(WAR against JAPAN, 1942-45 – continued)

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The War to February 1943

Japan's Conquests to 1942

Japan's Conquests to 1942. Click to enlarge. Enlarged map showing Japan's conquests to 1942

On 16 February 1942, British diplomats proposed a peace agreement to Japan. Britain would recognize Japan's rule in Manchuria and North China in exchange for Japan returning to them the Malay Peninsula and Singapore. Seigo Nakano, leader of the ultranationalist Tohokai party and an advocate of fascism and totalitarianism for Japan, favored a settlement that would stabilize Japan's recent conquests and prevent further sacrifices by the Japanese people. He lobbied Tojo's government in favor of drawing back from more conquest.

Tojo led those who wanted more conquest. He was encouraged by recent rapid military successes and favored campaigns in Southeast Asia and East Asia, and he favored an advance to Australia before the Allies could react. Tojo was eager to develop the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Tojo's rejection of any form of peace process angered and frustrated Nakano and the Tohokai party. Nakano got a taste of the suppression of free speech that he advocated. The Tojo regime prevented Nakano from publishing articles or making public speeches.

Japan against the Dutch and War Prisoners

By February, Japan was advancing against the Dutch in the Indonesian Archipelago, and they were being welcomed as liberators by the Indonesians. They captured not only Dutch military men, but also British, Australian and some Americans who had been sent to help the Dutch.

In taking Indonesia the Japanese captured around 30,000 Allied military men, who were added to the 130,000 military men they had captured when taking the Malay peninsula and Singapore. These prisoners of war were guarded by men who looked down upon those who surrendered as contemptible. Having chosen not to sign the Geneva Convention guidelines for the treatment of prisoners of war in 1929, the Japanese believed that their prisoners-of-war had no rights. They were disconcerted by the number of prisoners they found themselves having to manage, and they were unprepared for and indifferent to supplying their prisoners with adequate food and medical care. They were concerned about controlling their captives, and, to help rule through fear, the camp commanders had a few men taken from the ranks of the captives and shot in front of the other prisoners – a lesson also for the lowly guards about being merciless.

To Burma and the Philippines

In mid-February, the Japanese struck at Australia's port of Darwin, approaching undetected with aircraft carriers, damaging Allied aircraft and ships and killing 238 Australians. The Japanese were also advancing in Burma, where they hoped to cut the Allied supply line – the Burma Road – to China and to take advantage of Burma's resources. On March 8 the Japanese overran Burma's capital, Rangoon.

On March 11, General MacArthur and a few others left the Philippines by patrol boat to Australia – having been ordered to do so by his superiors. On 18 April 1942, nine days after Japan overran the Bataan Peninsula, Colonel James Doolittle led sixteen B-25 bombers off of the carrier Hornet. They journeyed 600 miles, surprised Tokyo, bombed that city but did little damage. The planes landed or crashed in China after running out of gas, and one plane landed in the Soviet Union, where its crew was interned. Japan's military leaders were embarrassed, and the military retaliated at what it saw as the evil airmen by beheading three of the eight captured in China and by slaughtering Chinese it believed had helped other US airmen escape.

On May 6, Corregidor fell to the Japanese. The Japanese took 15,000 Americans and marched them 65 miles to a Prisoner of War camp, creating what was to become known as the Bataan Death March.

From the Marshall Islands, which Japan had been ruling since the end of World War I, the Japanese had extended their rule to the southern Gilbert Islands. By June they occupied Attu and Kiska islands in the Aleutians. To prevent another Doolittle-style raid on Japan, the Japanese were moving against the US base at Midway Island and hoping to draw the US navy into battle.

The Empire of Japan was now at its greatest extent. Its conquests since Pearl Harbor was accomplished with half the men it had in China – no more than 400,000 men (fewer than the number that the US would have in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 70s). The Dutch, British and American forces in the area had numbered no more than 100,000. And Japan still had much of China to conquer.

Japan's Combined Fleet Headquarters was planning for invasions of the Hawaiian Islands, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the Indian Ocean, and Australia. Japan's War Ministry was dreaming of empire that included Ceylon and India, Australia, New Zealand, Alaska, Western Canada, the state of Washington, Central America and the Caribbean islands. note84

The Tide Turns

In May, the US inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese Navy at the Battle of the Coral Sea, which prevented the Japanese from cutting the Allied supply line to Australia. The Japanese had destroyed all of the British and US battleships in the Pacific Region, and they had the greatest of battleships – the Yamato. But the advantage was with aircraft carriers, and in June the Japanese ran into frustration in the plans against Midway. Being able to read Japanese messages, the Americans knew Japan's battle plans, its strengths and the dispositions of Japan's ships prior to battle. Fighter planes from aircraft carriers damaged the Japanese. In a one-day battle the Japanese lost four of their aircraft carriers: the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu. The US lost the carrier Yorktown.

Japan failed to take the naval and air base at Midway and, following the Battle of Midway, Japan would be overwhelmed by the productive capacity of the Allied economies and by its greater manpower. The ships damaged at Pearl Harbor, except for the Arizona, were repaired and returned to service alongside other warships, and the US had begun producing every day almost as many airplanes as the Japanese had destroyed at Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese had miscalculated, but not entirely. In 1940 Admiral Yamamoto had said:

In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.

Hideki Tojo

Hideki Tojo

More of Japan's Strategy

After sending troops to various places across Southeast Asia, some of Japan's military strategists wanted to strike in the direction of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and India and take control of the Indian Ocean from the British. This was most threatening to the Allies, as the Germans in North Africa were threatening the Suez Canal. The British navy was no longer able to protect India's eastern seaboard.

But other Japanese strategists wished to keep most of Japan's troops in China and Manchuria and to strike at Australia. Admiral Yamamoto believed that with a division or two the Japanese could take control there.

The move toward Australia began in the summer of 1942. The first target was a port just north of Australia: Port Moresby in New Guinea. Having failed to take the port in a naval operation in May during the Battle of the Coral Sea, Prime Minister Tojo would now try a land invasion in New Guinea. In late July a Japanese force of 8,000 landed at Buna, a hundred miles northeast of Port Moresby. An Australian division – which had fought Rommel successfully at Tobruk – and a US Marine Division were rushed to Moresby and then inland, where they stopped the Japanese advance. With Port Moresby secured, the Allied commander in the Pacific, General MacArthur, moved his headquarters there from Australia.

MacArthur wanted Japan to disperse its forces, so he challenged the Japanese on nearby islands, including Guadalcanal, where, on August 7, he sent 11,000 US Marines. Guadalcanal became the main focus of the contest between the Allies and Japan, and for months the battle there raged on, involving US and Japanese aircraft carriers and other ships. The Allies won control of the air over Guadalcanal. The Japanese sent reinforcements. Japanese submarines put the aircraft carrier Saratoga out of action and sank the carrier Wasp, and both sides lost other ships. The Allies made it difficult for the Japanese to supply their troops on Guadalcanal, who were suffering from hunger. In early February 1943, Emperor Hirohito commanded that the Japanese on Guadalcanal withdraw. Japan's plans to invade Australia had come to naught. Japan's military described the withdrawal as an "advance by turning," and the public sardonically called it "advancing backwards."


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