THE FIGHT IN THE PACIFIC
After Pearl Harbor, the situation looked bleak for the Allies. Japan had conquered most of the East Asia, including the American possessions of the Philippines, Guam, and the Wake Islands and the European possessions of Hong Kong, Singapore, the East Indies, Burma, and Indochina. The Japanese said they wanted to start an Asian commonwealth run by Asians, but in fact their rule was often more brutal to the natives than that of the Europeans they replaced.
The Philippines fell to Japan in 1942 after five months of resistance; General Douglas MacArthur was taken away from the Philippines at the last minute to lead the U.S. Pacific forces in Australia. The Japanese fought their way to islands just off Australia before they ran into the slowly growing strength of the Allied forces.
In the naval battle of the Coral Sea (May 1942), the first battle in history in which the ships never saw each other and all the fighting was done by planes, the combined U.S. and Australian forces fought the Japanese to a standstill and prevented an invasion of southern New Guinea that would have threatened Australia.
The tide began to turn for real in the Battle of Midway (June 1942). In this second all-carrier battle, the U.S. defended an island outpost west of Hawaii with everything that could float or fly. The Japanese lost four aircraft carriers and many of their carefully trained pilots; the Americans lost just one carrier. With its greater population and production power, America was on the offensive in the Pacific from Midway on.
The first major land offensive was an American attack on the small island of Guadalcanal (August 1942), whose occupation by Japan threatened the shipping of supplies to Australia. It took months of brutal battle, but the Americans finally drove the Japanese off the island. The
U.S. hopped from island to island across the South Pacific, refusing to back down from the fight-to-the-death resistance by the Japanese. By the end of 1944, the U.S. had won islands close enough to the Japanese homeland to serve as launching fields for around the clock bombing of Japan itself. American submarines and planes sunk Japanese supply ships at a rapid rate.