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A WORLD WAR II SUMMARY: Page 1 · Page 2 · Page 3 · Timeline
The attainment of their main goals left the Japanese high command with an opportunity they had to exploit. They knew that the only way to win would be to build a strategic defense in depth, based on numerous fortified belts. This became necessary because contrary to expectations, American public opinion was far from being passive and weak. Indeed, it had galvanized into an angry frenzy. American citizens of Japanese descent had been rounded up and sent to remote camps, and a huge naval building program was further augmented. As a result, there would be no negotiated peace, and the various Japanese high commands were slowly faced with the prospect of a long war, something that had been considered and even planned, but for which little preparation had been carried out.

This was driven home by the unexpected "Doolittle Bombing" of Tokyo by a small group of American bomber pilots who flew their aircraft on a one-way mission. The Japanese tried to play down the meaning of this action, but the mere fact that enemy aircraft had flown through the airspace over the Emperor's Palace left many in indignant shock, and gave more thoughtful people an early taste of Allied determination.

A first step in Japanese high command’s defensive belt strategy was an advance into the southeast Pacific in order cut the line of communication and supply between the United States and Australia. At the same time, the central Pacific island of Midway was to be seized in order to anchor the left flank of the Gilbert Islands and to forestall direct American advances toward the Japanese homeland. While offensive in appearance, these campaigns were actually defensive in strategic tone. Their goals were to complete a defensive belt which the allies would find impregnable.

The first of these operations were launched against the crucial Australian position at Port Moresby, New Guinea, and against the lightly held island of Tulagi in the British Solomons. The Tulagi-Moresby operation quickly spiraled into a major naval-air battle in the Coral Sea as American aircraft carriers which had survived Pearl Harbor intervened, losing one of their own number in the process. The end result was tactically a Japanese victory, but American intervention had damaged both of the Japanese Navy's most modern Early Naval Battles | Click to see imagesfleet carriers and triggered a cancellation of the Port Moresby invasion. This failure to secure New Guinea was to have dire strategic consequences for the Japanese, whereas the loss of one aircraft carrier turned out to have little impact on Allied fortunes.

Immediately following the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese fleet again sailed toward Hawaiian waters as part of their Midway operation. The resulting defeat, in which the Japanese lost four of their largest aircraft carriers in exchange for sinking only one American carrier was a loss from which there could be no recovery. The Battle of the Coral Sea had blunted the Japanese run across the Pacific at great loss to the allies, but the Battle of Midway cut off a part of the Japanese advance at great cost to the Japanese themselves.

Following Midway, the Japanese resumed their efforts to create powerful airfields in the Solomon Islands, the one area which their mid-1942 campaign had made tangible gains. The realization that the Japanese were preparing to develop air strikes against their eastern Pacific supply line brought a robust Allied response. By early August, American marines landed on the islands of Tulagi and Guadalcanal, quickly capturing the lightly manned airfield on the larger island. Within 24 hours the Japanese Navy responded by delivering a stinging defeat on the Allied surface fleet during an all night battle. Over the ensuing days and nights, the American marines held on through vicious land attacks and naval bombardments. Their hard won gain was finally made good when the first friendly aircraft landed at Henderson Field on August 20. The new arrivals immediately made their presence felt, and Japanese naval operations became increasingly gauged to the likelihood of U.S. air intervention. Indeed the dive bombers that operated out of newly named Henderson Field learned how to attack targets at night, which further complicated Japanese planning.

By this time, many Japanese naval officers were ruefully considering the warning they had received at the beginning of the war. They had been told by their commander in chief, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, that in order to guarantee victory, each Japanese captain would have to sink five Allied ships without losing his own. Experience from pre-war maneuvers had taught veteran officers the improbability of such a success ratio, and as the reality of this sank in, Japanese naval morale began to suffer. By the end of 1942 the allies controlled parts of the eastern Solomon Islands, and even though the entire area remained contested by the Japanese, their officers on the scene were aware that they had allowed themselves to be drawn into a losing battle of attrition over this remote location. This view was not shared by high command in Tokyo, which dispatched ever higher level commanders to the scene in order to deliver results. News that the British were attempting to reenter Burma from India further reminded Japanese planners that more than one enemy was nipping at their heels. The new year would see a further deterioration of the situation as many Japanese commands found themselves isolated by burgeoning Allied air and sea superiority.


Early 1943 was a period of consolidation for both sides. The Japanese tried to prepare for the next Allied moves, and the Allies debated the best way to employ their available resources, which were being shared with the needs of the European theater. After a period of volatile debate, it was decided to follow a two-pronged advance. One advance was to leap frog through the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, cutting off strong Japanese positions and using air-sea superiority to prevent rescue of the isolated troops. The other advance would push through the central Pacific in a series of amphibious invasions. Once these plans had been achieved, the Allies would then decide whether to split the Japanese empire in half by capturing either Formosa or the Philippines. While these plans were being formulated, Japanese Admiral Yamamoto was killed when his transport plane was shot down by American P-38 fighters over Bougainville. This was achieved through the successful American monitoring of Japanese radio transmissions, whose code the Americans repeatedly broke during the war. This vital flow of information allowed the Allies to know virtually all Japanese plans and movements before their execution.

By the middle of the year, Allied forces were pushing relentlessly up the length of the Solomon Island chain. New Georgia and BougainvilleIsland Warfare | Click to see photos both fell to the Allies, as well as Lae, New Guinea, which fell to Australian forces on September 15. Throughout this period, forces from the United States, Australia, Great Britain, China, India, New Zealand, and many other countries continued to tie down, surround or hem in Japanese troops and ships across Asia and the Pacific. At home, many senior Japanese diplomats and government officials began to worry privately about the magnitude of Japan's overextended assets. They had actually begun the war with a shortage of shipping and fighting on multiple fronts combined with losses inflicted by American submarines overburdened the already weak system.

In November, the Allied Central Pacific drive began when U.S. Marines stormed ashore on the Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands. Within 72 bloody hours they captured this supposedly unbeatable stronghold, opening another breach in Japan's outer defenses. But imperial high command in Tokyo was coming to its senses and anticipated the loss of their outer ring. The Gilbert islands had already been written off as a loss and more serious defensive preparations were underway further to the west. Throughout 1943, American industrial output continued to make itself felt. By the end of the year, aircraft production climbed to well over 7,000 planes per month. Japanese production during this period doubled to 1,500 per month, not enough to compete even after accounting for American aircraft sent to Europe. American ship production was equally prodigious, with over 500 destroyers and destroyer escorts launched since 1941, compared to 30 for Japan. Japanese aircraft carrier production was comparatively high, with a launch rate nearly 50% that of the American production level. But many of the completed carriers lacked aircraft and trained aircrews, and several of these priceless vessels were lost to American submarines that increasingly prowled Japanese waters.

A WTJ WORLD WAR II SUMMARY: Page 1 · Page 2 · Page 3 · Timeline
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