WW2 - Pacific Theatre - Five Facts
The initial goals of Japanese at Pearl Harbor was to neutralize the US Navy, seize areas rich in natural resources (oil, rubber, food), and establish strategic military bases to defend Japan's empire in the Pacific Ocean and Asia. To further those goals, Japanese forces captured the Philippines, Thailand, Malaya, Singapore, Burma, the Dutch East Indies, Wake Island, Gilbert Islands, New Britain and Guam. Joining the U.S. in the war against Japan were the United Kingdom, Australia, China, and the Netherlands.
December 7, 1941: "A Date That Will Live in Infamy"
American KIA 2,402, WIA 1.282. US ships sunk: 11, including 4 battleships. 168 planes destroyed, 155 damaged. 354 Japanese planes participated in the attack in 2 waves; 55 airmen killed;29 planes lost. The attack crippled the U.S. battleship fleet and President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan the following day.
A Japanese 3rd wave, scheduled to attack the massive fuel depots, drydocks, and harbor facilities was cancelled; a tactical and strategic mistake that enabled the United States to rebuild the ships and go on the offensive a year sooner than expected.
The Battle of Midway
June 4-6, 1942 - Japan's Adm Isoroku Yamamoto planned to pressure the United States to negotiate by invading the Hawaiian Islands, starting at Midway Island. However he was unaware American codebreakers had broken the Japanese naval code, enabling the American's to strike first. After three days, the Japanese navy had lost four of its six fleet carriers, 248 aircraft, with 3000 sailors and pilots killed; losses which Japan could never replace. This was the first clear victory for the U.S., who lost the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown.
Guadalcanal; 7 August 1942- February 1943. The battle of Guadalcanal was the turning point of the war. Although the US Navy (Vice Adm Frank Fletcher) abandoned the Marines by sailing off after two days, before unloading their ammunition, food, and supplies, the 11,000-strong 1st Marine Division held, eating captured Japanese rations before they were finally reinforced. In three major land battles (Tenaru River, Bloody Ridge, Matanikou) the Marines forced the Japanese Army and Navy to halt their planned invasion of Australia in order to reinforce their troops on Guadalcanal
The Rise of the Aircraft Carrier
Naval strategy changed after Pearl Harbor. No longer was the battleship the key to projecting naval power; now the aircraft carrier reigned supreme. The Japanese aircraft carriers opened the war by sinking the American battleships at Pearl Harbor and two British battleships, while airpower flying off the American aircraft carriers at Midway halted the Japanese advance. The few battleship-on-battleship engagements were indecisive, while American carrier-based dive and torpedo bombers sank the Japanese 72,800 ton super-battleships Mushashi and Yamato at little cost to themselves.
The Bombing Campaign over Japan
The 16-plane Doolittle Raid over Tokyo in April 1942 was successfully launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, but the Army Air Force needed land bases close to Japan for their B-29 Super Fortresses, hence the need for the Marine-Navy advance across the Pacific. The bombing campaign began in November 1944 after the Marines captured the Mariana Islands, providing the B-29's with the bases they required. By war's end, Japan's 33 largest cities had been destroyed, killing an estimated 330,000 and destroying the Japanese industrial base in nightly raids in which 275-335 B-29's often participated.
Japan's Adm Yamamoto was correct when following Pearl Harbor he said "I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant, and filled him with a terrible resolve." That resolve was a combination of American industrial strength and personal courage that by VJ Day (August 15,1945), the US Navy operated 28 aircraft carriers, 23 battleships, 71 escort carriers, 72 cruisers, and 232 submarines, while the US Marines grew from 26,400 prior to Pearl Harbor to 485,000.