WAR IN THE PACIFIC
National Historical Park
U.S. Department of the Interior
National Park Service
The Pacific Theater, 1941-45
The Pacific Theater of World War II involved one-third of the earth's
surface but only 1/145th of its total land mass. It involved vast distances
and new strategy, tactics, equipment, and weapons of war. Moreover, it
involved not just Japan and the United States but Great Britain, Australia,
New Zealand, the Netherlands, Canada, China, France, and the Soviet Union
as well. Caught in the middle were the people of the Pacific islands, upon
whose homelands and in whose waters the battles were fought. The following
chronology touches on some of the more significant aspects of the Pacific
War and provides a framework for understanding the people and events
commemorated at War in the Pacific National Historical Park.
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)
Without warning, Japanese planes bomb Pearl Harbor and Hickam and Wheeler
Airfields on Oahu, and within 30 minutes destroy the power of the U. S. Pacific
battle fleetexcept for aircraft carriers Enterprise, Lexington, and
Saratoga, which are at sea; Japan declares war on the United States and
Great Britain. The Pacific war that the United States suddenly found herself
embroiled in had begun many years before the attack on Pearl Harbor when Japan,
lacking the raw materials for modern industrialization, looked to mineral-rich
Manchuria to supply them. Japanese attacks on China led to open warfare in July
1937. As a result of Japan's involvement in China and the extension of Japan's
"Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" into Indochina, the United States,
Great Britain, and other countries froze Japanese assets and exports,
threatening Japan's industrial survival. This led to accelerated Japanese
economic expansion into Southeast Asia and the Dutch East Indies, bringing
her into direct conflict with western countries which also had economic
interests in these areas. By 1941, Japan was committed to a policy of
aggression to achieve her goals. Her inability to come to diplomatic
terms with the United States, which she saw as her most formidable opponent,
led to the Pearl Harbor attack.
Congress declares war on Japan; Japanese bomb islands of Wake and
Guam, and Clark's and Iba Airfields in the Philippines; invade Malaya and
occupy Thailand; and seize the international settlement of Shanghai.
Japanese capture Guam and begin landings on northern Luzon.
Wake Island is surrendered to the Japanese.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commanding United States Army Forces in
the Far East, begins evacuation of Manila and withdraws to Bataan.
Hong Kong is lost to the Japanese.
D. Roosevelt asks Congress to declare war on Japan, December 8, 1941.
||US Navy task group
returns to anchorage for repairs and supplies after strikes against the Japanese
in the Philippines, December 1944.
Japanese occupy Manila.
Siege of Bataan begins. MacArthur, headquartered on Corregidor,
proclaims the Bataan Peninsula the center of American-Filipino resistance
to the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. But the jungles, swamps, and
mountains make supply difficult and the Bataan Defense Force suffers
shortages of food and medicines throughout the three-month ordeal.
U.S. Navy launches air and surface attacks against Japanese bases
in the Marshall Islands.
Battle of Java Sea results in most severe U.S. naval losses
since Pearl Harbor and leads to the collapse of organized Allied
military resistance in that area.
Japanese land in New Guinea, occupying Lee and Salamaua, and
threatening Port Moresby, last defensive post held by the Allies to
MacArthur, who had left the Philippines size days before,
arrives in Australia. Here he utters the now-famous words, "I
came through and I shall return."
MacArthur is designated Allied Supreme Commander, Southwest
Pacific Areas (Australia, most of the Indies, and the Philippines);
Adm. Chester Nimitz is designated Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean
Bataan surrenders. The starving U.S. and Filipino survivors
begin a 60-mile "death march" to Japanese prison camps.
Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle leads sixteen B-25 bombers from
carrier Hornet to bomb targets in Tokyo, Yokohama,
Yokosuka, Kobe, and Nagoya.
Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, MacArthur's successor in the Philippines,
surrenders Corregidor and all U.S. troops under his command.
Battle of the Coral Sea. This Japanese tactical victory
but strategic defeat is the first naval battle in history in which
all fighting is done by carrier-based planes and the opposing
ships never saw each other.
Battle of Midway. This American victory deals the Japanese their
first major naval defeat, and confirms the power of the aircraft carrier
as an offensive weapon in war.
Japanese occupy Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands.
Papuan Campaign begins as Japanese troops land at Gona and
Buna, 100 miles east of Lae and Salamaua in northern New Guinea, and
begins an overland drive across the Owen Stanley Mountains to capture
Port Moresby on the southern coast. In the months that follow,
Australian and U.S. forces frustrate every attempt to take the port
and eventually drive the Japanese back to Gona and Buna.
U.S. Marines invade Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in the
first American offensive of the war. Subsequent Japanese efforts to
drive the Americans off the island are consistently unsuccessful.
Japanese navy sinks four Allied cruisers in Battle of Savo
Battle of Eastern Solomons results in sinking of one Japanese
carrier by aircraft from USS Enterprise and USS Saratoga.
The decisive American victory in the naval Battle of Guadalcanal
prevents the Japanese from landing reinforcements and makes possible the
final conquest of Guadalcanal by U.S. forces.
|Crew of carrier
USS Bunker Hill battle fires resulting from kamikaze attack during
Okinawa campaign, 1945.
pilots prepare for a mission, 1944.
U.S. troops begin final offensive to clear Guadalcanal. By February 9
organized Japanese resistance on the island is ended. The American victory
opens the way for other Allied gains in the Solomons.
Papuan Campaign ends in the first decisive land defeat of the
Battle of the Bismarck Sea. U.S. and Australian aircraft decimate
a 16-ship Japanese supply convoy bound for Lae and Salamaua, New Guinea,
demonstrating the effectiveness of low-level bombing.
An indecisive naval battle off the Komandorski Islands prepares the
way for reconquest of the Western Aleutians. By mid-August Japanese troops
have been driven out of both Attu and Kiska.
Munda Airfield, New Georgia, is captured, providing Allied forces
a base from which to bomb Japanese air and naval facilities at Rabaul.
Americans overrun New Georgia, Solomon Islands, thus removing the
Japanese threat to forces on Guadalcanal.
Admiral Nimitz' Central Pacific offensive to reconquer the
Marshall, Gilbert, Caroline, Mariana, and Philippine Islands begins
with army landings on Makin and Marine landings on Tarawa, the keystones
of Japanese defenses in the Gilberts.
General MacArthur's Southwest Pacific offensive to secure the
western Solomons, New Guinea, and the Philippines begins with the
landings on New Britain, the largest island in the Bismarck Archipelago.
I-370 carrying Kaiten one-man torpedoes enroute to attack US
fleet of Iwo Jima, 1945.
scrambles to assist Hellcat pilot who has crash landed on the deck of carrier
USS Enterprise, 1944.
|31 January-4 February
American forces capture Roi-Namur and Kwajalein in the Marshalls.
|29 February-7 March
MacArthur surprises Japanese by seizing the Admiralty Islands.
China-based B-29s make their first attack on Japanese homeland.
U.S. forces invade Saipan.
Battle of the Philippine Sea (called the Marianas "turkey shoot"),
in which U.S. carrier-based aircraft engage and inflict crippling losses
on Japanese carrier-based aircraft.
U.S. forces invade Guam.
U.S. forces invade Tinian.
U.S. forces invade Morotai and Peleliu.
U.S. forces invade Leyte.
Battle of Leyte Gulf, the last and greatest naval engagement
of the war, results in near destruction of the Japanese Navy.
Air offensive against Japan begins with B-29 attacks on
Tokyo from bases in the Marianas.
|US Marines hurl
grenades at Japanese positions during the fighting on Saipan, 1944.
Yoshijiro Umezu signs document of surrender aboard USS Missouri,
September 2, 1945.
|9 January-23 February
Reconquest of northern Philippines begins as U.S. forces invade
Luzon and occupy Manila.
|19 February-17 March
U.S. Marines invade and conquer island of Iwo Jima after bitter
B-29 fire-bomb attack on Tokyo leaves much of the city in
ashes and inaugurates a series of incendiary strikes against other
|19 March-21 June
Battle for the Ryukyu Islands, in which U.S. carrier-based planes
make large-scale attacks on Japanese ships and airfields in the Ryukyus.
|1 April-21 June
U.S. troops invade and capture Okinawa, main island of the Ryukyus,
Japanese military forces inflict heavy casualties on American troops,
but the island is finally secured.
Air Force drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima. A second atomic bomb
is dropped on Nagasaki three days later.
Japan accepts Allied unconditional surrender terms.
Japan signs formal terms of surrender.
Last Updated: 09-Mar-2004