World War II - American Involvement In The Pacific And The Far East

America was reluctant to get involved in the Asian War but Pearl Harbor changed all that. Excessive personnel losses at Okinawa and Iwo Jima prompted the U.S. to use the atomic bomb and bring a swift end to the fighting.

The United State's direct involvement in World War II officially began as soon as the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Prior to that event, America had been providing arms and equipment to England but stopped short of any direct military confrontation with the Axis. The War in the Pacific was considered Asia's War and the European War was considered a local conflict. US-Japanese relations had become strained in 1941, though America felt secure that her naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was powerful enough to discourage any aggression from Japan.

On July 24, 1941, Japan occupied French Indo-China (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos). Two days after that, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt froze all Japanese assets in the United States. American trade with Japan, including sales of oil and scrap metal, was brought to a standstill. England took the same action simultaneously and the Japanese government froze all British and American assets there.

President Roosevelt nationalized the armed forces of the Philippines under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, who was also placed in command of all U.S. military forces in the Far East. The President informed the Japanese ambassador in Washington that any further expansion by Japan in the Far East would require a U.S. response to protect American interests. Prime Minister Churchill of Great Britain promised to aid the United States if negotiations with Japan were unsuccessful.

On November 20, the Japanese opened discussions with Washington. Japan's demands included the following:

1) The U.S. must abandon China.

2) Lift the freezing of Japanese Assets.

3) Resume full trade with Japan.

4) Help Japan get supplies from the Dutch East Indies.

5) Stop U.S. naval expansion in the western Pacific.

United States Secretary of State Hull countered with his own proposals, which included withdrawal of Japanese forces from Indochina and China and conclusion of a multilateral nonaggression pact. The American proposals included the following principals: respect for the territory and sovereignty of all nations, no interference in the internal affairs of other countries, equal opportunity, and support for the status quo in the Pacific by peaceful means. Secretary Hull promised to free Japanese assets and resume normal trade with Japan if these conditions were met.

The Japanese asked for two weeks to consider the proposals and by November 26 the aircraft carrier force that attacked Pearl Harbor was already deployed for that task. American intelligence was expecting a large attack by Japan but believed that it would take place in the Philippines or Southeast Asia. President Tojo of Japan warned the U.S. and England on November 29 that British and American influence in Asia must be eliminated. Japan officially rejected the Hull proposals on December 1 and on December 6, President Roosevelt personally appealed to Emperor Hirohito to pursue peace and withdraw from Indo-China.

Early on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, Japanese air and sea forces made a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, a naval base of the United States. Simultaneously, Japan launched attacks on the Philippines, Guam, and Midway Island and against British forces in Hong Kong and the Malay Peninsula. There were eight battleships at pearl Harbor. The Arizona, California and Utah were sunk. The Nevada was grounded, while the Oklahoma capsized and the Pennsylvania, Virginia and Tennessee were badly damaged. In total, nineteen ships were sunk or disabled and approximately 120 U.S. planes were destroyed. Fatal personnel casualties included 2,335 military and 68 civilians; 1,178 were wounded.

On December 8, the U.S. Congress declared war on Japan. On December 11, in support of their Axis partner, Germany and Italy declared war on America. Military conscription of American men was extended to those between the ages of 20 and 44.

1941 ended with Japan invading Thailand and Malaya on December 8 and sinking a British battleship and a cruiser in the South China Sea on December 10. The Japanese also captured Singapore and landed in the Philippines (Dec. 10-23), captured Guam (Dec. 13), Wake Island (Dec. 22) and Hong Kong (Dec. 25). As a result of all of this ABDACOM was formed, which stands for "Supreme Command for American, British, Dutch and Australian forces in the Far East".

Between January 2 and May 6 of 1942, Manila ands Cavite fell to the Japanese and General MacArthur's forces retreated to the Bataan Peninsula where he set up headquarters at "The Rock", as Corregidor was called. MacArthur secretly left Bataan and went to Australia, where he took up command of the Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific. Bataan and Corregidor eventually fell to the Japanese and on May 6 General Jonathan M. Wainright surrendered the garrison of 11,500 to the Japanese.

Japan's advance continued in 1942 as they occupied the Dutch East Indies in January. The first major sea battle of the war took place between January 24-27 at the Battle of Macassar Strait (Borneo). Allied air and navy forces inflicted heavy damage on the large invading Japanese forces. British troops withdrew from Malaya to Singapore on January 31, the surrendered on February 15. The British were also forced out of Burma in late February, which cut off the main supply line of the English military. America's heaviest naval losses since Pearl Harbor occurred at the Battle of the Java Sea. (Feb.27 - Mar.1) By March 10, Japan had completed the conquest of Java and had landed in New Guinea.

Allied resistance started to stiffen in the spring. Bombers, based on Aircraft carriers, conducted a bombing raid on Tokyo. In the Battle of the Coral Sea, where all of the fighting was conducted by carrier-based aircraft, one Japanese aircraft carrier was sunk and 2 were badly damaged. The U.S. lost the carrier Lexington but the enemy advance on Australia was frustrated. The Japanese were attempting to cut off Australia's supply lines by capturing Port Moresby in southern New Guinea.

The Allies handed Japan her first major military defeat at Midway Island, where her attempt to seize the island was thwarted. Japan's losses numbered 4 aircraft carriers and 275 planes. This battle stopped the Japanese advance across the central Pacific and removed the threat to Hawaii. Japan conducted bombing attacks on the U.S. mainland coast at Dutch Harbor and Fort Mears, Alaska. They occupied the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska in 1942. Japanese submarines shelled an oil refinery at Santa Barbara, California Barbara. By August 25, American and Canadian troops had reoccupied Kiska.

As Japan's defeats started to add up, the Americans, with the Allies, stepped up their attacks. The U.S. South Pacific offensive began in June of 1943. The U.S. landed troops at New Georgia on June 30. Naval victories gave the U.S. control of the waters surrounding the Solomon Islands. The Marines landed in the Northern Solomons but the Japanese struck back at the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay on November 2. Japan was soundly defeated and the way was opened for the eventual liberation of the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Central Pacific offensive was capturing islands "up the ladder" from the Solomons to the Gilberts, Marshalls and Marianas to get within bombing range of mainland Japan. U.S. troops and Allies were successful in recapturing the "ladder" of islands by mid 1944. Burma was retaken on August 3, giving the Allies an airfield within range of China.

The campaign for the Philippines lasted from June 19, 1944 until February 23, 1945. The Japanese were decisively defeated in air-sea battles over and around the islands. The Battle of Leyte Gulf (Oct 23-25) was the last major battle for the Japanese navy as they lost 2 battleships, 4 carriers, 9 cruisers and 9 destroyers. The remnant of the Japanese fleet withdrew from the seas around the Philippines.

By now, B-29 bombers (flying fortresses) were bombing mainland Japan. But the Japanese refused to surrender and the continued military campaigns took a heavy toll in both lives and equipment. The U.S. Marines took Iwo Jima after bitter fighting and the loss of 4,189 Marines killed, 15,308 wounded and 441 missing. Okinawa, only 360 miles from Japan, was the costliest battle for America as Japan's soldiers and suicide bombers fought till the bitter end. 11,260 American servicemen died at Okinawa, while 33,769 were wounded.

British forces, aided by the Americans and Chinese, finally pushed the Japanese out of Indo-China by the end of April 1945. When Japan refused the unconditional surrender demanded by the American, British and Chinese based on the Cairo Declaration, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, August 6. The bomb had an explosive force of 20,000 tons of TNT. The bomb destroyed four square miles of the city and killed or injured 160,000 people.

On August 8, Russia declared war on Japan and began liberating Manchuria. The second atomic bomb ever used was dropped on the naval base at Nagasaki on August 10. The Japanese Premier Suzuki agreed to surrender on condition that Emperor Hirohito be permitted to keep his throne. The Japanese accepted Allied terms on August 14 and August 15 became V-J Day. (Victory over Japan) U.S. casualties in the Pacific War totaled 170,596, of which 41,322 died.

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