WORLD WAR II IN ASIA:  I
(click here for a printable version)
A Very Large Ocean

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor represented only the opening salvo in an ocean-wide attack against Western powers.  Within days of Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces attacked Guam, Wake Island, the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Dutch East Indies, and more.  Sketchy Allied forces fought back bravely, but proved no match for the crack Japanese troops.

The Defense of the Philippines and Bataan

Philippines

In the Philippine Islands, a combined force of U. S. soldiers and Filipinos under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur attempted to push back the Japanese landing forces.  However, the Fili-American forces eventually retreated to a peninsula across Manila Bay from MacArthur’s headquarters on Corregidor, there to fight a holding action until relief could arrive from the crippled Pacific Fleet.

In spite of promises from superiors in Washington (including FDR), no relief for the embattled defenders of Bataan was possible.  Then, on February 22, FDR ordered General MacArthur to turn over command to his subordinate, Gen. Wainwright, and then board a PT boat to escape to Australia, there to begin planning a Pacific offensive. 

Gen. MacArthur, humiliated at the order to abandon his troops, nevertheless succeeded in avoiding Japanese naval patrols to escape to Australia.  Once there, he called a press conference where he addressed a message to the soldiers and civilians left behind in the Philippines:  “I shall return.”

                            Click on this link  to read a detailed account of the Japanese attack on the Philippines.

"Battling Bastards of Bataan"

Left behind, without food or ammunition, the “Battling Bastards of Bataan—No Mama, No Papa, No Uncle Sam” held out as long as they could.  However, MacArthur’s successor, Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, faced with an impossible situation, decided to offer a surrender his troops to the Japanese.

Bataan
Above:  American prisoners on Bataan await
the long march ahead.  Note their gaunt appearance.


Once the Americans surrendered, the Japanese marched the survivors—many already sick and starving—fifty miles to a prison camp, Camp O’Donnell.  Along the way, the Japanese provided no food or water for their prisoners.  Those who fell by the road were bayoneted by their captors—to save bullets—and then buried (some still alive) by their weary comrades.  35% of all Bataan prisoners died on the death march.  Many more subsequently died in prison in the Philippines or elsewhere on forced labor projects for the Japanese.

Despite MacArthur’s promise, the U. S. had no offensive plans.  Instead, they faced a number of difficult choices in deciding just how they would defend remaining Allied possessions across thousands of square miles of ocean.  Meanwhile, Japanese forces landed on the island of New Guinea—the last major obstacle standing between Imperial Japan and the continent of Australia.

Turning Points in the Pacific:  Coral Sea and Midway

As the Japanese Army pressed inland across New Guinea, the Japanese Navy attempted to place its carrier forces within striking distance of Australia.  However, the three American carriers, which had escaped destruction at Pearl Harbor, awaited them.  Over two days in May 1942, planes from the American carriers sank two Japanese carriers.  This victory stopped Japan’s southward expansion.

Prior to Pearl Harbor, U. S. naval code breakers had not yet broken the Japanese naval ciphers (code named Purple).  After Coral Sea, they had made some advances, but still could not decipher many Japanese messages.  Nevertheless, after Coral Sea, Navy code breakers knew the Japanese were planning a new attack.  The question was:  where? The code breakers laid a trap.  Suspecting that the next Japanese target was the small American air base on Midway island, they secretly ordered the Army base personnel to send a message—in a code the Japanese had already broken—saying the island’s water pump had broken and they needed a replacement.  The next day, they intercepted a Japanese message:  Target “X” had reported a broken water pump.  The code breakers now had their answer.  The Japanese were planning to attack Midway.

Midway Sea Back in Pearl Harbor for repairs after Coral Sea, the three American carriers—Yorktown, Lexington, and Enterprise—race to take up stations off Midway Island, where they lay in wait for the Japanese attack.  Beginning on June 3, planes from American and Japanese carriers bombed and torpedoed their opponents.  By June 6, the Americans had sunk four Japanese carriers and stopped Japan’s advance to the eastern Pacific.  The Battle of Midway thus insured the safety not only of Hawaii but the western coast of the United States.





Above:  An American carrier glides beneath
a protective cover of anti-aircraft fire during
the Battle of Midway