On Sunday, December 7th, 1941, the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, was attacked by aircraft from a task force of six aircraft carriers. That same day, December 8th on the opposite side of the International Date Line, Japanese forces assaulted American positions on the islands of Guam and Wake Island, taking the former in just under an hour, while the latter took the Japanese nearly two weeks to subdue. Japanese aircraft based on the island of Formosa, acquired by the Japanese from the Chinese in the wake of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, commenced bombing raids on American positions on the island of Luzon, located on which was the Philippine capital, Manila, and the bulk of American forces stationed there under Field Marshal Douglas MacArthur (the rank of field marshal had been given unto him by Philippine president Manuel Quezon after MacArthur had announced his retirement from the United States Army and chose to train the Philippine Scouts). As the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, and Pearl Harbor burned, the Japanese attacked British positions in Burma, pushing south toward the jewel of the British Southeast Asian empire: Singapore. By 1942, the Japanese were in the process of conquering one third of the world. Wake Island, Guam, Indochina, as well as British possessions in China, such as Shanghai and Hong Kong, were in Japanese hands. Japanese forces under General Hideki Tojo had advanced into the Dutch East Indies, landing at Borneo, Sumatra, and Java. By May 1942, everything from the Philippines to New Guinea was not only Japanese occupied, but now Japanese territories. Yet unbeknownst to the Japanese, the Rising Sun had already risen, and would soon set on the Empire of Japan.
Following the First World War, several measures were made by a multinational coalition to prevent the further utilization of war. The First World War, otherwise known as the Great War and War to End All Wars, had incurred such a vast quantity of casualties that no nation wished for a similar event to occur, and so, in 1928 representatives of fifteen nations met in Paris to sign what became known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact, named for United States Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and French foreign minister Aristide Briand. The Pact denounced the utilization of war, and went hand-in-hand with the 1922 Washington Naval Conference, a multinational meeting called for by American president Warren G. Harding to scale down the size of navies around the world. Yet with the 1929 crash of the New York Stock Exchange and the ensuing Great Depression, totalitarian governments began to take hold in the economic chaos in Europe, and in Asia, trouble was brewing as early as 1930. Ancient ethnic tensions between the Japanese and Chinese began to bubble to the surface once again, and the western Allies’ negligent complacency due to their wish to avoid utilization of force allowed the seeds of the Second World War to be sown. In their mission to avoid to war and cement peace, the Allies instead allowed war to happen. With the rise of Nazism in Germany and the cementing of fascism in Italy, the Empire of Japan began to militarize, a practice condemned by the League of Nations, a multinational coalition that possessed little bite to its bark. In September 1931 a bomb blast in China’s northeastern province of Manchuria caused mild damage to the Japanese South Manchuria Railway, a rail line established in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War following the 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth. The blast itself caused little damage to the rail line, yet prompted the Japanese to dispatch an entire military force into Manchuria to subdue the Chinese insurgents they regarded as responsible. The Empire of Japan, which had grown increasingly hostile to its neighbors throughout the Meiji Reform of the 1860s and well into the 20th Century, had drawn up contingency plans for an invasion of Manchuria, a region rich in natural resources. Japan lacked the majority of natural resources necessary to wage war, such as oil and rubber, and even rice, all of which needed to be imported, and so recognized the opportunity for conquest in Asia, something the Japanese deemed the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, an economic sphere of influence centered on the Empire of Japan and consisting of every nation in Southeast Asia. The formation of the Co-Prosperity Sphere would, as the Japanese also recognized, force the United States, France, the Netherlands, and Great Britain into war with the Empire of Japan, as their Asian colonial possessions would come under fire from Japanese forces, yet the Japanese were content with an invasion of China that went relatively uncontested, aside from prompting the United States to issue the Stimson Doctrine in 1932, named for Secretary of State under Herbert Hoover Henry Stimson, which stated the United States would not recognize any territorial possession acquired from one country by another by the utilization of force or military influence, implying the Japanese invasion and annexation of Manchuria, which they later renamed Manchukuo and placed under the leadership of Puyi, a puppet leader to gain the support of the Chinese and the last of the Qing Dynasty emperors.
The Japanese invasion of China went without serious contest from the Chinese as well, as they were deeply entrenched in a civil war between the Nationalist, or Kuomintang, forces under Chiang Kai-shek, and the Communist forces under Mao Zedong following the end of a period known as the War Lord Period of the 1920s, which commenced after the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in the wake of the 1901 Boxer Rebellion and the death of Sun Yat-sen, a well liked and respected politician. Sun’s death left the capacity of the president of the Republic of China in the hands of Chiang Kai-shek, who failed to maintain good relations with the Communist sect under Mao Zedong, plummeting the country into the War Lord Period, and later throwing it head-long into a civil war that would not end until 1949. The Chinese deeply engrossed in a civil war heated by political tension, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria went without serious opposition from the Chinese, although Kuomintang troops manned positions along the boundary between Manchuria and the southern Chinese provinces to act as a buffer against further Japanese territorial aggression. Throughout the 1930s, Japanese forces probed deeper into Chinese territory, pushing toward Peking, the Chinese capital. Tensions began to escalate as the Japanese Kwantung Army under General Hideki Tojo moved still further south, forcing the Kuomintang into constant contact with the Communists, yet after the 1935 Long March from Jiangxi to Shaanxi Province the pressure was relieved to a certain extent, allowing Chiang’s forces to focus more on the Japanese incursion as the Communists moved west toward the Tibetan Plateau. Skirmishes between Japanese forces and Kuomintang troops had sprung up in the north throughout the early to mid-1930s, resulting in very little political or military retaliation from either side, yet in July 1937, the slow moving Japanese incursion into northern China from Manchuria finally exploded into war with a shootout between Japanese and Chinese troops near the Marco Polo Bridge outside Peking. The shootout was large enough to prompt the Japanese to almost immediately declare war, allowing for a massive influx of Japanese troops south from Manchuria into the whole of China. The Japanese invasion impelled the Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-shek to pursue an uneasy peace with the Communists to combat the foreign incursion, essentially following the doctrine of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, putting the civil war on hold until the Japanese were repulsed. As the Japanese advanced further south against stiffening Chinese resistance, the Japanese began to utilize terror tactics to subdue the Chinese, such as the incident that became known as the Rape of Nanjing, in which Japanese forces seized the Kuomintang capital and after looting it and slaughtering the majority of its inhabitants, burned it to the ground, as well as the bombing of Shanghai, in which the Imperial Japanese Air Force dropped incendiary explosives on the civilian inhabitants of the city. The brutal, remorseless Japanese war in China caused the League of Nations to retaliate with political force, prompting the Japanese to in turn vacate its seat in the League. As a new decade dawned in 1940, the Japanese war against the Chinese had continued along its incredibly destructive path, with Japanese troops committing horrific war crimes, such as summary executions, looting, and rape. That same year, Japanese political pressure had forced the British government in Burma to close the Burma Road, a 700-mile unpaved road running from Rangoon to Lashio. The Road had only been in service for two years before the Japanese forced its shut down due to fears that British troops were supplying Chinese guerrillas in Yunnan Province. Similarly, the French were forced to bow to Japanese political pressure to shut down a road running from Hanoi, in Vietnam, to Kunming. After the French refusal to do so, the Japanese invaded French Indochina. The French were in a difficult political position, considering the French Third Republic had been dissolved following the German invasion of May 10th, 1940, and the Vichy French government was, on paper, allied with the Axis Powers, putting the French in an awkward position regarding its negotiations with the Japanese. The Japanese war in China was catching a vast amount of flak not only from the League of Nations yet also from the United States, whose president, Franklin Roosevelt, possessed a special emotional connection to China dating back to his childhood, and pursued a policy to protect it against foreign transgression.
1940 was a year of mounting political tension between the United States and the Empire of Japan, and turned Japanese aggression from the western Allies as a whole toward the United States. Japanese aggression in China severely violated the rules of war and the statutes established under the Geneva Convention, as well as violating human rights. The war saw horrific atrocities committed on both sides, yet the most high profile being committed by the Japanese Kwantung Army. The United States, although isolationist on paper, began to pass legislation to prevent further Japanese aggression in China, sucking itself into war with the Japanese, and throwing the two nations on a collision course that would result in the December 7th, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. With Japan’s alliance to Germany and Italy, both of which were at war with France and Great Britain, nations unofficially allied to the United States, as well as the war in China, the invasion of Indochina, and withdrawal from the League of Nations, the United States and Japan became increasingly politically polarized, increasing tensions still. The United States responded to these events by a scrap metal embargo by ordering the Panama Canal, an American possession, to be closed to Japanese shipping or foreign shipping bound for Japan. The Japanese seemed almost to ignore these events, and in 1941, began to advance further south into French Indochina, threatening British positions in Burma and Malaya, as well as Dutch positions in the Dutch East Indies. The United States responded to this turn of events with its most powerful pieces of legislation: an oil embargo and freeze of Japanese assets. The embargo hit especially close to home for the Japanese, considering 80 percent of Japanese oil was imported from the United States, while the other 20 was imported from the Dutch colonial possession of Java. At first, the Dutch remained neutral in its regards to the embargo, but in the summer of 1941 joined. In the spring of 1941, the United States also passed the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, allowing American ships to carry supplies of war to American allies combating belligerents overseas although the United States still considered itself nominally neutral. The Lend-Lease Act focused the majority of its attention on Great Britain and the Soviet Union, but did send supplies to the beleaguered Chinese under Chiang Kai-shek as well. Tensions continued to mount. On top of these events, American Army Air Force colonel Claire Chennault, a friend of Chiang Kai-shek and Madame Chiang living in China, visited the United States and purchased American-built Curtiss P-40 Warhawks and employed American pilots to fly the aircraft in what became known as the 1st American Volunteer Group, or better known by its alternative nickname, the Flying Tigers. The only catch to piloting in the Tigers was that the pilot would have to resign from his original unit. These American pilots flew alongside Chinese pilots, as well as trained them for dogfights against Japanese pilots who flew vastly superior aircraft. With American and Japan locked in a downward spiral that could only lead to war, the Japanese ambassador to the United States, Kichisaburo Nomura, entered into negotiations with the United States government, particularly Secretary of State Cordell Hull, to keep the two nations from entering into war, although both nation’s respective leaders were fully aware that war was now unavoidable. The previous year, in 1940, President Roosevelt had signed into law the Selective Service and Training Act of 1940, bolstering America’s military by over one million men between the ages of 18 and 65. As negotiations were underway between Nomura and Hull, the Japanese deployed Ensign Takeo Yoshikawa of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s intelligence service to Pearl Harbor to map the harbor, provide which ships were stationed there and where, as well as set up a time and date for a potential attack, although Yoshikawa was never told directly that an attack would fall there. In Tokyo, Emperor Hirohito was prepared to sever negotiations with the United States in preparation for a war he knew all too well was coming. The Japanese Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere was beginning to fall into place, and the Japanese knew they had very little time left to pursue their international strategy. With the myriad embargoes incurred by the United States, the Japanese were sitting on roughly a year and a half’s worth of oil and other natural resources. In 1941, American President Franklin Roosevelt called for an additional 150 ships to be constructed for the United States Navy. The Japanese estimated they possessed roughly six months of safe passage between an attack on the United States or its possessions in the Pacific before a significant American retaliation could materialize. The Japanese knew that their advance into the Pacific would come in contact with the United States, and considering the American government was not wrapped in conflict with Nazi Germany and Italy like the other western Allies with colonial possessions in the Pacific, the Japanese also knew the United States would become fully committed to fighting against the Japanese without the distraction of conflict in Europe, although this would later prove false with Hitler’s December 10th declaration of war. The Philippine archipelago, an American possession, stood as the threshold to Southeast Asia, and the United States Navy was the only real force capable of rivaling the Imperial Japanese Navy in strength and training, yet the Japanese possessed far more experience in conflict in China and Indochina. The United States, also aware war loomed over the horizon, attempted to de-crypt Japanese messages being sent to and from Tokyo on what became known as the Purple cipher in order to understand Japanese intentions. A fourteen-piece declaration of war was dispatched from Tokyo to Nomura’s office in Washington with instructions to be delivered at 1 p.m on Sunday, December 7th. Deciphering errors and poor timing between Tokyo and the Washington embassy caused the message to actually reach the office of Cordell Hull, whose office the declaration was to be sent to, to reach him several hours after the attack, giving the attack on Pearl Harbor an especially subversive tone in American history, with a surprise attack regarded in Japanese military doctrine as honorable and commendable, while in American military doctrine regarded as insulting and dastardly. As negotiations continued in Washington, war loomed over the horizon. The Japanese had completed plans for a strike against Pearl Harbor to neutralize the American Pacific Fleet, as well as for assaults on Guam, Wake Island, and the Philippines. The attack on Pearl Harbor, known as Operation AI, fell under the direction of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, a nearly forty year veteran of the Imperial Japanese Navy, as well as a veteran of the 1905 Battle of Tsushima Strait, where he lost two of the fingers on his left hand, a wound accurately portrayed in the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora! Yamamoto would not actually be present during the attack, but instead command from the Home Islands, leaving the task force assaulting the naval base at Pearl Harbor, a force of six aircraft carriers, under the command of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. The choice to leave the assault in the hands of Nagumo was an odd one, considering Yamamoto actually wished to avoid war. Yamamotos’ selection is similar to that of General William Howe in the American Revolution, who was selected by the British to command forces in Boston although he actually supported the revolution and the American cause. The attack would coincide with strikes against other American possessions, as well as the invasion of the remainder of Indochina, and strikes toward the Dutch East Indies and Singapore. With the estimated time constraints, the Japanese set about readying themselves for war. The blow against Pearl Harbor was said to fall on Sunday, December 7th, 1941. The selection of a Sunday was made by Ensign Yoshikawa after he stated that the majority of American naval personnel would be in church on a Sunday morning rather than manning their posts. With the intelligence gathered by Yoshikawa about the location of the battleships, as well as the timing and location of American air fields near the battleships, allowed the Japanese to plan the mission with expert timing. On the night of December 6th, President Roosevelt contacted Emperor Hirohito in an effort to console their differences. It was too late. The Japanese task force would be in position the following morning.
The first wave of Japanese aircraft departed from their carriers early on the morning of December 7th, 1941, headed for the island of Oahu, where Pearl Harbor was located. The Americans believed Pearl Harbor would be the perfect naval base to protect against an outside attack, considering the water in the harbor was far too shallow to allow a torpedo to arm properly, or so they believed. The Japanese remedied this by attaching wooden fins to the backs of their torpedoes to allow for buoyancy in the shallow harbor. Around 4 a.m on the 7th, a destroyer, the U.S.S. Ward, patrolling the antisubmarine net around the Harbor spotted a periscope, and, after dropping depth charges, rammed the intrusive craft, killing the two Japanese crewmen aboard. The Americans had unwittingly fired the first shots of the Pacific War. The skipper of the Ward, Lieutenant Commander William Outerbridge, telephoned his commander of the incident, but he was told to merely ignore it. As Japanese aircraft approached the islands with the rising sun, a good omen, behind them, the American radar station at Diamond Head bluff spotted the aircraft. The men manning the position telephoned their commander, but he told them it was a flight of B-17 Flying Fortresses coming in from San Diego. The Japanese aircraft were coming from the southwest. The bombers would have been coming in from northeast, the opposite direction. The first wave of Japanese aircraft arrived low and, just prior to dropping explosives and strafing the naval personnel, were thought to be American pilots breaking flying protocol, and by some even to be Russian aircraft. Yet as the bombing began, the men soon realized the aircraft to be Japanese. Two waves of Japanese aircraft attacked the Harbor, destroying nearly two hundred aircraft and sinking or damaging all eight battleships stationed at the Harbor. There was a third wave ready to assault the oil reserves, yet Admiral Nagumo chose not to launch it in fear that American warships were en route to attack the Japanese task force, and chose rather to withdraw when the second wave had landed. The primary Japanese targets had been the three American aircraft carriers stationed at Pearl Harbor, yet all were absent when the bombing began. The U.S.S. Lexington was delivering aircraft to Midway Island, the U.S.S. Enterprise was delivering aircraft to Wake Island, and the U.S.S. Saratoga was undergoing repairs in San Diego when the attack commenced. Nagumo feared the absent carriers would return as the attack was underway and threaten his position, and so he withdrew, sparing Pearl Harbor from imminent destruction. Hours later, the fourteen part declaration of war was placed on the desk of Secretary of State Cordell Hull, who angrily ordered Nomura to leave his office when he attempted to console the fuming Secretary of State. The following day, President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on the Empire of Japan. The vote was unanimous, save for one dissenter, Senator Jeanette Rankin, a pacifist from Montana. The Empire of Japan and the United States were at war.
The early days of the war were troubling for the United States. Humiliating losses at the Java Sea and Makassar Strait, as well as the Bismarck Sea, resulted in the dissolution of a short-lived multinational task force composed of naval forces from Australia, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States, known as the ABDA Command. In late February, British General Arthur Percival surrendered Singapore and its rich bounty of 50,000 British troops to the Japanese. Two months earlier, in mid-December, the British suffered the loss of the heavy battle cruisers H.M.S. Prince of Wales and H.M.S. Repulse in the South China Sea. By April 1942, the American position in the Philippines had become untenable. The troops in Bataan, starving to death and desperately low on ammunition, surrendered, while the men on the island fortress of Corregidor, in Manila Harbor, fought until early May. General Douglas MacArthur, recommissioned in the United States military following the attack on Pearl Harbor, had been withdrawn in March 1942 to Australia to command a new force of American Marines dispatched there for future offensive action. By May 1942, the Japanese sphere of influence stretched from Manchuria to New Guinea. The Allies were nearly incapable of securing a victory against this seemingly unstoppable juggernaut, but on April 18th, 1942, a force of sixteen American B-25 Mitchell light bombers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle struck Tokyo from the deck of the recently commissioned U.S.S. Hornet. The Japanese nicknamed the raid the “Do-Little” or “Do-Nothing” raid, yet in reality its physical damage paled in comparison to its strike at Japanese morale. The Japanese realized Americans could strike them no matter how far the Home Islands were from the United States. It also showed that although the Americans had suffered severe setbacks in the early days of the war, they were far from defeated. In early May 1942, a Japanese task force consisting of three aircraft carriers was deployed near the southeastern coast of New Guinea in an effort to assist in landing troops near Port Moresby to subdue Australian resistance. The task force arrived in the Coral Sea to find itself face to face with an American carrier force under Admiral Frank Fletcher, and following four days of combat, the Japanese withdrew, saving the Australians from utter destruction had the carriers been allowed to strike. The battle of the Coral Sea had resulted in the loss of the Japanese carrier I.J.N Shoho (improperly named the Ryukaku in American news reports after the battle) and damaging the carriers Zuikaku and Shokaku. In response, the Japanese destroyed the carrier Lexington and damaged the Yorktown. The loss of the Lexington forced Fletcher to spend the next month behind a desk after being chewed out for losing a fleet carrier, a loss the United States Navy could not afford, especially this early in the war, when American industry was just beginning to convert to producing wartime materials. As spring turned to summer, Station HYPO, an American deciphering station in Pearl Harbor, worked round the clock to break the Japanese JN-25 naval code, the code the Japanese were utilizing to encrypt inter-fleet messages. JN-25 code encrypted Japanese messages into 5-digit numbers with 30,000 possible combinations for these numbers. If a certain word was repeated more often than others, an additional 100,000 combinations were available to replace that word. A code book and deciphering table were available aboard every Japanese warship in the Pacific, and were normally switched out every few weeks to deter Allied cryptanalysts, yet the lack of real combat between February and May led the Japanese to become complacent regarding their code, and many encoders began to repeat words without cycling them out and replacing them with another 5-digit code number, leading to regularities in the code. By the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the men at Station HYPO under Lieutenant Commanders Edwin Layton and Joseph Rochefort had roughly 10 percent of the code broken, and by the time of the battle of Midway, roughly two thirds of the code had been successfully broken. Hiring mathematicians and utilizing IBM punch card tabulators, as well as the band from the battleship California, the men began to break the code, eventually learning of a future Japanese attack on something called “AF”. Admiral Chester Nimitz, recently appointed to command the American Pacific Fleet, believed AF to be the island of Midway, and ordered Rochefort to tell the men on Midway to dispatch a decoded message saying they were low on fresh water. Hours later, a message arrived at Station HYPO from the Japanese fleet. After being deciphered, the message stated AF was low on fresh water. The target of the assault was indeed Midway. Task Forces 16 and 17 were placed on full alert, and immediately dispatched for Midway Atoll, with the still-wounded carrier Yorktown having undergone only 72 hours’ worth of repairs in San Diego. Nimitz appointed the ostracized Frank Fletcher to command the joint task forces, receiving copious amounts of flack from the Navy Department for his choice in commander due to Fletcher’s loss of the Lexington, but Nimitz had confidence in Fletcher, and appointed Admiral Raymond Spruance as his executive officer. Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, Jr., the commander of the U.S.S. Enterprise and overall commander of Task Force 16, entrusted the command originally to Spruance, who he named as his temporary successor following his return from several raids in the Marshall Islands. Halsey had been conducting relatively ineffective raids against Japanese positions on Eniwetok, Kwajalein, Roi, and Namur for the past six months for real no strategic purpose except that it looked good in newspapers to show that the United States Navy was doing something mildly successful in the wake of Pearl Harbor, yet months at sea had allowed a particularly brutal case of psoriasis, a chronic skin condition Halsey had been a long time sufferer of, to flare up, crippling him, and forcing him to relinquish his command of Task Force 16 to Spruance. Yet Nimitz was reluctant to trust Spruance with command, and instead interviewed Fletcher, the commander of Task Force 17 and the senior of the two men. After determining that his combat actions during the battle of Coral Sea were up to par with Navy standards and that the loss of the Lexington was inevitable, Nimitz instead entrusted the command of the two joint task forces, consisting of the carrier U.S.S. Yorktown, Hornet, and Enterprise. The Japanese would be assaulting Midway with four carriers, all of which had participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor (the other two, Shokaku and Zuikaku, were undergoing repairs in the Caroline Islands due to damage suffered during the battle of the Coral Sea), the I.J.N. Akagi, Hiryu, Soryu, and Kaga. The stage was set for the most climactic, and the most decisive, naval battle of the Pacific theater of the Second World War.
Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, commander of the First Air Fleet, Japan’s premier aircraft carrier task force, would selected by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet and mastermind of the attack on Pearl Harbor, to command the strike against Midway, regarded by the Japanese Imperial High Command as the most glorious capture since the fall of the Philippines in May. With fighting raging against Australian and New Zealand troops on the island of New Guinea and with the first American troop ships from the continental United States arriving in New Caledonia and New Zealand, with an additional hundreds of thousands of American troops stationed in Australia, the Japanese needed to strike fast. With Midway as the most accessible target, the Japanese attempted to conceal the strike by assaulting the islands of Kiska and Attu in the Alaskan Aleutian Archipelago simultaneously, bombing the American garrison at Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island before wading ashore under little to no resistance. Within the next few months, American forces, primarily those of the First Special Service Force, with the assistance of the Alaskan Scouts and Canadian troops, weeded those Japanese forces out. Lack of proper naval support due to the sheer distance between the Home Islands and the Aleutians, and with Alaska’s proximity to the United States and American naval and air superiority, the odds were stacked against the Japanese forces designated to assault the islands. Following the March 1943 Battle of the Bering Sea, American naval superiority was firmly established, forcing the Japanese to supply the beleaguered men on Kiska and Attu via submarine, as it would be far too dangerous to attempt such a feat with a surface vessel, and supplies steadily decreased to an unreliable trickle. Following a successful landing on the island of Attu and the defeat of the Japanese forces there in May 1943, the Allies turned their attention to Kiska in August, with planning for Operation Cottage going into effect, yet, unbeknownst to American and Canadian intelligence personnel, the Japanese had abandoned their positions on the island two weeks earlier, and when Allied troops landed, the only resistance they came against came from the weather, booby traps and landmines placed by the Japanese, and incidences of friendly fire between confused soldiers. On June 4th, 1942, the Japanese were in close enough proximity to Midway to begin bombing the islands, yet the majority of aircraft had already been evacuated and were airborne, flying amongst the Japanese fighters and bomber aircraft, causing temporary chaos yet ultimately, their bulky, cumbersome Brewster Buffalo aircraft were bested by the agile, rapid might of the Mitsubishi Zero, an aircraft still unconquered by the United States Navy (ironically, the solution to this problem would come from a crashed Zero in the Aleutian Islands that was reverse engineered by American intelligence personnel). As the Japanese completed their bombing and returned their carriers, the leader of the first wave, stepping in in place of Lieutenant Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, the commander of the first wave against Pearl Harbor who was crippled due to an emergency appendectomy prior to the attack, radioed Admiral Nagumo and informed him a second wave would be needed immediately to suppress the islands, as the first wave had been unsuccessful in completing any real goal. Nagumo made the decision to arm his second wave bombers with high explosive unguided bombs, but delayed the order to takeoff, waiting for the first wave to return. Soon, reports came in from reconnaissance aircraft that they had spotted American aircraft carriers, and Nagumo chose to remove the bombs and instead replace them with torpedoes. Yet it was too late. As the rearming was underway, the first American torpedo bombers fell upon the bewildered Japanese fleet, dispensing high explosives about. Between June 4th and June 6th, 1942, the Task Forces 16 and 17 sank all four Japanese aircraft carriers and one cruiser, damaging or destroying an additional 248 aircraft, with the loss of just the already-crippled Yorktown and one destroyer, with close to 150 aircraft destroyed or damaged. Combat initiative had shifted greatly in the Allies’ favor, shaping the Pacific war for a future Allied victory, as the war would be decided not by who had the most troops, but by who had the most aircraft carriers. By 1945, the United States Pacific Fleet would wield 40 fleet carriers, as opposed to the Imperial Japanese Navy’s one, which was not even serviceable.
As June and July passed, the 1st Marine Division, under the command of General Alexander Vandegrift, was prepared and equipped for the first American land offensive of the Second World War, beating out Operation Torch by two months. It was code-named Operation Watchtower, with the blow designated to fall on the island of Guadalcanal, one of the largest in the Solomon Archipelago. With heavy fighting still raging outside Port Moresby between Australian and Japanese troops, Guadalcanal would be the beginning of an overall American offensive known as Operation Cartwheel, designed by General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz to isolate and destroy the Japanese naval installation at Rabaul on the island of New Britain. Rabaul had been a port administered by the Australian government on the island of New Britain, within the administrative range of New Guinea. In January 1942, the first Japanese forces landed as part of Operation R, and by early February, provisional Australian forces had either been captured, killed, or withdrawn as part of Japan’s stunning early successes, something shared between Nazi Germany and Japan, where both had early successes with almost simultaneous reverses, yet Japan suffered from an inherent inability to adapt to defeat. Immediately, the Japanese set about establishing a massive naval port, surrounded by the Solomon island chain, and in late summer 1942, with the Solomons firmly in hand, the Japanese set about erecting airfields on the myriad tiny islands, and in late July, American reconnaissance reported the construction of a crushed coral airfield on Guadalcanal. With these airfields under construction, and with a strong Japanese presence on the shipping and communications lanes between the United States and Australia, an assault would soon be underway. And General Vandegrift’s men of the 1st Marine Division were slated to launch the assault. Originally at the forefront of American military movements, primarily during the First World War, such as at Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood, the Marines had taken a backseat to the United States Army, which had already begun to be shipped to England to prepare to fight German troops in Africa and the Mediterranean, yet the Marines would actually see the first American land offensive of the Second World War. During the night of August 6th, the American fleet under Admiral Frank Fletcher arrived on Guadalcanal, their arrival shielded by foul weather. On August 7th, 1942, under the naval gunfire of the battleship U.S.S. North Carolina and the roaring engines of F4F Wildcat and SBD Dauntless aircraft from the carriers U.S.S. Enterprise, Saratoga, and Wasp, the men of the 1st Marines were driven to shore by Higgins landing craft, fearful of Japanese shore defenders and what they thought would be their immediate demise, yet when the bow ramps fell, they stormed ashore only to find that the Japanese defenders, primary construction teams under Captain Kanae Monzen, had been thunderstruck and panicked by the lightning rapidity of the American bombings, and had withdrawn west of the river Matanikau, abandoning the airfield under construction entirely. As American troops were wading ashore at Guadalcanal, armed with intelligence supplied by Australian coastwatcher Martin Clemens, Marine Raiders waded ashore on the islands of Tulagi and Gavutu-Tanambogo, across what became known as Iron Bottom Sound from Guadalcanal. As landings were underway on Guadalcanal, and with American troops having taken the airfield, renamed Henderson Field in honor of Major Lofton Henderson, who was killed during a daring raid on the aircraft carrier Hiryu during the battle of Midway, the Japanese Eighth Fleet, stationed at Rabaul, arrived on the night of August 8th-9th to contest the American landings. During the night, the Japanese fleet caught the American ships sleeping off Savo Island, and in a severely pitched battle during the night, the Japanese annihilated the American forces, exchanging fire at close range in some of the last battleship-against-battleship naval battles in history. After watching the battle during the night, Marines thought the battle was pitched in American favor, watching as ships exploded with ear-shattering force in the dark, only to awake the morning of August 9th to find that Fletcher’s fleet had scattered, nowhere in sight. All of their supplies and reinforcements had been withdrawn to a safer area of the Pacific to protect against further attacks. The 11,000 men on Guadalcanal under Vandegrift had been effectively marooned by their own fleet.
Following their successful capture of Henderson Field, the 1st Marines began to move gradually further south and west, establishing a foothold around Lunga Point and the river Lunga, against varying degrees of Japanese resistance. During the night of August 21st-22nd, American Marines were engaged in a suicidal Japanese Banzai charge led by Colonel Kiyonao Ichiki at the river Tenaru, otherwise known as “Alligator Creek”. The assault was repulsed with brutal force by the Americans, with photographs taken following the engagement displaying the bodies of Japanese soldiers cut down by a hail of machine gun and mortar fire half-buried in the mud of a sandbar near the mouth of the Tenaru. As fighting intensified between American and Japanese forces on Guadalcanal, Fletcher’s fleet attempted to find its way back to the beleaguered men on the island, yet continued to find itself bested by the Imperial Japanese Navy. On August 17th, in an effort to divert Japanese attention away from the intense fighting on Guadalcanal, 211 men of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, nicknamed “Carlson’s Raiders” after their commanding officer, General Evans Carlson, a no nonsense veteran of Marine campaigns in Nicaragua against Augusto Sandino and in Mexico to hunt the fugitive outlaw Francisco “Pancho” Villa, were transported to the island of Makin in the Gilbert archipelago aboard the submarine U.S.S. Nautilus. The Nautilus, named for the submarine in French author Jules Verne’s novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, was a V-boat, a Narwhal-class submarine built by the United States Navy between 1927 and 1930, and was far too large to be effective in combat, and instead was slated for clandestine operations. The men wading ashore off Makin atoll on the night of August 17th, 1942, were to conduct search and destroy operations targeting Japanese installations, primarily a radio station on the island, as well as to gather prisoners and intelligence regarding Japanese strength in the area, although landings in the Gilberts would not be underway until November of the following year. The raid was essentially designed to kill two birds with one stone: turn Japanese attention away from Guadalcanal, and gather intelligence and cause chaos behind enemy lines by doing so. The raid was partially successful, with the men slipping away in the early morning hours of August 18th. Back on Guadalcanal, American raids conducted by the 1st Marine Division had begun probing closer and closer to the river Matanikau, while at sea, fighting raged as the United States Navy attempted to breach the nearly inexorable wall of Japanese naval might surrounding the island. What came to be known colloquially as the “Tokyo Express”, these Japanese warships guarded a treasure trove of Japanese troop transports and supply ships making their way south toward Guadalcanal in order to resupply the men fighting on the island, yet unbeknownst to the Japanese troops stationed on Guadalcanal, the fighting would soon turn against them, not due to American superiority, but because of their own command. The Japanese began to switch their fighting preference from Guadalcanal to New Guinea, where American troops began arriving in late 1942 to bolster the strength of the Australian forces already fighting there around Gona and Buna. As fighting intensified at sea, primarily at the Santa Cruz islands near Guadalcanal, Tassafaronga, and Cape Esperance, with some of the last battles in which battleships exchanged fire at close range, within sight of one another, while simultaneously fumbling about in the dark, such as at Savo Island, the men on Guadalcanal began to probe deeper into the island, combating not just the Japanese, who utilized the natural foliage and intimidating terrain to their advantage, but also natural diseases such as bush typhus and dengue fever and the island itself while simultaneously repulsing suicidal counterattacks by Japanese troops aimed at taking back Henderson Field, and forcing the American troops back to the coast around Lunga Point, which nearly happened on the night of September 12th during what became known as the Battle of Bloody Ridge, in which a massive force of over 6,000 Japanese troops assaulted American positions around the airfield that were being manned by men of the 1st Marine Division, as well as mixed units of Marine Raiders to bolster their strength. The Japanese nearly broke through, yet due to massed, coordinated fire by American forces, the Japanese were drive back, taking nearly 800 casualties. During the heavy fighting, Sergeant John Basilone was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award in the United States military. Basilone would be the only enlisted Marine to receive the Medal of Honor during the entire Pacific war. He was killed on February 19th, 1945, while landing on the island of Iwo Jima in the Bonin Islands during Operation Detachment. By December 1942, the fighting on Guadalcanal had begun to gradually wind down as Japanese forces slowly abandoned their assaults on Henderson Field, withdrawing into the mountains by mid-autumn to shell American positions at a distance, prompting men of the recently-arrived 2nd Marine Division to move into the mountains after them, resulting in the battle of Mount Austen. By January 1943, the last Japanese troops on the island, dangerously low on ammunition, food, water, and medical supplies, and suffering from myriad diseases and relentless American ground and air assaults, conducted by the Cactus Air Force from Henderson Field, were withdrawn by the Tokyo Express, and evacuated to Rabaul. With Guadalcanal firmly in hand, American planners shifted their attention further north. General Douglas MacArthur wished to continue a rapid advance through the Pacific, with the overall goal of liberating the Philippines, which he had lost in May 1942 following his evacuation in March. After placing the command of the Philippine Scouts in the hands of General Jonathan Wainwright, the men fought to their last bullet, finally surrendering in April on Bataan and Corregidor in May, being marched north from Olingapo to Camp O’Donnell during what became known as the Bataan Death March. MacArthur had vowed that he would return to the Philippines, and that goal shaped his strategy in the years to come. But unfortunately for MacArthur, anything he could potentially do would be checked the Admiral Chester Nimitz, who had control of the ships that took his men around the Pacific. As the Marines and Army personnel who had participated in the fighting on Guadalcanal rested and relaxed in Australia and New Zealand, Allied planners laid out plans for further landings targeting Rabaul, as well as landings in the Southeastern Pacific on par with MacArthur’s “island hopping” campaign, or bypassing Japanese strongholds and assaulting lesser Japanese installations throughout the Pacific instead, essentially “hopping” through the islands to the Philippines, and then to the Japanese Home Islands. With landings underway on the island of Bougainville and Cape Gloucester during Operations Cherryblossom and Toenail, respectively, to suppress Rabaul, American attention shifted vastly to fighting in the Southeast Pacific and the advance to the Philippines. Fighting in New Guinea, New Britain, New Ireland, the Admiralty Islands, Bismarck Archipelago, and the northern Solomon Islands, which were all to be suppressed in order to in turn suppress the Japanese naval base at Rabaul, which was being continuously bombed by Allied raids, was to be conducted primarily under Australian leadership, due to the islands’ close proximity to Australia and Australia’s intense interest in the fighting there. In November 1943, with fighting raging on New Guinea (which would continue to the end of the war), American forces were underway with launching Operation Galvanic. Galvanic was designed to target the atolls of Tarawa and Makin in the Gilbert Archipelago, with landings being conducted utilizing a new form of amphibious landing craft, the “Alligator”. Designed as essentially an opened-topped amphibious tank, the Alligator Amtrak was capable of conquering coral reefs to bring men closer to the beach, and had a stern rather than a bow ramp, able to safely allow men to exit rather than being gunned down by a hail of bullets as the ramp lowered. On November 20th, men of the 2nd Marine Division came ashore at Makin under little enemy fire. Their landing craft crews overestimated the depth of the water, and ran themselves aground, forcing their payloads of armed men to wade ashore through waste deep water. The Japanese had moved further into the treeline, away from the water, and so the fighting would happen instead inside the island, ending on the 23rd. On Tarawa, the situation was much worse than anticipated. Overconfidence in the initial Amtrak design caused many of the drivers to underestimate the depth of the water, and, after many conquered coral reefs, the drivers mistakenly thought they had reached dry land. The ramps lowered, and many of the Marines found themselves floundering in water that, in some cases, was well over their head. Many drowned due to the weight of their gear, while over 2,000 others were cut down in the lagoon attempting to wade ashore in water that ranged from neck to waste deep. After three days of bitter combat atop the island, through coral and foliage, destroying Japanese naval artillery converted to fire on land, and simultaneously rooting out the island’s 5,000 defenders, of which only 125 survived. The fighting on Tarawa had proved that the campaign to advance to the Philippines would not be an easy one, and that it would be fraught with difficulties. The Japanese had not fought with so much conviction on Guadalcanal or Cape Gloucester, and Tarawa had proven that they would fight and die for every inch of ground, taking as many Americans with them as they could.
American attention focused continuously on the islands, even as fighting on New Guinea and Bougainville intensified, as well as fighting in Burma, where British, Kuomintang Chinese, and American forces under General Joseph Stilwell attempted to root out Japanese troops in the jungle bordering British India. Yet the United States, even with several hard-fought victories under their belt, were far from full victory over the Japanese. Even with Rabaul neutralized and fighting gravitating more toward New Guinea, America was forced to contend with significant, and determined, Japanese resistance. Most claim that the first battle on true Japanese soil, and last battle of the Pacific war, was Okinawa, American forces in the Pacific were fighting Japanese troops who were defending what they believed were their territories, adding more conviction to their defense, alongside their suicidal Bushido code, a military order that commanded that a soldier commit ritualistic suicide rather than face humiliation, not just to themselves yet also to their families, by surrendering, hence suicidal Japanese tendencies during the war, such as Banzai charges and the Kamikaze program. As fighting moved slowly north throughout the mid-1940s, with the landings at Tarawa and Makin in November 1943, and landings at Cape Gloucester by the 1st Marine Division in December of that year to neutralize Rabaul, which would collapse the following year, American Army command under MacArthur continued to focus on the Philippines, while the Navy, under Nimitz, continued to focus the majority of its attention on fighting in China and the potential for eliminating Japanese defenses on Formosa, present-day Taiwan, leading to a differing in opinion between MacArthur and Nimitz that would lead to a vying for power that would not end until President Roosevelt intervened, stating his personal wish would be for landings in the Philippines to be underway. As fighting moved north, with American landings at Eniwetok and Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands in January and February 1944 respectively, it could be seen that American command wished to isolate the Philippines as much as possible. The landings in the Marshall Islands went surprisingly well, as opposed to the landings in the Gilberts. As American forces came ashore at Eniwetok and Kwajalein, Admiral William Halsey’s fleet struck Truk Atoll in the Caroline Islands, the very same utilized to repair the damaged Japanese carriers that had participated in the battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, harboring a significant Japanese naval presence capable of jeopardizing the landings if it were able to get underway. Halsey’s assault on Truk essentially pinned the Japanese navy in the south down as American forces came ashore under little resistance. By spring 1944, as American forces had advanced nearly halfway toward the Home Islands from Guadalcanal in under two years against increasingly stiff resistance, manned by men steeped not only in military tradition yet also the power of belief and conviction in a cause they were not yet aware was lost, plans were made to land American forces in the Mariana Islands. Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States had controlled the island of Guam in the Marianas, taken from Spain in 1898 with no resistance after the American fleet under Captain Henry Glass arrived off the island and demanded the surrender of the Spanish garrison without the Spaniards knowing war had been declared, while the remainder of the Marianas were under Japanese control, taken from the Germans after Japan’s entry into the First World War in late 1914 to assist the Allies, not due to ideological similarities in their cause, but because of Japanese territorial ambitions, even though German possessions in China under Japanese control were wrenched from their hands by the Allies following the war. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, they simultaneously assaulted other American positions in the Pacific, notably on Guam and Wake Island, with Guam falling in one hour while Wake Island took nearly two weeks to capitulate. With American victories at Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Makin, Eniwetok, and Kwajalein throughout 1942 to 1944, as well as additional American involvement in New Guinea and Bougainville, momentum had built up behind the American cause, and by early 1944, strategy dictated a landing in the Marianas for two reasons. The first reason was that the Marianas acted as a liaison for the Japanese Imperial High Command between the Home Islands and garrisons in the Dutch East Indies and New Guinea. If this line of communication were to be severed, it would spell doom for the men in Southeast Asia (hence the myriad tiny Japanese strongholds that still believed war was being fought well into the 1970s due to lack of news to the contrary). The second was that American long-range Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers, the first pressurized aircraft in history, would be within flying distance of the Home Islands if the Marianas were taken. Superfortress bombers had undergone field testing and had attempted their first bombing raids of the Home Islands from China during Operation Matterhorn at the behest of newly-promoted General Claire Chennault, former commander of the infamous Flying Tigers who now acted as a liaison to Kuomintang Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, although Chennault’s decision to launch bombers from vulnerable airfields in China had been heavily contested by General Joseph Stilwell. Stilwell’s no-nonsense, uncensored, frank attitude had earned him a backseat with most Allied commanders, who deemed him crass and offensive, even though he was more realistic than they liked to admit. Stilwell had long hated Chiang Kai-shek due to his corrupt behavior regarding treatment of his soldiers, as well as funds and material supplied at tax payers’ expense by the United States, and Chennault’s alliance with Chiang had earned him the fury of Stilwell. Yet Stilwell’s decision not to launch B-29s from China was not due to his rivalry with Chennault, but instead due to the fact that the majority of airfields in China these new, prototypical aircraft were being launched from were far too vulnerable, and could easily be overrun by Japanese troops as soon as they discovered those airfields to be the source of the marauding bombers. And that is precisely what happened, prompting American generals to rethink their strategy. Japan was clearly demonstrating it possessed the upper hand in China, forcing American commanders to turn their attention to the Marianas, within range of Japan and also much safer to launch raids from. On June 15th, 1944, the first American soldiers stormed ashore at Saipan, tipping off Operation Forager, the invasion of the Mariana Archipelago.
71,000 American soldiers of the 2nd Marine, 4th Marine, and 27th Infantry Divisions stormed ashore on Saipan under General Holland Smith. Standing against them: 31,000 Japanese troops of the 43rd Infantry Division under General Yoshitsugu Saito. The American forces were targeting the center of the island, ridge of highlands that controlled a dominating view of the island and could be controlled to guide artillery fire at whoever occupied the lowland. Dominating these highlands was Mount Tapotchau, 1,500-foot jungle-coated mountain within the hands of the Japanese troops controlling the island. As American forces came ashore on Saipan on June 15th, they came under an intense volume of Japanese small arms and artillery fire, stalling the invasion’s pace, although the Japanese High Command had been expecting the American landings to be launched further south than their actual landing point, along the southwestern coast of the island. As fighting unraveled, the 4th Marine Division directed its attention south toward the island’s airfield, while the 2nd Marine Division turned its attention toward Mount Tapotchau in the center of the island and what became known as Purple Heart Ridge and Death Valley, the only two logical approaches to the mountain’s slopes, bringing with them Navajo “wind-talkers”, men trained to speak Navajo, an American Indian dialect that could not be understood by Japanese troops attempting to decipher American radio traffic. Fighting began to intensify in late June, just as the Imperial Japanese Navy dispatched a large task force, consisting of five Japanese fleet carriers, the I.J.N. Shokaku, Zuikaku, Taiho, Hiyo, and Junyo, as well as support from the battleships Yamato and Musashi, the largest battleships ever created. The task force was designed to contest American landings on Saipan, and came into contact with Admiral Halsey’s 5th Fleet on June 19th, tipping off the battle of the Philippine Sea. The largest naval engagement since Bismarck Sea in March of the previous year, the fighting began to intensify as American submarines entered the fray, and the first aircraft were disembarked to gain air superiority. As dogfights exploded in the skies of the Philippine Sea, as did clouds of flak as hundreds of Japanese torpedo bombers fell upon the American fleet. In total, between June 19th and the 20th, 1944, over 373 Japanese aircraft were launched, with only 130 returning to their carriers, and during the fighting, Shokaku, Taiho, and Hiyo were struck from a combination of torpedo aircraft and submarines, sinking. In return, the Americans suffered a single battleship damaged during the fighting. What became known as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”, the battle of the Philippine Sea dashed Japan’s dreams of crushing the American landings on Saipan, and would lead to the suicide of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, who had assumed command of the Japanese Combined Fleet after the death of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto after his plane was shot down near Bougainville in April 1943. By early July, it had appeared to the Japanese that Saipan would soon be lost. As news of Nagumo’s death and the destruction of the remainder of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s offensive capability, the remaining 500 Japanese troops on Saipan, who had been forced from their roost on Tapotchau and into the dense jungle near the mountain’s base, launched a suicidal banzai charge against American positions on July 9th, 1944, the largest banzai charge in the entire Pacific war. By October 1944, the first B-29 Superfortress bombers began landing on Saipan. My grandfather was among the flight crew of these aircraft, serving as a flight engineer who would later receive the Distinguished Flying Cross after saving the life of a fellow crewman whose arm was blown off during a raid over the Home Islands. The arrival of Superfortress bombers prompted Japanese aircraft based on the volcanic island of Iwo Jima, which had begun to be garrisoned early in 1944 in order to launch air raids into the Pacific, had begun to assault American bases in the Marianas in early November, giving more justification to future American landings on Iwo Jima. Following the victory on Saipan, American soldiers attempted to negotiate with the native Japanese inhabitants of the island, who had been living there following Japan’s seizure of the Marianas in the First World War. The Japanese inhabitants, numbering close to 30,000, had been told by the Japanese troops defending the island that the Americans were not taking prisoners and that horrible things would happen to them if they attempted to surrender, such as rape and murder. American soldiers were unaware of these rumors until the first Japanese civilians began leaping from cliffs on the north side of the island, plunging to their death. Following the victory on Saipan, American attention turned to Guam, struck on July 21st, and Tinian, struck on July 24th, although Guam would actually be the last to fall. Fighting on Guam and Tinian proved to be almost identical to that of Saipan, with Japanese troops retreating during the day, luring American forces further inland, and assaulting during the night in daring raids and bayonet charges. The terrain of Tinian was also much gentler than that of Saipan, with the latter being heavily forested and having a veritable spine of rugged mountains, while Tinian was relatively flat. This allowed Japanese forces to utilize armor to their advantage. As fighting intensified on Guam and Tinian, American Corsair fighter aircraft, newly arrived to replace the existing F6F Hellcat fighter aircraft in service, began dropping napalm, a combination of petroleum jelly and white phosphorous. The heavily adhesive material would burn all that it touched, and could even burn underwater, removing heavy foliage and burning alive many Japanese troops hidden in the jungle. American forces began utilizing portable high explosives and flamethrowers to break Japanese positions, although both had been in service long before Operation Forager. By August 10th, the three Mariana Islands that had been assaulted were firmly in American hands, and American attention shifted to the Palau Islands, most notably Peleliu and Anguar, which would be assaulted during Operation Stalemate II in September 1944. Peleliu and Anguar would be the last islands taken before American forces began landing in the Philippines in autumn 1944, with the first American forces landing on Iwo Jima in February 1945 and Okinawa in April of that year. By summer 1945, if it was not clear before, it was clear then that Japan was finally losing the war. With the loss of the Mariana Islands in summer 1944, the Japanese defenses in the Pacific had had its heart ripped out, and the Home Islands had been placed within striking distance of long-range American bombers. Soon, American submarines began to place a stranglehold on Japanese shipping, making it impossible for Japanese merchantmen to venture into open waters for fear of being struck by American submarines. Submariners faced some of the most difficult tasks of the war, with one in five being killed in combat, and only eight submarine captains being awarded the Medal of Honor, all posthumously. Soon, American aircraft began to pummel Japanese cities with a combination of high explosives and incendiaries, taking the war home. But in the summer of 1944, with the war seeming so close to being over, that is far from truth.