Go to WTJ Information Page Go to WTJ Portal Go to WTJ War Series Go to WTJ Archives Go to WTJ Articles Go to WTJ Gaming Go to WTJ Store Go to WTJ Home Page


A WORLD WAR II SUMMARY: Page 1 · Page 2 · Page 3 · Timeline
Early on the morning of December 8, 1941, the Second World War in the Pacific was begun with an amphibious attack by Imperial Japanese Army troops on the northeast coast of British Malaya. Within hours they pushed their way inland despite heavy transport losses at the hands of the few British aircraft that were in the area. Other attacks by Japanese forces across the Pacific followed in rapid succession, the largest of them aimed at the giant American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where it was still December 7.¹

Over the following days a meticulously planned campaign unfolded as Japanese forces launched themselves against key American, Dutch and British Commonwealth units in the Philippines, Siam, Malaya, the Dutch East Indies and China, the ultimate goal of which was Japanese control of eastern Asia and the western Pacific. The Japanese government believed that once these regions were firmly under their control, the Allies – and especially the United States – would sue for peace rather than fight a bloody war in distant lands. The Japanese however, did not anticipate the angry backlash which came as a result of their use of force at Pearl Harbor. A negotiated settlement of the type envisioned by Japanese high command became impossible. In the end, a grimly determined Allied coalition fought its way back across the Pacific, island by island, until the twin spectres of nuclear bombardment and war with the Soviet Union forced Imperial intervention and the end of war.

1941 - The Start of War
The Japanese offensives of 1941 were composed of several bold moves across the western pacific basin, something never before attempted on such a large scale. This military solution called for the complete occupation of Southeast Asia and the Dutch East Indies in order to secure much needed raw resources. The most famous part of this plan was executed with a dawn attack against the American Army and Navy bases located on the pacific island of Oahu, Hawaii. Most technical goals for the attack were achieved with clock-like precision by the cream-of-the-crop of Japan's naval aviators. They did not however, catch any of the priceless American aircraft carriers in port, nor did the Japanese task force commander authorize a second round of sorties which were strongly recommended by his flight officers. This second sortie could have destroyed valuable American oil reserves which lay in vulnerable surface storage tanks immediately next to the harbor. The attack itself united American public opinion in ways that the U.S. government could never have achieved. Japanese officers later acknowledged that the core damage caused by the sensational attack – the sinking of a relatively few older American battleships – was not worth the sustaining effect it had on the American war effort.

As news of the devastating raid against Pearl Harbor was telegraphed to Washington, orders were sent far and wide to American and Commonwealth forces in the Pacific "...a state of war exists... commence hostilities." American General Douglas MacArthur lost a golden opportunity to blunt the effects of the pending Japanese attack on his Philippine command. Unbeknownst to him the Japanese bomber fleet in Formosa had been delayed by weather, allowing an eight-hour gap to occur in the tight Japanese time table. MacArthur wasted this precious window of opportunity by failing to put extra fighters into the air. He didn't scramble his bombers to alternate airstrips. He did not even move the hundreds of aircraft under his command off of the open tarmacs where they were arrayed in neat rows. Virtually no action was taken despite the very recent knowledge that the German Luftwaffe had devastated grounded enemy air fleets in the opening minutes and hours of a campaign.

When Japanese bombers finally arrived late over the Philippines, they were surprised to discover no extra resistance, no extra fighter opposition, and best of all the entire American bomber fleet lined up neatly in rows. The war was certainly off to a good start for them. War Begins | Click to see imagesWithin two days Japanese infantry landed in Northern Luzon and by December 22 an entire army had successfully come ashore, triggering the allied evacuation of Manila and a fighting withdrawal to the Bataan Peninsula in southwestern Luzon.

For the British and their commonwealth allies, December 8 was an equally bitter day. War sightings arrived furiously as a series of Japanese convoys landed troops along the coasts of Malaya and Siam (Thailand). The first shots of the war were fired by the Japanese when they downed a British plane attempting to shadow their Malaya-bound troop convoy. The main warship presence in the area was the Royal Navy’s Force Z, centered on the new battleship Prince of Wales, and the elderly battlecruiser Repulse. Both vessels were originally sent by the British government as a warning to Japan of Royal Navy might. But as of the evening of December 8, even the pugnacious Winston Churchill admitted that he had become concerned about its safety. This concern came too late, as Japanese bombers caught the two battleships as they retired to Singapore and sank both of them within a few hours. By late December, the British garrison at Hong Kong was forced to surrender, as had a tiny U.S. Marine garrison on the central Pacific island of Wake. The American Army was pinned in place on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines, and the British defenses on the Perak River in Malaya were penetrated. This last loss triggered another retreat south into Singapore. The year 1941 ended on a very grim note for the Allies as Japan's military machine swept everything before it.

Early 1942 saw the Japanese complete the execution of their war plan. On January 10, Imperial forces began the second phase of conquest by landing in the northern areas of the Dutch East Indies. By the middle of the month Burma was invaded and in early February after a brief defense, British General A.E. Percival surrendered Singapore to the Japanese. A disjointed defense was prepared for the southern Dutch East Indies, but this was quickly overcome by meticulously orchestrated blows delivered at the hands of the Japanese Army and Navy. The local allied fleet was virtually wiped out during the Battle of the Java Sea and its aftermath. As the sea-lanes were cleared of allied naval threats, multiple landings took place throughout the key southern islands of Sumatra and Java, completing Japan's advance to the edge of the Indian Ocean. On April 8, the American Army in the Philippines surrendered to Japanese troops besieging them at Bataan, and on May 5, the harbor bastion at Corregidor also fell.

¹ Given dates are based on local times.
A WTJ WORLD WAR II SUMMARY: Page 1 · Page 2 · Page 3 · Timeline
  Copyright © 1999-2013 by The War Times Journal at www.wtj.com. All rights reserved.