The Pacific War

Although World War II began in Europe, by 1941, conflict had erupted worldwide. Much of the fighting took place in Asia and the Pacific between the Allied forces and Japan, supported by the Axis powers Germany and Italy. Hitler’s invasion of France and the Netherlands in 1940 had left European-controlled territories in Southeast Asia vulnerable as Japan attempted to expand its empire in the region.

Military alliance (September 1940)

Japan enters into a military alliance with Germany and Italy, signing a document known as the Tripartite Pact. Germany and Italy promise Japan an empire that stretches across Asia.

Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941)

Japanese forces bomb the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Americans are shocked by the surprise attack. The US and Allies declare war on Japan; Germany declares war on the US.

Japanese victories (December 1941)

With astonishing speed, Japanese forces attack Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaya, Thailand, Guam, and Wake Island, taking vast areas of land.

Singapore surrenders (February 15, 1942)

Japanese forces continue to advance. The fall of Singapore and the loss of 138,000 British Commonwealth troops marks a humiliating defeat for Britain.

Australia attacked (February 19, 1942)

Japanese planes bomb the port of Darwin, on the north Australian coast. Most of the city’s military structures are destroyed.

Battle of the Java Sea (February 27 - March 1, 1942)

After defeating Allied naval forces in the Java Sea, Japan conquers the Dutch East Indies (modern-day Indonesia). It is another devastating victory against the Allied forces, and Japan now dominates the air and sea.

Battle of the Coral Sea (May 4-8, 1942)

Allied forces halt Japanese plans to invade New Guinea. This is the first sea battle in which neither side’s ships catch sight of the other. Instead, the battle is fought between planes sent out from aircraft carriers.

Battle of Midway (June 4-7, 1942)

The Japanese navy’s attempts to take control of Midway Island in the Central Pacific are defeated by Allied forces. Japan suffers the loss of 3,500 troops and four aircraft carriers in its first major setback.

Island hopping (August 1942 - February 1943)

The tide starts to turn as US forces fight back and begin to defeat Japanese troops one island at a time. Many Japanese soldiers refuse to be taken prisoner, choosing to commit suicide instead.

Kamikaze attacks (October 1944)

Japanese pilots adopt extreme tactics during battle, flying their planes into the decks of US warships. These suicide missions, known as "kamikaze" attacks, destroy dozens of warships.

Battle of Iwo Jima (February - March 1945)

US troops land on Iwo Jima, meeting fierce resistance from Japanese troops hiding in tunnels that criss-cross the island. Japanese soldiers refuse to surrender, but the US declares victory. 

Japan under siege (March 9-10, 1945)

US forces begin a bombing campaign designed to cut off essential supplies to the mainland. Japanese cities are attacked, too. A raid on Tokyo creates a firestorm that kills 100,000 people. 

Atomic bombs (August 6 and 9, 1945)

The cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are destroyed when the US drops two atomic bombs. Tens of thousands are killed immediately, and tens of thousands more die later from the effects of radiation.

Japan surrenders (August 15, 1945)

Despite the devastation caused by the atomic bombs, Japan’s military leaders and parts of the government refuse to surrender. Emperor Hirohito pressures them to admit defeat, and after 4 years of bloodshed, the war finally ends.

Burma and India: Expecting the Indian population to rise up against its British colonial rulers, Japan tried to invade India from Burma. The British fought back, however, and the jungle conflict became one of the bloodiest of World War II.