(WAR against JAPAN, 1942-45 – continued)

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WAR against JAPAN, 1942-45 (5 of 8)

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Japan's Defeats in the Pacific in 1944

In February 1944, following their success in the Marshall Islands, the US struck at Japan's naval base at Truk – Japan's "Gibraltar of the Pacific." Truk had been Japan's main base in the South Pacific. Operation Hailstone, executed by the United States in 1944, destroyed 12 Japanese warships, 32 merchant ships and 249 aircraft.

On June 15, 1944, two Marine divisions landed at Saipan in the Mariana Islands, from which the US could launch its B-29 bombers against Japan. Japan had 30,000 men on the island and almost as many civilians. After three weeks of determined fighting only 921 Japanese surrendered, the rest dying in battle. Only about 10,000 civilians survived, some having killed themselves by jumping off the island's cliffs. Admiral Nagumo, who had led the task force against Pearl Harbor, committed suicide in one of the island's caves.

On July 21 US forces won back Guam, and on July 24 they landed at Tinian, 5 kilometers southwest of Saipan. By now the Japanese offensive into northeastern India, begun in March, was a failure. Of the 150,000 who had invaded India, a reduced number made it back to Burma, and they were sick and exhausted.

In late October, 1944, the United States Navy defeated Japan's navy at the battle of Leyte Gulf, on the eastern side of the Philippines, just north of Mindanao – the Japanese losing twenty-four major ships, including four aircraft carriers, three battleships and ten cruisers. US forces led by General Douglas MacArthur waded ashore at Leyte Island in the Philippines.

Japan's government could not hide the loss of Saipan from the public. The public was now certain that their nation was in deep trouble. Public sentiment and the outrage of fervent patriots forced Prime Minister Tojo to resign. Emperor Hirohito was being more closely associated with the war as an incentive for a greater effort, and citizens were reminded more frequently of the Emperor's deep concerns. All cabinet meetings were now to be held at the Imperial Palace. And louder now was the slogan "revere the Emperor, expel the barbarian."

Among the Japanese, contempt was growing for authority. And responding to reports from his many and varied contacts, Prince Konoye, the former Prime Minister, urged Emperor Hirohito to end the war in order to prevent a communist revolution. Communism, he believed, was a greater danger than capitulation to the United States. The prime minister who succeeded Tojo, Koiso Kuniaki, agreed and began exploring ways to end the war.


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