War in the Pacific: The Pacific Offensive
Changing Tides of War: Allied Pacific Counteroffensives
As both hemispheres were embroiled in war, Allied
political and military leaders sought strategy and tactics and new forms
of weaponry designed to check and turn back any further advances by the
Axis Powers. It was in this year, 1943, that the long and hotly debated
theory of strategic bombing took a deadly form, as Air Marshal Sir
Arthur "Bomber" Harris digested and honed the lessons of the first
1,000-plane night raid made in June 1942 on Koln [Cologne]. The
strategic bombing of Japan, protected by thousands of miles of ocean and
"impenetrable island fortresses," would have to wait until 1944.
Although the European Theater "theoretically" took
precedence over the Pacific, the United States in the first four months
of 1942 committed more resources to the Pacific than Europe because the
situation was so critical in Southeast Asia and the Malay barrier. The
situation then changed and American, New Zealand, and Australian forces
in the Southwest Pacific led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Commander of the
Southwest Pacific Area, and initially by Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghromley
and then by Vice Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey, and Admiral Chester
W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Ocean Area, boldly seized the
initiative that resulted in an island-by-island counteroffensive that
would lead to the Philippines and Okinawa.
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz,
Commander-in-Chief Central Pacific, briefs President Roosevelt (second
from left), on offensive operations against the Japanese. Seated to the
right of Roosevelt is Admiral Leahy, and at far left is General Douglas
MacArthur, Commander-in-Chief Southwest Pacific.
MacArthur's South Pacific Command was confronted by a
formidable task in seizing bases in the rugged mountains of New Britain,
New Ireland, New Guinea, and the Solomons as primary objectives. Most of
these large mountainous islands were clad in rain forest. The final goal
was New Britain and Rabaul. Within Cartwheel, Operation One (Chronicle)
called for the occupation of Kiriwina and Woodlark islands; Operation
Two (Postern) was the capture of the Salamaua, Lae, and Finschhafen
areas; and Operation Three (Dexterity) the occupation of Western New
Britain and Keita and the neutralization of Buka. MacArthur launched
Cartwheel on July 1, 1943, when Allied forces made unopposed landings on
Woodlark and Kiriwina islands off the northeast coast of New Guinea.
U.S. Marines examine the wreckage of a
Japanese plane on Tarawa.
The significance of the battle for Guadalcanal that
ended with the Japanese evacuation of the starving and fever-racked
remnants of their forces from the "Island of Death" on February 9, 1943,
was underscored in the weeks and months that followed. United States and
New Zealand aircraft used Guadalcanal airfields to pound Japanese bases
in the central Solomons and centering on Bougainville to soften them up
for attack by powerful amphibious forces. These landings when they came
were aimed at the reduction of Rabaul, the keystone to Japan's southwest
Pacific defenses. Rabaul, located on the Gazelle Peninsula on the
northeast coast of New Britain, and Truk in the Carolines, were
strongholds and depots that supported Japanese jungle fighters
determined to hold strategic positions seized in the first six months of
1942. They were spoken of in hushed and ominous tones by Allied
America's strategy for the Pacific offensives had its
inception in Plan Orange. This pre-1941 joint Army-Navy plan to govern
U.S. actions in event of war with Japan called for a westward advance
across the Central Pacific and had its roots in strategic thinking that
dated to the turn of the century. MacArthur's strategy was dictated by
the first eight months of the Pacific War. It rested on the need to
defend Australia and New Zealand and the sea routes from the United
States to those countries and on MacArthur's desire to honor his pledge
to return to the Philippines.
A steel pillbox on Tarawa. one of many
types of defenses encountered by U.S. Marines.
Operation Galvanic, directed against Tarawa and Makin
islands in the Gilberts, taught costly lessons to Allied amphibious
assault landings in their initial attacks on low lying coral-fringed
atolls. Coordinated with a series of carrier air attacks on bases in the
Marshalls, Carolines, and on Nauru, American forces belonging to Nimitz'
Central Pacific command struck in late November. Marines of the 2nd
Division landed on Betio in Tarawa Atoll. Soldiers of the 27th Division
landed on Makin. It took four days to secure the islands from Japanese
troops and elite members of the Special Naval Landing Forces, who fought
to the death.
Elsewhere, on the Asian continent, the "Forgotten
War" was taking its toll in the China-Burma-India theater. An Allied
military folk hero emerged from the Assan jungles to wreak havoc on
Japanese jungle fighters 200 miles inside their lines.
Thirty-nine-year-old Orde Charles Wingate, a Scot, led several thousand
English, Gurkhas, Kachins, Shans, and Burmese across the Chindwin River
into northern Burma. Known as Wingate's Chindits, named after the
ferocious stone lions that guard Burmese temples, these largely
forgotten forces destroyed bridges, tunnels, and railways, and delayed
Japanese troop movements.
The tide of war changed in favor of the Allies. The
"battlewagon" U.S. Navy of 1941 had been replaced by faster, more
heavily armed battleships and cruisers and Essex- and
Independence-class aircraft carriers. American factories were
producing the tools of war at far faster rates than the Japanese, and
the Allies' superiority in firepower and numbers began to tell.
American Marines assault Japanese
positions some where in the Pacific during World War II.