by Trevor Hackbardt
The Pacific Theater consisted of a series of land and sea battles between the United States and the Japanese Empire, often referred to as the "island hopping" campaign. The US did not become directly involved in the war until almost two years after the war had started in September of 1939. However, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, changed the course of the US' action and history.
The attack on Pearl Harbor surprised the US in most respects. The US had not yet involved itself in wartime affairs and had not provoked the Japanese government with any immediate military threats. The Japanese rationale for the attack was due to the country's economic problems and lack of oil, to be more specific. The idea was to attack Pearl Harbor because the biggest threat to the Japanese's plan to obtain more oil was the US Carrier force which was supposed to be in the harbor the day of the attack. Upon arrival, the Japanese bombarded the harbor destroying two battleships and crippling another 12 ships. The issue was none of the US aircraft carriers were in port that day. The three aircraft carriers of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were out to sea on maneuvers. This attack was a pivotal point factor in World War 2 as shortly after, the US declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941.
The Battle of Wake Island is the first of the critical battles during the Pacific Theater after the US had declared war on Japan. Beginning immediately after Pearl Harbor until December 23, 1941, Wake Island became a crucial moment in the war because of its effect on the American people. The attack on Pearl Harbor was still fresh in everyone's minds, and the people needed something to lift their spirits. On December 11, a small group of marines repelled a Japanese amphibious assault on Wake Island, sinking two Japanese warships. This small victory sparked a fire in the heart of the American public, who desperately needed any form of good news. A quote from Commandant Thomas Holcomb sums up the weight of the victory quite well, "Wake Island began the war magnificently for the Marine Corps, and America found that the old soldierly virtues are still embodied in its fighting men. . . . Out of such actions as this a people's strength and ultimate victory must come. America remembers Wake Island and is proud. The enemy remembers Wake Island and is uneasy."
The Battle of Midway is arguably the most important of all the battles fought during the Pacific Theater because it was such a strong turning point for the United States. Midway was an island that sat approximately mid-way between the US and Japan, hence the name. Preventing Japan from taking Midway was of utmost importance because whoever controlled Midway controlled the Pacific. After multiple days of exchanging attacks between the two nations' fleets surrounding the island, the Japanese had retreated, losing four carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu. This US victory paved the way to shrinking the Japanese influence in the Pacific.
The Guadalcanal Campaign emphasized the end of Japanese influence over the Pacific. Over the next six months, from August 7, 1942, to February 9, 1943, the US would perform a series of skirmishes on Guadalcanal. The success at Guadalcanal made clear that the Japanese offensive campaign was no longer and that they were on the back foot for the remainder of the war. This campaign was the moment that began the road to turning the tide.
The Battle of Iwo Jima proved to be the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history, coming out to 24,053 casualties for the US and about 22,000 Japanese casualties. It had only taken 36 days to reach these numbers before the Japanese lost the island. Claiming Iwo Jima significantly accelerated the pace of the war. Immediately following Iwo Jima was the Battle of Okinawa. Okinawa was practically the doorstep of Japan as it served as an airbase for the allied bombers to strike Japan. It would later serve as the platform for the atomic bombs, forcing Japan to surrender.
The National WW2 Museum. "Remembering Pearl Harbor A Pearl Harbor Fact Sheet." www.nationalww2museum.org, https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/pearl-harbor-fact-sheet-1.pdf.