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CAMPAIGN SUMMARIES OF WORLD WAR 2

JAPANESE CONQUESTS

1939-1942

Japanese battleship Kirishima (Maritime Quest, click to enlarge)

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Each Summary is complete in its own right. The same information may therefore be found in a number of related summaries

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Pre-War

1919 - Treaty of Versailles - Japan was granted a mandate over the ex-German islands in the Pacific. The League of Nations was formed.

1921-22 - Washington Naval Treaty - Britain, United States, Japan, France and Italy agreed to limit the displacement and main armament of capital ships, aircraft carriers and cruisers, and total tonnage and age of the first two categories.

1922 - Japanese carrier "Hosho" completed.

1927 - Geneva Naval Conference failed to reach agreement on total tonnage of cruisers, destroyers and submarines. Major warships completed included Japanese carrier "Akagi".

1928 - Japanese carrier "Kaga" completed

1930 - London Naval Treaty - Britain, US and Japan agreed on total tonnage, tonnage and armament limitations for cruisers, destroyers and submarines. Also that no new capital ships were to be laid down until 1937.

1931 - An incident in the Chinese province of Manchuria led to the Japanese invasion which was completed by early 1932. The puppet state of Manchukuo was declared. By then Japanese forces had taken control of the Shanghai area in further fighting.

1933 - Japanese walked out of the League of Nations over the Manchurian issue. Major warships completed included Japanese carrier "Ryujo".

1934 - The 1932 Geneva Disarmament Conference finally broke down and Japan announced its intention to withdraw from the 1922 and 1930 Naval Treaties when they expired in 1936. Planning started on the giant battleships of the "Yamato" class.

1935 - April - The United States passed the Neutrality Act forbidding the supply of arms to belligerents in the event of war.

1936 - November - London Protocol -The major powers including Germany agreed to prohibit unrestricted submarine warfare against unarmed ships. December -The 1922 and 1930 Naval Treaties were allowed to lapse and the major powers moved towards rearmament.

1937 - July - Further incidents in China this time near Peking, led to Japan extending its hold over northeastern China. Major warships completed included Japanese carrier "Soryu".

1938 - By the end of 1938, Japan had completed its hold over northeastern China and the major port areas.

1939 - September 1st - Germany invaded Poland; 3rd - Britain and France declared war on Germany. Major warships completed to 3rd September 1939 included Japanese carrier "Hiryu". Launched in the same period - Japanese carrier "Shokaku"

 

 

1940

MARCH 1940

Steps to War with Japan - Japan established a Chinese puppet-government in Nanking.

JUNE 1940

June/July - With its possession of the Chinese ports, Japan wanted to close the remaining entry points into China. Pressure was put on France to stop the flow of supplies through Indochina, and on Britain to do the same with the Burma Road. Both complied, but Britain did so only until October 1940, when the road was reopened.

SEPTEMBER 1940

Axis Powers - Germany, Italy and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact in Berlin on the 27th. They agreed to jointly oppose any country joining the Allies at war - by which they meant the United States.

Vichy France finally agreed to the stationing of Japanese troops in northern Indochina.

NOVEMBER 1940

Fleet Air Arm Attack on Taranto - On the 11th in the Mediterranean, British carrier "Illustrious" launched a Swordfish torpedo biplane attack on the main Italian naval base. Of the six battleships present, the 20 aircraft hit "CONTE DI CAVOUR" and "CAIO DIULIO" with one torpedo each and the brand new "LITTORIA" with three. All three sank at their moorings and "Cavour" was never recommissioned, all for the loss of just two Swordfish. The Japanese Navy studied the attack carefully as Pearl Harbor learnt to its cost just a year later.

 

1941

APRIL 1941

Five Year Neutrality Pact between Japan and Russia benefited both powers. Russia could free troops for Europe and Japan concentrate on her expansion southwards.

JULY 1941

The demand for bases in southern Indochina was now conceded by Vichy France. Britain, Holland and the United States protested and froze Japanese assets, but the troops went in. The Dutch East lndies cancelled oil delivery arrangements and the Americans shortly imposed their own oil embargo. Japan had lost most of its sources of oil.

SEPTEMBER 1941

Japan and the US continued to negotiate over their differences, but as its oil stocks rapidly declined Japan accelerated preparations for war.

OCTOBER 1941

War Minister Gen Tojo became Japanese Prime Minister.

NOVEMBER 1941

3rd - The recently completed British fleet carrier "Indomitable" ran aground and was damaged off Kingston, Jamaica. She was due to accompany capital ships "Prince of Wales" and "Repulse" to the Far East as a deterrent to Japanese aggression. Her absence in December may have proved fatal to the two big ships.

Final Steps to War with Japan - As talks dragged on and the United States demanded the departure of Japan from China as well as French Indochina, the Pearl Harbor Strike Force sailed into the North Pacific. Vice-Adm Nagumo commanded the fleet carriers "Akagi", "Hiryu", "Kaga", "Soryu", "Shokaku" and "Zuikaku", plus two battleships, cruisers and destroyers. Britain's limited naval deterrent to Japanese expansion, capital ships "Prince of Wales" and "Repulse" met at Colombo, Ceylon on the 28th, en route to Singapore. Without the fleet carrier "Indomitable" they had no ship-borne aircraft support.

DECEMBER 1941

Starting Conditions - Strategic and Naval Background

Allied

Britain and Dominions - Responsible for defending India, Ceylon, Burma, Malaya, northern Borneo, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, the Papua New Guinea/Bismarck Archipelago/Solomon Islands chain, and numerous island groups throughout the Indian Ocean and Central and South Pacific. Few forces could be spared from existing war zones to protect this vast spread of territory and its supply routes. Britain's main base was at Singapore with its two recently arrived big ships. Three old cruisers and some destroyers were in Malayan waters, and a few old destroyers at Hong Kong. By now the surviving seven cruisers and smaller ships of the Royal Australian and New Zealand Navies were back in the region.

United States - Apart from the defence of its Western seaboard, Panama Canal Zone, Alaska and the Aleutians, Hawaiian Islands and various islands in the Central Pacific, the US had responsibility for the Philippines. In the event of attack, the defenders were expected to hold out until relieved by the US Pacific Fleet fighting its way from the main base at Pearl Harbor, a distance of 4,500 miles. In the Philippines was the Asiatic Fleet with three cruisers, 13 destroyers and 29 submarines. The Pacific Fleet itself consisted of eight battleships, three fleet carriers, 21 cruisers, 67 destroyers and 27 submarines.

Dutch - Naval forces allocated to the defence of the many islands of the Dutch East lndies included three cruisers, seven destroyers and fifteen submarines.

Japan

Already established in Korea, Manchuria, northeast China, its main ports and Hainan, Formosa, and the Mariana, Caroline and Marshall Island groups, Japan now had the whole of French Indochina. Japan's main aim was still the conquest of China, for which the oilfields of the Dutch East lndies (DEI) were indispensable. Also important was the closing of the Burma Road over which Allied supplies continue to roll. Both moves meant war with Britain and the US, and a vital part of the Japanese strategy was the establishment of a huge defence perimeter stretching from Burma right around to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Only in this way could it hope to hold off the United States once its manpower and industrial resources were mobilised.

Japan went to war with both the strategic and military advantages:

Strategically -

Japan was well placed to occupy the territory needed for the defence perimeter:

In the West - much of China was occupied and the Neutrality Pact with Russia, coupled with the German invasion meant Japan had little to fear for now from this direction. Hong Kong could be taken easily from adjacent occupied China. 

JAPAN

To the East were the vast distances of the Pacific. By taking the US islands of Guam and Wake, and some of the British Gilbert Islands, the Japanese mandated islands (Marshalls, Caroline's, Marianas) were further protected. America was also kept at bay.


To the Southwest -
Thailand and Malaya would soon fall to the invading forces from Hainan and Indochina. Thereafter the capture of Burma could proceed smoothly. The Burma Road would be cut, India threatened, and that perimeter was secured.

 

In the South - lay the oilfields of the Dutch East Indies and the protection offered by the island chain of Sumatra, Java and Bali through to Timor. The main island of Java was the target of two massive pincer movements:


Southeast -
landings in north New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and northern Solomons would protect the Japanese Carolines. From there, forces could strike Australia and its supply routes.

 

 

Westwards - From Indochina to northern Borneo, and later direct to Sumatra and Java.

 

Eastwards - From bases in Formosa and the Carolines to the Philippines. From there to southern Borneo, Celebes and Moluccas, and on to Timor and Bali. Then to eastern Java.

 
 

Only when Japan sought to extend the southeast and eastern perimeters - at Guadalcanal and Midway Island respectively in mid-1942 did it suffer the first defeats. America's growing power would then make Allied victory inevitable.

Militarily -

Allied and Japanese naval forces were about balanced in numbers:

Major Warship types

ROYAL NAVIES

DUTCH NAVY

US ASIATIC FLEET

US PACIFIC FLEET

ALLIED TOTALS

JAPANESE NAVY

Battleships

2

-

-

8

10

10

Carriers

-

-

-

3

3

11

Cruisers

10

3

3

21

37

40

Destroyers

13

7

13

67

100

112

Submarines

-

15

29

27

71

63

TOTALS

25

25

45

126

221

236

 

There the comparison ended .....

The Imperial Japanese Navy had far more carriers, its surface task forces were well trained, especially in night-fighting, and they had no command or language difficulties. They also introduced the Allies to a secret and powerful weapon in the 24in Long lance torpedo. In contrast, the Allied ships were scattered and had no central command. Their main bases at Singapore and Pearl Harbor were 6,000 miles apart, and most of the strength was concentrated with the US Pacific Fleet. For its conquests, the Japanese Army fielded only slightly more troops, but these were usually better trained, and also experienced in amphibious operations. They had air superiority both overall and locally. Only the US Pacific Fleet posed an immediate danger to Japanese plans. Hence the decision to attack it in Pearl Harbor rather than wait for it to try to fight through to the Philippines. The Japanese chose the time and place of their landings, all well escorted by cruiser and destroyer forces. Air cover was maintained by land-based aircraft or from carriers and seaplane carriers as necessary, and battleships and cruisers provided distant support. By this time the annihilation of the Allied capital ships made their presence unnecessary.

The few Allied maritime sorties - some surface, but mainly by aircraft and submarine - had few successes against the invasion fleets. And in return they suffered heavy losses.

Declarations and Outbreak of War - Because of the International Dateline, events that took place on the 7th in Hawaii as far as Washington and London were concerned, were already into the 8th in Hong Kong and Malaya. By the 8th: (1) Japan had declared war on Britain and the US;  (2) Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Holland, the United States and a number of Central American and Caribbean states had declared against Japan; (3) China declared war against the Axis powers.

Using the compass directions outlining the Japanese strategy above , attacks in December 1941 proceeded as follows:

West - Hong Kong - The territory was invaded from mainland China on the 8th December, and within five days the defenders had withdrawn to Hong Kong Island. Fighting carried on until Christmas Day when the British and Dominion troops surrendered.

South West - Thailand, Malaya, Burma - Japanese forces landed on the Kra Isthmus of Thailand and northeast Malaya on the 8th. From there they drove down the west coast of Malaya towards Singapore, outflanking the defences by land and sea. Follow-up landings took place later in the month and in January 1942. By the 13th December they had crossed from Thailand into the southern tip of Burma, but stayed there for the time being. 10th - Loss of “Repulse” and “Prince of Wales”: the Sinking of Force Z (map below) - By the 8th, the battlecruiser and battleship had assembled at Singapore as Force Z under the command of Adm Sir Tom Phillips. That evening they sailed with four destroyers to attack the Japanese landing on the northeast Malay coast. Fighter cover was requested but not readily available. In the evening of the 9th, Force Z was well up into the South China Sea. Japanese aircraft were spotted and Adm Phillips decided to return. Around midnight he received a false report of landings at Kuantan, further down the Malay Peninsular and set course for there. The ships had by now been reported by a submarine, and a naval aircraft strike force was despatched from Indochina. Attacks started around 11.00 on the 10th December, and in less than three hours “PRINCE OF WALES” and “REPULSE” had been hit by a number of torpedoes and sent to the bottom.

Following the Pearl Harbor attack, not one of the Allies' 10 battleships in the Pacific area remained in service.

South - Northern Borneo and Philippines Islands - The first landings in northern Borneo took place in Sarawak and Brunei on the 16th December, and continued through until late January 1942. In the Philippines, the island of Luzon was the main target. Between the 10th and 22nd, landings were made in the north of the island, in the south, and at Lingayen Gulf in the west. The Japanese forces made a combined drive on the capital of Manila, which was declared an open city. They entered on 2nd January 1942 by which time preparations were being made to attack Gen MacArthur's US and Filipino troops now withdrawn into the Bataan Peninsular just to the west of Manila. The southern island of Mindanao was invaded on 20th December 1941.

East - Hawaiian Islands, Guam, Wake Island and British Gilbert Islands - On the morning of the 7th local time (shortly after the Malay landings) the Japanese Strike Force aircraft hit Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. In the Attack on Pearl Harbor, battleships “ARIZONA” and “OKLAHOMA” were total losses, three more sank but were later re-commissioned, and the remaining three damaged. Many were killed and a considerable number of aircraft destroyed. Although the Pacific battlefleet ceased to exist, the three priceless fleet carriers “Enterprise”, “Lexington” and “Saratoga” were fortunately absent and the large oil stocks and important repair installations left virtually untouched. By the 10th, Guam in the Mariana Islands was captured and Makin and Tarawa in the British Gilberts occupied. Tarawa was then abandoned until the following September 1942. Wake Island was attacked on the 11th December, but the Japanese were driven off with the loss of two destroyers by the US Marine defenders. A later attempt on the 23rd succeeded.

Monthly Loss Summary
Indian Ocean - 5 merchant ships of 800 tons
Pacific Ocean - 241 merchant ships of 432,000 tons

 

1942

JANUARY 1942

Allied Command - Early in the month, British Gen Wavell was appointed to command ABDA (American, British, Dutch, Australian) forces responsible for holding Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.

West - Malaya and Burma - In their drive on Singapore, the Japanese captured Kuala Lumpur on the 11th. To the north they crossed into southern Burma from the Kra Isthmus on the 15th, and on the 20th started the invasion of Burma from central Thailand. Thailand shortly declared war on Britain and the United States. On the last day of January, the retreating British, Australian and Indian troops withdrew into Singapore Island, after being driven down the length of the Malay Peninsula. By then carrier "Indomitable" had flown off 48 Hurricanes for Singapore via Java.

South - Philippines and Dutch East lndies - As the US and Filipinos were slowly pushed into Bataan, the Japanese began the invasion of the Dutch East lndies from southern Philippines. First landings took place on the 11th at Tarakan in Borneo and in the Celebes. More followed later in the month, but which time they had reached the Moluccas in the drive south towards Java. 17th - Japanese submarine "I-60" tried to pass through the Sunda Strait for the Indian Ocean. She was located and sunk by destroyer "Jupiter" escorting a convoy to Singapore. 20th - Submarine "I-124" minelaying off Darwin, northern Australia, was sunk by Australian minesweepers "Deloraine", "Katoomba", "Lithgow" and US destroyer "Edsall".

Southeast - Bismark Archipelago - The first Japanese move towards the southeast took place on the 23rd with landings at Kavieng, New Ireland and Rabaul, New Britain. Rabaul became the major Japanese base in the South West Pacific and helped dictate the whole strategy of Allied moves in the next two years.

Monthly Loss Summary
Indian Ocean - 13 merchant ships of 46,000 tons
Pacific Ocean - 30 merchant ships of 71,000 tons

FEBRUARY 1942

West - Malaya, Singapore and Burma - On the 8th, Japanese forces started crossing over to Singapore Island. Heavy fighting took place, but by the 15th Singapore surrendered and over 80,000 mainly Australian, British and Indian troops were doomed to captivity. Many did not survive as POW's. The Allies had lost the key to South East Asia and the South West Pacific. In Burma the Japanese pushed on towards Rangoon.

South - Dutch East lndies - The two-pronged advance on Java continued with airborne landings on Palembang in southern Sumatra on the 14th, followed up by landings from the sea one day later by forces carried from Indochina. A few days later the islands of Bali and Timor were invaded from the Celebes and Moluccas respectively. The scene was set for the conquest of Java.

27th February-1st March - Battles of the Java Sea - ABDA's main naval force was commanded by the Dutch Adm Doorman and consisted of a mixed squadron of cruisers and destroyers for the defence of Java: heavy cruisers "Exeter" and the US "Houston", light cruisers "Perth" (Australian), "De Ruyter" and Java" (both Dutch), destroyers "Electra", "Encounter", "Jupiter", plus two Dutch and four American. They put to sea on the 26th on the news that invasion convoys were approaching. Failing to find them they headed back to Surabaya the next day, but before getting in, more reports arrived and the Allied force went out again towards a position to the northwest. The main battle started on the 27th at around 16.00 against the two heavy, two light cruisers and 14 destroyers covering the Japanese transports. Both Allied heavies opened fire at long range, but "Exeter" was soon hit and her speed reduced. In the resulting confusion one of the Dutch destroyers was torpedoed and sunk. As "Exeter" returned to Surabaya with the second Dutch destroyer, the Royal Navy destroyers went in to attack and "ELECTRA" was sunk by gunfire. Adm Doorman headed back south towards the Java coast and sent off the US destroyers to refuel. He then turned to the north with his remaining four cruisers and two British destroyers. By now it was late evening and "JUPITER" was lost probably on a Dutch mine. "Encounter" picked up survivors from the first Dutch destroyer and shortly followed the Americans to Surabaya. The four cruisers, now without any destroyers, were in action sometime before midnight and both "DE RUYTER" and "JAVA" were blasted apart by the big Japanese torpedoes. "Perth" and "Houston" made for Batavia, further west along the north coast of Java. The next evening, on the 28th, "Perth" and "Houston" left Batavia and sailed west for the Sunda Strait to break through to the Indian Ocean. From Surabaya three of the US destroyers went east and eventually reached safety through the shallow Bali Strait. "Exeter's" draught was too great for this route and the damaged cruiser had to make for the Sunda Strait accompanied by destroyer "Encounter" and US destroyer "Pope. "

28th/1st March - BattIe of the Sunda Strait - Late that evening "PERTH" and "HOUSTON" ran into the Japanese invasion fleet in the Strait and attacked the transports. They were soon overwhelmed by the gunfire and torpedoes of the covering cruisers and destroyers and sank in the opening minutes of the 1st March. A Dutch destroyer following astern suffered the same fate.

Later on the morning of the 1st March, "EXETER", "ENCOUNTER" and "POPE" fought a lengthy action with a cruiser force to the northwest of Surabaya before they too succumbed. Of the entire Allied force in the Java Sea, only three old US destroyers managed to get away.

Australia - Aircraft from four of the Pearl Harbor Strike carriers raided Darwin, Northern Territories on the 19th. One American destroyer and a number of valuable transports were lost.

Monthly Loss Summary
Indian Ocean - 18 merchant ships of 38,000 tons
Pacific Ocean - 54 merchant ships of 181,000 tons

MARCH 1942

West - Burma - Rangoon, the entry port for the Burma Road, fell on the 8th. Towards the end of the month the Andaman Island group in the Indian Ocean flanking the south of Burma was occupied.

South - Philippines and Dutch East lndies - As the US and Filipinos struggled to hold on to Bataan, Gen MacArthur was ordered to leave for Australia. There he assumed the post of Supreme Commander, South West Pacific. US Adm Nimitz was to command the rest of the Pacific. The Java landings went ahead on the 1st and Batavia, the capital of all the DEI, fell. The Allied surrender was agreed on the 9th. On the 12th, northern Sumatra was occupied and the rest of March was spent consolidating the Japanese hold throughout the many islands. Japan's southern perimeter had been secured in less than four months. Strong Japanese naval forces patrolled the Indian Ocean south of Java to stop the escape of Allied shipping.

 

South East - Bismarck Archipelago, New Guinea, British Solomons Islands - The Bismarck Sea was secured with two series of landings. To the north the Japanese took Manus and other parts of the Admiralty Islands. In northern New Guinea, they landed in the Huon Peninsula at Lae, Salamaua and Finschhafen. When they occupied the northern island of Bougainville, the scene was set for the fierce Solomons Islands battles to come.

Monthly Loss Summary
Indian Ocean - 65 merchant ships of 68,000 tons
Pacific Ocean - 98 merchant ships of 184,000 tons

APRIL 1942

5th-9th - Japanese Carrier Attacks on Ceylon - A new British Eastern Fleet had been assembled under the command of Adm Sir James Somerville, recently of Force H. The variety of ships were split into two groups. A fast group included battleship "Warspite", carriers "Indomitable" and "Formidable", heavy cruisers "Cornwall" and "Dorsetshire", two light cruisers plus destroyers. In the slower group were four 'R' class battleships, old carrier "Hermes" and some cruisers and destroyers. Two Australian destroyers accompanied each group. As the Ceylon bases of Colombo and Trincomalee were poorly defended and too far forward, Adm Somerville was operating out of the secret base of Addu Atoll in the Maldive Islands SW of Ceylon. Early in April, two Japanese forces headed into the Indian Ocean. One under Adm Ozawa with carrier "Ryujo" and six cruisers mades for the Bay of Bengal and east coast of India. In a matter of days 23 ships of 112,000 tons were sunk. Japanese submarines sank a further five off the Indian west coast. Bad as this threat was, the real one came from the carrier strike force of Adm Nagumo with five Pearl Harbor carriers - "Akagi", "Hiryu", "Soryu", "Shokaku" and "Zuikaku" - plus four battleships and three cruisers.

The Japanese fleet was first sighted on the 4th south of Ceylon, and shipping cleared from the ports. In the morning of the 5th a heavy raid on Colombo sank destroyer "TENEDOS" and armed merchant cruiser "HECTOR". Heavy cruisers "CORNWALL" and "DORSETSHIRE" were to the southwest, sailing from Colombo to rejoin the Royal Navy's fast group. Found at noon they soon went to the bottom under a series of aircraft attacks. But Adm Nagumo had not yet finished. As Adm Somerville's two groups searched for the Japanese from a position between Addu Atoll and Ceylon, they circled round to the east. From there, on the 9th, Japanese aircraft found the shipping cleared from Trincomalee and back on its way in. Carrier "HERMES", Australian destroyer "VAMPIRE" and corvette "HOLLYHOCK" were amongst those that soon went down. The Japanese ships left the Indian Ocean, never to return again in force. Not knowing this, the surviving ships of the Royal Navy withdrew - the slow group to Kilindini in East Africa and the other to the Bombay area.

Philippines - Conclusion - Japanese units made their final push on Bataan and on the 9th, the Americans and Filipinos surrendered. The island fortress of Corregidor held out until the 6th May. Some resistance continued on other Philippines islands. The infamous "Bataan March" of American and Filipino POW's followed.

The Doolittle Raid - American B-25 bombers under the command of Col Doolittle took off from US carrier "Hornet" for the first ever raid on Japan on the 18th. damaged was slight, but the strategic implications were to prove fatal to the Japanese.  

Monthly Loss Summary
Indian Ocean - 31 merchant ships of 154,000 tons
Pacific Ocean - 7 merchant ships of 14,000 tons

Strategic and Maritime Situation - Indian and Pacific Oceans

To the west and south the Japanese had secured their perimeter to plan. They would also do so in the southwest as the British, together with the Chinese were steadily driven out of Burma. The debate was now whether or not to push out to the southeast towards Australia and New Zealand, and eastwards to the United States. Japanese gains had been at little cost, not least on the naval side as can be seen from the losses up to end of April from all causes:

Major Warships

British

Australian

Dutch

US

ALLIED

JAPANESE

Battleships

2

-

-

2 + 6*

4

-

Carriers

1

-

-

-

1

-

Cruisers

3

1

2

1

7

-

Destroyers

7

1

7

5

20

5

Submarines

-

-

8

4

12

7

Totals

13

2

17

12

44

12

* 6 battleships sunk at their moorings or damaged.

Now it was the Allies' turn to establish a defence perimeter running from the Hawaiian Islands around to Australia and New Zealand. With most of the ANZAC forces in North Africa, it was left to the Americans to garrison many of the islands needed to protect the supply routes from the US to the two Dominions. By now they were occupying the Line Islands south of Hawaii as well as Samoa, Tonga, New Hebrides and New Caledonia. The Australians were reinforcing Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea and New Zealanders landing in Fiji. The "Doolittle Raid" made a decisive impact on Japanese strategy. The Allies had to be kept away from the homeland. Japanese conquests would be extended both to the southeast and east. Landings would be made at Port Moresby to bring Australia within bomber range, the southern Solomons and beyond would be taken to cut US-Australia supply lines, and Midway Island and the Aleutians occupied to isolate Pearl Harbor. Each of these three moves led to three famous battles - (1) Coral Sea, (2) Guadalcanal, and (3) Midway, each one a step-too-far. Thereafter the Japanese would be on the defensive.

MAY 1942

8th - Landings at Diego Saurez, Madagascar - Concerned about the Japanese carrier sorties into the Indian Ocean and the vulnerability of the Cape of Good Hope/Middle East convoy routes, Britain decided to take Diego Saurez at the north end of Vichy French Madagascar. Under the command of Rear-Adm E. N. Syfret (recently appointed to Force H), a large force of ships including battleship "Ramillies" and carriers "Indomitable" and "Illustrious" assembled at Durban, South Africa towards the end of April. The assault took place on 5th May in Courrier Bay to the west of Diego Saurez. By the 7th the fighting was over and the important anchorage was in British hands. On the night of the 30th, Japanese submarines "I-16" and "I-20" launched midget submarines for attacks on Diego Saurez. "Ramillies" was torpedoed and badly damaged and a tanker sunk. By September the complete occupation of Madagascar became necessary.

Burma - On 29th April, Lashio was captured and the Burma Road cut in the north. Supplies for China now had to be flown over high mountains known as the 'Hump' for nearly three years until a new road was finally completed in early 1945. Mandalay fell on the 1st and by mid-month the retreating British Army was crossing the border into India. Chinese forces were also back in China as well as India. With the conquest of Burma, Japan's western defence line was in place.

Papua New Guinea and British Solomon Islands - Sailing from Rabaul, a Japanese invasion force headed for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea covered by light carrier "Shoho" and cruisers. Distant cover was given by a carrier strike force of two fleet carriers. From the Coral Sea, aircraft of US carriers "Lexington" and "Yorktown" searched for them. First success in the Battle of the Coral Sea (step-too-far 1) went to the Americans on the 7th when their planes sank "SHOHO" off the eastern tip of New Guinea. Next day, on the 8th, more aircraft strikes put fleet carrier "Shokaku" out of action on one side and sank "LEXINGTON" and damaged "Yorktown" on the other. A draw in naval terms, the battle was a strategic defeat for the Japanese as the invasion ships turned back, leaving Port Moresby, so close to the north tip of Australia, safe for now. Throughout the battle, neither side's ships sighted each other - the first time in naval history a major action had taken place in this way. Before the battle started, the Japanese took the opportunity to occupy a small island called Tulagi in the southern Solomons, close to the larger unknown island of Guadalcanal.

Monthly Loss Summary
Indian Ocean - 4 merchant ships of 22,000 tons
Pacific Ocean - 5 merchant ships of 17,000 tons

JUNE 1942

Midway and the Aleutians - Adm Yamamoto, with over 130 ships in a number of separate groups, set out to seize Midway island, occupy the western Aleutians, attack the eastern end, and draw out the Pacific Fleet for destruction. At the heart of the armada was the First Carrier Fleet (Adm Nagumo) with four of the Pearl Harbor attack carriers. The Americans had far fewer ships, but these included carriers "Enterprise", "Hornet" and "Yorktown" barely repaired after the Battle of the Coral Sea. Battle of Midway (step-too-far 2) - On the 3rd, Dutch Harbor, close to Alaska, was attacked from two light carriers. But the main battle was far to the south off Midway between the carrier aircraft of both sides. On the 4th/5th in the close run battle, all four Japanese carriers - "AKAGI", "HIRYU", "KAGA" and "SORYU" went down. "YORKTOWN" was badly damaged and finished off by a Japanese submarine on the 7th. The Japanese forces retreated, Midway was spared, and the Allies had their first major strategic victory of World War 2. However, the Japanese Navy remained strong, with more carriers in the Pacific than the Americans. The occupation at this time of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians was of little consequence.

Monthly Loss Summary
Indian Ocean - 18 merchant ships of 90,000 tons
Pacific Ocean - 6 merchant ships of 31,000 tons

JULY 1942

Papua, New Guinea - After failing to take Port Moresby by sea at the time of the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese planned to land on the north coast at Buna and Gona and advance overland by way of the Kokoda Trail. They landed on the 21st and moved south, just as the Australians were preparing to defend Kokoda itself and push north on Buna. The Japanese captured Kokoda on the 29th, and throughout August slowly pushed the Australians back south towards Port Moresby.  

Monthly Loss Summary
Indian Ocean - 9 merchant ships of 47,000 tons
Pacific Ocean - 6 merchant ships of 32,000 tons

AUGUST 1942

Guadalcanal (step-too-far 3), British Solomon Islands - The Japanese were now extending their hold in the southern Solomons and building an airfield on the island of Guadalcanal. From there they could move against the New Hebrides, New Caledonia and other islands along the supply routes to Australia and New Zealand. After the Japanese presence was discovered, the US 1st Marine Division landed on the 7th, soon capturing the airstrip which was renamed Henderson Field. Close cover was provided by a force of American and Australian cruisers. 9th - Battle of Savo Island - In the early hours of the 9th a Japanese force of seven cruisers and a destroyer headed for Savo Island to the north of Guadalcanal to get at the US transports. Instead they stumbled on five patrolling cruisers. Taken completely by surprise, heavy cruisers "CANBERRA" and the American "ASTORIA", "QUINCY" and "VINCENNES" were hit by a torrent of gunfire and torpedoes and sank in an area soon known as lronbottom Sound. The fifth cruiser "Chicago" escaped and Australian cruisers "Australia" and "Hobart" were close by but took no part in the action. The transports were untouched. From now on, as both American and Japanese forces tried to bring in supplies and reinforcements, numerous naval battles were fought in and around the southern Solomons. Battle of the Eastern Solomons - On the 24th, Japanese and American carrier groups covering supply operations to Guadalcanal were in action to the east of the Solomons island chain. Japanese light carrier on "RYUJO" was sunk and the American "Enterprise" damaged. From now on the Japanese relied increasingly on 'Tokyo Express' destroyers to bring in supplies by night down 'The Slot' - the waters between the islands of the Solomons.

Papua, New Guinea - In their move on Port Moresby, Japanese troops landed at Milne Bay at the extreme southeast tip of Papua on the 25th. The mainly Australian resistance was strong and by the 30th, the invaders were starting to evacuate. By early September they had gone - the first major setback Japanese forces had experienced on land.

Monthly Loss Summary
Indian Ocean - 1 merchant ship of 5,000 tons
Pacific Ocean - 3 merchant ships of 1,500 tons

SEPTEMBER 1942

Papua, New Guinea - In mid-month the Japanese reached their furthest point down the Kokoda Trail, within 30 miles of Port Moresby. Australian troops now went over to the attack and slowly drove north towards Kokoda.

Guadalcanal, British Solomon Islands - As the two sides struggled to build up their forces, more fighting took place for possession of Henderson Field. US carrier "WASP" was torpedoed by submarine "I-19" on the 15th, yet another casualty of the attempts to reinforce the island. Only carrier "Hornet" remained operational in the South Pacific, but she was joined by the repaired "Enterprise" in October.

British Gilbert Islands - After a brief stay in December 1941, Japanese forces reoccupied and started fortifying the atoll of Tarawa.

This was as far as they get ......

For the complete period 1941 to 1945, see Indian Ocean/SE Asia Campaigns and Pacific Ocean Campaigns

 

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