World War II Island Territories: The Pacific--A-L


Figure 1.--

The Battle of the Atlantic was an Allied effort. The Pacific War was a largely American effort as two great naval forces gave battle over the tractless Pacific. The Philippines became the linchpin in the road to war. The war in Japanese eyes became necessary after the United States embargoed oil. The oil the Japanese needed was available in the Dutch East Indies and the Dutch could not prevent the Japanese from seizing it. The problem for the Japanese was that the American-held Phillipine Islands lay astride the sea routes between the Home Islands aqand the Resource Area of Southeast Asia tht the military leaders who goverened Japan saw a necssary for Japan to complete its conquest of China. Not only did the Philippines present a barrier to Japanese expansion, but the United States possessed the only naval force in the Pacific capable of opposing thepowerful Imperial Navy. Of particular importance was the Dutch East Indies which had the petroleum resources that Japan lacked. Japan launched the War by a carrier attack on the Haiwaiian Islands, the base of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. This launched the Pacific War in which America and Japan fought out naval engagements in the vast Pacific, but amphibious invasions of islands that the people of the two contrie had never even heard about before the War. Unlike the DutchEast Indies, these islands had little intrinsic value in terms of resources, only theirgeographic location made them strategically important. These islands ranged from the frigid Alutians in the North Pacific to the steemy jungle islands of the South Pacific. Ultimately the largest naval battle in history would be fought off the Philippines--the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Admiralty Islands

The Admiralty Islands off the northern coast of New Guinea were part of the westtern Bismsrck Archpelago. The two main islands are Los Negros and Manus. The Japanese landed on the islands (April 1942). The Admiralties had one of the finest anchorages in the Southwest Pacific--Seeadler Harbor. The Japanese built two air strips. After the Battle of Midway , the Japanese no longer had uncontested naval dominance. This presented them with a problem, especialy after the American counter offensive began at Guadacanal in the Solomons. There were thousands of Pacific islands. They could not defend them all. Some were obvious American targets, but many were less so. And adding to the Japanese problems, while they could cram large numbers of troops on many islands and atolls, as American naval and air power grew, supplying those widely dispersed garisons became an increasingly dufficult problem. General MacArthur targeted the Admiralties with Opetation Brewer. When MacArthur received a slender intelligence report--the Japanese were not reacting in strength to air strikes. He ordered a small force to conduct a reconisance in force, on Los Negros, a month befor a much stronger force was preparing to invade. Fortunately for the men involved. MacArthur's instincts proved right. Support troops landed and Manus also fell (May 1943). The U.S. 1st Cavalry Division was the principal American force.The U.S. Navy turned Seeadler into one of its most important Pacific bases with facilities to repair ships. The airfield were extended. The Air Force from the air bases was able to hammer Rabaul and Japanese positions in New Guinea. They also supported the Navy's Central Pacific offensive.

Aleutian Islands

The Aleutians streach out from Alaska toward Siberia. The Japanese militarists were concerned about possible American attacks from the Aleutians on northern Japan which at the time included part of Sakalin. This fear was jightened by the Doolittle Raid (April 1942). To win approval of his Operation MI (the invasion of Midway Island and final destruction of the Amrican Pacific Fleet). Admiral Yamanoto had to agree to include the invasion of Attu and Kiska inthe westetern Aleutians. Yamamoto optimistically thought it might create a diversion. In fact, it diverted Japanese carriers to cover the invasion. Carriers that could have made a huge difference at Midway. Japanese carrier aircraft from Junyō and Ryūjō bombed Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island (June 3, 1942). The Japanese invaded Kiska (June 6) and and Attu (June 7). Most of the native population had been evacuated before the invasion and interned in camps in the Alaska Panhandle. Logistics was key to the Aleutian campaign. The United States had only limited military resources in Alaska but rushed the Trans-Alaskan Highway to compltion to facilitate the movement of men and materials. The U.S. Navy deployed a cruiser/destroyer force to interdict Japanese supply convoys The result was the Battle of the Komandorski Islands. After which the Japanese stopped surface supply efforts and reverted to submarines. This was both inadequate and a wasteful use of the subs. The United States built an air base on Adak Island from which Kiska could be bombed (August 1942). The United Stated launched the invasion to retake Attu (May 11, 1943). It proved to be a bloody, prolonged campaign. The Japanese garrison fought to the death. An inconclusive naval engagement was fought west of Kiska--the Battle of the Pips (July 27). The Japanese abandoned Kiska (July 28). The terrible weather conditions in the Aleutians were such that the Americans did not even notice. An American invasion force landed expecting another bitter fight (August 7). Guadacanal in the Solomons was one of the few Pacific islands that the Japanese did not defend to the death. Kiska in the Aleutians was another island abandoned by the Japanese. The Ameicans began a sustained bombing campaign against the Kuriles. The primary target was the Japanese base at Paramushiro. The principal imact was to diveet 500 Japanese aurcraft and 41,000 army troops.

Bismarck Archipeligo

Germany proclaimed a protectorate over what at the time was called the New Britain Archipelago (1884). It was subsequently renamed the Bismarck Archipelago. The two principal islsands were New Britain and New Ireland which the Germans also renamed. The Archipelao was located just to the north of the Solomon Islands. The Allies seized the islands during World War I. After Pearl Harbor, a string force of the Japanese attacked the islands, first bombing Rabaul fron Truk. Rabaul at the eastern tip of New Britain was the principal port in the Archipelago (January 1942). A substatial force of Japanese marines occupied both New Britain and New Ireland and smaller associated islands. The Allies did not have sizeable forces on the islands to resist. The Japanese converted Rabaul into their principal base in the South Pacific. Army, naval and air bases made it a formidable bastion. The Japanese used it as a base to begin the conquest of Australia. The task force assigned to seize Port Moresby along the southern coast of New Guinea sailed from Rasbaul. They were stopped by an American carrier force in the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 1942). The Japanese also moved south into the Solomons. After the American victory at Midway, some of the surviving Japanese pilots were assigned to Rabaul which along with the Zero fighter made for a powerful air arm. The loss of the four carriers at Midway, meant that the Imoperial Navy no longer had the capability to execute Operation FS abd cut off Australia from America. They decided to use air power to cut the sea lanes anf began building an air field on Guadacanal in the southern Solomons. American marines seized the airfiels in the first offensive Allied operation of the War (August 1942). This led to the bloody battle for Guadacanal and ferrocious naval and air strikes from Rabaul. Guadacanal was, however, on the outer limit of Zero operations. This aided the Marine pilots on Guadacanal operating basically obsolete aircraft. The balance of power gradually shifted as new American aircraft like the long-range Lockeed P-38 Lighting and the Gruman F-4 Hellcat arrived. Japanese naval losses and the arrival of new American ships was another major factor. The Imperial fleet was withdrawn froim the Soiuth Pacific. The Allies were thus able to move up the Solomom chain bringing Rabaul in range of intensified air strikes while the U.S. Navy made it difficult for the Japanese to resupply Rabaul. The Allies first planned to seize Rabaul, but eventually decided to simply cut it off to avoid casualties. The Allies proceeded to seize Japanese bases along the northeastern coast of New Guinea as well as islands around Rabaul--Operation Cartwheel. The final step was New Britain itself. The First Marine Division relieved from Guadacanal landed at Cape Gloucester at the western end of New Britain (December 1943). Army units landed at other locations. This and the naval blockade effectively neutralized Rabaul. The Allies bypassed New Ireland entirely. The large Japanese garrison was cut off without supplies and by the end of the War faced starvation. The Japanese abandoned Rabaul (August 1945).

Borneo

Borneo is the third largest island in the world. At the time of World War II, this huge island was divivided between the British and Dutch. The Dutch controlled most of the island, the British the northeast coast. The island is located at the centre of maritime Southeast Asia and the Dutch portion of the island is today the central portion of Indonesia. Soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded Borneo. This largely primitive island was actually a primary objective of the Japanese war effort because of the oil resources that the British and Dutch were developing. The Japanese landed first on the west coast near Miri in Sarawak (mid-December 1941). The Japanese completed the conquest when they seized Balikpapan in the Dutch portion of Borneo along the eastern coast (January 23, 1942). The Japanese did not penetrate into the jungle interior, but occupied the coastal area and the oil fields. One of the first actions they took was to intern the European officials. The missionaries working with the local people were targeted. Many families and the Japanese killed them, including the women and children. This horified the indegenous people like the Dyaks who had come to love the missionaries. The Dyaks and other tribal people were also outraged by the Japanese stealing their food and forcing themselves on their women. The Japanese decimated many local populations as well as Malay intellectuals. They eliminated the Malay Sultanate of Sambas in Kalimantan. The Japanese directly or indicrectly killed an estimated 0.1 million local people during the ocupation. The British eventually inserted a small Z Force unit to organize the tribal people so they could resist the Japanese (January 1945). Borneo had become a major source of oil for the Japanese who had virtually no domestic oil resources. After the Allied offensive reversed the Japnese onslaught, the oil instalations became a target for American bombers. The American submarine campaign also became increasingly effective (1943). Eventually it became almost impossible for the Japanese to get the oil to Japan, although oil tankers were able to make runs to Singapore. This is why by 1943 much of the Imperial Fleet was based in Singapore and not the Home Islands. An Australian force landed along the northeast coast at Tarakan (May 1945).

Carolines

The Caroline Islands in the Central Pacific is now the independent country of the Federated States of Micronesia. The Carolines covered a huge ocean area of the western Pacific, the largest area of any of the small island groups. They were located between the Marianasa and New Guinea and east of the Philippines. The principal components included the Hall Islands, Kapingamarangi, Kosrae, Pohnpei, Truk Islands, and Yap Islands. Spain sold the islands to Germany for 25,000,000 pesetas (about 1 million pounds sterling), which maintained the Spanish name, Germanized as Karolinen. They were administered from the larger German colony of New Guinea. Japan occupied the islands during World War I. After the War they were granted a League of Nations mandate (1920). The Germans had converted Yap into an important communications center. The Japanese built a huge naval base at Truk becauce of its large protected lagoon. Japanese forces from Truk played an important role in the Japanese offensive that carved out a huge empire after Pearl Harbor. They referred to Truk as the Gibraltar of the Pacific. It was in the first year of the war along with Rabal the principal forward operating base of the Imperial Fleet. Following the launch of the American Central Pacific campaign and the seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls, the Japanese braced for an American assault on Truk. The Imperial Fleet withdrew most of its combat units, hopeing that the large garrison and substantial air contingent could defend Truk. The Americans instead of launching a costly invasion, bypassed Truk. Instead they carried out devestating carrier air attacks on Truk and its defenses--Operation Hailstone. These attacks devestated Truk as an effective base. Without command of the sea, the Japanese could not resupply Truk. And without supplies Truk was rendered ineffective, unable to support efforts to defend the Marianas--the critical battle in the Central Pacific campaign. By the time the Japanese surrender at the end of the War, the Truk garrison was near starvation. After the war, the islands became trust territories of the United States, eventually gaining independence (1986/1994) as part of the Federated States of Micronesia..

Dutch East Indies

The Japanese referred to Southeeast Asia as the Southern Resource Area and the most precious resource they needed after the United States embargoes was oil. And oil was available in the Dutch East Indies (DEI). After the German Western offensive, the Dutch and other Europeans were no longer capable of resisting the Japanese in Asia (May-June 1940). The Dutch DEI colonial administration in Batavia recognized the Dutch government-in-exile. After the fall of Singapore (April 1942), the Japanese moved on the DEI (March 1942). The Japanese defeated decisively defeated an Allied fleet cobeled together in the Battle of the Java Sea (March 1). After this the Japanese occupied the DEI with little resistance. Japanese parchute landing seized the all-importantboil fields largely intact. The Japanese , however, benefitted little. The American submarine campaign by 1943 was making it difficult to ship raw material from the DEI and the rest of the Southern Resource Zone to the Japan Home Islands. The American destruction of the Imperial Fleet and reconquest of the Philippines (October 1944) made it virtually imposible. The nationalist DEI political leaders at the time were being suppressed by the Dutch. The Japanese attempted to win the natiionalists over, but without offering independence. The nationalists largely collaborated with the Japanese. The Japanese in the DEI committed terrible attrocities. Despite nationalist collaboration, an estimated 4 million civilians perished during the Japanese occupation.

Fiji

After the initial Japanese offensice following Pearl Harbor. Fiji to the southeast of the Solomons found itself along with New Caledonia and the New Hebredies (Vanuatu) on the front line of the Pacific War. Suva boasted one of the finest natural harbors in the South Pacific--3 miles wide and cutting 2 miles inland. The U.S. Navy chose Nandi Bay for its main advance naval base (JAMPUFF). The Army, Marine, and Navy rushed air, ground , and naval assetts to the island. Fiji bosted one of the few concrete air strips in the South Pacific and more were sooon under cinstruction. The Seebees arrived (June 1942). The New Zealanders participsted in the build up. Fiji thus became one of several targets of the Japanese FS Operation designed to seize the French and British South Pacific South Pacific islands east of Australia. This would have cut Australia and New Zealand off from America, the first step in conqueriung both Dominions. FS would have been the next Japanese Pacific offensive after they destroyed the American carriers at Midway. The ensuing Japanese Midway disaster (June 1942), however, significantly reduced the striking power of the Imperial Fleet. The American Pacific Fleet proved to have just enough naval power to prevent the Japanese from moving beyond the Solomons until new construction would fundamentally chsnge the balance of naval power. In addition, the United States garisoned the island with 10,000 well-equipped Marines. A Japanese invasion would not have faced the small. poorly equipped force they found on Wake and Guam immediately after Pearl Harbor. Fiji soldiers fought with the the Allies in the Pacific campaigns that followed. Fijian soldiers acquired a reputation in the difficult American Solomon Islands campaign. The United States and other Allied countries maintained military installations in Fiji during the war, but after the Solomons campaign, Fiji gradually became a remote rear area used for staging and logistics.

French Frigate Shoals

French Frigate Shoals is an open atoll located between the Hawaian Islands and Midway. It includes a large, crescent-shaped reef surrounding numerous small, sandy islets. The land area is very small (¼ square kilometer), the coral reef area is substantial. The largest island is Tern Islasnd. French Frigate Shoals was part of the U.S. Hawaiian Islands. The name resulted from two French frigate ships that almost ran aground on the reeds (1786). The atoll is both isolated and uninhabited. The Japanese learned after the invasion of Wake Island that there were no U.S. Navy facilities at French Frigate Shoals and its isolation meant that it could be used by submsarines to refuel reconisance seaplanes. Two Kawanishi H8K flying boats from Wake refuled at the French Frigate Shoals for an armed reconisance of Oahu (March 3, 1942). After the U.S. Navy realized that the Japanese were using the area for flyingboats operations, they occupied Tern Island and built an emergency landing strip there to make sure the Japanese could no longer use the Shoals.

French Polynesia

French Polynesia is an overseas country (pays d'outre-mer) of France. It consists of several groups of Polynesian islands in the South Pacific. They are some of the most easterly South Pacific Islands, located between American Samoa and Easter Islansd, the furthest eastern expansion of the Polynesian people. Colonial authorities on French Polynesia were among the first French colonial offocials during World War II after the fall of France (June 1940) to afirm loyalty to the Free French who were committed to fighting the Germans (1940 ). Many Polynesians served with French forces in the War. Soon after the fall of France, the Japanese Konoe Cabinet added French Polynesia among the many South Pacific island territories which were to acquired for the empire (September 1940). After the Japanese launched the Pacific War, they added many of the targeted islands to their Empire, but the U.S. Navy victory at Midway (June 1942) made it impossible for the Japanese to expanhd into the central Pacific. Thus French Polynesia remained beyond the range of Japanese expansion, but provided the U.S. Navy important rear area supply and stageing bases.

Gilberts

The Gilbert Islands in the Central Pacific (now known as Kiribati) were a British colony seized by the Japanese after the Pearl Harbor attack launching World War II. Makin in the Gilbers was the target of an American raid. The Ameirican carriers had escaped destruction at Pearl, but they were not ready to take on the Japanese. The Japanese not only had more carriers, but their pilots were better trained and had superior aircraft. Admiral Nimitz used the American carriers in hit and run raids aimed in part at giving the carrier groups more experience. This included attacks on Japanese bases in the the Gilberts. The situation had changed after the Japanese lost carriers and pilots at Midway and the Solomons and the new Essex class carriers with impoved aircraft began reaching the Pacific Fleet. The American Pacific offense began in the South Pacific. After success in the Solomons The United Strates Pacific Fleet under Admiral Nimitz launched a new front--the Central Pacific campaign. The ability to conduct two offences in the Pascific left the Japanese confused as to how to organized their defenses. The American Central Pacific campaign began with an assault on the Gilberts (November 1943). The Japanese after the Sollomons campaign had withdrawn the battered Imperial Fleet to safe bases. There was thus, unlike the Solomons, no naval opposition in the Gilberts. The Japanese hoped that a well entrenched island garison could resist an American amphibious invasion even without naval support. The American Marines at Tarawa proved they could not, but at a terrible cost. The Japanese refused to surrender and fought to the death. Losses shocked the American public, but President Roosevelt ordered that film footage of the carnage be allowed to be shown in movie news reels (the TV news of the day). Bases in the Gilberts were used to support the subsequnt American assault on the Marshalls.

Hawaiian Islands

The Hawaiian Islands were Americ's primary Pacific territory. By the itme of World war II, the United States had already decided to grant independence to the Philippines and plans for this were well advanced. There were, however, only limited military facilities on the Islands. This changed as the Japanese took increasingly meancing steps in the Pacific. Japan seized French Indochina (Vietnam) and joined the Axis. In response, the Roosevelt Administration tightened trade restrictions and moved the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor on Oahu as a signal to the Japanese (1940). The Japanese lasunched the Pacific War with a surprise carrier strike on Pearl (December 1941). Admiral Nagumo's two waves did enormous damage, incapitating the Pacific Fleet by sinking or destroying eight battleships. By mere chance, the three carriers of the Pacific fleet were not at Pearl. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a brilliantly executed military action, it was also the most disasterous operation in Japanese military history. In 2 hours, the Jaanese instantly ended the isolationist debate in America, bringing the country and its massive industrial power into World War II. Nagumo decided against a third wave, leaving the oil depots, shipysards, and submarine pens at Pearl in tact. This meant that America was left with an operational naval base around which to rebuild the Pacific fleet. Had the Japanese suceeded at Midway (and they almost did), Pearl would have inevitably come under attack. The American victory at Midway, however, left Pearl unassailable and from Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz mastermined the U.S. Navy's Central Pacific campaign. Pearl Harbor and the Hawaiian Islands became the operational center of the most powerful naval force ever assembled.

Iwo Jima

Iwo Jima was an unihabited volcanic island south of Japan. Virtually no one had ever heard of the island before World War II. It suddenly became important because it was half way between Tokyo and the Marianas where the Americans were building air bases. The Japanese conceived of using the island as part of the their air defense. The Japanese thus turned the island into a massive underground forttress. This was an emense construction project that was caried out undergroujd and thus not dected by American inteligence. The Japanese plans for Iwo proved impractical because of the altitude at which the B-29s could fly and the limited capabilities of Japanese air craft. The island still proved to be of major importance because the United States needed it for its air campaign. It was too small for an important bomber base. It was, however, valuable for both a fighter/escort base and a mid-ocean refuge for bombers having engine trouble or damagd by Japanese air defenses.

Kurile Islands

The other North Pacific islands involved in the Pacific War was the Kuriles. The Ameicans began a sustained bombing campaign against the Kuriles. The primary target was the Japanese base at Paramushiro. The principal impact was to divert 500 Japanese aircraft and 41,000 army troops.

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Created: 2:48 AM 4/18/2008
Last updated: 1:37 AM 12/24/2015