title
macrohistory.com: commentary

(MISTAKES: WAR in the PACIFIC – continued)

home | index

MISTAKES: VICTORY in the PACIFIC (2 of 3)

previous | next

Island Hopping to Saipan

The US attacked Wake Island by air on 5 October 1943. There was no lightening raid to rescue the 98 captured Americans on Wake. The angered Japanese commander on Wake had the prisoners slaughtered. Nothing was gained by the actions of either the Japanese or Americans. The Japanese on Wake were bypassed and destined to surrender in September, 1945.

The Battle of Tarawa occurred on 20-23 November 1943. This was part of a plan by the US to establish an air base to service aircraft. There were alternatives for air bases elsewhere. At Tarawa 1,300 Marines were killed and over 2,000 wounded overcoming a force of around 4,500 Japanese. Japanese dead numbered 3,000, and dying with them were more than 1,000 Korean slave laborers. There are those inclined to believe that putting boots on that atoll was poor strategy – unnecessary and a decision of reckless impatience. Marine General Holland M. Smith is among those who didn't like the idea. He has asked:

Was Tarawa worth it? My answer is unqualified: No. From the very beginning the decision of the Joint Chiefs to seize Tarawa was a mistake and from their initial mistake grew the terrible drama of errors, errors of omission rather than commission, resulting in these needless casualties.

The US Navy was moving forward well enough, and in February 1944 it assaulted Japan's main military base at Truk in the Carolinas (today Micronesia). This was "Operation Hailstone." The Americans destroyed 12 Japanese warships, 32 merchant ships and 249 aircraft. The Japanese losses were reduced by their having realized the base's vulnerability and having relocated the aircraft carriers, battleships, and heavy cruisers of their fleet to Palau a week earlier.

The Navy put no Marine boots on the ground at Truk, but they did four months later, in June, at Saipan – a 24-day battle by Marines, the Army and Navy. The US suffered 2,949 killed. The Japanese had around 25,000 civilians on the island. Emperor Hirohito's dislike of the idea of them surrendering to the Americans led to another of his blunders: he order that they commit suicide, and around 5,000 did. On Saipan, the Japanese lost around 24,000 killed, and 921 were taken prisoner.

The US victory at Saipan and other Mariana Islands gave it a base from which to send bombers to Japan (1,300 miles to the northwest) and a base from which to strike the Japanese in the Philippines (1,700 to the west). Said one Japanese admiral, "Our war was lost with the loss of Saipan."

A part of the US Navy's success was a landing on Leyte Island in the Philippines on 20 October 1944. The next day, General MacArthur waded ashore in a staged photo publicity shoot. On 23 October, Japan's navy counter attacked, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf followed, lasting to the 26th. The Japanese navy employed Kami-kaze (divine wind) suicide attacks, but to no avail, the gods were not working for them as they had planned, and they withdrew.

B-29 bomber runs from the Marianas to Japanese cities began on 24 November. The targets were factories and military installations. In January 1945 the British were attacking Japanese forces in Burma. British India was moving against the Japanese as were other Asians as they sensed Japan's approaching defeat. On 28 January the Burma road to China was reopened. The US was fighting its way to Manila and liberated that city on 3 February. Japan was becoming increasingly isolated. One of its allies, Italy, was out of the war and the other, Germany, was on its way out.

Among the Japanese, contempt was growing for authority, and, responding to reports he was receiving, Prince Konoye, Japan's 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 conference at Yalta between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt began on 4 February 1945, the day after Stalin had agreed to enter the war against Japan come August 6th. And at Yalta the three agreed to a division of Korea between Soviet and US zones of influence. This decision to divide Korea was a mistake for sure.

Copyright © 2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.