The Pacific Theater

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The war in the Pacific started long before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Beginning in the early 1930s, Japan sought to create a new empire, the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. By taking over neighboring nations and islands and bringing them into their “sphere,” Japan could have access to the natural resources it needed to fuel its industry and free itself from the West.

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, destroying much of the US Navy’s Pacific fleet. A crippled American fleet enabled Japan to continue its conquest around the Pacific and capture more areas, including the Philippines. Although intended to neutralize the United States, the attack on Pearl Harbor galvanized America against Japan and drew the nation’s full industrial capacity into the war.

The war in the Pacific was unlike any war America had ever fought. The area was vast geographically, stretching 14,000 miles across the ocean. Command of American forces was split between the Navy under Admiral Chester Nimitz, and the Army under General Douglas MacArthur, creating strategic and logistical problems. In addition, environmental factors made fighting on land extremely difficult. Soldiers encountered harsh climates, tropical diseases, mountains, and thick jungles.

America’s overall strategy in the Pacific was to take back areas invaded by Japan, with MacArthur heading northeast and Nimitz moving west toward Japan. This was accomplished by “island hopping.”

The US Navy battled Japan for control of ocean areas, while providing support for amphibious assaults on islands. Army and Marine forces invaded and recaptured islands, enabling the air forces to establish bases to use as springboards for further offensives.

As island hopping approached Japan in 1945, military planners began preparations for an invasion of the Japanese mainland. However, when the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the invasion became unnecessary.

Victory over Japan (V-J) Day was celebrated on August 15, but Japan did not officially surrender until September 2, 1945, thus ending World War II.

The Pacific Theater