By Alistair Rogers
After the attack of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the United States was forced to engage a foe whose territory included encompassed much of the North Pacific and South Pacific Oceans. At its height in 1942, the Empire of Japan stretched from Alaska’s westward Aleutian Islands, southward to New Guinea and westward to the Philippines Islands, Thailand, French Indo-China (modern-day Vietnam), Sumatra and coastal China. With Japan entrenched through such a vast territory, the United States had to employ specific tactics to defeat enemy forces in isolated areas, recover occupied territories, and ultimately defeat Japan on its homeland. The employment of island hopping was instrumental in achieving this victory.
Also known as leap-frogging, island hopping focused on bypassing heavily armed locations for islands and atolls where airstrips could be constructed. With these airstrips in place, long-range bombers could attack the Japanese mainland while the Army and Navy avoided prolonged and bloody conflict. A large pincer movement was designed, with General Douglas MacArthur leading the Southwest Pacific Forces northward towards the Philippines, while Admiral Chester Nimitz lead the Central Pacific fleet westward from Hawaii. General MacArthur’s forces moved northward and gained important victories at Guadalcanal, New Guinea, and the Philippines, reaching that archipelago in June of 1945. Admiral Nimitz’s forces moved westward, taking key locations such as the Marshall Islands, Wake Island, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, reaching that important location in June of 1945. All the while, American B-29 Bombers attacked Japan throughout 1944 and 1945, most notably the firebombing of Tokyo in May 1945. The success of this pincer movement culminated in the dropping of two atomic bombs in early August of 1945, bringing the war to a quick-yet destructive conclusion, yet avoiding the bloody stalemate of a mainland-invasion.