Wednesday, August 27, 2014

(1942-1945) The War In Asia and Pacific - World History

In 1941 Japan embarked on an ambitious programme of expansion in the Pacific and south-east Asia. War with the USA and Britain, together with the honing war with China, proved more than Japanese resources could cope with. In 1945, after the US air force had reduced many of her cities to ruin, two by atomic weapons, Japan capitulated. 

THE GERMAN VICTORIES in the Soviet Union in 1941 prompted Japanese leaders to establish a new order in south east Asia and the Pacific while the colonial powers were weakened and before the United States began serious rearmament. The object was to create a southern zone which could be defended by the formidable Japanese navy while resources, particularly oil, were seized and shipped north to help the Japanese war economy and stiffen the Japanese army in its war with China. 

The decision for war with the United States was taken in November 1941 and on 7 December Japanese aircraft attacked the Pearl Harbor naval base in the Hawaiian islands, crippling part of the US Pacific Fleet. Japan then occupied European colonial territories to the south-Burma, Malaya, Singapore, the East Indies – and captured a string of Pacific Islands stretching to the Solomons north of Australia. Though Japanese warships threatened Ceylon and Madagascar, there were no plans to occupy any larger region despite the rapid and comprehensive success of the original campaign.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States fully into the war. Within a year the USA was turning out more vehicles, ships and air craft than all the other combatant powers together. Japan could not hope to compete with American industrial might on this scale and planned instead to inflict a crippling defeat on what was left of the US Pacific Fleet, severing American communications across the Pacific and forcing a compromise peace. The naval battle sought by Admiral Yamamoto was fought off Midway island between 3 and 6 June and resulted in a major Japanese defeat. In August 1942 US forces, commanded by General MacArthur, invaded Tulagi and Guadalcanal in the Solomons.

The Allied build-up 

Though the Allies could not afford to allow the Pacific campaign to divert resources from the European’ theatre, sufficient supplies were made available to push the Japanese back island by island, using a combination of massive air power, fast carriers and submarines. The Japanese merchant fleet, on which the whole southern campaign relied, was reduced from over 5 million tons in 1942 to 670,000 tons in 1945. Communications were cut when US forces reoccupied the Philippines in 1944 and seized the Marianas. Japan threw its final air and naval reserves into these battles. Defeated in the Philippine Sea in June 1944 and at Leyte Gulf in October, the remaining Japanese forces were stranded in what was left of the southern empire. Only fanatical resistance help up the Allied advance. By the spring of 1945, with the fall of two Jima and Okinawa, America was in a position to attack mainland Japan.

The final defeat

The war in Asia made slower progress. In March 1944 Japan’s forces in Burma attacked India, but were decisively defeated at Imphal with the loss of 53,000 men out of 85,000. In China, Japanese forces in the north fought both the Chinese Nationalists and the Communists under Mao Zedong. A million men were tied down in the Chinese war, which soaked up far more resources than the southern campaign. In 1944 Japan launched its last major offensive, Ichi-Go, which brought a large area of south-central China under Japanese rule, opened up a land-link with Indo-China and destroyed the Nationalist armies. 

But victory in China came just as Allied forces in the Pacific could bring mainland Japan into their sights. Between March and June 1945, a series of devastating air raids were launched in which heavy B-29 bombers destroyed 58 Japanese cities, killing more than 393,000 Japanese civilians. Within the Japanese government arguments continued through the summer about surrendering, but the military refused to countenance such a dishonour. Suicide pilots (kamikaze) were sent out to attack Allied shipping, sinking or damaging 402 ships. America planned Operation Downfall for the invasion of the Japanese home islands, using 14,000 aircraft and 100 aircraft carriers, but the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 ended Japanese resistance. On 15 August, with her cities in ruins and her economy devastated, Japan surrendered unconditionally to the Allies. 

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