What Was the Pacific War?

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  • Written By: D.J. George
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
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  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2019
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The Pacific War is a general term that refers to the portions of World War II that took place in the Pacific Ocean and the islands in that region. The Pacific War began on 7 December 1941, when Japan staged an attack on the Hawaiian naval base of Pearl Harbor. After years of heavy fighting, the Pacific War ended when President Harry S. Truman ordered atomic bombs to be dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

There are those who believe that the Pacific conflict can be traced back to 7 July 1937, with the Japanese attack on China, or possibly even further, to 19 September 1931, when the Japanese invaded Manchuria. In any case, after the Japanese made the move to attack American soil, a war in the Pacific was guaranteed. With the U.S., Great Britain, Russia and France serving as the primary Allied powers, attacks were made against Japanese forces in the Pacific Ocean.


Japan was successful early in the Pacific War. Wake Island and Guam fell to the Japanese in December 1941. Within the next six months, the Philippines, Dutch East Indies, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaya and Burma were claimed by the Japanese. The tide then began to turn for the Allied forces by the middle of 1942, when forces from Australia and New Zealand were able to halt the Japanese advance in New Guinea. British forces were able to do the same in India, and about the same time, U.S. forces won the Battle of Midway.

At this time, the primary concern for Japan’s Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s was to eliminate the United States' remaining carrier forces. The Japanese, bolstered by their early successes, were confident in their undertaking. The U.S. forces surprised them though, and the Japanese were forced to abandon the battle.

Months later, U.S. forces attacked Japanese strongholds in the Solomon Islands, which forced the Japanese to withdraw from Guadalcanal. Island by island, battle by battle, Allied forces began to gain military supremacy in the Pacific. The methodical approach of the Allied forces seemed to be working.

In 1944, American forces launched air attacks on Japan and liberated the Philippines from Japanese control. In spite of tremendous losses sustained by Allied troops and the suicidal kamikaze attacks delivered by the Japanese, U.S. troops were able to conquer Okinawa in June 1945. After atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, Japan surrendered.


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