The Facts of World War II in The Pacific

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World War II lasted from 1937 to 1945 and devastated many countries. The war was divided into two theaters of war. These are the facts about World War II in the Pacific.

World War II in the Pacific also included most countries in Asia. The war was fought in the middle of the Pacific Oceans, on tiny islands and in the countries of Asia. World War II was seen as two distinct theaters of war, the war in the Pacific and World War II in Europe.

The Cause of World War II in the Pacific and Asia

Some say the war started when President Roosevelt started a parts and oil embargo against Japan and that is why Japan started to attack Asia and the Pacific Islands including Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Another argument states that the war was started to get the world out of The Great Depression.

The Start of World War II in the Pacific

World War II in the Pacific and Asia might have started in 1937 when Japan attacked China and the United States sent pilots to help China fight. Officially for the United States, World War II began on December 8, 1941, the day after Japan attacked the US base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The Two Sides of World War II

World War II involved many countries and covered a large portion of the planet. The two sides of the war were divided between the Allies and Axis powers.

The Allies in the Pacific war included the Untied States, Great Britain, Australia and China. The Axis powers were Japan, Germany and Italy with Japan the main Axis power in the Pacific theater of the war.

Russia did not declare war on Japan until August 8, 1945, after Germany was defeated and World War II in Europe was over and the war in the Pacific was just days from ending.

Political Leaders of World War II in the Pacific

  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President of the United States until his death on April 12, 1945. At this time Vice President Harry S. Truman became president.
  • Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain
  • Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Nationalist Government of the Republic of China
  • Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Communist Party and leader of the Soviet Union
  • Hideki Tojo, Prime Minister of Japan from October 18, 1941 – July 22, 1944.

Military Leaders of World War II in the Pacific Theater

  • General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific.
  • Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz was Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas throughout the war.
  • Fleet Admiral William Frederick Halsey Jr. was made Commander South Pacific Forces in October 1942 until June 1944 when he took command of the Third Fleet and was made Commander Western Pacific Task Force.
  • Admiral Raymond Spruance was named Commander Central Pacific Force in August 1943.
  • Isoroku Yamamoto was the Commander in Chief of the Combined Japanese fleet. The plane he was aboard was shot down with all killed on April 18, 1943 on Bougainville in the Solomon Islands.

Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz                  Fleet Admiral William Halsey                 General Douglas MacArthur

Major Battles of World War II in the Pacific and Asia

The Pacific Theater of World War II saw many battles in India, China, Burma and the Philippines as well as the Pacific Ocean with some of the most brutal battles occurring on tiny Pacific islands.

After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attacked and occupied many of the Southeast Asian countries and Pacific islands. Japan attacked Thailand, Hong Kong, Burma, Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Malaysia and Dutch East Indies and by February 1942 Japan attacked Darwin, Australia. In May 1942, the Japanese occupied the Philippines taking more than 80,000 soldiers prisoner.

Many of these battles occurred in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with American and Japanese naval ships along with their fighter planes. The Allied success in many of these battles can be attributed to code breakers finding out Japan’s plans before the battle.

Battle of the Coral Sea occurred near the Solomon Islands and New Guinea May 7-8, 1942. The Allies were successful; otherwise Japan would have captured New Guinea and isolated Australia.

Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941 - USS Arizona burning                       USS Shaw exploding

Battle of Midway; the US had an air base on Midway Atoll and Japan thought they could draw out and sink the American carrier fleet with a battle at Midway except code breakers knew of this plan beforehand. The battle occurred on June 4, 1942 with Japan losing four of its aircraft carriers and the American fleet only losing one.

The Battle for Guadalcanal began on August 7, 1942. It was a long battle with 19,000 US Marines fighting the Japanese on the island while carrier planes and ship battles were occurring at the same time in the waters around the island. The Allies won the battle in February 1943.

The Battle of Iwo Jima might have been the most brutal and hard fought battles of World War II in the Pacific theater. On February 19, 1945, 30,000 US Marines landed on the tiny island. When the battle was over on February 23rd; 7,000 Marines had been killed and 90% of the Japanese forces were killed.

Okinawa, the next island on the way to Japan itself was the site of the bloodiest battle during World War II that began on April 1, 1945. The loss of life was horrific, 150,000 civilians were killed, 12,000 Americans were killed and 60,000 wounded and 95% of the Japanese soldiers were killed.

Other World War II Battles in the Pacific

  • Battle of Attu, May 1943 where the Americans defeated and drove the Japanese off of the Aleutiann Islands in Alaska
  • Battle of Tarawa – 1943
  • Battle of Saipan – 1944
  • Battle of the Philippine Sea – 1944
  • Battle of Leyte Gulf – 1944
  • Battle of Guam – 1944

American Soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima                 

The Bataan Death March

The Bataan Peninsula is on Luzon Island in the Philippines. After heavy and prolonged fighting, American and Filipino troops had to surrender to the Japanese on April 9, 1942. Since there were so many prisoners (12,000 American and 64,000 Filipino), they had to be marched to a prisoner of war camp 70 miles away.

The March began on April 12th and lasted for six days. Many of the 76,000 prisoners were already in bad shape and during the march 5,200 Americans died. Prisoners were not allowed to stop to get water or go to the bathroom, if they did they were either bayoneted or shot to death.

The Death Toll of World War II in the Pacific and Asia

The death toll for the war was horrific, both military and civilian. The total death toll of World War II is estimated to be 55 million people. These figures for the US and Great Britain are for the Pacific and European theaters of World War II.

  • China 10 million
  • Japan 2.35 million
  • United States 400,000
  • Great Britain 388,000
  • India 37,000
  • Australia 35,000
  • New Zealand 12,000

World War II poster                                                           USS New Jersey - 1944

Atomic Bombs Dropped on Japan

After Okinawa, there was nothing left but to invade Japan itself. This would have caused millions more in civilian and military deaths and the total destruction of Japan.

The first atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945 and the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. Japan then surrendered, ending World War II.

The End of World War II in the Pacific and Asia

In the Pacific and Asia, World War II ended when Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945 and victory was declared on August 15, 1945, known as VJ Day (Victory over Japan). Finally, World War II around the planet was over.

You can read about the World War II European Theater of Operations in the article The Facts of World War II in Europe

© Sam Montana – October 2010


World War II Chronology

US Navy Photos or World War II

World War II death tolls by country

Allied Leaders during World War II


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