War in the Pacific: The First Year
A Guide to
the War in
the Pacific
The Rising Sun

The Fall of the Philippines

Midway and the Aleutians

Japanese Occupation of Guam

Papua and New Guinea

Assault on the Solomons

Internment Camps


War in the Pacific: The First Year

The Rising Sun

The Japanese invasion of colonial Asia and a number of Pacific islands in the last month of 1941 expanded the frontiers of her Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, but also awoke a sleeping nation, the United States. Despite remarkable Japanese successes in the first six months of the war, Allied strategists (British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt) had decided that the European theater of operations should be given top priority. It was realized, however, that further Japanese expansion in the Pacific must be contained, particularly in the southwest Pacific.

Map of the South Pacific. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Guam had been the first American territory seized by Japanese Imperial Forces on December 10, 1941 Japan's next challenge to the United States in the Pacific extended to the Philippine Islands. The U.S. Navy successfully attacked Japanese bases in the Marshall Islands in early February, 1942, but the great British base at Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February, and the American-British-Dutch-Australian naval forces were defeated at the Battle of the Java Sea on 27-28, February. After a fierce, protracted campaign, much of Papua and New Guinea, as well as the British-held Solomon Islands in the south Pacific also surrendered to Japan's southern advancement. These islands were to be used as a possible staging arena for attacks. In Asia, the British colonies of Burma and India were eventual targets for inclusion into the new Japanese order.

Gen. McArthur
General Douglas McArthur was the supreme allied commander for the Southwest Pacific Theater.
Adm. Naguno
Admiral Chichi Naguno commanded Japanese naval forces at Midway.

As Philippine Scouts and guerrillas bravely defended the Philippines, native Solomon Islanders organized the coastwatchers, to uncover Japanese plans behind enemy lines. Meanwhile, American Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle revolutionized aircraft-launched bombing raids over Tokyo. This daring maneuver proved to be successful one month later at the Battle of the Coral Sea, in May, 1942, changing the course of the war. A series of Allied victories at Midway, the Aleutian Islands, and in the jungles of New Guinea and Guadalcanal, sealed the fate of a weakening nation.

Panic, hysteria, and fear, swept across America as the war continued to expand. Roosevelt's War Relocation Authority was established to administer the evacuation and internment of over 100,000 Japanese emigrants and American citizens of Japanese heritage in one of America's darkest hours.

By determination, planning, and in some cases sheer luck, the Allies managed to halt the Japanese advances. The greatest extent of the Japanese expansion had been reached by early 1943; full retreat or a frantic defense were the only available options of the Imperial Forces.

Japanese troops
Japanese troops raise the Imperial battle flag on Kiska Island in the Aleutians on June 6, 1942. Japanese forces were victorious in securing former Allied-controlled areas in Asia and the Pacific during the first six-months of the Pacific Theater of World War II. By the summer of 1942, Japanese advances were halted by key Allied victories at Midway, Papua, and the Solomon Islands.