans faced a determined and battle-hardened enemy who had known little defeat on the ground.

Guadalcanal Campaign

Guadalcanal, fought from August 1942 to February 1943, was the first major Allied offensive of the war in the Pacific Theater. This campaign pitted American air, naval and ground forces (later augmented by Australians and New Zealanders) against determined Japanese resistance. Guadalcanal was the key to control the Solomon Islands, which both sides saw as strategically essential. Both sides won some battles but both sides were overextended in terms of supply lines. Logistical failures in a hostile physical environment hampered everyone. As happened time and again in the Pacific, the Japanese logistical support system failed, as only 20% of the supplies dispatched from Rabaul to Guadalcanal ever reached there. Consequently, the 30,000 Japanese troops lacked heavy equipment, enough ammunition and even enough food; 10,000 were killed, 10,000 starved to death, and the remaining 10,000 were evacuated in February 1943. In the end Guadalcanal was a major American victory as the Japanese inability to keep pace with the rate of American reinforcements proved decisive. Guadalcanal is an iconic episode in the annals of American military history, underscoring the heroic bravery of underequipped individuals in fierce combat with a determined foe.

Marines from the 1st Marine Division landed on 7 August 1942, soldiers from the Army XIV Corps reinforced and eventually replaced in late-November 1942. They quickly captured Henderson Field, and prepared defenses. In the Battle of Bloody Ridge, the Americans held off wave after wave of Japanese counterattacks before charging what was left of the Japanese. After more than six months of combat the island was firmly under Allied control on 8 February 1943.

Meanwhile, the rival navies fought seven battles, with the two sides diving the victories. Following the Japanese victory at the Battle of Savo Island on 8–9 August, Admiral Fletcher withdrew his ships from around Guadalcanal. A second Japanese naval force sailed south and engaged the American fleet in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons on 24–25 August, ending in a draw but forced the Japanese naval force to retreat. On 11–12 October 1942, to disrupt Japanese attempts to reinforce and resupply their troops on Guadalcanal (nicknamed the "Tokyo Express"), a small US naval force attacked this supply line at the Battle of Cape Esperance and succeeded. In support of the Japanese ground offensive in October, Japanese naval forces engaged and hoped to decisively defeat any US naval forces in the area of operation at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 25–27 October 1942, however the Japanese failed to decisively defeat US Navy. From 12 to 15 November 1942, the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal took place: Learning that the Japanese were trying to reinforce their troops for an attack on Henderson Field, US forces launched aircraft and warship to prevent the Japanese ground troops from reaching Guadalcanal, the US succeeded thus turning back Japan's last major attempt to dislodge Allied forces from Guadalcanal. A small US naval force attempted to surprise and destroy the Japanese Navy were attempting to deliver supplies to their forces on Guadalcanal at Battle of Tassafaronga however it wasn't successful. The final naval battle took place between 29 and 30 January 1943, known as the Battle of Rennell Island, US naval forces attempted to stop the Japanese Navy from evacuating its ground forces from Guadalcanal. However, the Japanese successfully forced the US Navy to withdraw, protecting the Japanese evacuation.


Guadalcanal made it clear to the Americans that the Japanese would fight to the bitter end. After brutal fighting in which few prisoners were taken on either side, the United States and the Allies pressed on the offensive. The American landings at Tarawa on 20 November 1943, became bogged down as armor attempting to break through the Japanese lines of defense either sank, were disabled or took on too much water to be of use. The Americans were eventually able to land a limited number of tanks and drive inland. After days of fighting they took control of Tarawa on 23 November. Of the original 2,600 Japanese soldiers on the island, only 17 were still alive.

Operations in the Central Pacific

In preparation for the recapture of the Philippines, the Allies started the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign to retake the Gilbert and Marshall Islands from the Japanese in summer 1943. Moving closer to Japan, the US Navy decisively won the Battle of the Philippine Sea and landing forces captured the Mariana and Palau Islands in summer 1944. The goal was building airbases within range of the new B-29 bomber aimed at Japan's industrial cities.

Battle of Leyte Gulf and Philippines Campaign (1944–45)

The Battle of Leyte Gulf in 23–26 October 1944, was a decisive American victory that sank virtually the entire remaining Japanese fleet in arguably the largest naval battle in history. Although the Japanese came surprisingly close to inflicting a major defeat on the Americans, at the last minute the Japanese panicked and lost. The battle was a complex overlapping series of engagements fought off the Philippine island of Leyte, which the US Army had just invaded. The army forces were highly vulnerable to naval attack, and the Japanese goal was to inflict massive destruction. Two American fleets were involved, the Seventh and Third, but they were independent and did not communicate well so the Japanese with a trick maneuver slipped between the two American fleets and almost reached the beaches. However the Japanese communication system was even worse, and the Japanese army and navy did not cooperate, and the three Japanese fleets were each destroyed.

General MacArthur fulfilled his promise to return to the Philippines by landing at Leyte on 20 October 1944. The grueling re-capture of the Philippines took place from 1944 to 1945 and included the battles of Leyte, Luzon, and Mindanao.

Battle of Iwo Jima

The Americans did not bypass the small island of Iwo Jima because it wanted bases for fighter escorts; it was actually used as an emergency landing base for B-29s. The Japanese knew they could not win, but they devised a strategy to maximize American casualties. Learning from the Battle of Saipan they prepared many fortified positions on the island, including pillboxes and tunnels. The Marines attack began on 19 February 1945. Initially the Japanese put up no resistance, letting the Americans mass, creating more targets before the Americans took intense fire from Mount Suribachi and fought throughout the night until the hill was surrounded. Over the next 36 days, the Japanese were pressed into an ever-shrinking pocket, but they chose to fight on to the end, leaving only 1,000 of the original 21,000 defenders alive. The Marines suffered as well, suffering 25,000 casualties. The battle became iconic in America as the epitome of heroism in desperate hand-to-hand combat.

Battle of Okinawa

Okinawa became the last major battle of the Pacific Theater and the Second World War. The island was to become a staging area for the eventual invasion of Japan since it was just 350 miles (560 km) south of Mainland Japan. Marines and soldiers landed unopposed on 1 April 1945, to begin an 82-day campaign which became the largest land-sea-air battle in history and was noted for the ferocity of the fighting and the high civilian casualties with over 150,000 Okinawans losing their lives. Japanese kamikaze pilots caused the largest loss of ships in US naval history with the sinking of 38 and the damaging of another 368. Total US casualties were over 12,500 dead and 38,000 wounded, while the Japanese lost over 110,000 soldiers and 150,000 civilians. The fierce combat and high American losses led the Army and the Navy to oppose an invasion of the main islands. An alternative strategy was chosen: using the atomic bomb to induce surrender.

Strategic Bombing of Japan

The flammability of Japan's large cities, and the concentration of munitions production there, made strategic bombing the favorite strategy of the Americans from 1941 onward. The first efforts were made from bases in China, where massive efforts to establish B-29 bases there and supply them over the Hump (the Himalayas) failed in 1944; the Japanese Army simply moved overland and captured the bases. Saipan and Tinian, captured by the US in June 1944, gave secure bases for the very-long-range B-29. The Boeing B-29 Superfortress boasted four 2,200 horsepower Wright R-3350 supercharged engines that could lift four tons of bombs 33,000 feet (high above Japanese flak or fighters), and make 3,500-mile round trips. However, the systematic raids that began in June 1944, were unsatisfactory, because the AAF had learned too much in Europe; it overemphasized self-defense. Arnold, in personal charge of the campaign (bypassing the theater commanders), brought in a new leader, brilliant, indefatigable, hard-charging General Curtis LeMay. In early 1945, LeMay ordered a radical change in tactics: remove the machine guns and gunners, fly in low at night. (Much fuel was used to get to 30,000 feet; it could now be replaced with more bombs.) The Japanese radar, fighter, and anti-aircraft systems were so ineffective that they could not hit the bombers. Fires raged through the cities, and millions of civilians fled to the mountains.

Tokyo was hit repeatedly, and during the first massive fire raid of 9–10 March 1945 suffered a conflagration of about 16 square miles (41 km2) in area, that killed at least 83,000. On 5 June, 51,000 buildings in four miles of Kobe were burned out by 473 B-29s; the Japanese were learning to fight back, as 11 B-29s went down and 176 were damaged.[53] Osaka, where one-sixth of the Empire's munitions were made, was hit by 1,733 tons of incendiaries dropped by 247 B-29s. A firestorm burned out 8.1 square miles, including 135,000 houses; 4,000 died.[54][55] The Japanese local officials reported:

Although damage to big factories was slight, approximately one-fourth of some 4,000 lesser factories, which operated hand-in-hand with the big factories, were destroyed by fire... Moreover, owing to the rising fear of air attacks, workers in general were reluctant to work in the factories, and the attendance fluctuated as much as 50 percent.

The Japanese army, which was not based in the cities, was largely undamaged by the raids. The Army was short of food and gasoline, but, as Iwo Jima and Okinawa proved, it was capable of ferocious resistance. The Japanese also had a new tactic that it hoped would provide the bargaining power to get a satisfactory peace, the Kamikaze.

The Kamikaze

In late 1944 the Japanese invented an unexpected and highly effective new tactic, the Kamikaze suicide plane aimed like a guided missile at American ships. The attacks began in October 1944 and continued to the end of the war. Experienced pilots were used to lead a mission because they could navigate; they were not Kamikazes, and they returned to base for another mission. The Kamikaze pilots were inexperienced and had minimal training; but most were well-educated and intensely committed to the Emperor.

Kamikaze attacks were highly effective at the Battle of Okinawa as 4000 kamikaze sorties sank 38 US ships and damaged 368 more, killing 4,900 sailors. Task Force 58 analyzed the Japanese technique at Okinawa in April 1945:

"Rarely have the enemy attacks been so cleverly executed and made with such reckless determination. These attacks were generally by single or few aircraft making their approaches with radical changes in course and altitude, dispersing when intercepted and using cloud cover to every advantage. They tailed our friendlies home, used decoy planes, and came in at any altitude or on the water."

The Americans decided the best defense against Kamikazes was to knock them out on the ground, or else in the air long before they approached the fleet. The Navy called for more fighters, and more warning, which meant combat air patrols circling the big ships, more radar picket ships (which themselves became prime targets), and more attacks on airbases and gasoline supplies. Japan suspended Kamikaze attacks in May 1945, because it was now hoarding gasoline and hiding planes in preparation for new suicide attacks if the Allies dared to invade their home islands. The Kamikaze strategy allowed the use of untrained pilots and obsolete planes, and since evasive maneuvering was dropped and there was no return trip, the scarce gasoline reserves could be stretched further. Since pilots guided their airplane like a guided missile all the way to the target, the proportion of hits was much higher than in ordinary bombing. Japan's industry was manufacturing 1,500 new planes a month in 1945. However, the quality of construction was very poor, and many new planes crashed during training or before reaching targets.

Expecting increased resistance, including far more Kamikaze attacks once the main islands of Japan were invaded, the US high command rethought its strategy and used atomic bombs to end the war, hoping it would make a costly invasion unnecessary.

Allied Submarines in the Pacific

US submarines took part in the majority of naval battles in the Pacific theater, but the submarines were most decisive in their blockade of Japan, for which Japan was dependent on its sea transport to provide resources for its war effort.

On the afternoon of 7 December 1941, six hours after the Japanese attack, US naval commanders in the Pacific were ordered by the US Navy Chief of Staff to "execute unrestricted air and submarine warfare against Japan". This order authorized all US submarines in the Pacific to attack and sink any warship, commercial vessel, or civilian passenger ship flying the Japanese flag, without warning. The Pacific Fleet and the Asiatic Fleet Submarine Force immediately went into action to counter the Japanese offensive across the Pacific, such as in the Philippines, Indochina, Dutch East Indies and Malaya. The US Navy submarine force was small; less than 2%. On 7 December 1941, the US Navy had 55 fleet and 18-medium-sized submarines (S-boats) in the Pacific, 38 submarines elsewhere, and 73 under construction. By the war's end the US had completed 228 submarines.

US Navy submarines were often used for surveillance. This included reconnaissance US submarines landed and supplied guerillas in Japanese occupied territory and carrying in commandos for missions such as the Makin Island raid, they also rescued crews of aircraft which had been forced down over the ocean.

As a result of several key improvements in strategy and tactics, from 1943, Allied submarines waged a more effective campaign against Japanese merchant shipping and the IJN, in effect strangling the Japanese Empire of resources. By the end of the war in August 1945, US Navy submarines sank around 1300 Japanese merchant ships, as well as roughly 200 warships.[66] Only 42 US submarines were sunk in the Pacific, but 3,500 (22%) submariners were killed, the highest casualty rate of any American force in World War II. The force destroyed over half of all Japanese merchant ships, totaling well over five million tons of shipping.

Allied Submarines in the Pacific

As victory for the United States slowly approached, casualties mounted. A fear in the American high command was that an invasion of mainland Japan would lead to enormous losses on the part of the Allies, as casualty estimates for the planned Operation Downfall demonstrate. As Japan was able to withstand the devastating incendiary raids and naval blockade despite hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, President Harry Truman gave the order to drop the only two available atomic bombs, hoping that such sheer force of destruction on a city would break Japanese resolve and end the war. The first bomb was dropped on an industrial city, Hiroshima, on 6 August 1945, killing approximately 70,000 people. A second bomb was dropped on another industrial city, Nagasaki, on 9 August after it appeared that the Japanese high command was not planning to surrender, killing approximately 35,000 people. Fearing additional atomic attacks, Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945.

V-J Day which occurred on 15 August 1945 marked the end of the United States' war with the Empire of Japan. Since Japan was the last remaining Axis Power, V-J Day also marked the end of World War II.

China Burma India Theater

China Burma India Theater (CBI) was the United States military designation during World War II for the China and Southeast Asian or India–Burma (IBT) theaters. Operational command of Allied forces (including U.S. forces) in the CBI was officially the responsibility of the Supreme Commanders for South East Asia or China. However, US forces in practice were usually overseen by General Joseph Stilwell, the Deputy Allied Commander in China; the term "CBI" was significant in logistical, material and personnel matters; it was and is commonly used within the US for these theaters.

U.S. and Chinese fighting forces in the CBI included the Chinese Expeditionary Force, the Flying Tigers, transport and bomber units flying the Hump (Himalayas), including the Tenth Air Force, the 1st Air Commando Group, the engineers who built the Ledo Road, the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), popularly known as "Merrill's Marauders", and the 5332d Brigade, Provisional or 'Mars Task Force', which assumed the Marauders' mission.

The 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) but nicknamed "Merrill's Marauders" after its commander; Frank Merrill, was a United States Army long range penetration special operations jungle warfare unit organized as light infantry assault units. In slightly more than five months of combat in 1944, the Marauders advanced 750 miles through some of the harshest jungle terrain in the world, fought in five major engagements, mostly behind enemy lines, with or in support of British Empire and Chinese forces in Burma and suffered many casualties. On 10 August 1944 the Marauders were consolidated into the 475th Infantry. The US also had an adviser to Chiang Kai-shek and Joseph Stillwell. Units of the Tenth Air Force, Fourteenth Air Force, and Twentieth Air Force of the USAAF also served in the theatre, including the previously mentioned "Flying Tigers".

References and Resources

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Retrieved 15 May 2021, from Military History of the United States During World War II.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Retrieved 15 May 2021, China Burma India Theater.

Naval History and Heritage Command.
Published 5 December 2019, Pearl Harbor Attack.

Tagalong Lang.
Published unknown, Battle of the Philippines, 1941-1942.

Business Insider.
Christopher Woody, 9 Apr 2019, Bataan Death March.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Retrieved 5 June 2021, Doolittle Raid.

From Naval History and Heritage Command
Published 27 February 2020, Battle of the Coral Sea

From Naval History and Heritage Command
Published 4 June 2021, Battle of Midway