World War Two in the Pacific Comes to a Fiercely Fought Close in 1945
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THE MAKING OF A NATION – a program in Special English by the Voice of America.
American military planners had to make an important decision when the United States entered the Second World War in late 1941.
They could not fight effectively at the same time in Asia and Europe. They decided to use most of their forces to defeat the German troops of Adolf Hitler. Only after victory was clear in Europe would they use all of America's strength to fight against Japan in Asia and the Pacific.
This decision had important results. Japan was able to win many of the early battles of the war in Asia. Our program today is about the fighting in the Pacific.
Japanese planes. Out of the sky they came -- suddenly, secretly -- bombing the American military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in a deadly attack
The Japanese raid in December 1941 marked the beginning of several major victories for Tokyo. The Japanese destroyed Pearl Harbor. They attacked American bases in the Philippines and destroyed those, too. Within days, Japan captured the American island of Guam. Japanese troops landed in Thailand, marched into Malaya, and seized Hong Kong. The Japanese moved into Indonesia and Burma.
Even Hitler's troops in Europe had not moved so quickly or successfully. As one American historian wrote later, the Pacific Ocean looked like a Japanese lake.
Washington tried to fight back. A group of American planes successfully bombed Tokyo in a surprise raid. However, Japan knew it was winning the war. Its leaders believed no army could stop them. So they expanded their goals and launched new campaigns.
This was Japan's mistake. It stretched its forces too thin, too quickly. The military leaders in Tokyo believed that the United States could not resist because it was busy fighting the war in Europe. But not even Japan could extend its communications and fighting power over such a great distance and continue to win.
The turning point came in June 1942 in the central Pacific in the great battle of Midway Island.
Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto launched the battle. He wanted to meet and destroy the remaining ships of the American fleet before Washington had time to rebuild them.
Yamamoto had one hundred sixty-two ships.
The American admiral, Chester Nimitz, had just seventy-six. But the United States had learned how to understand the secret messages of the Japanese forces.
For this reason, Nimitz and the Americans knew exactly where the Japanese ships would sail. And they put their own ships in the best places to stop them.
The fighting between the two sides was fierce. But when it ended, the Americans had won a great victory. Admiral Yamamoto was forced to call off his attack and sail home. For the first time, the Japanese Navy had been defeated.
The next big battle was at Guadalcanal, one of the Solomon Islands in the southwestern Pacific. Guadalcanal's beaches were wide and flat. Japanese officers decided to build a military airbase there. The United States learned of this. It decided it had to prevent Japan from establishing such a base.
American marines quickly landed on the island. They were joined by troops from Australia and New Zealand. But Japanese ships launched a surprise attack and destroyed many of the American ships in the harbor. Allied forces on the island were left without naval support and suffered terrible losses.
For six months, the two sides fought for control of the island. Historian Samuel Eliot Morrison later described the action this way:
"For us who were there," Morrison wrote, "Guadalcanal is not a name but an emotion. Remembering terrible fights in the air. Fierce naval battles. Bloody fighting in the jungle. Nights broken by screaming bombs and the loud explosions of naval guns."
The fighting continued, seemingly forever. But finally, in February 1943, the Japanese were forced to leave Guadalcanal.
The battle was an important defeat for Japan. It opened the door for the American and other Allied forces to go on the attack after months of defensive fighting.
American military planners did not agree about the best way to launch such an attack. Admiral Nimitz of the Navy wanted to capture the small groups of Japanese-held islands in the Pacific, then seize Taiwan, and finally attack Japan itself. But General Douglas MacArthur of the Army thought it best to attack through New Guinea and the Philippines.
The American leadership finally decided to launch both attacks at once. Both Nimitz and MacArthur succeeded. Nimitz and his Navy forces moved quickly through the Marianas and other islands. General MacArthur attacked through New Guinea and into the Philippines. In the battle for Leyte Gulf, American ships completely destroyed Japanese naval power.
Throughout the Pacific Ocean and eastern Asia, the fighting continued. Many of the fiercest battles were fought on tiny Pacific islands. Japanese troops captured the islands early in the war. And they quickly built strong defenses to prevent Allies from invading.
Allied military leaders found a way to defeat the Japanese plan. They simply avoided the islands where the Japanese were strong and attacked other islands.
But sometimes the Allies could not avoid battle. They had to land on some islands to seize airfields for American planes.
The names of these islands became well-known to soldiers and families throughout the world. Tarawa in the Gilbert islands. Truk in the Marshall Islands. Saipan in the Marianas. And other islands, too, such as Guam and Tinian.
The two sides fought fiercely in the battle of Iwo Jima. And Japanese forces on Okinawa resisted for eighty-three days before finally being defeated by Allied troops.
After the defeat at Okinawa, many Japanese people understood that the war was lost, even if Japan had not yet surrendered. The emperor appointed a new prime minister and ordered him to explore the possibilities of peace.
But both sides still expected the Allies to launch a final invasion into Japan itself. And everyone knew that the cost in human life would be terrible for both sides.
But the final invasion never came.
For years, American scientists had been developing a secret weapon, the atomic bomb. The United States dropped one of the bombs on the Japanese city of Hiroshima and another on Nagasaki. More than one hundred thousand persons were killed.
Tokyo surrendered within days.
Suddenly, sooner than expected, the war was ended. More than twenty-five million soldiers and civilians had died during the six years of fighting. Germany and Japan were defeated. The Soviet Union was strong in much of eastern Europe. And the United States found it had become the world's strongest military, economic and political power.
You have been listening to THE MAKING OF A NATION, a program in Special English. Your narrators were Harry Monroe and Rich Kleinfeldt. Our program was written by David Jarmul. The Voice of America invites you to listen again next week to THE MAKING OF A NATION.