THE UNITED STATES OFFENSIVE TARAWA TO TOKYO - History

THE UNITED STATES OFFENSIVE TARAWA TO TOKYO - History


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The offensive against Japan depended upon United States forces supplemented by such units as its Allies could spare from commitments elsewhere. By the autumn of 1943 the United States waS able to supply the Pacific theater with sufficient ships, planes, ground forces, and supporting equipment to undertake operations on a large scale. Except for the Solomons and the Aleutians, where Attu and Kiska had been retaken, the Japanese still held the perimeter which they had staked out in 1942. The weakness in their strategic pattern was the separation of the industrial homeland from sources of raw material and the consequent dependence on water transportation not only to supply wide-flung military and naval units but also to maintain the Empire economy. Shipping and the supply routes presented an inviting objective. The second possibility was a bombing attack on the home industries which could be effectively conducted once strategic islands within range had been captured. Both these objectves could be atained if the United States won control of the sea in the western Pacific. This in turn required the defeat and, if possible, the destruction of the Japanese Navy 1 and the capture by amphibious landings of those bases necessary to the operations of United States air and naval foces. From the Marianas it would be possible to bomb Japan and from the Philippines to sever the route to the Southern Resources Area. Simultaneous advances were to be conducted by Southwest and Central Pacific forces. Based on Australia, the first was to proceed by a series of amphibious hops along the north coast of New Guinea to Morotai and thence to the Philippines. Except for three of the longer jumps, this campaign did not require carrier aviation and could be conducted by the Army supported by landbased air and relatively light naval forces. The Central Pacific, however, presented the problems of much longer over-water operations starting from the Ellice Islands and proceeding from the Gilberts through the Marshalls and Marianas to the western Carolines from which a long jump could he made to the Philippines in collaboration with the Southwest Pacific forces. Because land-based air cover was impossible to maintain beyond 300 miles from base, carrier aviation necessarily played a major role. As it waS expected that the Japanese Fleet would make its main resistance in this area, both carriers and heavy naval units were assigned to the Central Pacific. With the taking of the Philippines, the same forces could be withdrawn and used to move north and west from the Marianas toward the Bonins and Okinawa and finally to prepare an amphibious assault on the Japanese homeland. The contribution of naval aviation to the Southwest Pacific advance was largely in reconnaissance and antishipping attacks. Marine air units were retained in the northern Solomons and the Admiralties to interdict bypassed enemy garrisons on Bougainville, New Britain, and New Ireland. In the Central Pacific the Navy had . available both fast and escort carriers in increasing nunbers, its land-based and tender-based squadrons, and Marine garrison air forces. Although the Army-Air Forces supplied heavy and medium bombardment groups as needed, the nature of the Central Pacific made the theater primarily a Navy responsibility. With the necessary equipment on hand and assured of a continuing supply of replacements and reinforcements, the United States prepared to launch its drives at the Japanese Empire. 29 The summer of 1943 saw the Marine and Army air units in the Solomons and the Fifth Army Air Force in New Guinea engaged in a death struggle with Japanese naval aviation based at Rabaul and Bougainville. Because it was expected that an advance on the Marshalls might be met with opposition of the same intensity and caliber the first steps were cautious. Airfields were constructed at Funafuti, Nanomea, and Nukufetau in the Ellice chain, and Baker Island was developed as a staging base for Army bombers based at Canton. Search and photographic reconnaissance by Navy squadrons and bombing by Army aircraft were initiated against the Gilberts and southern Marshalls. The fastcarrer forces conducted strikes against Marcus in August, Tarawa and Makin in September, and Wake in October. These were in the nature of training and probing operations for the new Essex- and Independence-class carriers as theyarrived in the Pacific. By November four large and five small carriers had been added to the existing force which comprised only the Enterprise and Saratoga, and a total of eight escort carrers had been assembled. It was now possible for the first major carrier-paced offensive to begin. The air garrisons in the Gilberts, 100 miles to the north at Mille in the Marshalls, and 530 miles to the west at Nauru were overwhelmed SEA POWER U. S. Warships in the Admiralties 30 by carrier strikes on 19 and 20 November. These were carried out by- the 11 fast carriers organized in 4 task groups, the largest carrier force yet assembled by any navy. On 20 November the marines landed on Tarawa, which fell after 21/2 days of heavy fighting. The escort carriers and 1 fast-carrier group provided direct support, while other groups covered the approaches. Makin and Apamama were taken with ease and although the Japanese Navy made no effort to contest the landing by surface action, it did launch a series of troublesome and damaging night torpedo attacks by aircraft from Kwajalein. Despite daily bombings and daylight fighter patrols the planes staged through Mille in the evening. With the Gilberts in friendly hands preparations were made for the assault on the Marshalls. Photographic reconnaissance by a carrier task force on 4 December 1943, confirmed by the pictures later brought back by Navy Liberators. showed that the enemy had fortified Maloelap, Wotje, and Mille in the outer ring of islands but had much less extensive installations on Kwajalein and Eniwetok farther to the west and none at all on Majuro, an atoll with sufficiently large anchorage for the fleet and land space for an airfield. Rather than assault the main Japanese defenses with the resultant heavy casualties as had occurred at Tarawa, Kwajalein, and Majuro became the first objectives in the Marshalls to be followed by landings on Eniwetok. The operation commenced with an air bombardment by Army, Marine, and Navy units based in the Gilberts. Profiting from the example of the enemy at Pearl Harbor, the fast carriers approached from a direction in which Japanese searches were known to be weak. On 29 January 1944 approximately 700 aircraft struck Kwajalein, Maleolap, and Wotje and by evening there was not a Japanese plane operational east of Eniwetok. The latter was cleaned out the next day. Two landings were made on Kwajalein Atoll, and by 4 February enemy resistance was overcome. In the meantime Majuro had been occupied without opposition. The loss of bases in the Marshalls caused the Japanese to withdraw the First Mobile Fleet from Truk, part to Singapore and the remainder to home waters, Although it had not been planned to take Eniwetok until May, the speed with which Kwajalein Atoll had fallen was exploited by changing plans on the spot. Uncommitted reserves from that operation landed on Eniwetok on 17 February, and within 6 days the atoll was secure. Truk was not only the reputed center of Japanese naval strength but was also the base from which air reinforcements could have been flown into the Marshalls. During the capture of Kwajalein and Majuro, night torpedo attacks like those experienced in the Gilberts had been prevented by keeping a combat air patrol over Eni - wetok through which enemy planes would have had to stage. When an attack on the latter atoll was scheduled, the time seemed ripe for a raid against Truk itself. Although the nature and extent of the enemy installations had been a carefully guarded secret, Marine photo-Liberators from the Solomons had obtained a few pictures on 4 February which indicated that an air strike would be well within the capabilities of the fast carriers and the targets would be worth the risk. Achieving complete tactical surprise, a force of 5 large and 4 light carriers struck Truk on 16 and 17 February, destroying 26 merchant vessels, 6 warships, and 270 aircraft and inflicting damage on installations. One United States carrier was damaged in a night aerial-torpedo attack and, with 2 other carriers to provide cover, retired to Pearl Harbor. Success at Truk led to a decision to turn north and investigate Japanese bases in the Marianas. Detected during the approach on 21 February. the six-carrier force fought its way without significant damage through a night-long series of attacks by land-based aircraft and carried out 31 the operation as scheduled. The Japanese First Air Fleet, already greatly reduced by actions in the Marshalls and at Truk, lost much of its remaining strength and the first photographs were obtained of installations and beaches in the Marianas. The Truk and Marianas raids demonstrated the decisive striking and defensive power of the fast-carrier task force. Although tactical surprise was achieved freqently during the war, the Japanese in the Marianas were fully warned by their search planes about 18 hours in advance. The Japanese failure to stop the attack indicated that, concentrated in sufficient numbers and properly handled, carriers could operate against shore-based aircraft even without the element of surprise. With the development of United States bases in the Marshalls, Palau and adjacent atolls became the only Japanese fleet anchorages in the Central Pacific remaining free from land-based air attack and reconnaissince. To prevent its use during Southwest Pacific operations at Hollandia, Palau was chosen as the next target for the fast carriers. Approaching from the southeast through the Admiralties, the carriers de- March and stroyed the Palau air garrison on 30 a wave of air reinforcements the following day. A feature of the attack was the first mining by carrier planes, which effectively closed the harbor for a month to 6 weeks. The enemy also lost 104,000 gross tons of war and merchant ships including 6 tankers of 47,000 tons, and 150 aircraft were destroyed. Because complete surprise had not been obtained, 4 war vessels and 15 to 20 merchantmen had escaped on 29 March. After replenishment the fast-carrier task force went on to cover and support the landings of Southwest Pacific forces at Aitape and Hollandia on the north coast of New Guinea on 21 April 1944. These landings involved bypassing strong enemy positions at Hansa Bay and Wewak in the longest hop yet made by Southwest Pacific forces. Although the Fifth Army Air Force in a series of brilliant operations had destroyed enemy air opposition in New- Guinea, it was feared that the Japanese might bring up reinforcements and attack the amphibious force beyond the range at which land-based air could provide continuous cover. The presence of carriers insured carrying out the landings without interference, and because the enemy refused to risk further losses, the carrier planes had little to do. Returning from Hollandia, the fast carriers struck a second time at Truk on 29 and 30 April. Since there were only a few small craft in the harbor, the attack was directed against shore installations and the remaining air strength. Japanese naval officers later testified that the two carrier strikes effectively destroved Truk as an air and logistics base, a blow from which subsequent bombardment by Army aircraft from Bougainville and Eniwetok prevented all recovery. Between 29 January and 30 April 1944, fastcarrier operations not only caused the enemy severe losses in ship and planes, but also provided information about Japanese installations in the Carolines, Palaus, and Marianas. From Eniwetok and other bases in the Marshalls and from South and Southwest Pacific airfields on Bougainville, Green, and Emirau, naval search planes could continue the collection of intelligence and carry on antishipping attacks. Marine garrison air forces effectively neutralized bypassed islands and Army bombers prevented further use of the great base at Truk and raided other installations. In the meantime the carrier and amphibious forces prepared for landings in the Marianas. In staging planes from the home islands to the South Pacific, the enemy had a choice of going either through Formosa and the Philippines or through the Bonins and Marianas to the Palaus and Carolines. Shipping also proceeded along 32 much the same routes. The capture of the Marianas would sever one of the main lines between the Empire and the south, result in the acquisition of bases from which to bomb Japan, and assist southwest Pacific forces advancing along New Guinea toward the Philippines. As the comnander in chief of the Japanese combined fleet, Admiral Toyada, declared, "The war is drawing close to the lines vital to our national defense." Although aware of the departure of the first carriers from Majuro on 6 June, the Japanese did not know their objective until a fighter sweep eliminated their aircraft on the afternoon of 11 June. Tactical surprise was achieved by simultaneous operations in the Southwest Pacific area to which the force might have been proceeding and by nava] patrol planes that shot down or drove off enemy search planes which might have discovered the carriers in transit. From the eleventh until the landings 4 days later, Guam, Tinian, and Saipan were held under con- L stant attack, and on 13 June two fast-carrier task groups were sent north to disrupt the movement of enemy aircraft from the home islands through the Bonins. Carrier aircraft destroyed 120 Japanese planes on Iwo and Chichi Jima on 15 and 16 June. Troops went ashore on Saipan as scheduled on 15 June but met unexpectedly heavy resistance which delayed the planned landings on Tinian and Guam from 18 June to 21 July. The escort carriers, which provided the hulk of the air support and defense against enemy landbased planes, maintained control of the air until 27 June, when 74 Army P-47’s, flown ashore from escort carriers, which had brought them from Pearl Harbor, took over the task. Saipan was secure on 7 July. The threat against a vital communications and supply artery brought the enemy fleet to action. On 14 June a submarine reported that large forces had sortied from Tawi Tawi in the Sulu Archipelago. The Japanese Fleet was preparing to give battle. Misled concerning United States intentions by the timely landing of Southwest Pacific forces at Biak on 27 May, the Japanese expected a major landing in the Palaus or Moluccas. It was not until the amphibious force, assembled in the Admiralties, turned north toward the Marianas that the Japanese learned the objective and started their fleet northeast. On receipt of the submarine report the two task groups attacking the Bonins were called south. Seaplanes operating from tenders in the open sea off Saipan and naval patrol planes from Southwest Pacific bases extended their searches to the outer 1imit of endurance. On the 15th, submarines reported large fleet units passing east through the Philippines by San Bernardino Strait. With the Japanese Fleet approaching, a highspeed run to the west by the fast carriers was considered. The position of the landing forces, however, was precarious with much needed equipment still being unloaded from the transports. So long as there existed a possibility that undetected enemy units might be approaching from another quarter, the main elements of the United States Pacific Fleet were retained within striking range of Saipan. Once landing forces had been committed, they required defense against any possible interference from outside. The fast carriers, therefore, remained west of the island until Japanese intentions were definitely known. At 0730 on 19 June combat air patrols reported increased air activity over Guam, an indication that the Japanese land-based airforce was bringing in planes from the Palaus to coordinate its activities with the approaching carriers. By 0950 radar screens began picking up large groups of enemy planes to the southwest. From the time the first United States planes made contact, air combat persisted 33

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throughout the day until 1823, when a large group of enemy planes was intercepted while preparing to land at Guam. The fighter directors worked efficiently and only a few small, disorganized flights penetrated to the United States forces, scoring a bomb hit on the South Dakota and some near misses which caused negligible damage. In return, the enemy lost 385 planes in the air raid 17 on the ground. The defeat of the enemy air force altered the situation so that the planes of the escort carriers were sufficient to protect the amphibious forces. The fast carriers moved west in pursuit of fleeing Japanese naval units. Although United States submarines had already sunk 2 enemy carriers, the main fighting strength of the Japanese Fleet remained. Late in the afternoon of 20 June a strike was launched and caught the enemy at extreme range. In the ensuing attack another carrier and 2 fleet oilers went down and 7 ships were left damaged. Even though about 100 planes were lost either in combat or through landing on the water when their fuel ran out. the United States units continued the pursuit during the night and the next day until it became evident that all chance of contact had been lost. The Battle of the Philippine Sea did not result in the destruction of the enemy fleet, the bulk of which escaped to home waters. It did, however, mean the end of Japanese carrier aviation as an effective fighting force. It never recovered from the loss of trained air groups off Saipan. The remainder of the Marianas campaign passed off without enemy interference. The fast carriers were rotated by groups for replenishment. Those which remained continued the neutralization of Iwo Jima and gave support to landings on Guam and Tinian. Even before the Marine fighter garrison had assumed control at Guam, the fast carriers went south to photograph and pound installations at Palau and Yap. With a final carrier raid and surface bombardment of 34 the Bonins the participation of the fast carriers ended. From 11 June through 5 August, United States carrier aircraft had shot down 915 enemy planes and destroyed another 306 on the ground. The inner Japanese perimeter had been broken and the primary line of communications with the south severed. In the summer of 1944 the area separating Central and Southwest Pacific forces was growing smaller. Simultaneous landings at Palau and Morotai in September would bring them within 500 miles of one another and make possible a common advance into the Philippines. The plan for Palau also included the capture of Yap and Ulithi in the western Carolines which would provide safe anchorages for the fleet such as were not available in the Marianas. Covering and diversionary operations by Central Pacific forces began on 31 August when a fast-carrier group hit the Bonin and Volcano Islands followed by further air strikes and cruiser and destroyer bombardment on 1 and 2 September. In a11 54 Japanese aircraft were destroyed. The entire task force then raided Palau and Yap after which 3 task groups went on for a 6-day series of attacks on Mindanao in the Philippines. Because Japanese forces on Mindanao were unexpectedly weak, the planed attacks were cut short on 10 September and the carriers moved north to fuel and prepare for raids on the Visayans in the central Philippines. Two days of strikes on 12 and 13 September proved much more profitable. Although Japanese air attacks were sporadic and ineffective, considerable opposition was experienced over airfields, and the final score showed over 300 enemy planes destroyed, and 13 large merchant ships, 20 smaller ones, and 35 sampans or barges sunk. 0n conclusion of these strikes, 1 carrier group went south to cover the landings on Morotai and 1 east to Palau, while the third replenished preparatory to attacks on Luzon. Landings were made by the marines on 15 September on Peleliu Island and by the Army on 17 September on Angaur, with direct air support furnished by escort carriers augmented by By 24 September captured fast-carrier groups. airstrips were in use by shore-based Marine aircraft and a heavy-bomber runway was operational by 16 October. Carriers were withdrawn on 1 October. The only enemy air opposition had been harmless, night attacks by a single float plane. Opposition to Southwest Pacific landings at Morotai was light. From 21 to 24 September the fast-carrier task force returned to the Philippines. Airfields on Luzon and the harbor of Manila were attacked for the first time in almost 3 years of Japanese occupation. After 2 days with excellent results the carriers returned once more to the Visayans. During the month of September, carrier operations in the Philippines destroyed over 800 enemy aircraft and sank over 150 vessels without damage to United States ships and with relatively minor losses in planes. The assault on a land mass defended by hundreds of aircraft dispersed on scores of fields demonstrated on an unprecedented scale the ability of carriers to gain and maintain control of the air and was basic to any plan for invasion. Because the successes of the fast-carrier strikes and intelligence information indicated the weakness of Japanese forces in the Visayans, it was decided to move against them as rapidly as possible. The plan for the capture of Yap was dropped, and landings in the Leyte-Samar area were scheduled for 20 October 1944 by forces under command of General of the Army MacArthur. The Seventh Fleet, which operated under General MacArthur, was augmented by units from the Pacific theater including amphibi - ous elements, 18 escort carriers, and land- and tender-based patrol planes. The fast-carrier task forces were retained under Pacific Fleet command for covering and supporting the Central Pacific areas and also were assigned missions in full support of the Leyte operations. Preliminary to the landings, air operations against the Philippines were stepped up. Naval patrol-plane searches from the Southwest Pacific were extended to cover the southern and central Philippines and coordinated searches were made by the Fourteenth Army Air Force based in China. Throughout October the carriers attacked the Ryukyus, Formosa, and the Philippines, destroying another 1,000 aircraft. In the most intense air reaction of the war to date, the Japanese sent 600 sorties against the task force attacking Formosa, but the effectiveness of carrier fighter-plane and antiaircraft defense limited the damage to 2 cruisers which were towed back to base. Directly supported by aircraft from three divisions of six escort carriers each, the landings commenced with the capture of minor outposts in lower Leyte Gulf on 17 and 18 October. On 20 October the main landings were made on the beaches of upper Leyte Gulf. Although initial ground opposition was relatively light, the enemy committed his entire fleet. The Japanese converged upon Leyte Gulf from three directions. A southern force, which transited the Sulu Sea, was met and decisively defeated in a night surface engagement in Surigao Strait. Enemy carriers approaching from the north were destroyed by the fast carriers off Cape Engano. Although attacked by air on 24 October as it crossed the Sibuyan Sea, a third enemy force succeeded in passing through San Bernardino Strait and surprised an escort-carrier unit off Samar. Despite superiority in armament and numbers this force was driven off and retired by the route it had come under constant air attack. The failure of the Japanese to carry off a daring maneuver may be attributed to skillful handling of the older battleships and to the efficiency of United States radars that turned the engagement at Surigao into a disaster and also to the enemy’s inability 35 to coordinate land-based air with the movements of his fleet. As a result, the Japanese lost 4 carriers, 3 battleships, 10 cruisers, 9 Destroyers, a submarine, and some 370 aircraft compared with the United States losses of a light carrier, 2 escort carriers, 2 destroyers, a destroyer escort, and 99 planes. With the Battle for Leyte Gulf control of the sea passed completely into the hands of the United States. The Japanese Navy ceased to exist as an effective fighting force. Although at Coral Sea, Midway, and the Philippine Sea contact had been between air components of the respective fleets, the Battle for Leyte Gulf, one of the great naval engagements of history, was a combined air-surface action, which demonstrated the integration and flexibility of the United States naval forces. It was the combination of various agents that brought victory as the following tabulation of enemy losses will show: 13 war vessels were sunk by carrier aircraft alone, 8 by naval surface ships alone, 2 by 1 submarines alone; a cruiser, crippled by surface action, was later sunk by carrier aircraft; a second such cripple sank after repeated heavy attacks by Army B–24s; a carrier, mortally damaged by carrier air attack, was sunk by surface action; and a cruiser damaged by carrier aircraft was sunk by a submarine. United States battle damage and aircraft losses had forced one of the three escort-carrier units to retire, and a second was badly hurt by suicide attacks. This reduction in air strength at the objective area made it necessary to call in the fast carriers for close support. For the remainder of the month the fast carriers flewfighter sweeps over the Visayans and Luzon. On 27 October, with only one airfield in operation, the Army’s Far East Air Forces assumed responsibility for air defense and support of troops in the Leyte-Samar area, and within a few days the remaining carriers withdrew. Because the Japanese were making strenuous efforts to increase their Philippine air strength and on 1 November made strong suicide attacks which sank one destroyer and damaged three others in Leyte Gulf, the Southwest Pacific command immediately requested further assistance from the carrier forces. A long-planned carrier attack on the Empire was abandoned and throughout November the fast carriers continued to strike at Japanese aircraft and shipping in the central Philippines and on Luzon. Over 700 aircraft and 134,000 yons of shipping were destroyed in these attacks. Although bad weather severely hampered airfield construction, by early December, Army and Marine shore-based squadrons had taken over control of the air around Leyte. With the ground campaign progressing satisfactorily, Southwest Pacific forces prepared to resume their advance by landing on Mindoro Island. Since the invasion fleet would have to move through confined waters within the Philippine Archipelago, where it would be peculiarly vulnerable to enemy air attack, direct coverage was furnished from escort carriers of the Seventh Fleet, which beat off suicide attacks and restricted losses to two LST’s sunk and a cruiser and destroyer damaged. To prevent enemy air operations at the source three fast-carrier task groups maintained continuous air patrols over Japanese fields on Luzon. Often referred to as the Navy’s rolling blanket, this new technique accounted for 298 enemy planes in three days, three-fourths of them on the ground. A further 45 Japanese aircraft were shot down by the combat patrols of the escort carriers and another 55 were either destroyed by ships’ gunfire or expended themselves in suicide dives. With Mindoro in the hands of United States troops and with the end of organized resistance at Leyte on 20 December, the way was open to commence operations against the important Luzon area, the center of Japanese power in the islands. Army aircraft began a series of strikes 36 on the great complex of airfields around Manila and completed the disorganization of Japanese air forces which had been well advanced by over three months of carrier-plane attacks. Already 1,500 enemy planes had been destroyed on the ground in the Philippines and during the threemonth period carrier aircraft had accounted for 3,800 Japanese planes in the air and on the ground in the Philippines-Formosa-Ryukus area . The climax of the Philippine campaign was the invasion of Lingayen Gulf in western Luzon. The military objectives of the operation were the seizure of the central Luzon plain and the Manila area and the denial to the enemy of the northern entrance to the South China Sea. The reinforced Seventh Fleet was to transport, protect, and land the invasion forces by a route passing west of Luzon through the inland waters of the Philippines. Direct air support was to be provided by escort carriers while the Army Air Forces neutralized Japanese air bases to the south and the fast carriers took care of those in Formosa, the Ryukus, northern Luzon. Army heavy bombers began raiding Luzon airfields on 22 December. Navy search planes from Leyte and Mindoro, coordinated with long-range aircraft from China, extended their patrols of the sea approaches to cover all the Philippines and the South China Sea. On 3 January, as mine-sweeping, bombardment, and escort-carrier units started their northward advance through the Sulu Sea, the fast carriers initiated 2 days of strikes against Formosa and the Ryukyus. Despite Japanese efforts at dis- . persal and camouflage, over 100 aircraft were destroyed, the majority on the ground. Designed to prevent reinforcement of Japanese air power on Luzon, this effort also reduced the number of planes on Formosa which were available for direct attacks on United States forces in Lingayen Gulf. On 4 January 1945, the hoarded remnants of the Philippine air garrison began suicide attacks on the advancing ships, sinking an escort carrier. On the following day Kamikazes caused damage to another escort carrier, 2 cruisers, and a destroyer. To relieve the escort carriers already fully occupied with defense of the amphibious fleet, the Southwest Pacific command requested that the fast carriers operate south of their originally designated area so as to cover the chain of bases centered around Clark field near Manila. Repeated strikes on 6 and 7 January destroyed over 110 enemy planes and combined with the sweep of landbased planes and the activities of the escort carriers, reduced enemy sorties from about 130 on the sixth to less than half that number on the seventh. Some aircraft, however, escaped the vigilance of the attacking forces. Since every Japanese plane, except a handful reserved for the evacuation of staff officers, was designated for a suicide mission, the invasion forces were exposed to serious danger. Although Japanese orders directed that Kamikazes concentrate on the transports, actualy the combatant ships in Lingayen Gulf received the heaviest damage. The situation appeared so serious that the fast carriers, which had planned to attack Formosa on 7 January, were retained to continue their raids on Luzon. Kamikazes continued to appear in twos and threes for a week or more but they were merely the remnants of the enemy air forces in the Philippines. On 8 January, the Japanesenaval air commander had left for Singapore and
his staff for Formosa, while the commanding general of the Fourth Air Army retired, without his army, to the hills of Luzon. The troops went ashore on 9 January. The conquest of the Luzon plain turned out to be easier than expected, and without air support the enemy could put up effective resistance only in mountain areas. When on 17 January the Army Air Forces with which Marine squadrons were operating assumed responsibility for AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULT Iwo Jima, 19 February 1945 air support, the escort carriers withdrew. Although the Japanese continued to hold out in parts of the Philippines until the end of the war, the principal naval advantages of the request were gained by mid-January. United States forces not only controlled the sea but had severed the last route to the Southern Resources Area. Between 10 and 19 January the fast carriers were in the South China Sea, and American planes destroyed 57 ships along the coast of Asia, ranging as far south as Camranh Bay in Indo-China. Such small vessels as the Japanese tried to slip through after January were effectively checked by the collaboration of submarines and naval land-based patrol planes. The Philippines campaign revealed the poor state of the Japanese air force. Although production of planes had been increased in 1943 and 1944 so that more aircraft were available than ever before and even though the quality of the planes improved, the ratio of losses in combat mounted higher and higher. All United 38 States aviators agreed on the cause. The Japanese had failed to replace the superb pilots who rode so high in the first year of the war. The enemy's training program had broken down. With adequate numbers of aircraft and poorly trained pilots the Japanese resorted in desperation to Kamikaze, suicide tactics; they turned their aircraft into guided missiles and flew- them onto the decks of United States ships. It was an effective, dangerous, but not decisive, maneuver. The percentage of hits did not exceed that achieved by American carrier flyers using conventional bombing methods. After the conquest of the Marianas in June 1944, Central Pacific forces had turned south to meet Southwest Pacific forces in the Philippines. In February 1945, they were ready again to move north and west in operations preliminary to the invasion of Japan itself. Iwo Jima was selected as the next objective in order to secure a base from which Army fighters could escort B-29 strikes on the Empire and also to stop damaging raids from Iwo against the crowded airfields on Saipan. Preliminary bombings of Iwo and the minor air base at Chichi Jima were conducted by shore-based aircraft from the Mari - anas. Reinforced by B–29 reconnaissance flights, naval shore-based and tender-based patrol planes extended the air search to the coast of Japan itself. Covering operations for the invasion were begun by the fast carriers on 16 and 17 Feruary when the first carrier raids were made on the Tokyo area of the Japanese home islands. On those two days and again on the 25th strong air opposition was encountered despite bad weather. During these raids, 420 Japanese planes were shot down, 228 were destroyed on the ground, and a limited number of sorties were directed against strategic targets such as aircraft-engine plants and airplane factories. The pattern of attack at Iwo followed that of other amphibious operations. Direct air sup- 39 port and defense were furnished by escort carriers with the fast carriers preventing the enemy from bringing up reinforcements. The Marines on shore, however, encountered the most vicious and determined defense of the Pacific war. The Japanese had taken advantage of the natural terrain to build a complete underground defense system much of which defied the most intense air and surface bombardment. In many parts of the island the marines had to dig out and kill the enemy individually. From 19 February to 16 March bitter fighting continued until the Japanese garrison was virtually eliminated. If the price for Iwo Jima was high, the results were also great. On 8 March, naval patrol planes began to use the island for searches that covered the coast of Japan as far as Tokyo. Army fighter planes from Iwo escorted the B–29’s of the Twentieth Air Force on their devastating raids against Japanese industries, and the big bombers used the island as an emergency-landing field. Between March 1945 and the close of the war over 2,400 B–29’s put in at Iwo with an incalculable saving in planes and 1ives. The existence of an emergency field made it possible to reduce the amount of gas carried for reasons of safety and to increase the bomb load. Finally, from Iwo Jima air-sea rescue planes could cover most of the B-29 route from the Marianas to Japan. The reconquest of the Philippine’s had per- . mitted the United States to sever the connection with the Southern Resources Area. The Japanese could obtain only a trickle of supplies from the mainland by way of the East China Sea and the Straits of Tsushima. Before an assault on the home islands could be launched, more fleet 1 anchorages, airfields, and staging areas for troops were required. All of these objectives could be satisfied by the occupation of Okinawa in the Ryukyus. Accordingly, the Joint Chiefs -. of Staff directed that Central Pacific forces undertake the operation. The assault on Okinawa was the largest amphibious operation of the Pacific war. The joint expeditionary force included 1,213 ships, 564 support aircraft based on escort carriers, and 451,866 Army and Marine ground troops. Also available for air support as well as to prevent enemy interference and reinforcement were a fast-carrier force with 82 ships and 919 planes and a British carrier force with 22 ships and 244 planes. For interdiction and neutralization raids against enemy air bases there were the Army'S Twentieth and Far East Air Forces. Preassault operations were initiated by fastcarrier attacks on Kyushu, Shikoku, and western Honshu on 18 and 19 March. Beginning on 23 March, the fast carriers operated continuously for 21/2 months in the Okinawa area, providing direct air support and cover for the amphibious forces. These were the longest sustained carrier operations of the war. Islands in the Kerama Retto, 15 miles to the west of Okinawa, were seized on 26 March in order to provide a protected anchorage and a base for logistic support. From tenders seaplane searches extended far into the Yellow Sea and to the Straits of Tsushima between Korea and Japan. Day and night antisubmarine patrols were flown by patrol and carrier planes completely around- the southern Ryukyus where . the surface ships were operating. Search aircraft, acting in coordination with submarines, watched the exits from the Inland Sea. At 0830 on 1 April 1945, the amphibious assault on Okinawa itself began. Landings were made over the western beaches against unex pectedly light opposition, and by noon the two airfields at Yontan and Kadena had becn captured. As operations ashore progressed, Japanese resistance increasd. On 19 April heavily defended positions to the south were encountered and a long drawn-out battle began. The expected air reaction was slow to materialize and for the first few days was relatively light. Starting on 6 April, the Japanese air forces struck with a fury- never before encountered. The scale of effort in suicide missions was the outstanding and most spectacular aspect of the Okinawa operation. During the period from 6 April to 22 June, 10 major, organized Kamikaze attacks were carried out. The relatively short distance from Japanese air bases in Kyushu and Formosa permitted employment by the enemy of planes of all types and pilots of every degree of proficiency. In 896 enemy air raids approximately 4,000 planes were destroyed in combat of which 1,900 were Kami - kazes. Damage to United States forces amounted to 28 ships sunk by air attack of which 26 were by Kamikaze planes, and another 225 damaged, ‘ of which 164 were by Kamikazes. The Japanese Navy made a last, despairing effort. At 1520, 6 April, a force consisting of the battleship Yamato, the light cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers sortied from Tokuyama on the Inland Sea with the object of attacking the invasion fleet off Okinawa at daylight on the morning of 8 April. This force was sighted by United States submarines while proceeding south through Bungo Channel during the evening of 6 April. Contact was regained the next morning by naval patrol planes and by- air search groups froml the fast-carrier force. Commencing at about 1240 a series of coordinated attacks by carrier fighters, dive-bomber, and torpedo planes resulted in the sinking of the Yamato. the Yahagi, and four destroyers. Suffering varying degrees of damage the remaining destroyers retired to Saseho. Heavy air attacks on the amphibious and covering forces continued during April and May, after which they declined rapidly. During this period valuable support was rendered by the Twenty-first Bomber Command and the Far East Air Forces in attacks on air fields in Kyushu and Formosa. In April approximately 40 per- 40 A cent of the effective sorties of the Twenty-first Bomber Command were on such missions. On 7 April the first of the land-based Marine aircraft attached to the Tactical Air Force arrived on Okinawa. Consisting originally of Marine aircraft to which were later added Army fighters, this force operated jointly for over 2 months with the escort-carrier planes and ultimately relieved the carriers of responsibility for air defense and direct support of ground troops. Units of Fleet Air Wing One, including both seaplanes and landplanes, were based in the Kerama Retto and at Yontan airfield on Okinawa and conducted search and antisubmarine operations and antishipping strikes in the East China Sea and Korea areas. A British carrier force neutralized Japanese air bases in Sakishima Gunto and Formosa which were a constant threat from the southwest. This force was present from 26 March to 20 April and again from 3 to 25 May, and although relatively small, it provided valuable and necessary assistance. Ashore the operations proceeded slowly. By 20 April all organized Japanese opposition in the northern two-thirds of the island had ceased. On 19 April the ground forces launched a largescale offensive in the south, but slow progress was made against stubborn resistance. Japanese defense positions were wel1 planned. The rugged terrain with many natural caves and elaborate under ground installationls presented difficult obstacles. Direct air support was furnished by both fast and escort carriers and by land-based Marine planes. Naval gunfire was provided throughout the campaign. On 21 June all organized resistance on Okinawa ceased and the last escort carriers departed after a stay of 88 days in the area. From 1 July to 15 August, when the Japanese acccpted Allied terms, the final actions of the war took place. From Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and the Philippines naval search planes scoured the waters and sank whatever enemy shipping they encountered. B–29’s contributed to the strangulation of Japan by extensive mine laying in the Inland Sea and the Straits of Shimonoseki, while Privateers of Fleet Air Wing One carried out the same type of operation along the coasts of Korea. Submarines penetrated the Japan Sea, the last link with the mainland outside the reach of United States air prover. Army and Marine planes from Okinawa launched a series of raids on installations in Kyushu that were to begin the softening-up for the first landings on the home islands. As commerce dropped to a mere trickle that was of necessity directed to secon-

. .

dary ports from which rail distribution was a - l most impossible, the Twentieth Air Force in the Marianas continued with the methodical annihilation of Japanese industrial centers, and fastcarrier task forces of the British and American Navies conducted a series of raids to destroy the remnants of the Japanese Fleet and attacked strategic points in northern Honshu and Hokkaido that were beyond the area of B-29 operations. Because of a desperate fuel situation Japanese ships were found at their dock or anchored in sheltered inlets. The enemy air forces still possessed about 10,000 planes, of which onehalf were combat types. Together with a supply of fuel and semitrained pilots all aircraft were being hoarded to use in suicide attacks against an invasion force. Since the enemy refused combat, until a landing had been begun, United States aircraft roamed at will over Japan. In a series of 9 raids between 10 July and 15 August, the fast carriers destroyed over 1,200 aircraft, 90 percent of them on the ground, damaged most of what was left of the Japanese Navy, and destroyed the Aomori-Hokadate railroad ferry system that connected Honshu and Hokkaido Islands. On occasion the battleships and cruisers of the carrier task force moved in close enough to bombard industrial plants on shore. The unremitting military pressure, in which 41 Navy, Marine, Army, and British air units all played their appointed roles, underlined an argument going on in Japan itself. The invasion of Okinawa had brought a change of cabinet, and the new prime minister, Admiral Suzuki, was feeling his way toward peace through a difficut domestic situation. It was a case of overruling the military and naval fanatics who had long dominated Japanese policy and precipitated the war in the first place. They desired to coutinue the struggle to the bitter end on the excuse that some compromise peace might be attained. Otherwise they would drag the country to ruin with themselves. Between 6 and 10 August, two atomic bombs were dropped and Russia entered the war on the side of the A1lies. Whether these events determined the Japanese to immediate acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration will probably never be known; they certainly provided a powerful punch line to an already winning argument. 0n the morning of 15 August the fast carriers launched their aircraft for raids on the Tokyo area. The first strike had already gone in and the seecond was approaching the target when word of the Japanese surrender arrived. In a last demonstration of the excellent control maintained over air-borne planes, the second strike was recalled. During the day combat patrols were kept flying. Either out of curiosity or piloted by hotheads who refused to accept the emperor’s orders, a few Japanese aircraft approached too close and were shot down "in a friendly fashion," as Admiral Halsey termed it. The war was over. In the advance across the Central Pacific the carrier task force with its extreme flexibility and mobility had been the dominant factor. It established the conditions under which longrange amphibious advances were possible. It never failed to gain command of the air at the required time and place, successively overwhelming the air garrisons not only of the Japanese perimeter but of the major fortresses of Formosa and the Philippines, and it maintained command of the air until shore-based air forces could be established. This remained true even when the enemy in desperation converted the remnants of his air force into guided missiles. In a naval war conducted across vast stretches of ocean, it destroyed the Japanese carrier air force at Midway and in the Marianas, and the surface fleet in the battle for Leyte Gulf. In an amphibious war where it was necessary to storm the beaches against a well-emplaced and fanatically tenacious enemy, it excelled in the direct support of troops. In a war whose pace was at all times governed by what was logistically possible, the carrier task force was an economical weapon independent of the investments in time, personnel, and priceless shipping space required for construction of airfields and facilities soon to be left far behind the advancing front. Its mobility gave to the attacker the advantages of continuous initiative and surprise. NO weapon is equally good at all times or in all places, but for the Pacific war the carrier task force was ideal


Lessons from Iwo Jima

Editor's Note: See the introductory note by Robert Brent Toplin, the series editor.

In February 1945, a U.S. force of some 70,000 Marines invaded Iwo Jima, a tiny volcanic island 522 miles south of Tokyo defended by over 22,000 Japanese. American intelligence expected the island to fall in five days. Instead the battle lasted seven times as long&mdashfrom February 19 until March 26&mdashending in 6,800 U.S. fatalities, close to 20,000 U.S. wounded, and the death of 20,700 defenders. Twenty-two Marines and five Navy personnel received Medals of Honor from this ferocious engagement.

For Japanese, the final year of World War II in Asia was a blur of wholesale death overseas and on the home front as well, with U.S. air raids eventually targeting 65 cities. The nation's leaders had started two wars they could not end&mdashfirst in China in 1937, and then against the United States and European colonial powers ensconced in Asia in December 1941. From the emperor on down, they were caught in the coils of their disastrous wars of choice: trapped by rhetoric, paralyzed by a blood debt to those who died in the lost cause, persistently blind to the psychology and rage of the enemy. They had no real policy other than escalating killing and dying&mdashhoping against hope that this would persuade U.S. and British leaders to abandon their plans for invading the home islands and their demands for unconditional surrender.

Apart from momentary grief and commemoration, Iwo Jima did not register strongly on Japanese consciousness. When Hollywood director Clint Eastwood cast Japanese actors for his recent reconstructions of the battle, most knew nothing of the slaughter and small wonder. Close to two-million Japanese died in that last year of the war&mdashover a million fighting men (most of whom perished from starvation or illnesses related to malnutrition rather than actual combat), and a half million or more civilians in the urban air raids that began in March 1945 and continued through the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Extermination of the garrison on Iwo Jima was easily obscured in the shadow of this grander catastrophe. And the grander catastrophe itself, of course, took place long before most contemporary Japanese were born. 1

In the United States, by contrast, "Iwo Jima" has always been dramatically visible, courtesy of serendipity and the camera's eye and unflagging patriotic publicity. The battle gave Americans their most graphic icon of the Pacific war: Joe Rosenthal's photograph of six Americans raising the Stars and Stripes on stumpy Mount Suribachi. This was the subject of James Bradley's probing 2000 study Flags of Our Fathers, on which Eastwood based the first of two path-breaking films about the battle&mdashhumanely deconstructing, as it were, both "victory" and "heroism." In his sequel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Eastwood took on the remarkable challenge of seeing the same battle through imagined Japanese eyes.

Both films are provocative and eminently serious, and their challenge doubles when they are viewed side-by-side. As it happens, moreover, both can be paired with intimate and accessible books. One is Bradley's bestseller. The other is a newly translated popular work by Kumiko Kakehashi, based largely on the communications and personal letters of General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the commander of the Iwo Jima garrison and central figure in Eastwood's Letters. Taken together, and complemented with other films and readings, there is grist here for more than a few scholarly discussions and classroom assignments. 2

Iwo Jima is small and resembled hell even before the Americans invaded. Temperatures reach as high as 130 degrees Fahrenheit. The largely barren soil is mostly volcanic ash, and digging a warren of tunnels and ventilation shafts exposed Kuribayashi's men to dangerous sulfur fumes. (Iõ-jima, the island's Japanese name, means Sulfur Island.) There is no drinkable ground water. The few civilian residents were evacuated before the battle, and U.S. aerial bombardment actually began in the summer of 1944 and was conducted on a regular basis from December. Supplies, including food, became all but cut off. Malnutrition and the illnesses accompanying this plagued the defenders even before the attack.

Eastwood's Letters includes a champion horse, but there were in fact only three horses on the island altogether, there being neither fodder nor water to maintain them. One of General Kuribayashi's many humanizing acts&mdashand, here as elsewhere, the film accords with what historians can reconstruct of what actually took place&mdashinvolved ordering his officers to eat the same meager rations as conscripts. When his personal stewards demurred, declaring that regulations required that the commanding officer be served a fixed number of dishes, he simply told them to set out the dishes and leave them empty.

Many of Kuribayashi's letters to his wife and children, especially his nine-year-old daughter Takako&mdash"Tako-chan" in his affectionate diminutive&mdashhave survived. They are warm, pragmatic, and unusually frank for a military man on active duty. (As commander, he was able to evade the censorship routinely imposed on personal communications from the front.) We also have a good sense of his orders to his men. It was Kuribayashi who defied Tokyo by repudiating the established practice of defending his doomed island on the beachheads he chose to fight from laboriously fortified caves and tunnels instead. And it was Kuribayashi, the general who showed rare consideration for inferiors, who informed his men that they were expected to kill 10 Americans before dying themselves.

Why die? And why in that godforsaken place? Non-Japanese rarely had or have much difficulty answering this. As one wartime piece of American journalism headlined it, "These Nips Are Nuts" and in one way or another, this was reiterated in countless variations from the lingo of battlefield dehumanization to the "beast in the jungle" tropes of Hollywood to the jargon of academe (where "collective neurosis," "feudal legacies," fanatical "emperor worship," and the mindset of the "obedient herd" filled the diagnostic bill). In Letters from Iwo Jima&mdashseen entirely from the Japanese side, with Japanese actors speaking their native tongue&mdashEastwood presents individuals with generally distinct personalities who, with some exceptions, would choose life if they could. Most could not. (In the film, two Japanese soldiers who surrender are casually killed by the Americans.) 3

As with the general and his empty plates, Eastwood also humanizes the doomed defenders with small touches. We know now, for example, that while Japanese fighting men did frequently charge into hopeless battles screaming the name of the emperor, more often their final thoughts and words evoked their families back home&mdashparticularly, with young men, their mothers. Eastwood introduces this early on in Letters, in voice-over mail being read and letters being written and in a brief scene involving a young American prisoner, he brings this full circle. The American dies in one of the caves holding a letter from his mother a Japanese officer translates this aloud for the beleaguered soldiers clustered around, who have previously expressed hatred and contempt for the alien foe and, however fleetingly, a spark of common identity is established.

Unlike some of his men, Kuribayashi never questioned the necessity of dying on Iwo Jima. Like Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who planned the Pearl Harbor attack, Kuribayashi had spent time in the United States as an attaché, admired the Americans, and thought choosing war against them was folly. Partly for this reason, he did not hold particularly distinguished commands. His assignment to Iwo Jima came in late May 1944, almost nine months before the attack, and from the outset his duty was clear in his own eyes. It was not merely to obey orders (tactically, he rejected orders to mount a beachhead defense), and not because he cherished death before dishonor more than being reunited with his family.

Kuribayashi died, and took his men with him, to buy time for his country and loved ones by slowing down the U.S. advance on the homeland. In a letter dated September 12, 1944, he wrote his wife that "When I imagine what Tokyo would look like if it were bombed&mdashI see a burned-out desert with dead bodies lying everywhere&mdashI'm desperate to stop them carrying out air raids." Prolonging the battle of Iwo Jima, he believed, would impede establishment of an air base that could facilitate air attacks on Japanese cities. 4

This was wishful thinking. The great Tokyo air raid of March 9 and 10, which initiated the U.S. policy of systematically destroying urban centers (and Japanese morale) with firebombs, occurred in the very midst of the battle for Iwo Jima and killed around 90,000 civilians in a single night. One consequence of suicidal policies like Kuribayashi's&mdashrepeated with greater fury and fatalities in the ensuing battle of Okinawa that lasted from March into June of 1945&mdashwas to strengthen U.S. resolve to intensify the bombing and, as it transpired, deploy the new nuclear weapon as quickly as possible.
As it turned out, moreover, Iwo Jima did not actually play a major role in the U.S. bombing campaign, although it did provide marginal support. 5

In a traditional jisei or death poem written before the American attack, Kuribayashi departed a bit from tradition. "Unable to complete this heavy task for our country," he wrote, "Arrows and bullets all spent, so sad we fall." When this was released to the Japanese press following his death, Imperial Headquarters changed "so sad" to "mortified." 6 Sadness is gentler. Eastwood's critically acclaimed Letters conveys this sentiment, and in giving the role of Kuribayashi to the charismatic Ken Watanabe (who was also the doomed protagonist in The Last Samurai), he reinforces our sense of the tragic waste of this battle, and perhaps of war in general.

To a certain degree, Eastwood's screenplay, written by Iris Yamashita, carries echoes of imperial Japan's own wartime feature films, which also emphasized the gentle (yasashii) personalities of male as well as female protagonists. 7 Letters conveys a different ultimate message, of course it is a eulogy for wasted lives rather than a paean to the righteousness of the emperor's holy war. What it leaves for other films and texts to dwell upon, in any case, is the obverse side of such humanism: the utter degradation of war, where the last vestiges of humanity are left behind.

As it happens, this was powerfully addressed in text and film by the Japanese themselves many decades ago. For a truly searing glimpse of the imperial military's descent into the abyss, there is still nothing that surpasses Shõhei Õoka's Fires on the Plain. Õoka, a scholar of French literature, was drafted in his mid-thirties and taken prisoner in the Philippines. His terse novelistic story of a tubercular Japanese soldier left behind to starve, published in 1951, is a classic. Madness, cannibalism, a hopeless cry for meaning or even the smallest gentle touch are Õoka's themes, and the stark film version directed by Kon Ichikawa and released in 1959 (available with English subtitles) does the novel justice. 8

With this book-and-film pairing added to the recent treatments of Iwo Jima, the lessons to be learned and taught about war in the Pacific, and war in general, become more complex and compelling than ever. Still, this is only the half of it. Having gazed more closely and honestly at the ravages of combat, there still remains the more old-fashioned challenge of rethinking basic military strategy. Were Japan's war planners criminally incompetent by war's end? Did the patriotism and personal courage of commanders like Kuribayashi abet this folly? Was Iwo Jima really of critical strategic importance to the United States&mdashor, as the military historian Robert Burrell argued recently, did the famous photo and horrific U.S. losses "create the myths that followed"? 9 And, in retrospect, how should we evaluate the Allied policy of terror bombing itself?

All that is another story.

&mdash John Dower is the Ford International Professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Notes

1. Total Japanese military fatalities between 1937 and 1945 were around 2.1 million, with most coming in the last year of the war. Civilian fatalities are more difficult to calculate. The aerial bombing of a total of 65 Japanese cities appears to have taken a minimum of 400,000 and possibly closer to 600,000 lives (over 100,000 in Tokyo alone, and over 200,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined). Estimates of civilian deaths in the battle of Okinawa that followed Iwo Jima range from around 80,000 to 150,000. Civilian death among settlers and others who died attempting to return to Japan from Manchuria in the winter of 1945 were probably around 100,000. The Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare later estimated that starvation or malnutrition-related illness accounted for roughly 80 percent of Japanese military deaths in the Philippines, and 50 percent of military fatalities in China. See Akira Fujiwara, Uejinishita Eireitachi [The War Dead Who Starved to Death] (Tokyo: Aoki Shoten, 2001) I am grateful to Michael Cutler for this reference.

2. Kumiko Kakehashi, So Sad to Die in Battle: Based on General Tadamichi Kuribashi's Letters from Iwo Jima (New York: Presidio Press / Ballantine Books, 2007) the original Japanese is Chiruzo Kanashiki: Iõ Jima Sõshikikan Kuribashi Tadamichi (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 2005). The battle of Iwo Jima took place too late for wartime Hollywood treatment. Prior to Eastwood, it was most famously depicted in Sands of Iwo Jima, starring John Wayne, which was released with strong support from the Marine Corps in 1949, at a time when the Corps was particularly worried about being marginalized in postwar military planning and appropriations. The paradigmatic wartime Hollywood combat film on the struggle for control of islands in the Pacific is Guadalcanal Diary (1943), a formulaic, over-narrated, and enormously popular movie that also has a counterpart print account the film is based on a book of the same title by the war correspondent Richard Tregaskis. Essentially, Eastwood's two-part reconstruction of Iwo Jima is a repudiation of the simplistic patriotism enshrined in films like Guadalcanal Diary.

3. GIs killing Japanese prisoners is not new to American depictions of the war in the Pacific. Rather, it is simply alien to the "Greatest Generation" mystique that has dominated media representations of the war in the United States since the 1990s. Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead (1948), the finest participant novel to come out of the Pacific theater on the U.S. side, includes such a scene and this is recreated in the gritty but now all-but-forgotten 1958 feature film based on this book.

5. See Robert S. Burrell, "Breaking the Cycle of Iwo Jima Mythology: A Strategic Study of Operation Detachment," The Journal of Military History 68.4 (October 2004), 1143&ndash86. Operation Detachment was the codename for the Iwo Jima attack.

6. Kakehashi, xxii&ndashxxv her book takes its title from this poem.

7. Two classic examples of this are "The Story of Tank Commander Nishizumi" [Nishizumi Senshachō Den, 1940] and "The Most Beautiful" [Ichiban Utsukushiku, 1944]. The latter, about Japanese girls working in a military factory, was directed by Akira Kurosawa. Neither film is easily accessible in English versions, although copies were subtitled for a 1987 film festival sponsored by the Japan Society of New York and subsequently returned to the National Archives.


What if: the Tarawa Invasion Had Failed?

It is early morning on November 20, 1943. An American fleet stands off Tarawa atoll in the Gilbert Islands, about halfway across the Pacific Ocean. The fleet’s arrival marks the start of the Central Pacific offensive, recently authorized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The main objective is the Marianas archipelago some 2,000 miles to the west. Tarawa is just a steppingstone. The commander of the Pacific Ocean Area, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, considers it a relatively easy target that can serve as a dress rehearsal for the more demanding amphibious landings yet to come.

The specific target of the invasion is the tiny islet of Betio, barely 4,000 yards in length and 800 yards at its widest point its importance derives from an airfield constructed by the Japanese. As warships and carrier air craft blast away at Betio’s 5,000-man garrison, swarms of landing craft and new-fangled “amtracs”—amphibious tractors—enter the Tarawa lagoon, carrying the Second Marine Division.

The first three waves of Marines, borne upon amtracs, cross the coral reef that separates Betio from the lagoon and reach the beach with fairly light casualties. Once ashore, however, withering fire from Japanese machine guns and artillery stops the Marines almost at the water’s edge. None get farther than a hundred yards inland. Most lie huddled behind a coconut-log sea wall.

For the men that follow it is worse. A tide that should have carried the landing craft safely over the coral reef is lower than expected. Most of the craft run aground. The Marines have no choice but to wade through 500 yards of chest- high water, helpless against the hail of Japanese artillery and machine gun fire.

As a pitiless tropical sun courses across the sky, the Marines on Betio claw their way forward, with limited success. By dusk, out of the 5,000 who have landed, at least 1,500 are dead, wounded, or missing. The survivors occupy a position no more than 400 yards wide and 300 deep, and are thinly spread in a jumble of improvised positions. As the sun goes down, everyone tenses for a near-certain counterattack by the Japanese.

When darkness comes, so does the attack. In a wild firefight punctuated by fierce hand-to-hand combat, the Japanese break through at several points, reach the waterline, and chop the Marine lodgment into small sec tors. At dawn, the few landing craft able to enter the lagoon and the handful of amtracs still in operation desperately try to evacuate the surviving Marines. A few hundred manage to escape, but the great majority are simply annihilated.

Most of the details in the above scenario are historically accurate. The only departure is the Japanese night counterattack. For decades that failure to attack seemed inexplicable. In recent years, however, evidence has surfaced indicating that the commander of Tarawa’s garrison, Rear Admiral Keiji Shibasaki, was not, as once believed, killed on the third day of the invasion, but on the first, so no counterattack could be organized.

Had one occurred, it would almost certainly have been disastrous for the United States. “Tarawa was the only landing in the Pacific the Japs could have defeated,” wrote a Marine major who took part in the invasion. Robert Sherrod, a war correspondent who was also on Tarawa, agreed: “It was the only battle which I ever thought we were going to lose.”

In the aftermath of a disaster at Tarawa, what would have occurred? It is possible that the Central Pacific drive would have continued that the American high command, although shaken, would have absorbed the bitter lessons of the failed invasion and continued with its bid to seize the Marianas, highly prized as bases from which the fleet of B-29 Superfortresses, now coming into service, could attack the Japanese home islands. (Among the strongest advocates of a Central Pacific drive, in fact, was General Henry “Hap” Arnold, commander of the Army Air Forces.) Certain other considerations would also have remained intact. The Central Pacific offered maximum scope for maneuver by the fast-growing U.S. carrier task forces, it was the most direct route to Japan, and it promised the best chance for a much sought after fight-to-the-finish battle with the Japanese fleet.

But by far the more likely sequel would have been the abandonment of the Central Pacific drive, almost before it began. Its only die-hard advocate was Admiral Ernest J. King, commander of the U.S. Navy. By 1943 the attention of King’s colleagues on the Joint Chiefs— Hap Arnold, Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, and presidential adviser Admiral William D. Leahy, had become firmly fixed on Germany and the impending cross-Channel attack. And most Allied leaders, mindful of the need to maximize strength in the European Theater and aware of a critical worldwide shortage of landing craft, believed that General Douglas MacArthur’s offensive in the Southwest Pacific, underway since mid-1942, had already absorbed quite enough troops, ships, and aircraft. The Joint Chiefs therefore acceded to a Central Pacific offensive with reluctance. Even then, it did not specify which Pacific drive would receive priority. Its directive merely stated that “due weight would be given to the fact that operations in the Central Pacific promise more rapid advance.” A failed Tarawa landing would have destroyed that promise.

The historical dual offensive in both the Central and South Pacific would have been replaced by a single offensive in the South Pacific. Reinforced by troops and ships diverted from the Central Pacific, MacArthur’s offensive would have unfolded much as occurred historically, culminating in an invasion of the Philippines in late 1944. The chief difference would have been the deployment of the B-29 Superfortresses. Historically, Lieutenant General George C. Kenney, chief of air forces in the Southwest Pacific, urged Arnold to deploy them in his sector. Kenney conceded that from bases in Australia or New Guinea they could not strike Japan, but they could wipe out the oil fields and refineries in the Dutch East Indies on which the Japanese war effort depended. With scant prospect of bases in the Marianas, Arnold would surely have accepted this proposal.

And as the Philippine campaign progressed, northern Luzon might well have been a key objective. Airfields constructed there would have placed B-29s as close to Tokyo as airfields in the Marianas, making possible both the fire-bombing of Japanese cities and the eventual atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Philippines could also have served as a springboard for the seizure of Okinawa as a base for a possible invasion of Japan. The Pacific War would thus have played out very differently, but would have arrived at the same end game.

Originally published in the October 2011 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.


Japan surrenders unconditionally, world at peace

WASHINGTON, Aug. 14, 1945 (UP) - Japan surrendered unconditionally tonight, bringing peace to the world after the bloodiest conflict mankind has known.

Peace came at 7 p.m. (E.W.T.) when President Truman announced that Tokyo accepted the Allied capitulation terms with no "qualification" and that Allied forces have been ordered to cease firing.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur, "the man who came back," was named supreme Allied commander to receive the formal Japanese surrender.

V-J Day will not be proclaimed officially until after the instruments of surrender are signed - probably in two or three days.

And tonight for the first time in history Emperor Hirohito broadcast to his stricken people telling them that he had accepted the Allied terms, describing the "cruel bomb" which the Allies had turned upon the Jap homeland and warning the people they face "great hardships and suffering."

World War II was at an end, except for the formality of signing surrender documents.

America's three allies in the Pacific war - Great Britain, Russia and China - will be represented at the signing by high-ranking officers.

Mr. Truman proclaimed the tidings after he received Tokyo's formal reply to the Allied surrender terms.

Summoning reporters to his office, he read a statement which said:

"I deem this reply a full acceptance of the Potsdam declaration which specified the unconditional surrender of Japan.

"In the reply there is no qualification."

Tokyo informed Mr. Truman that Emperor Hirohito is prepared "to authorize and insure the signature by the Japanese government and the imperial general headquarters of the necessary terms for carrying out the provisions of the Potsdam declaration.

"His Majesty is also prepared to issue his commands to all the military, naval and air authorities of Japan and all the forces under their control wherever located to cease active operations, to surrender arms and to issue such other orders as may be required by the supreme commander of the Allied forces for the execution of the above mentioned terms."

Tonight, another note went out to Tokyo. It directed the Japanese government to:

1-Order prompt cessation of hostilities and inform MacArthur of the effective date and hour.

2-Send emissaries at once to MacArthur with full power to make all arrangements necessary for MacArthur to arrive at the place designated by him for the formal surrender.

3-Acknowledge notification that MacArthur will name the time, place and other details for the formal surrender.

The formal surrender will take place either aboard an American battleship - probably the Missouri - or somewhere on Okinawa.

Thus was the "infamy" of Pearl Harbor fully avenged three years, eight months and seven days after Jap planes struck a nearly mortal blow against the United States without warning.

Japan had paid the full penalty for the treachery that plunged the United States into a two-front war - the costliest in all history.

In terms of blood and treasure, the great conflict had cost the United States more than 1,000,000 casualties and $300,000,000,000. The cost to the world was more than 55,000,000 casualties and a trillion dollars in money, materials and resources.

World War II ended six years - less 17 days - after Germany precipitated it by marching into Poland.

The end was announced calmly by Mr. Truman, who declared a two-day holiday - tomorrow and Thursday - for all Federal employees throughout the nation. He also declared those days legal holidays so that war-plant workers could be paid time and one-half.

He authorized Selective Service to reduce draft inductions immediately from 80,000 to 50,000 per month as a result of Japan's capitulation. Only men 26 or under will be drafted to fill that quota.

Bedlam broke loose in usually reserved Washington the moment the White House flashed the word that "it's all over."

A snowstorm of ticker tape went cascading into the streets. Horns tooted endlessly. Firecrackers exploded.

Crowds boiled out of restaurants, office buildings, hotels and taverns - shrieking and singing.

Within a few minutes a tremendous crowd gathered in front of the White House and in Lafayette Park across the street.

Harry S. Truman, the Missouri boy who became the No. 1 man of the land, stepped out on the lawn of the Executive Mansion with the First Lady.

A thundering cheer went up.

Mr. Truman, speaking into a microphone hitched to a public address system, had a few words to say extemporaneously.

"This is a great day," he began. "This is the day we've been looking for since Dec. 7, 1941.

"This is the day when Fascist and police governments cease to exist in the world. This is the day for democracy.

"It is the day when we can start the real task - the implementation of free government in the world.

"We face a real emergency . I know we can meet it.

"We face the greatest task ever faced - the greatest emergency since Dec. 7, 1941. And it is going to take the help of all of you to do it.

"I know we are going to do it."

Thus did the President speak at one of the greatest - and most triumphant - moments in American history.

The finish of Japan - hastened by the fury of the atomic bomb, but long since assured by the sweat and blood and tears of an Allied people - came after endless hours of waiting for the Jap reply that carried the inevitable message: "Surrender."

Japan's doom was all but sealed when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima Aug. 5 (Aug. 6 in Japan). Then - four days later - Russia threw the weight of her mighty armies into the conflict.

On Aug. 10 Japan sued for peace. She offered to surrender provided that the sovereign prerogatives of the Emperor were not compromised.

But the Big Four - the United States, Britain, Russia and China - would brook no compromise.

They so informed Tokyo in a note dispatched from Washington at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Japan, they said, must surrender unconditionally. The Emperor could remain, but he must take orders from the supreme Allied commander - MacArthur.

Tokyo pondered the fateful issue. It stalled. It sparred for time - and then it yielded.

Japan's defeat was the first in more than 2,000 years of her history.

She fell before the greatest concentration of might in all history.

For the Allies, the road to victory - and peace - was long and hard and bloody.

Japan had hoped to conquer all of Asia to rule all the Pacific - and divide up the world with Germany.

This was her hope on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, when her warplanes streaked in over Pearl Harbor while her emissaries talked "peace" in Washington.

This was their hope when the Jap naval leader - Isoruku Yamamoto - said after Pearl Harbor that he would dictate peace from the White House.

The peace was dictated from the White House, but not by Yamamoto, who is long since dead. It was dictated by President Truman in collaboration with Allied leaders.

When Japan hit Pearl Harbor and left most of the American battle Fleet a blazing shambles, she thought the war was over then and there. But she reckoned without the fighting spirit of America.

Prior to Pearl Harbor the United States was divided on the issue of having to go to war.

But the "infamy" of Pearl Harbor was Japan's greatest mistake as Hitler's was the invasion of Russia.

In its darkest hour the United States emerged completely united and answered the threat to her very existence, answered it with a miracle of might and production such as the world never dreamed of.

Out of the ashes of Pearl Harbor there came the mightiest Fleet in all history. There came the greatest aerial armada. And there came an unbeatable array of ground forces.

For six months after Pearl Harbor, the Jap navy roamed the Pacific at will. American possessions were gobbled up.

Tiny Wake Island and Guam were the first to go. Then came the Philippines. The glory and the agony of Bataan and Corregidor.

Japan, which also had devoured Malaya, Singapore and the Dutch East Indies, thought then that she had the United States licked. But the United States was just starting.

The home front took another hitch in its belt. It produced a bridge of ships a multitude of warplanes. It produced weapons not only for American boys fighting two wars half a world apart, but for their Allied comrades on two global fronts.

On the fighting fronts, the American boy dug in and stemmed Japan's advance. Japan's imperial fleet was slowed down in the Coral Sea Battle of May, 1942. It was gravely wounded in an abortive invasion attempt at Midway Island the following month. That turned the tide.

Then, on Aug. 7, 1942, the United States went on the offensive. Marines invaded Guadalcanal. There followed the New Guinea campaign, bloody Tarawa, the Marshalls, Guam, the Aleutians, MacArthur's return to the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa.

By land, sea and air, Allied forces poured it on. B-29 Superfortresses blasted Japan. American and British warships swept within sight of the enemy homeland and let the enemy have it.

Allied land forces moved closer and closer to Japan. They were poised for an invasion of Japan when the first atomic bomb fell.

While Tokyo assessed the destruction wrought by the atomic bomb, Russia hurled her might against the foe.

Last Friday she made her conditional surrender offer. The Big Four countered this the next day with counterterms - unconditional surrender.

Then, the world waited for Tokyo's reply. It waited all day Sunday and Monday. There was no answer. It began to appear that Japan was stalling. Allied impatience was growing thin. Superfortresses, which had observed an unofficial "truce," roared over Japan again today.

At 1:49 a.m. today, there came the first word - unofficially - that Tokyo had decided.

Tokyo radio announced at that hour that Japan would accept the Allied surrender terms.

But still there was no official reply from Tokyo.

Then, this afternoon, it became apparent that the long, agonizing wait was over. Switzerland, serving as go-between in the surrender dealings, announced that the Jap reply had arrived at Bern and was being transmitted to Washington.

Quickly, then, the tensest drama of the war unfolded.

President Truman stood by at the White House to receive the note which would bring an end to World War II.

Swiss Charge d'Affaires Max Grassli left for the State Department shortly before 6 p.m. to deliver the Japanese reply to Secretary of State James F. Byrnes.

He arrived at the State Department at 6:10 p.m., with a portfolio containing the historic answer and went immediately into Byrnes' office.

After transmission and decoding were completed, the Japanese note was delivered to Byrnes, who, in turn, took it to Truman. Britain, Russia and China were advised. Then the text was released simultaneously from Washington, London, Moscow and Chungking.

Tokyo Radio told its own people that the handwriting was on the wall.

It startled the world by interrupting a solemn dissertation on the cure of chilblains to flash this eight-word announcement:

"Flash-Tokyo-14/8-learned imperial message accepting Potsdam declaration forthcoming soon."

The news raced around the world and touched off wild victory celebrations.

But Washington remained calm - waiting for the official reply from Tokyo and not until it was received did the capital celebrate.


A Bloody Proving Ground

The U.S. Fifth Fleet opened a significant new front in the Pacific war with the invasion of the Japanese-occupied Gilbert Islands in eastern Micronesia on 20 November 1943. Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance, commanding the fleet from the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35), launched Operation Galvanic with simultaneous amphibious assaults against Makin and Tarawa, two coral atolls lying 93 miles apart, slightly north of the equator. Tarawa, gateway to the fortified bomber strip on Betio Island, was the strategic prize. With Betio in U.S. hands, the airfield would bring the Marshall Islands, 550 miles to the west, within range of heavy bombers and reconnaissance aircraft of the Seventh Air Force.

The capture of Betio and Tarawa Atoll was the mission of the Southern Attack Force, commanded by Rear Admiral Harry Hill, and its landing force, the 25,000-man 2d Marine Division, commanded by Major General Julian Smith. Both men knew they faced a well-led, well-armed force of several thousand rikusentai, Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces. They also knew they would have to breech Betio's coral reef at low tide.

The proximity of the Japanese Combined Fleet in the eastern Carolines was a primary concern. Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander-in-chief of the Pacific Fleet, ordered Spruance to "get the hell in and get the hell out" to avoid getting trapped in shallow waters by an enemy counterattack. Timing was also critical. Nimitz grimly reminded Spruance that Tarawa represented a tough but brief stepping-stone for the pending campaign against the more strategically valuable Marshall Islands, slated to begin eight weeks later. The operational tempo was so taut that Spruance could not postpone D-day in the Gilberts even a week in order to gain a more favorable tidal range.

The hurried Betio landing would thus become a storming operation—a frontal assault against a heavily defended island in broad daylight during a dangerously low tide. Success would depend on surprise, simplicity, fire-support coordination, and speed of execution—difficult objectives to attain by even the most experienced amphibious forces. Very few ship captains or troop leaders in the Southern Attack Force had any previous experience in conducting an assault from the sea against a strongly defended beach. Tarawa would provide a bloody proving ground.

Artful surprise and sheer grit enabled the initial U.S. assault waves to gain a foothold on Betio's northwest shore on D-day morning, but the advantage proved temporary. Intense Japanese fire and a freakishly persistent low tide prevented the build-up of firepower and reinforcements ashore. Casualties mounted, communications failed, and chaos ruled the beachheads. The few fragmentary radio reports to reach Hill's flagship described stark conditions ashore. "Have landed," one message reported. "Unusually heavy opposition. Casualties 70 percent. Can't hold." Another message came from the epicenter of the fighting on Red Beach Two: "We need help situation bad." Hill and Smith sent an urgent message to their common superior, Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, the Fifth Amphibious Force commander at sea near Makin, requesting commitment of the force reserve, the 6th Marines, to Betio, adding, "Issue in doubt." 1

The chilling words resonated throughout the chain of command. Desperate U.S. defenders of Wake Island, facing the Japanese landing on 23 December 1941, had signaled "Issue in doubt" in their final radio message. Alarmed, Turner authorized the return of the 6th Marines to the control of the 2d Marine Division.

There was more at stake for the Pacific Fleet in Operation Galvanic than possession of the Betio bomber strip. Defeat at Tarawa would indefinitely derail the promising new U.S. drive through the Central Pacific. Failure of the landing force to seize Betio Island would also discredit the unproven operational doctrine of forcible assault against strongly defended islands.

Tarawa in the Pacific War

The battle for Tarawa represented a crucial crossroads in the Pacific war. Twenty-three months had elapsed since Pearl Harbor 17 since Midway. Although the Allies had seized the offensive from the Japanese in January 1943 with difficult victories at Guadalcanal in the Solomons and Buna, New Guinea, they experienced frustrating delays in generating their own offensive momentum. The Allies recaptured the Aleutians in 1943, but their subsequent amphibious campaigns bogged down in the thick jungles of New Georgia and Bougainville. The Japanese regional strongpoint at Rabaul, New Britain, continued to be an unassailable thorn in their side.

The senior officers responsible for waging war against Japan in 1943 faced serious limitations. The Allies had agreed from the beginning that the defeat of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany would constitute their primary strategic objective. Although the Combined (U.S. and British) Chiefs of Staff had postponed the long-anticipated cross-Channel assault against Fortress Europe until June 1944, preparations for Operation Overlord still demanded top priority for troops, planes, ships, and landing craft. The Pacific remained a backwater theater, whose few offensive campaigns had been limited in scope and scale.

Admiral Ernest King, representing the U.S. Navy on the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), argued for greater offensive pressure against the Japanese by means of a second front through the Central Pacific. An outspoken advocate of sea power, King believed that the Central Pacific represented the royal road to Tokyo and the U.S. Navy should take the lead in such a maritime strategy. Yet King also insisted that the new front could be undertaken without drawing down European-theater assets by using the troops and shipping already available in the Pacific. At the Trident Conference in Washington in May, the Combined Chiefs accepted the U.S. "Strategic Plan for the Defeat of Japan," which included King's proposed Central Pacific drive. 2

The new strategy elicited different reactions from the two U.S. theater commanders in the Pacific. Admiral Nimitz, whose realm included enormous oceanic areas dotted with widely scattered small islands, welcomed the concept of his Pacific Fleet attacking west in parallel to General Douglas MacArthur's route through New Guinea and the Philippines. General MacArthur, whose South-West Pacific Area featured narrow seas and large islands, strongly opposed what he perceived to be a wasteful duplication of effort. He argued for a single, concentrated drive to the Philippines under his sole command, fully supported by nearby land-based air and, as needed, by Nimitz's Pacific Fleet. King, however, backed Nimitz, prompting MacArthur's strident warning that the Central Pacific's lack of advance fleet bases and airfields would result in catastrophic defeat-a "reverse Midway." 3

Proponents of the Central Pacific drive used the verb "whipsaw" to describe the effect of alternating offensives against the Japanese in the Southwest Pacific and the Central Pacific. In time, with MacArthur steadily advancing up the long coast of New Guinea toward the Philippines and Nimitz attacking through the Marshalls, Marianas, and Palaus, the whipsaw effect would prove its value. The alternating sequence of the U.S. landings at Bougainville, Tarawa, Cape Gloucester, and Kwajalein—within a period of exactly three months—proved the wisdom of this strategy.

Edwin Bearss' retelling of events in

The Initial Target

Nimitz and Spruance believed that the Marshall Islands were too far away and too unknown to be the first objective of the Central Pacific campaign. Commanders of the 1942-43 landings at Guadalcanal, North Africa, and the Aleutians each had reported the critical need for advance aerial photography of the beaches and inland objectives. Taking advance aerial photos of remote objectives seemed a common-sense preliminary measure, but here, too, the vast Pacific posed vexing problems.

In 1943, existing aerial cameras were still too bulky to fit in carrier-based fighters. In fact, only a bomber the size of the four-engine B-24 Liberator had the capacity and range to collect aerial photographs in the Central Pacific. Seventh Air Force Liberators based in the Ellice Islands could reach the Gilberts, but not the Marshalls. Betio's bomber strip thus became the imperative objective. On 20 July the Joint Chiefs agreed to Nimitz's recommendation that the Gilberts supplant the Marshalls for the opening campaign.

The Joint Chiefs had other pressing concerns about the Central Pacific. Only a few islands in the vast region seemed suitable for airfields or fleet anchorages, and the Japanese, anticipating that any Allied advance would target such objectives, were busily fortifying them. In addition, the coral reefs surrounding most of these strategic islands further complicated amphibious campaign planning. There would be no "cake-walk" landings like those at Kiska or the Russells that had occurred earlier in the year.

Learning from early intelligence reports that the Japanese were fortifying Tarawa Atoll, the Joint Planning Staff advised the Joint Chiefs to undertake the Gilberts campaign with "battle-tested shock troops with amphibious training." 4 Three U.S. divisions in the Pacific met these qualifications in late 1943: the 7th Army Division, veterans of the Aleutians and already earmarked for the Marshalls and the 1st and 2d Marine Divisions, veterans of Guadalcanal, both currently under General MacArthur's command. With MacArthur preparing for a major amphibious assault of his own against New Britain barely a month after D-day at Tarawa, the JCS compromised, leaving the 1st Marine Division with MacArthur and transferring the 2d Marine Division to Nimitz for the Gilberts assault.

In preparation for the Gilberts, Nimitz chose Spruance to command the newly constituted Fifth Fleet and two countervailing firebrands, Admiral Kelly Turner and Marine Major General Holland "Howlin' Mad" Smith to command the Fifth Amphibious Force and the expeditionary troops of the V Amphibious Corps, respectively.

Lean and Fat Years in the Pacific

The United States fought two wars in the Pacific, a consequence of the strategic priority accorded to the defeat of Germany combined with America's material unpreparedness to wage a two-ocean war in 1941. The first half of the Pacific war featured bare-boned resources, limited offensives, and hit-and-run raids, all conducted under the threat of the Japanese Combined Fleet. The second phase, beginning in late November 1943, finally reflected America's attainment of full wartime production, a tardy but awesome industrial transformation. One herald of this infusion of resources occurred with the arrival of the first Essex-class fleet carriers at Pearl Harbor.

Aircraft carriers were invaluable in the Pacific war. While vulnerable to land-based air attacks from nearby enemy airfields in the constricted waters of the Mediterranean and the North Sea, the carriers proved ideal for the vast expanses of the Pacific. Nimitz fought the first two years with no more than four carriers—sometimes as few as two—but in the war's second phase, the Pacific Fleet would include more than 100 flattops, many of them the highly capable Essex carriers.

Rear Admiral Charles Pownall would deploy six of these ships as the cutting edge of his Task Force 50 at Tarawa. Escorted by new high-speed battleships and logistic support ships, Pownall's carrier task forces could challenge the Japanese Combined Fleet for command of the seas. More than any other naval factor, the newly created Task Force 50 (soon to become Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's Task Force 58) would make possible Spruance's stirring victories in the Gilberts, Marshalls, and Marianas.


The Burmese frontier and China, November 1943–summer 1944

For the dry season of 1943–44 both the Japanese and the Allies were resolved on offensives in Southeast Asia. On the Japanese side, Lieutenant General Kawabe Masakazu planned a major Japanese advance across the Chindwin River, on the central front, in order to occupy the plain of Imphāl and to establish a firm defensive line in eastern Assam. The Allies, for their part, planned a number of thrusts into Burma: Stilwell’s NCAC forces, including his three Chinese divisions and “ Merrill’s Marauders” (U.S. troops trained by Wingate on Chindit lines), were to advance against Mogaung and Myitkyina while Slim’s 14th Army was to launch its XV Corps southeastward into Arakan and its IV Corps eastward to the Chindwin. Because the Japanese had habitually got the better of advanced British forces by outflanking them, Slim formulated a new tactic to ensure that his units would stand against attack in the forthcoming campaign, even if they should be isolated: they were to know that, when ordered to stand, they could certainly count both on supplies from the air and on his use of reserve troops to turn the situation against the Japanese attackers.

On the southern wing of the Burmese front, the XV Corps’s Arakan operation, launched in November 1943, had achieved most of its objectives by the end of January 1944. When the Japanese counterattack surrounded one Indian division and part of another, Slim’s new tactic was brought into play, and the Japanese found themselves crushed between the encircled Indians and the relieving forces.

The Japanese crossing of the Chindwin into Assam, on the central Burmese front, when the fighting in Arakan was dying down, played into Slim’s hands, since he could now profit from the Allies’ superiority in aircraft and in tanks. The Japanese were able to approach Imphāl and to surround Kohīma, but the British forces protecting these towns were reinforced with several Indian divisions that were taken from the now-secure Arakan front. With air support, Slim’s reinforced forces now defended Imphāl against multiple Japanese thrusts and outflanking movements until, in mid-May 1944, he was able to launch two of his divisions into an offensive eastward, while still containing the last bold effort of the Japanese to capture Imphāl. By June 22 the 14th Army had averted the Japanese menace to Assam and won the initiative for its own advance into Burma. The Battle of Imphāl–Kohīma cost the British and Indian forces 17,587 casualties (12,600 of them sustained at Imphāl), the Japanese forces 30,500 dead (including 8,400 from disease) and 30,000 wounded.

On the northern Burmese front, Stilwell’s forces were already approaching Mogaung and Myitkyina before the southern crisis of Imphāl–Kohīma and the subsidiary Chindit operation against Indaw was going well ahead when, on March 24, 1944, Wingate himself was killed in an air crash. Meanwhile, Chiang Kai-shek was constrained by U.S. threats of a suspension of lend-lease to finally authorize some action by the 12 divisions of his Yunnan Army, which on May 12, 1944, with air support, began to cross the Salween River westward in the direction of Myitkyina, Bhamo, and Lashio. Myitkyina airfield was taken by Stilwell’s forces, with “Merrill’s Marauders,” on May 17, Mogaung was taken by the Chindits on June 26, and finally Myitkyina itself was taken by Stilwell’s Chinese divisions on August 3. All of northwest and much of northern Burma was now in Allied hands.

In China proper, a Japanese attack toward Ch’ang-sha, begun on May 27, won control not only of a further stretch of the north–south axis of the Peking–Han-K’ou railroad but also of several of the airfields from which the Americans had been bombing the Japanese in China and were intending to bomb them in Japan.


Bombings

Pearl Harbor

This was the first attack on the United States by Japan. This caused us to get into a war with Japan and join World War II.

Bombing of Hiroshima (Atomic Bomb)

The first atomic bomb had been dropped on the port city of Hiroshima. This bomb killed 70,000 people instantly and was code named "Little Boy." One-third of the people killed at first were military. The bomb had destroyed everything within a 2 mile radius and about 4 square miles. It also caused radioactive "black rain" killing more people.


Between December 7th, 1941 and July 1942, the Japanese had expanded their empire in the Pacific as far south as Guadalcanal. The U.S. and its allies refused to accept Japan's new empire, and began to build-up f-rces for the fight-back. From Midway & Guam, to Iwo Jima & Okinawa, the U.S. Marine Corps spearheaded the island campaign against the Japanese in World War II.

Marines In The Pacific presents an unforgettable account of the battle history of the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater during WWII. Here, in what was one of the most difficult and brutal campaigns in military history, the Marines lived up to their reputation of being the "first to fight". Featuring dramatic footage and informative maps, this series details the string of island battles and subsequent victories across the Pacific.

Disc 1: Securing the Solomons -

Highlights the decisive turning point of the Pacific war. Beginning with the victory at Midway and following the long and bloody battle for Guadalcanal, the Marines marched up the strategically important Solomon Islands chain and claimed their first victories in the Pacific.

Guadalcanal: The Southern Solomons

Northern Solomons: Preparing to Attack

Bougainville: Securing the Solomons

Disc 2: Battle for the Marianas -

Continues the epic story of the battle history of the USMC of "the road to Tokuo" as they continued their island hopping campaign. In the fight to gain control of these strategic islands, the Marines experienced some of the most bloody and difficult battles in the entire Pacific war against a tenacious Japanese enemy.

New Britain: Isolating Rabaul

Disc 3: The Final Battles -

Covers some of the most intense and fiercest battles ever fought during the Pacific War. The courage and heroism displayed by the USMC on islands such as Iwo Jima & Okinawa are now legendary. Securing these islands was crucial to the U.S. victory over Japan, but it would entail a terrible price.

Tinian: Securing the Marianas

Iwo Jima: Steppingstone to Japan

Battle for the Marianas:

Continues the epic story of the battle history of the USMC on "the road to Tokyo" as they continued their island hopping campaign. In the fight to gain control of these strategic islands, the Marines experienced some of the most bloody & difficult battles in the entire Pacific war against a tenacious Japanese enemy.

New Britain: Isolating Rabaul

The Final Battles:

Covers some of the most intense and fiercest battles ever fought during the Pacific War. The courage and heroism displayed by the USMC on islands such as Iwo Jima & Okinawa are now legendary. Securing these islands was crucial to the US victory over Japan, but it would entail a terrible price.


The Thin Red Line: Not Enough History

Japan lost World War II on December 7, 1941. Although the Pearl Harbor raid was a stunning military success, a small island nation without natural resources or even the ability to sustain itself had no chance in a war to the finish with the United States, especially after the American people had been roused to fury by what they were told was an unprovoked "sneak attack." And the slim chance Japan might have had for a negotiated settlement disappeared just six months later when Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto lost four aircraft carriers and hundreds of irreplaceable pilots at the pivotal Battle of Midway. Thereafter, it was only a matter of time before the Rising Sun was ground to powder.

Easy for me to say from the comfort of my study and with the clarity of hindsight. I did not have to defend Lunga Ridge and Henderson Field from a screaming banzai attack in the middle of the night. I did not bleed in the surf at Tarawa, or dig futilely for protection in the black volcanic ash of Iwo Jima, or dodge kamikazes at Okinawa. Those who did such things would be slow to say that the war with Japan was decided on the day it began. They knew their enemy to be well trained, well led, and capable of exacting a terrible price for every square foot of real estate.

The Thin Red Line is the latest in a long line of films about what John Dower has called a "war without mercy." It focuses on Guadalcanal, the farthest point of Japanese advance. Located exactly 10 degrees below the equator just northeast of Australia and near the eastern end of the Solomon Islands chain, it had enormous strategic value to both sides. To the Japanese, Guadalcanal could be a staging area for offensive action toward New Caledonia, the Fiji Islands, or Australia. To the United States, taking Guadalcanal would protect Australia and be a signal to Tokyo and to the world that America's growing air, naval, and land forces were going over to the attack in the Pacific.

Director Terrence Malick, who also wrote the screenplay, has borrowed his title, his story line, his characters, and many of his details from the novel of the same name by James Jones. A native of Robinson, Illinois, Jones had joined the peacetime Army at age 18 in 1939. Jones was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii when Japanese planes surprised everyone on an otherwise ordinary Sunday morning. At the end of 1942, as a member of the 25th Infantry Division, Jones went ashore on Guadalcanal, where he killed a Japanese soldier before he was himself wounded by shrapnel and evacuated to safety. Back in the United States, he subsequently went AWOL three times and was demoted twice before he was discharged for medical reasons in the summer of 1944. After the war, Jones wrote many novels, including From Here to Eternity (1951), which dealt with Hawaii before the war and which brought him fame and fortune, and The Thin Red Line (1962), which was about Guadalcanal.

Jones would like certain aspects of Malick's movie. First, it concerns itself with timeless issues of life, death, love, morality, evil, destiny, and fear, and it does all this from the perspective of the soldier in the line, not the general in the rear. It focuses on C-for-Charlie Company, a collection of several hundred ordinary men from ordinary occupations and places who find themselves together on a place none of them previously had ever heard of. Why, it asks, do some men survive, and others, perhaps equally brave, equally well trained, equally athletic, or equally religious, cry in despair as their last breaths escape their bodies? Are soldiers essentially running into burning houses where no one can be saved? Is war inevitably aimless and random? Is it about property? Why are the innocent and the unconcerned pushed into situations where everyone&mdashAmerican, Japanese, native&mdashseems to lose?

Second, Malick has put together an excellent cast, with Sean Penn as the tough and cynical top sergeant Nick Nolte as an ambitious, aggressive, West Point-trained battalion commander Elias Koteas as the caring captain who refuses his colonel's direct order for a frontal assault against entrenched Japanese machine guns Jim Caviezel as a handsome private AWOL on the island and cavorting with the natives Woody Harrelson in a powerful cameo role as an unlucky leader whose grenade malfunctions and John Travolta as a strange and brooding brigadier general. There is no central figure, and much of the story is related by way of a running, philosophical voice-over narration.

Third, The Thin Red Line features John Toll's extraordinary cinematography and Hans Zimmer's haunting musical score, as well as special effects that some viewers will regard as too realistic, as when we see a torso with bloody stumps where legs used to be. Malick does have an eye for beautiful detail as well, and his cameras linger poetically on all manner of wildlife who seem alternately puzzled by and oblivious to the carnage around them.

Unfortunately, The Thin Red Line is limited both as entertainment and as history. At a running time of almost three hours , it is long and formless. I kept checking my watch to see how much more there was to endure. Malick devotes too much footage to exotic animals, waving grass, happy natives, or light filtering through trees. At times he seems to have produced a kind of National Geographic-style examination of Queensland, Australia, where most of it was filmed. And because most of the characters are a blur, the viewer has difficulty knowing who is thinking what. One of the men constantly daydreams about his wife back in Ohio, but Malick does not tell us that he is tormented by the fear that she is sleeping with someone else in his absence. Alas, he finally receives the dreaded "Dear John" letter.

More to the point of this review, The Thin Red Line does not tell the viewer enough about history, either in terms of facts or of experience. Some might argue that an artist is under no obligation to produce a work that bears any relation at all to actual events. I would answer that Americans increasingly get their history from movies or television, and that filmmakers should at least aspire to accuracy, especially when they go to such well-publicized pains to get the buttons, or the trucks, or the planes right. For example, early in the movie an American troop transport vessel stands just off the beach while it slowly and laboriously unloads its precious human cargo. Somehow, Malick found what appears to be a Victory ship, only 531 of which were ever made, and virtually none of which I thought survived at the end of this century.

But the viewer learns too little about Guadalcanal, either as personal experience or as grand strategy. Why was that tiny island important? Why was the fighting on Guadalcanal different from most other Pacific campaigns? Why, unlike the situation in Saving Private Ryan, were the soldiers more afraid while they were waiting on the transport ship than while they were actually hitting the beaches? No voice-over explains that the battle for Guadalcanal, which began on August 7, 1942, was mostly over before this movie begins, or that the First Marine Division had been fighting there for months before the 25th Infantry Division arrived. Jones, for example, did not land until December 30. Similarly, no voice-over or character explains that neither the Japanese nor the Americans were initially able to get adequate reinforcements or supplies to their troops ashore, and that desperate naval battles by day and night continued throughout the fall. Both sides lost so many ships that nearby waters came to be known as "Iron Bottom Sound." Finally, by mid-November, the United States increasingly controlled the air above and the sea around Guadalcanal. This was not for want of frantic Japanese efforts to use every means possible, including destroyers, to get help to their beleaguered soldiers. Nonetheless, by December, Nippon's sons were starving and essentially abandoned on Guadalcanal (the film depicts the Japanese sympathetically and shows their emaciated state but does not explain why), and by February 9, 1943, General Alexander Patch could report to General Douglas MacArthur that Guadalcanal was secure.

None of these issues or events is even peripherally explained in The Thin Red Line. Neither does Malick give us the kind of texture from the novel that would reveal the combat infantryman's perspective. For example, we learn nothing of taking souvenirs or gold teeth from dead and dying enemy soldiers, of trading such trinkets for whiskey from the Air Corps personnel in rear areas, of homosexuality in the shared darkness of a tent, of the ranking of wounds according to how far back from the front each type of disability would take a person, of the constant struggle for promotion and position within the company, and most especially of the kind of loyalty for small units and for each other that would help explain to the viewer why so many persons put their own lives at risk to help fallen comrades. All of those issues were at the core of Jones's book, which is possibly the finest combat novel of his generation.

The Thin Red Line probably does not even render nature the way that soldiers experienced it. Malick does show a crocodile slithering into green muck, as well as scenes of soldiers sloshing through a swamp. But mostly, the view Malick gives us is of paradise, replete with lush green mountains, tropical waterfalls, and glorious beaches. If only we could buy a condo there. In fact, American servicemen regarded Guadalcanal as a tropical hell. Ninety-two miles long and thirty-two miles wide, it was mostly dense jungle, infested with ferocious ants, poisonous snakes, and malarial mosquitoes, not to mention lizards, crocodiles, spiders, leeches, and scorpions. Men on both sides had to cross precipitous ravines, wade through swamps rank with the smell of rotting vegetation, and hack through stout vines. "If I were a king," author Jack London once remarked, "the worst punishment I could inflict on my enemies would be to banish them to the Solomons."

The Thin Red Line is a celebration of the art of filmmaking, and especially cinematography, sound, and special effects. But it is not the place to learn about the Pacific War. For that, you still cannot do better than The Naked and the Dead or even John Wayne's Sands of Iwo Jima. And if you want the best American war movie of this decade, check out Saving Private Ryan.

Kenneth T. Jackson, who frequently discusses war films on the History Channel, is the Jacques Barzun Professor of History and the Social Sciences at Columbia University.


THE UNITED STATES OFFENSIVE TARAWA TO TOKYO - History

Tarawa, Kiribati, Nov. 20, 2018 – It was photographs and video scenes of American casualties lining the beach that would stun the American people in the aftermath of the Battle of Tarawa. Imagery of significant casualties floating in the surf disturbed the public, setting into motion public protest and angry letters from families mourning loved ones lost in battle.

This was the wake of a series of battles within the American offensive island-hopping campaign, and undoubtedly, one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific war. Tarawa would be the first time in World War II (WWII) that the United States Marine Corps would face noteworthy opposition from the Japanese. In the span of just 76 hours, the Marines suffered casualties similar to that of the Guadalcanal Campaign, which took place over the span of six months.

In November 1943, as fighting raged, Japanese Admiral Keiji Shibasaki, commander of the Japanese forces defending the Gilbert Islands, was confident that his soldiers would make the invasion of Tarawa more difficult than the Americans had anticipated. U.S. military had sights on conquering the Gilbert and Marianas Islands, paving the way for American troops and allies to progress to Japan.

History records Shibasaki’s confidence in his forces as he boasted that it would take the U.S. military “one million men and one hundred years” to conquer Tarawa. Severely outnumbered, his forces waged war against more than 35,000 American troops, both U.S. Marines and soldiers. Close to 18,000 Marines from 2nd Marine Division began the assault of the island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of Gilbert Islands.

Despite these numbers, both sides endured heavy loss. Only 17 of the 4,500 Japanese defenders survived and surrendered. Close to 1,000 Marines were killed in action, as others later died from their wounds. Nearly 2,000 Marines were wounded in action and over one hundred of these Americans troops never repatriated until recent years.

If they were paving the way to Japan, it would be a long road to Tokyo.

Today, Nov. 20, 2018 marks the 75th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Tarawa, which was part of Operation Galvanic. It marks one of the bloodiest battles of WWII.

Upon arrival, many of the landing craft failed to clear the coral reefs and were forced to try to wade ashore under intense fire. As they were met by enemy fire, only a small number made it to shore. In chest-deep water, those that made it were exhausted, with much of their electrical equipment flooded beyond repair. With resilience and courage, the Marines continued to fight and in 76 hours, not “one hundred years,” the island was declared secure on Nov. 23, 1943.

Despite the sorrow and despair that comes in remembering great loss, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1st MAW) and 2d MARDIV commemorated the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Tarawa with the people of Tarawa, Kiribati. Marines and Sailors from 1st MAW and 2nd MARDIV, Japanese leaders and the people of Kiribati attended the ceremony. The 75th anniversary ceremony and the repatriation ceremony focused on the courage, service and sacrifice of U.S. service members during the bloody 76-hour Battle of Tarawa.

Through the years, 75 years after a tumultuous past, the U.S. and Japanese forces have forged a close friendship, partnership and alliance that contributes to regional peace and stability. In addition, the ceremony highlighted the friendship and camaraderie between the United States and the people of Tarawa. With strength in U.S. military partnerships since 1943, our Indo-Pacific allies, partners and friends can focus on continued importance of regional security and enduring peace in this region.

Many lessons were learned in the Battle of Tarawa, but more importantly we remain indebted to the heroes of this battle and all of the WWII Pacific Theater veterans. Their service paved the way for a stable post-WWII international order in the region. The 75th commemoration is a tribute to the warriors that represent the resilience and resolve of a generation that endured incredible sacrifices, changing America, Kiribati, Japan and the Gilbert islands forever.


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