February 1942- September 1945: The Japanese Empire
stretched across the face of Southeast Asia, and The Land of the
Rising Sun now cast a long shadow. February 1942, the Japanese
attacked mainland Australia, hitting a naval base at Darwin. Many
people believed the engagement to be the prelude for an invasion,
but the Japanese had overextended themselves. The Allies started
to regain lost ground.
The American forces struck in a two-pronged attack,
with General Douglas MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific, and Admiral
Nimitz in the central Pacific. MacArthur would drive up from the
Solomon Islands, through New Guinea, and then on to the Philippines.
Admiral Nimitz would operate in the central Pacific and island-hop
across the Marshall Islands, Marianas Islands, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
US forces hit the Gilbert Islands at Tarawa in
November 1943. Japanese planes could strike the U.S. Fleet from
Tarawa, so it had to be taken. It was a bloody battle. Tarawa
had strong defences, and of the 3,000 Japanese defenders, only
17 surrendered. Over 1,000 Americans were killed and more than
2,000 wounded. Back in the United States, the public was horrified
at the number of losses in such a short period of time, but the
deaths were but a harbinger of things to come.
In June 1944, Admiral Nimitz turned his attention
to the Marianas Islands of Saipan, Tinian and Guam. His Fleet
was positioned to the west of the island group to protect the
invasion landings. The assemblage of ships came under heavy Japanese
air attack but, with inexperienced pilots and equipment inferior
to that of US forces, the Japanese failed in these attacks . The
Americans had over 900 carrier-based planes compared to Japan's
400. In what became known as the Marianas Turkey Shoot, three-quarters
of Japan's planes were blown out of the sky. The US won the air
battle and, consequently, gained control of the skies over the
This meant that the invasion of the Marianas
Islands could proceed without significant Japanese air or naval
interference, but the islands still had Japanese troops entrenched
and ready to fight to the last man. The Americans paid an ungodly
price for the islands: Saipan alone cost 3,000 lives; the taking
of Tinian was similarly bloody even though the island less well-defended;
and the battle of Guam lasted more than 3 weeks. On October 20th
1944, General MacArthur landed in the Philippines. Come February
1945, Iwo Jima was the target.
Iwo Jima was about 600 miles off the coast of
mainland Japan, and the prelude to the invasion was a two-month
bombardment by naval vessels and from the air. Surviving soldiers
have described this battle as hell, and by the time the Stars
and Stripes was raised over the island, thousands of Americans
had died. Of the 21,000 Japanese troops defending the island,
only 200 were taken alive.
On March 9th 1945, US Bombers struck mainland
Japan and dropped 2,000 tons of incendiary bombs on its capital,
Tokyo. The attack destroyed 16 square miles of the city, and killed
over 80,000 people, many of them suffocating in the firestorm
that followed. More people died in that one sustained attack than
in the entire bombing blitz of Britain. The US forces then created
an air and naval blockade of Japan. Without an effective Navy
or Air force, Japan was cut off from her overseas Armies and,
more importantly, from essential supplies.
While the war in Europe ended on May 8th, 1945
(VE Day -- Victory in Europe Day), the war in the Pacific raged
on. US forces fought fierce battles as they regained Japanese-held
islands and inched their way closer to the Japanese mainland.
The invasion of Okinawa began on April 1 1945. The island, only
350 miles from the Japanese mainland, was strongly defended by
100,000 troops waiting inland - seasoned troops entrenched in
caves, who had established a network of tunnels for communication.
The offshore fleet was exposed to Japanese kamikaze pilots; indeed,
about 2,000 kamikaze missions destroyed 30 American warships and
damaged another 200. Ultimately, the death toll for control of
Okinawa was incredible: more than 100,000 Japanese soldiers, at
least 24,000 civilians, and 12,000 American soldiers were killed.
Upon the death of President Roosevelt on April
12th, 1945, Harry Truman stepped in as President after only 82
days as Vice-president. Roosevelt had led America out of the Depression
in the 30's, and through most of World War II. But the end was
now in sight... and with the end came victory.
During the bloody confrontations against the
Japanese on Siapan, Guam, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, Japanese soldiers
had fought to the end - many soldiers and civilians alike chose
suicide over capture. On one island, more than 8,000 civilians
committed suicide by jumping off a cliff. American military leaders
knew that invading mainland Japan would mean many more Americans
losing their lives. More than 2,000,000 soldiers were earmarked
for the invasion that was to take place some time between November
1945 and March 1946. But the Bomb offered America an alternative.
With the atomic bomb,
America could strike at the very heart of Japan without risking
the lives of millions of American GIs. At the same time it would
show the Russians - who were becoming a viable if awkward power
in Europe - what power the United States now had.
Ten days after the Potsdam conference, the Allies
dictated to Japan the terms for surrender. Failure to accept would
mean utter destruction, which would come in the shape of the world's
first atomic bomb. Surrender terms were ignored by the Japanese,
and orders were given for the bomb to be dropped on the Japanese
city of Hiroshima on the morning
of the 6th of August 1945. It was the turning point of the war,
heralding the defeat and death of one power - the Japanese Empire
- and the birth of a superpower: The United States of America.
A second bomb was planned for August 11th, but the date was brought
forward because of expected bad weather. On the 9th of August
was hit with this second bomb. The Russians had declared war on
Japan the day before, and the Japanese finally capitulated. World
War II was finally over, and V.J.Day (Victory in Japan) is remembered
on the 16th of August. On the 2nd of September 1945, General Douglas
MacArthur accepted the Japanese surrender on the American battleship
U.S.S. Missouri, which was anchored in Tokyo Bay. MacArthur would
go on to command the Occupation forces in Japan, and later to
lead United Nations forces during the Korean war.