Back To CourseHistory 104: US History II
14 chapters | 111 lessons | 10 flashcard sets
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Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.
Japan opened its doors to the outside world in the mid-1800s, and before the century was over, they had begun to expand. In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria and prepared to conquer China. Late in 1940, this military powerhouse allied with Germany and Italy, creating the Axis powers of WWII. This gave them the pretext they needed to invade European colonies in the Pacific, beginning with French Indochina.
In response to these and other actions, the United States had imposed an oil embargo against Japan. Running short on fuel, the Japanese decided to simultaneously discourage further U.S. interference in the region and cripple their ability to wage war in the Pacific. The Empire of Japan attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, along with several other American possessions and Allied colonies. America declared war the next day, as did Britain.
This was the start of a five-month rampage across the Pacific. By the end of 1942, Japan controlled a maritime empire stretching more than 2.8 million square miles. Throughout the war, they also attacked, but didn't conquer, Canada, Australia, many smaller islands, Alaska and even several spots along the west coast of the United States. Since it's impossible for us to discuss every famous battle, we're going to look at just a few events that were either decisive moments in the war or very good examples of what WWII in the Pacific was like.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese also attacked the Philippines and a collection of islands under U.S. control, and Allied forces steadily lost ground. Three months later, General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the U.S. Army in the Far East, abandoned the Philippines and escaped to the safety of Australia with his family and 14 staff officers, promising, 'I shall return!'
MacArthur left behind thousands of soldiers, as well as American nurses and civilians. By May 1942, the troops were nearly out of food and ammunition; they surrendered and the foreign civilians were herded into internment camps for the duration of the war. For three years, only small guerilla units were left to fight back. The 'Gateway to Asia' was now in the hands of the enemy.
Back in April, Japanese soldiers captured at least 72,000 starving American and Filipino men and sent them in groups on a 63-mile march from the Bataan Peninsula to Camp O'Donnell where they would be held temporarily. The troops were so brutalized that only 54,000 arrived at the holding camp. Historians believe most of those unaccounted for died during the walk, while a few managed to escape. Then, about half of the survivors of the Bataan Death March died after reaching Camp O'Donnell. In the end, nearly 86% of the Americans who surrendered at Bataan lost their lives.
Throughout the Pacific roughly 40% of American POWs died in Japanese custody from exhaustion, malnutrition, exposure, torture, disease and execution; some were even killed in medical experiments. Now by comparison, just over 1% of American prisoners died at the hands of the Nazis. Most POWs, including women, were transported to Japan on intentionally unmarked ships, leading to more than 21,000 American casualties from Allied torpedoes. Those who did reach Japan were generally used as slave labor in Japan's war industry or railroad construction. A few prisoners died in the atomic blasts that ended the war in 1945.
For a year, the United States reacted to events in the Pacific without a coordinated strategy. In April 1942, they devised a plan to launch bombers off an aircraft carrier, strike Tokyo and then proceed to an unoccupied part of China. But, the bombers, led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, didn't have enough fuel to reach their planned airstrip after the attack. They flew until they ran out of fuel and the crews ditched them.
Despite the loss of seven men and all 16 planes, the Doolittle Raid was at once a psychological boost for the Americans and a tremendous blow to the Japanese, who believed their homeland was invincible. Furious, the Japanese planned a secret attack that they believed would keep America from ever launching an air raid against Japan again; they planned to destroy the Allied fleet at Midway Island.
Two factors doomed the Japanese attack at Midway before it even began. One was the Battle of the Coral Sea in May. The battle was a tactical victory for Japan, but several strategic ships were damaged or lost, keeping them out of the Battle of Midway. Secondly, the Japanese were unaware that the Americans had cracked their coded messages.
So, on June 4, 1942, Allied forces ambushed the Japanese fleet, sinking four aircraft carriers, a cruiser and two destroyers. Other ships were damaged. Though one American carrier was also lost, Japan no longer had naval supremacy. The Battle of Midway is widely considered the turning point of the war in the Pacific, halting the Japanese advance towards Australia and sending them into retreat.
America and its Allies started island hopping, choosing strategic Japanese possessions to attack as they moved closer and closer to Japan. The battles over tiny outposts in the middle of a vast ocean were surprisingly fierce, as invading forces struggled against deeply entrenched Japanese defenses. But, the Allies had gained the upper hand and were on the offensive.
By the summer of 1944, the successful invasion of Saipan put American bombers within range of Japan. And, it was here that the Allies fully grasped the Japanese concept of 'death before surrender;' nearly 97% of their troops fought to the death and as many as 1,000 civilians committed suicide rather than face an unknown fate at the hand of U.S. soldiers.
Japan's situation was quickly unraveling. Allied forces retook possessions throughout the Pacific and General MacArthur finally returned to reconquer the Philippines in late 1944. The Japanese military initiated desperate strategies to resist an allied invasion. Under-trained pilots, in so-called kamikaze attacks, deliberately crashed their planes into Allied ships. They also dramatically increased the lesser-known strategy of launching balloon bombs destined for the US; one of them killed six people in Oregon.
In early 1945, the U.S. military planned an invasion of two key Japanese possessions, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, followed by a two-part invasion of Japan itself. The Japanese fiercely defended Iwo Jima, just 350 miles from their home shores; a third of all U.S. Marine casualties in the entire war were at Iwo Jima. At Okinawa, a rain of kamikaze attacks inflicted nearly 50,000 American casualties. In both places, Japanese troops refused to surrender, fighting nearly to the last man.
Meanwhile, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died, and Harry Truman became president. While he deliberated the planned invasion of Japan, President Truman learned about the Manhattan Project, a secret program to develop a powerful new weapon: the atomic bomb.
After a decade of regional aggression, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and other Allied possessions in the Pacific on December 7, 1941, and soon gained an empire stretching over 2.8 million square miles. America lost the critically important Philippine Islands in 1942, leaving thousands of troops to suffer the Bataan Death March.
The death rate for American POWs in the Pacific was about 40%. After the Doolittle Raid in 1942, the Japanese wanted revenge and planned to wipe out America's aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway. Instead, American planes decimated the Japanese navy and gained the upper hand.
The Allies began island hopping to approach Japan. Japan defended its territory by using kamikaze attacks and fighting to the last man. High casualties at Iwo Jima and Okinawa caused President Harry Truman to reconsider the planned invasion of Japan, especially when he learned about the Manhattan Project.
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Back To CourseHistory 104: US History II
14 chapters | 111 lessons | 10 flashcard sets