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Benjamin Allen
Benjamin Allen

Attack In The Pacific [1944]



On December 7, 1941, Japan staged a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, severely damaging the US Pacific Fleet. When Germany and Italy declared war on the United States days later, America found itself in a global war.




Attack In The Pacific [1944]



As the Allied liberation of the Philippines was underway, Japanese commanders acted on orders to annihilate American POWs rather than allow them to assist enemy efforts, and in December 1944 cruelly executed 139 American POWs on Palawan.


June 19, 1944Japan's counterattack results in the greatest carrier battle of World War II. U.S. forces shoot down so many Japanese planes that some American servicemen will call the battle "The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot."


July 7, 1944The largest and most fearsome banzai charge of the Pacific War takes place on Saipan. Three thousand suicidal Japanese soldiers attack a U.S. Army division, overrunning two battalions.


July 9, 1944Saipan falls to the Americans. Hundreds of civilians commit suicide at Marpi Point on the northern tip of the island. Time magazine poses a question that will remain relevant until the end of the war: "Saipan is the first invaded Jap territory populated with more than a handful of civilians. Do the suicides mean that the whole Japanese race will choose death before surrender?"


October 20, 1944General Douglas MacArthur's 6th Army lands at Leyte, marking his triumphant return to the Philippines. It has been more than two years since he reluctantly abandoned his troops on Bataan and Corregidor.


October 23-26, 1944The Battle of Leyte Gulf. The U.S. Navy defeats the Japanese Navy in the largest naval battle in history. American servicemen witness Japanese suicide attackers, kamikazes, for the first time.


November 24, 1944U.S B-29 bombers. attack the Nakajima aircraft factory northwest of Tokyo. The high-altitude mission marks the first bombing raid of Japan from the Mariana Islands. Due to winds and other factors, most bombs miss their targets.


March 9 and 10, 1945General LeMay's B-29s fly their first low-altitude incendiary mission carrying a destructive new weapon: napalm bombs. Though the pilots fear flying low will expose them to deadly anti-aircraft attacks, it will be the Japanese who suffer from the fires caused by the high-tech incendiary jelly. In less than three hours, more than 300 B-29s will destroy 16 square miles of Tokyo, killing more than 83,000 - by some counts up to 100,000 - civilians.


August 14, 1945President Truman becomes convinced that the Japanese will not surrender and authorizes resumption of conventional bombing. He tells the British ambassador he is contemplating authorizing a third atomic bomb attack on Tokyo. Seven hundred B-29s fly over Japan, dropping more than 4,000 tons of explosives on military targets.


In December 1941 Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, Hawai'i, causing the U.S. to enter World War II. Over two years would pass until the Allies reached their great turning point in the Pacific War: the defeat of the Japanese at Guadalcanal in February 1943. The Japanese were placed on the defensive as the U.S. began taking strategic bases across the central and southwest Pacific. By the summer of 1944, the Americans were nearing Japan. The final year of the war would bring bloodshed and hardship to the U.S. soldiers, sailors and Marines who liberated territory closer and closer to Japan's home island, and take a tremendous toll on Japanese soldiers and civilians as well.


June-July 1944: SaipanOn June 15, 1944, American forces invaded the island of Saipan, part of the Mariana Islands in the Central Pacific. Securing Saipan was of critical importance to the U.S.; its airfields would put the Army Air Force's new B-29 bombers within striking distance of the main Japanese islands. For the Japanese, keeping Saipan was crucial in stopping the American advance.


October-December 1944: LeyteIn October 1944, General Douglas MacArthur and his Sixth Army returned to the Phillipines by way of the island of Leyte. More than two and a half years had passed since MacArthur had reluctantly abandoned his troops in the Philippines, retreating to Australia, where he had vowed, "I shall return." After he waded ashore MacArthur delivered his famous "I have returned" speech. Offshore the U.S. Navy and the Imperial Navy waged the largest naval battle in the history of warfare. The Battle of Leyte Gulf destroyed the Japanese Navy as an effective fighting force. It was during this battle that U.S. sailors first witnessed the kamikaze attacks that would become commonplace five months later in the battle of Okinawa. As many as sixty-five thousand Japanese soldiers died defending Leyte. More than 15,000 Americans were killed or wounded.


In the first months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan had great military success. A turning point came in June 1942 at the Battle of Midway. It was the first time that Allied forces were able to make headway in the Pacific.


Japanese expansion in East Asia began in 1931 with the invasion of Manchuria and continued in 1937 with a brutal attack on China. On September 27, 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, thus entering the military alliance known as the "Axis." Seeking to curb Japanese aggression and force a withdrawal of Japanese forces from Manchuria and China, the United States imposed economic sanctions on Japan. Faced with severe shortages of oil and other natural resources and driven by the ambition to displace the United States as the dominant Pacific power, Japan decided to attack the United States and British forces in Asia and seize the resources of Southeast Asia.


Japan launched a surprise attack on the United States Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The attack severely damaged the American fleet and prevented, at least for the short term, serious American interference with Japanese military operations. In response, the United States declared war on Japan. Following Germany's declaration of war on the United States, the United States also declared war on Germany.


After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan achieved a long series of military successes. In December 1941, Guam, Wake Island, and Hong Kong fell to the Japanese, followed in the first half of 1942 by the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Malaya, Singapore, and Burma. Japanese troops also invaded neutral Thailand and pressured its leaders to declare war on the United States and Great Britain. Only in mid-1942 were Australian and New Zealander forces in New Guinea and British forces in India able to halt the Japanese advance.


The turning point in the Pacific war came with the American naval victory in the Battle of Midway in June 1942. The Japanese fleet sustained heavy losses and was turned back. In August 1942, American forces attacked the Japanese in the Solomon Islands, forcing a costly withdrawal of Japanese forces from the island of Guadalcanal in February 1943. Allied forces slowly gained naval and air supremacy in the Pacific, and moved methodically from island to island, conquering them and often sustaining significant casualties. The Japanese, however, successfully defended their positions on the Chinese mainland until 1945.In October 1944, American forces began retaking the Philippines from Japanese troops, who surrendered in August 1945. That same year, the United States Army Air Forces launched a strategic bombing campaign against Japan. British forces recaptured Burma. In early 1945, American forces suffered heavy losses during the invasions of Iwo Jima (February) and Okinawa (April), an island of strategic importance off the coast of the Japanese home islands. Despite these casualties and suicidal Japanese air attacks, known as Kamikaze attacks, American forces conquered Okinawa in mid-June 1945.


World War II was the largest and most violent armed conflict in thehistory of mankind. However, the half century that now separates us fromthat conflict has exacted its toll on our collective knowledge. While WorldWar II continues to absorb the interest of military scholars and historians,as well as its veterans, a generation of Americans has grown to maturitylargely unaware of the political, social, and military implications ofa war that, more than any other, united us as a people with a common purpose. Highly relevant today, World War II has much to teach us, not only aboutthe profession of arms, but also about military preparedness, global strategy,and combined operations in the coalition war against fascism. During thenext several years, the U.S. Army will participate in the nation's 50thanniversary commemoration of World War II. The commemoration will includethe publication of various materials to help educate Americans about thatwar. The works produced will provide great opportunities to learn aboutand renew pride in an Army that fought so magnificently in what has beencalled "the mighty endeavor." World War II was waged on land, on sea, and in the air over severaldiverse theaters of operation for approximately six years. The followingessay is one of a series of campaign studies highlighting those strugglesthat, with their accompanying suggestions for further reading, are designedto introduce you to one of the Army's significant military feats from thatwar. This brochure was prepared in the U.S. Army Center of Military Historyby Charles R. Anderson. I hope this absorbing account of that period willenhance your appreciation of American achievements during World War II. GORDON R. SULLIVAN General, United States Army Chief of Staff Western Pacific15 June 1944-2 September 1945 By the summer of 1944 American forces in the Pacific had establishedtwo routes of attack in their drive toward Japan. In the Central PacificNavy and Marine Corps units, with Army assistance, were "island-hopping"westward from Hawaii, taking the Gilbert Islands in a costly campaign inNovember 1943 and the Marshall Islands in January-February 1944. In theSouth and Southwest Pacific Areas, Army units, with Navy and Marine Corpssupport, had taken Guadalcanal and Bougainville in 1942-43 and, operatingwith Australian forces, had cleared northeast New Guinea and the Hollandiaarea of Netherlands New Guinea by May 1944. These victories brought Americanforces to the inner defense line of the Japanese Empire. In deciding whereto breach that line, the Allies looked for a place that would not onlypuncture Japanese confidence but provide anchorages for naval support ofsubsequent operations and air bases for strikes against enemy industrialand military installations. The best islands for these purposes lay inthe Western Pacific: the Marianas and the Palaus. Strategic Setting When United States Army and Navy forces began pushing west into thePacific after the disaster at Pearl Harbor, they had their ultimate objective,the Japanese home islands, clearly in mind. However, they lacked any detailedlist of preliminary objectives that would bring them to the enemy's shores.Each island victory raised anew the question of the next intermediate goal.By the summer of 1944 the Allies faced a number of choices in the Pacific.They could continue directly west from Hawaii on a Central Pacific thrustthat had just won them the Marshall Islands. They could continue towardthe Philippines on a Southwest Pacific course that had recently won NewGuinea. Or they could continue operations along both of these axes simultaneously. During 1943 influential personalities in the U.S. Army and Navy linedup behind different strategies for the Pacific. The Chief of Naval Operations,Admiral Ernest J. King, favored focusing Allied efforts against Japan ina thrust westward from Hawaii. Seconded by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commanderin Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas and Pacific Fleet, King argued that his CentralPacific strategy also repre- [3] 4-5 sented the most direct route to the Philippines and would, at the sametime, place American forces on the enemy line of communications betweenJapan and the oil-rich East Indies. King repeated his Central Pacific proposalat the Trident Conference in Washington in May, but it was neither approvednor rejected. King's major opponent was General Douglas MacArthur, the Allied SouthwestPacific theater commander. MacArthur agreed on the need to return to thePhilippines but not via the Marshalls and Marianas. Instead, he proposeda Southwest Pacific strategy: an extension of his own command's operationsin New Guinea, which would push Allied forces westward through Morotaiand then northward into the Philippines. A series of Allied planning conferences in 1943 failed to resolve theissue. The strong identification of each strategy with a different militaryservice-Central Pacific with the U.S. Navy and Southwest Pacific with theU.S. Army-tended to undermine an unbiased appraisal of either course-ofaction and to encourage the potentially dangerous pursuit of both withinadequate resources. Finally, toward the end of 1943, a technologicaldevelopment began to influence the issue. The Army Air Forces announcedthe imminent appearance of a new long-range bomber, the B-29. The new weaponstrengthened the Central Pacific strategy, since the island chain particularlydesired by Admiral King-the Marianas-lay 1,270 miles from Tokyo, comfortablywithin the l,500-mile radius of the new aircraft. At the second Cairo Conferencein December 1943 the Allies thus approved seizure of the Marianas, tentativelyscheduled for October 1944. Subsequent operations along this axis wouldinclude seizure of the Palaus to secure the flank for the turn northwestinto the Philippines. Although these decisions gave priority to the Central Pacific strategy,they did not amount to a rejection of MacArthur's Southwest Pacific proposals.In fact, the Joint Chiefs of Staff reaffirmed in March 1944 that the advancetoward Japan would continue on both the Central and Southwest Pacific axes.At the same time, unexpectedly rapid success in the Marshalls allowed plannersto advance the assault on the Marianas from October to June. Operations Located some 3,300 miles west of Hawaii and 1,400 miles east of thePhilippines, the Marianas archipelago consists of fifteen volcanic islands.The Marianas already had a long history of foreign domination before theJapanese arrived to incorporate the archipelago and its 6 Chamorro people into a new imperial order. First held by the Spanishsince the late seventeenth century, then, except for Guam, passed to theGermans in 1899, the islands were taken by the Japanese during World WarI, an occupation ratified by the Treaty of Versailles. Even before theyleft the League of Nations in 1935, the Japanese had begun fortifying theMarianas. By the 1940s the islands stood as a keystone in the defensiveline around the Japanese Empire. The Imperial Japanese Navy exercised theater control over theMarianas and surrounding seas through its Central Pacific Area Fleet,commanded by Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo, leader of the Pearl Harbor strikeforce. The Imperial Japanese Army controlled all ground forces inthe Marianas through its 31st Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. HideyoshiObata. Major subordinate commands were the 43d Division on Saipanand the 29th Division on Guam. Although both units were understrength,having lost several troop transports to American submarines, both werealso augmented by a number of independent battalions and naval landingunits. Japanese forces in the Marianas, both Imperial Army and Navy,totaled about 59,000 men. The Marianas campaign expanded United States Army operations in a theatercommanded by the U.S. Navy. Admiral Nimitz assigned overall campaign responsibilityto Vice Adm. Raymond A. Spruance's Fifth Fleet. Vice Adm. Richmond KellyTurner would command the Joint Expeditionary Force charged with the amphibiousassault. Turner himself would also command directly a Northern Attack Forceagainst Saipan and Tinian, while a Southern Attack Force under Rear Adm.Richard L. Conolly would assault Guam. Vice Adm. Marc A. Mitscher's FastCarrier Task Force and Vice Adm. Charles A. Lockwood's Submarine Force,Pacific Fleet, would cover all landings. Lt. Gen. Holland M. Smith, USMC, Commanding General, V Amphibious Corps,would control the Marianas amphibious forces as each left U.S. Navy controlat the water's edge. Three Marine Corps general officers would commandthe landing forces on the targeted islands: Holland Smith on Saipan, HarrySchmidt on Tinian, and Roy S. Geiger on Guam. Amphibious units assignedto the Marianas included the 2d' 3d' and 4th Marine Divisions and a separateMarine brigade. Three major Army units-the 27th and 77th Infantry Divisionsand XXIV Corps Artillery-were assigned from U.S. Army Forces in the CentralPacific Area, commanded by Lt. Gen. Robert C. Richardson, Jr. Army andMarine Corps units totaled 106,000 men. Naval support for this huge forceincluded 110 transport vessels and auxiliaries and 88 fire support ships,from rocket gunboats to aircraft carriers. 7 Saipan The Marianas archipelago spans 500 miles from north to south. Americanplanners chose their objectives from among the more heavily fortified islandsat the southern end of the chain-Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam. Firsttargeted was Saipan, large enough at fifteen miles long by seven mileswide to allow combined arms maneuver. Inland hill masses dominated sandybeaches, with two prominent 8 Aerial view of Saipan, July 1944. (National Archives) ridgelines framing a central valley planted in sugar cane. For invasionforces the major terrain features derived from the volcanic origin of theisland. Unlike the low and generally flat surface of coral islands, theterrain of Saipan presented a confusion of heavily jungled and jagged butlow cliff faces, rock outcroppings, sinkholes, and caves often as difficultto see as to walk over and around. The highest peaks were the volcaniccones whose eruptions formed the island: Mount Nafutan, 407 feet, to thesoutheast; Mount Kagman, about the same height, on the east coast; MountMarpi, 833 feet, at the northern tip; and Mount Tapotchau, rising 1,554feet on -the west side of the central valley. A small population, mostof which the Japanese had enlisted in sugar cane farming, resided in threewest coast villages: Charan Kanoa, near the south end of the island; Garapanat mid-coast; and Tanapag, six miles from Marpi Point. A prime subject of War Ministry reinforcement for more than a decade,Saipan was well fortified by 1944. Preassault American aerial photographsidentified 231 artillery pieces and 270 machine gun positions. The Japanesehad one airfield-Aslito Field-in use in the south and another under constructionat Marpi Point. Defending forces included over 25,000 Japanese Armytroops and over 6,000 naval per- 9 U.S. reinforcements wade ashore from LSTsoff Saipan. (National Archives) sonnel. Besides ample artillery and modest aircraft support, these forcescould call on an armored regiment of forty-eight tanks. Lt. Gen. YoshitsuguSaito commanded both the 43d Division and the entire Saipan defenseforce. The small size of Saipan dictated a straightforward plan of assault.The 2d and 4th Marine Divisions would land on the southwest coast and stakeout a beachhead. Joined by elements of the 27th Division, the corps wouldadvance to the east coast, splitting enemy defenders into the northernhalf and southeast corners of the island. Army troops would clear the latter,then join th


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