The World War II Multimedia Database

For the 72 Million

World War II in Asia and the Pacific

The war in China was the longest engagement of World War II. In 1931, Japan invaded and occupied Manchuria, renaming it Manchukuo. Later the puppet Emperor Pu-yi was installed as regent there. Japan engaged in brutalization of Manchurian and Chinese peasants and occasionally this led to minor engagements with Nationalist and Communist soldiers.

In 1937, Chinese and Japanese troops engaged in combat at the Lukouchiao (“Marco Polo”) bridge in Peking (Beijing). This led to active engagement with Nationalist Chinese regulars. Japan quickly drove out the Kuomintang from the urban areas along the coasts, and by December 1937, invaded the Nationalist capital of Nanking (Nanjing). Hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilians died; many women were raped and bayoneted. Western legations in the city, including the Nazis, attempted to shelter the local population. The Japanese bombed the United Kingdom and United States Navy warships evacuating civilians to keep news of the atrocities from the Western press.

Through 1937-1941, Japan because increasingly stalemated in China. Japan held a technological and military advantage, but Nationalist China held a numerical advantage. The Kuomintang’s major problem was corruption; her officers failed to pay their soldiers, and even sold their weapons on the black market. As a result, morale among the Kuomintang rank and file plummeted. Thus, neither side could take an advantage. Meanwhile, the Chinese civilians died in large numbers as war ravaged China.

Japan increasingly looked south, especially after the United States embargoed oil as a result of the occupation of Indochina in 1940. The Navy, under Isoroku Yamamoto, planned a master decapitation of the battleships of the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. On December 7, 1941, six carriers launched 359 aircraft in two waves, the first time combined carrier operations had ever been tried. They sank five battleships and damaged three others. The next day an outraged Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war.

Initially the Japanese were successful everywhere they struck; Guam, Wake, Hong Kong, Singapore, and many other Pacific and Asian cities and bases fell in the first six months. But then, attempting to attack and occupy Midway Atoll on June 4, 1942, four of the six Pearl Harbor carriers were sunk in a single day. The Japanese initiative was blunted and they would never regain it.

With the landings on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942, United States Marines began an “island hopping” campaign that would take three years and hundreds of thousands of lives. Initially the Japanese thought a crack unit of China War veterans would easily displace the Americans and retake the airfield there, but unit after unit was wiped out. Even more deadly was the fighting on the sea, as both sides ground down the other attempting to resupply the forces ashore. The difference was that the Americans could sustain the losses in ships and planes, and the Japanese could not. Japanese casualties in trained officers were much higher, as the prewar cadre insisted on going down with their ship to save embarrassment rather than living to fight another day.

Operations at Buna, Tarawa, Marshalls, Marinanas, Bonins, refined the Americans’ amphibious doctrine, and the Marines fearsome reputation. Almost all the Japanese garrisons died to a man, or were left to “whither on the vine” supplied only rarely by submarines.

American submarines, once they solved their detonator problems in 1943, began to comb the seas of Japanese merchant shipping. As an island nation, Japan was heavily dependent on imports for food and resources. By 1945 much of her prewar merchant fleet was on the bottom of the Pacific. Her citizens were starving to death.

The appearance of the B-29 Superfortress bomber so frightened the Japanese government, they mounted an offensive in China in November 1944 to push back the Allies to prevent airfields from being used to bomb Japan. This offensive overran the Chinese farmlands and millions of Chinese starved. Frustrated with the Chinese corruption and the difficulty in supplying bombers in China, the Americans turned Guam, Titian, and Saipan into the world’s busiest airports, with a thousand B-29s by 1945.

Adopting the Royal Air Force’s area night firebombing techniques, the B-29s delivered incendiaries that burned the Japanese cities, made of wood and laminated paper, very well. This indiscriminate firebombing killed 110,000 Japanese on the night of March 9-10, 1945. By August 1945, some 70% of Japanese urban areas were burned to the ground.

Only source cities – Kyoto, Kokura, Hiroshima and Nagasaki – were intact by August 1945. Within a few days, a single bomber dropping a single bomb did as much damage as a thousand B-29s over Tokyo the previous March. It was a new era of warfare. The Americans dismissed reports of radiation sickness. At the same time, the Soviets invaded Manchuria and Sakhalin Island.

The Emperor and others knew the war was over, but fanatics believed that Japan had to fight on now matter what and a battle on the Imperial grounds occurred. Thankfully the Emperor’s forces prevailed, and Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945. An announced had to explain to the Japanese public what the Emperor meant, as his court language was too stilted. Most Japanese people had never heard his voice publicly.

A surrender was signed in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, presided by United States Army General Douglas MacArthur. Former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and others were tried by tribunal in Tokyo and some, including Tojo, were hanged. Unlike the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, MacArthur used the Tokyo trials as a vendetta against his former adversaries, convicting Imperial Japanese Army Generals Masaharu Homma and Tomoyuki Yamashita. Both were hanged on specious evidence.

MacArthur, as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), ruled Japan from 1945-1952. He freed the Communists held in Japanese jails, promoted rights for women, installed a functional democracy, and resigned the Japanese alphabet. It was a deep reconstruction of the Japanese government and society. Still, Emperor Showa made his presence known to the Japanese people, and he was able to escape any blame for the war in his lifetime. MacArthur and the Marshall Plan revitalized Japanese industry, setting up Japan’s ascendancy to become the third largest economy in the world by the end of the twentieth century.

Next Post

Previous Post

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

© 2024 The World War II Multimedia Database

Theme by Anders Norén