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The War in the Pacific Previous Next
Digital History ID 3497


On December 7, 1941, Japan had launched an offensive incredible in its scale. A thousand Japanese warships attacked an area comprising one-third of the earth's surface, including Guam, Hong Kong, Malaya, Midway Island, the Philippine Islands, and Wake Island. The offensive was a stunning success. Hong Kong was overrun in 18 days; Wake Island in two weeks; Singapore held out for two months. By May, the Japanese had also captured the islands of Borneo, Bali, Sumatra, and Timor. In addition, Japan had taken Rangoon, Burma's main port, and seized control of the rich tin, oil, and rubber resources of Southeast Asia.

By mid-summer of 1942, however, American forces had halted the Japanese advance. In May, a Japanese troop convoy was intercepted and destroyed by the U.S. Navy at Coral Sea, preventing a Japanese attack on Australia. In early June, at Midway Island in the Central Pacific, the Japanese launched an aircraft carrier offensive to cut American communications and to isolate Hawaii to the east. In a three-day naval battle, the Japanese lost three destroyers, a heavy cruiser, and four carriers. The Battle of Midway broke the back of Japan's navy.

To defeat Japan, Allied forces pursued two strategies. General Douglas MacArthur pushed northward from Australia through New Guinea and from the Philippines towards Japan. Meanwhile, Admiral Chester Nimitz advanced on Japan by attacking Japanese-held islands in the Central Pacific in a leap-frog fashion--invading strategic islands and bypassing others. By late 1944, the United States was able to bomb the Japanese islands.

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