Japanese Army planners estimated that the United States would not be able to amass the forces for an offensive until mid-1943. Many Japanese were convinced that America would not have the stomache for fight even then. The Japanese war plan had been premised on a German victory over the Soviet Union which would have forced the United States to use most of its limited military strength in Europe. This of course not only did not occur, but America was able to generate military power more quickly and in greater strength than Japanese planners had antivipated. The fact that a cross-channel invasion was put off until 1944 meant that considerable forces could be directed tob the Pacific. Japan was shocked with the American invasion of Guadacanal and naval forces commited to the Solomins campaign. Here the Imperial Navy did not inform the Army of the full extent of the Midwat debcle. The Imperial Army and Navy was still attempting to stop the American advances in the South Pacific when Admiral Nimitz strengthen by the new Essex Carriers and Hell Cat fighters opened a new front in the Pcific War--the Central Pacific. MacArthur had oposed this being concerned about diversion of resources. In fact, the Central Pacific campaign aided his operations. From this point of theWar, the Japanese were never sure where the Americans woukd strike next. Thus they were never sure where to deploy their limited resources. The Central Pacific campign brought 20th century war to the tranquil island of the South Pacific. Americans had never heard of most of these islands. And the local people were unaware of the masdive forces being mobilized in far away Japan and America. The Imperial Fleet was withdrawn to recover from losses in the Sollomons. They hoped that a well-armed and entrenched island garrison could repell an mphibious landing. The Marines proved at Tarawa that theu could not without naval support. The Marines paid a terrible price, but learned from the experiences. Losses at Kwajelin were a fraction of thoise at Tarawa. Only when the U.S. attacked the Mrianas did the Imperial Fleet intervene. The Marianas brought the Home Islands into the range of the new B-29 Superfots. The Imperial fleet intervened, but after the Marianas Turkey Shoot, the rest if the Imperial fleet withdrew. On Saipan the Americans encountered the first Japanese civilians. The Japanese finally decided to throw all of their remaining naval strength to defending the Phillipines, leading to the greast naval battle in history--the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The American victory at Leyte, meant thst the liberation of the Philippines could proceed, a long and bloody fight.
The Gilbert Islands had been a British possession. There were 16 islands. Tarawa was the largest atol and Bacio was the largest island in the Tarawa Atol. The Japanese assaulted the Islands the day after Pearl Harbor (December 8, 1941) and quickly took the lightly defended islands. American raids on the Gilberts, especially a Marine assault by submarine caused the Japanese to fortify the islands, especially the largest atol--Tarawa. The American carrier victory at Midway forced the Japanese to change strategy. They could no longer rely on naval superority to defend their Pacific islands bases. They were hoping that the island defenses would be sufficient. Instead the Japanese began to heavily fortify the islands believing that the islands could be made impregnable. As the Gilberts were the cornerstone of their outer island defenses, the Japanese correctly assumed that the American blow would fall there. Special attention was given to fortify Tarawa because the airstrip there dominated the Gilberts. Defenses included naval artillery, sand covered concrete bunkers, 500 pillboxes, and concrete and barbed-wire beach defenses. The Japanese garrison consisted of a mixed force. There were 4,800 navy troops on the island, included 2,600 men of the Special Naval Landing Force, commonly referred to as Japanese Marines. The Japanese recognizing the importance of the islands also assigned highly skilled artillery trainers to the island. All this on a area smaller than Central Park in New York City. Tarawa did not have thelrgest garrison in the Pcific, but in relation to the area and fortficatins, it would be the hardest nit to crack until the Marines got to Iwo Jima. The Japanese Commander General Shibasaki boasted that a million Americans could not take Tarawa in a 100 years. Tarawa was the beginning of the American offensive in the Central Pacific. It was the first test of the evolving Japanese strategy of heavily fortifying island bases as a defensive shield. The 2nd Marine Division which had fought on Guadacanal was assigned the task. The Navy subjected the Japanese defenses to withering artillery and air craft strikes. The Imperial Japanese Navy stung by losses in the Coral Sea, Miday, and the Sollomons did not contest the landings. After the naval gunfire ceased, the Marines went ashore (November 20, 1943). The were horrified to find that thed Japanese defenses were largely in tact. The result was what the Marines refer to as 'Bloody Tarawa'. Virtually the entire Japanese garison fought to the death. Only 13 Japanese surrendered in addition to Korean slave laborors. The Marines took Tarawa, but the losses were shocking. About 1,000 Americans died. In terms of casualties per area it was the most expensive American operation of World War II. After Guadalcanal and Rarawa, the Japanese no longer thought that theAmericans were too oft to fight. President Roosevelt had to decide whether or not to release the casualty information and films of the battle. He decided the American people had the right to know and did so. No other country released such graphic images of the War. After Tarawa the American people were undr no illusions as to what the Pacific War would mean in terms of casualties. The Navy learned valuable lessons for the island campaign to come. The Navy studied the Japanese defenses to determine why the naval gunfire had been so ineffective.
<! "Our weapons have been destoyed. We are attempting a last charge. May Japan exist for 10,000 years"--get exact quote The invasion of Tarawa in November 1943 was the first amphibious assault in the Pacific in which the Marines faced opposition on the beach. It was also covered by the media circus more thoroughly than any previous landing. The reports of over 1000 Marines and 30 Sailors killed in just 3 days, coupled with photo's of dead Marines washed ashore, shocked the nation. Because of the heavy loss of Allied Forces on Tarawa it prompted a congressional investigation. It was eventually stopped by a personal request by Lt. Gen. Vandegrift, Commandant of the Marine Corps. Many lessons were learned from Tarawa. First, naval gunfire as powerful as it was was often too short and often ineffective against the man-made and natural defenses of the Japanese held islands. Secondly, Maj. Gen. Holland "Howlin' Mad" Smith argued for the use of amtracs as transportation from ship to shore was realized as the most efficient mode to get the Marines to the beach and also handle the difficult tides and treacherous reefs. Also the concept of more is better than less was demonstrated at Tarawa as many amtracs were disabled before they could land their troops. Naval and Marine planners overestimated the effects of naval gunfire and aerial bombardment and underestimated the Japanese will to fight to the last man. Heavy naval bombardment and carrier-based bomber strikes preceded the invasion. Six million pounds of explosives were hurled at the island from naval gunfire. But because of a flat trajectory, many of the shells bounced off into the ocean beyond. Because of heavy dust and smoke Navy pilots couldn't see their targets. Thus they spent very little time over Tarawa. The bombardment was effective enough to keep the enemy's head down and allow the first three waves of Marines to land on the beaches. However, the Japs were still able to disable or destroy 72 of the 125 amtracs that were launched during the first three waves. 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, under the command of Major General Julian C. Smith, even made it as far as the air strip. The rest of the landing force didn't have it so easy. Because of the changing tides and depth of the water at the coral reef amtracs had to unload their troops half a mile from the shore. Because of poor communications, smoke, and coral dust, naval bombardment was halted for 30 minutes. This break in the action allowed the Japanese to regroup and prepare their defenses. Because of low tide the Marines waded ashore in a hail of gunfire, suffering heavy casualities. It was here that the phrase "bloody Tarawa" was born. As Marines landed on the beach, some were trapped in barb-wire or cut down by the murderous defensive fire. Others were cut off from their units and because of bad communications Marines were unable to move to their proper beaches. The Japanese commander, General Shibasaki was said to have been killed on the first day by US Navy planes. The Japanese suffered communication problems as well on D-Day. Because of the loss of General Shibasaki and poor communications these two factors may have prevented the Japs from their only chance to defend Tarawa. Many believed that if the Japs had carried out a counterattack that first night it might have succeeded. Several Japanese were able to swim out to a grounded Jap freighter and set up machine guns. Marine troops on the beach were getting hit from the rear as well. It wasn't until midnight of D-Day-plus-1 that the rising tide enabled Higgins boats to bring in badly needed supplies and reserve troops to support the Marines on the beach. D-Day-plus-2 the Marines were finally able to start destroying Japanese pillboxes and bunkers. After three days of bloody battle and heavy US casualities enough Marines were able to make it ashore and sweep the atoll, aided by tanks and howitzers. By the afternoon of the 23rd of Nov, Tarawa was fully in American hands. Only 17 out of 4836 Japanese survived Tarawa. During battles that the Japanese knew that they would lose they would attempt a suicide charge. The aim of the wild frontal assault was to kill as many Marines as possible. Sometimes they strapped TNT to their bodies to explode apon jumping into a foxhole or machine gun nest. The charge called "Banzai" meaning "Long live the Emperor" or "Die for the Emperor". >
Japan seized the Marshall Islands during World War I (1914). The League of Nations awarded a mandate to the Japanese after the War. The Japanese set up their administration Jaluit which had been the German administrative center. The penetration of the outer shell of Japanese islands in the south was followed by assauilts on the outer shell of Japanese islasnd defenses in the Central Pacific. The Japanese heavily fortified their island bastionss in preparation. New carriers and planes were beginning to reach the U.S. Pacific fleet. The American plan to defeat Japan was centered on a drive across the Central Pacific. Here the outer perimeter of the Japanese defenses were the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. The Japanese when they launched the war sought to destroy the U.S. Pacific fleet. The Imperial Fleet would then protect the expanded Empire. The elite corps of Japanese carrier pilots were lost during a series of naval engagements (Coral Sea, Midway and the Solomons campaign) during 1942. As a result, the Imperial Navy did not oppose the American invasion of the Marshalls, hopeing that well entrrenched and equipped garisons could fend off amphibious invasions. The U.S. Marines and Army forces proved they could not. The Marines and Army supported by the U.S. Navy took both Kwajalein and Eniwetok Atolls in bloody invasions. Lessons learned at Tarawa were implemented to limit losses. The Marines landed on Kwajalein atoll (January 31, 1944). The United States quickly took control of the islands. They were then turned into gforward bases to target the Carolines and ultimarely the Marianas. The logistics of amfibious operations were greatly aided by nearby land bases for support.
The Carolines were part of the islands possessions that the Japanese intained as aesult of World War I. They built the sleepy German colony into a major central Pacific naval base. The Japanese braced for a major invasion of the Carolines. The centerpiece of their defense was Truk. It was one of the principal Japanese strongpoints in the South Paciofic and a major fleet ancorage defended by airfiekds, anti aircrat positions, and well-equipped ground troops. The Japanese began calling it the Gibraltar of the Pacific. The Japanese decided not to commit the Imperial Navy to its defense. The garrison was strengthened (May 1944). Imperial Navy Fleet elements were ordered out of Truk before the American struck. Nimitz decided that an actual invasion was not necessary. He now had ariwing carrier force and used it to launch devestating air attacks. Ships left in the Lagoon were sunk and the Japanese air defenses were decvestated (June 1944). subsequent air strike left Truk without naval or airforces to imprede the American Central Pacific campaign as it closed in on the Marianas. The Japanese were also unable to supply the large garrison they built up on the islands. The garrison was near starvation wehen the War ended a year later. The garrisons surrendered (September 2).
Both the U.S. Navy and the Japanese Imperial Navy had the same basic strategic vision, a massive war winning fleet engagement at sea. Pearl Harbor forced the Pacific Fleet to postpone that engagement. And the Japanese made a huge strateghic blunder. Rather than force the Americans to commit the remnants of their devestated fleet, the Imperial Fleet busied itself in carving out a huge empire and marginal efforts like a foray into the Indian Ocean March-April 1942). Only the Doolitle Raid (April 1942) brought the Japanese to their sences and brought forward Admiral Yamamoto's plan to force the Pacific Fleet in a major fleet action and finally destroy it. That action occurred off Midway and rather than destroy the Americans, the heart was cut out of the Imperial Fleet--four fleet carriers and many of their irreplaceable aircrews. This restored the naval ballance and the two fleets slogged it out in the Solomons until the Imperial Fleet finally withdrew to its secure bases to regroup and add new ships to the fleet. This was another major Japanese blunder. Given the discaprities in the industrial capacity of the two countries. America could build ships and planes much faster than the Japanese. And this include brand new modern ship and advanced plane types--espcially te F6F Hellcat. Thus the longer the Japanese deplayed the major fleet action the stringer the Americans would be--a recipie for disaster. The Japanese delayed the long awaited fleet action a year and a half. And as a result, faced a very different U.S. Pacific Fleet. The fleet actions would could come in a narrow window (June-October 1942). The battles of the Philippines Sea (June 1944) and Leyte Gulf (October 1944) would be the greatest naval battles of all time and fundamentally change the naval ballance in the Pacific. In the Philippines Sea off the Marianas, the Japanese after losing planes and carriers backed away from the planned full fleet engagement. At Leyte they would finally commit the full force of their fleet without naval air cover. At these battles, the Imperial Fleet would be uterly destroyed as a meaningful naval force. Japan became a country locked in a desperate naval war with the United States, but no longer having a navy. And the victories would leave the United States in possession of bases from which Japan could be pounded from the air and Japan cut off from the resources of the Southern Resource Zone. Worst still for an island nation, the Japanese Home Islands were now exposed to the force of the most powerful navy and airforce ever built. This was not only a military disaster, but for a nation dependenton imported food, meant that national starvation loomed. The Japanese war strategy changed from a military strategy to desperate effort to extract the maximum of American blood in a series of hopeless battles. American planners began to see Japan as a nation intent on mass suiside.
The invasion of Saipan was one of the key confrontations of the Pacific War. The Japanese defenses were centered on Saipan and Rota. Earlier Pacific Island invasions were stepping stones. The Marianas were different. With the new B-29 bomber, air bases in the Marianas would bring the Home Islands wihin range of strategic bombardment and destoy Japan's ability to make war. Conquest of the Marianas would breach the Japanese inner defensive line. It was clearly the tipping point of the War. The Americans knew it and so did the Japannse. And unlike the earlier American landings, this one would be opposed by the Imperial Fleet--the first major Japanese fleet action since the naval bloody actions in the Solomons. Just as Midway was designed to force the Pacofic fleet to battle, The Marianas Campaign would force the Imperial Fleet to battle. Previous
landings had made it clear that the Japanese soldiers would not surrender no matter how great the forces availed against them. American planners concluded that if the Japanese would fight to the death on isolated Pacific islands, that they would resist to the end in the defense of the Home Islands. The casualties of an invasion of the Home Islands would be horrendous. It was thus important to bring the Japanese Home Islands within the range of American bombers so that the Japanese war making power could be smashed. There was a Japanese civilian population on Saipan. While the Americans expected the military to resist to the bitter end, they expected the civilians to surrender. Japanese authorities, however, urged the civilians to kill their children and commit suiside. Many did just that. After the Americans secured the island, the Japanese civilians were interned, but in realtively comfortable circumstances.
The two American offensives in the Pacific came to a conclusion at the same time. The U.S. Army under Douglas MacArthur in the South Pacific had neutrilized Rabaul and defeated or bypassed Japanese forces in the Solomons and northeastern New Guinea. At the same time, the U.S. Navy under Admiral Chester Nimitz after driving through the Central Pacific (the Giberts and Marshalls) and finally seized the Marianas after the great naval victory in the Philippines Sea. But this brought to the fore the still unanwered question of 'where next?' There were two targets on the table. MacArthur was adament about the answer--the Philippines. Since departing Corrigedor he had repeated his goal, 'I shall return.' His argument was largely political and moral--we owed it to the Filipino people as the Philippines at the time was American territory. Admiral Earnest King believed that Formosa (Taiwan) made more strategic sense, largely because it would more more effectively interdict the delivery of raw materials from the Southern Resourse Zone to the Home Islands. A difference of such magnitude between such senior American commanders could only be resolved by President Roosevelt. The President summoned his commanders at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to settle the issue of the direction of the advance on Japan (July 26-27). MacArthur made his and the Army's case. Nimitz made the case for the Navy. The choice would be the Philippines leading to the greatest naval battle in world history--theBattle of Leyte Gulf.
Douglas MacArthur was convinced that Roosevelt was personally involved in the strategic planning for no other reason than electioneering after his record fourth nomination for presidency. MacArthur decided to upstage Roosevelt by arriving in a long open limousine with elaborate motorcycle escort, accepting the welcome from the cheering crowd. Even before he arrived at Hawaii, he was already unhappy for being forced to leave his troops to attend this "picture-taking junket", as he commented. "In the First War, I never for a moment left my division, even when wounded by gas and ordered to the hospital. I've never before had to turn my back on my assignment", he said. In fact, when he was ordered to go, he was not even informed who was to preside over the meeting, though MacArthur had a good idea it was going to be Roosevelt.
During the meeting itself, though there was no written record of the discussions, MacArthur made the argument that the United States had constitutional responsibility to the people of the Philippine Islands, thus must liberate the islands without further delay. He argued that the conquest of Philippine Islands made more strategic sense than the plan Nimitz presented; with Philippine Islands under Allied control, Japan would become separated from the resources of the South Pacific, therefore limiting her manufacturing capabilities. Without the Philippine Islands, the Allies would also cut off all the Japanese troops south and west of the islands. MacArthur left out the details that a campaign in the Philippine Islands would likely be long and costly.
Nimitz argued for an advance for Taiwan, bypassing the Philippine Islands, noting that it would place the American military at a better position to strike the Japanese home islands than Luzon. Additionally, Nimitz also argued that by holding Taiwan, the island would serve the political purpose of pleasing the Chinese; militarily, it would also open up a gateway to Sino-American operations on the Chinese coast. Nimitz's recommendation, naturally, placed more emphasis upon the usage of the Navy and the Marines, which did not sit well with MacArthur, who already believed that Nimitz was a part of the conspiracy to make the Navy the premier service of the American military. Additionally, MacArthur did not understand how such plan could work. "Just how to neutralize and contain the 300,000 Japanese troops left in [Nimitz's] rear in the Philippines was never clearly explained to me", noted MacArthur. "Admiral Nimitz put forth the Navy plan, but I was sure it was [Ernest] King's and not his own." Roosevelt knew that the plan Nimitz presented had not yet been agreed upon by all US Navy leadership; Raymond Spruance, for example, was not a supporter of the plan for Taiwan, and vouched for an invasion of the Philippine Islands followed by Okinawa, Japan.
Roosevelt, acting "entirely neutral" during the meeting, made no decisions. However, on 9 Aug, MacArthur received a letter from Roosevelt noting that as soon as he returned to Washington, DC, he would push on the plan that MacArthur recommended. It was possible that, like MacArthur suspected, Roosevelt sided with the general so not to upset him and his vast number of conservative supporters during an election year. So it was decided that MacArthur was to personally oversee the landings on the Philippine Islands, assisted by the entire Third Fleet under the command of MacArthur's old friend William Halsey. Some criticized that the entire Philippine Islands campaign was MacArthur's own obsession for fulfilling his personal promise to the Filipino people. In retrospect, although the Philippine Islands made more strategic sense than Taiwan, MacArthur's campaign to clear every corner of the islands of its Japanese occupiers was rather wasteful in time and resources.
On the side, MacArthur also made a personal decision to exclude his Australian contingents from the Philippine Islands campaign, on the grounds that he did not wish to use foreign troops to free American soil.
Max Hastings, Retribution
Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences
William Manchester, American Caesar
Dan van der Vat, The Pacific Campaign
The Palaus became important in World War II because of its location off the Philippines. After the American victory in the Marianas (June-July 1944), it became clear that the next American offensive would be to retake the Philippines. The United States in preparation for the invasion of the Philippines wanted a secure logistical base. Peleliu (September 1944). Peleliu was one of the Palau Islands acquired by Japan during Wotld War I. Admiral Nimitz with growing naval power had the advantage of selecting the islands to invade. Some islands like Saipan were obvious. Others less so. The Japanese were forced to heavily garison large numbers of islands which they then had trouble supplying. Peleliu was one of those islands. A Japanese research team developed new island defense tactivs. They decided to end the beach-based defense and the reckless Banzai attacks. Instead they adopted a "honeycomb" system of fortified fefensive positions. And Peleliu ws pefect for this. The Japanese military began to build defenses beginning with the Panay incident (1937). Using both soldiers and Korean slave labor had built defensive positions throughout the island. Gaves were outfitted with stell doors and protected by inter-locking fire. The Japanese by 1944 had garrisoned the Palau Islands with 30,000 men, including 11,000 men on Peleliu. The primary force was the 14th division commanded by Colonel Kunio Nakagawa. Given its position north of New Guinea and east of the Philippines, it was seen as necessary to take. Nimitz for the most part chose well, making judicious assessments about which islnds were needed to advance across the vast ocean streaches toward Japan. Peleliu was one of the bloodiest of the Central Pacific island invasions. And historians have come to view it as unecessary. The pre-invasion intelligence on Peleliu was probably the worst of any of the island invasions. Operation Stalemaste was initially seen as needed for a staging area for the invasion of the Philippines. Later planners had second thoughts, but Admiral Nimitz decided that the planning had gone too far. The 1st Marine Division was told before going ashore that there would be a tough fight, but it would be over in 3 days. The Marines landed (September 15). The Navy pounded the island for 3 days, but the the carefully prepared Japanese cave positions and underground bunkers were left largely untouched. The result ws a fierce battle which went on for weeks. [McEnery] The Japanese based on previous invasions, decided not to oppose the initial beach landings, but fight on in depth from prepared positions. [Camp] The only running tank fight confucted by the Masrines occurred over the airfield. The Japanese fought the Marines for 6 weeks in prepared defenses and then caves. All but 200 of the 11,000 Japanese defenders were killed. [Sloan] The 1st Marines suffered 6,500 casualties, 1,300 killed. The Army 81st Division which followed the Marines suffered 3,300 casuaties, over 500 killed. Incredibly, 34 Japanese soldiers held out for 2 years after the battle. Japanese civilians wre reptrited after the War.
The Philippino people suffered greviously under Japanese occupation. This helped fuel an effective Resistance campaigns carried out by guerillas which had achieved control of substantial areas. The Japanese, gowever, controlled the population centers, especially on Leyte and Luzaon. The Navy preferred targetting Formosa (Taiwan), but MacArthur eventually prevailed with his insistence that America must retun to the Philippines. He considered his vow to return a pledge to the Philippinp people that had to be honored. Some how his vow, "I shall return." sems less appropriate than "We shall return", but it was pure MacArthur and he convinced President Roosevelt. Reports from resistance fighters and American pilots revealed that the Japanese were not heavily defending large areas of the Islands. The invasion of Mindanao was considered unecessary and the decession was made to strike first further north at Leyte. It was in this engagement that the Kamakazis first appeared, although still in relatively small numbers. MacArthur President Sergio Osme�a waded ashore with the invasion force at Leyte Gulf (October 20, 1944). The American Army forces advanced steadily. The Japanese resisted, but could not match American fire power. The most serious Japanese resistence occurred at sea. The resulting naval engaement following on Battle of the Philippines Sea is commonly referred to as the Battle of Leyte Gulf. It was the largest sea battle ever fought and resulted in the destruction of the Japanese fleet as an effective fighting force. This opened the way for the land campaign. Further landings occurred at Ormoc (December 7, 1944).
McEnery, Jim with Bill Sloan. Hell in the Pacific: A MArine Riflemn's Journey from Gudalcanal to Peleliu (2012), 320p.
Sloan, Bill. Brotherhood of Heroes: The Marines at Peleliu, 1944--The Blodiest Battle of the Pacific War (Simon & Schuster, 2005).
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