WWII The Pacific Study Guide

Use these notes to help you on the DBQ & Multiple choice

Start of Conflict in the Pacific

Japanese expansion in East Asia began in late 1931 after the invasion of Manchuria, which ended the post-Great War peace, and causing the United States to conclude hostilities by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Throughout 1931 and 1945 the heated conflict expanded well beyond east Asia, and by 1941 World War II was a truly global war that spread quickly and involved many countries in most continents.

On September 27, 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, marking its entry into the military alliance known as the "Axis Powers." Seeking to curb Japanese aggression and force a withdrawal of Japanese military forces from Manchuria and China, the United States imposed economic sanctions on Japan. Japan was faced with severe shortages of oil and other natural resources and driven by the ambition to displace the United States as the dominant Pacific power. Ultimately, Japan decided to attack the United States and British forces in Asia and seize the resources of Southeast Asia.


The picture to the right is a self portrait of Fumimaro Konoe, Prime Minister of Japan 1937-1940

Japan in WWII

The global conflict started with Japan's attacks on China known as the conquest of Manchuria between 1931 and 1932. This was the first step in the revisionist process of expansionism and aggression. After the Great War, Japan had achieved great power status. It became one of the largest ruling and dominating countries in Asia. Manchuria had been originally Chinese territory but was occupied by Japanese authorities. For many years this land had been disputed. After a series of threats by China and seeing territorial control as essential to its survival, Japan launched a full-scale invasion of China in 1937. During the invasion of China, Japanese forces used methods of warfare that led to mass death and suffering on an unimaginable level. The Japanese had partial control over China in the 1930's even though Chinese resistance was prominent throughout the time of invasion by the Japanese.


On December 7, 1941 Japan launched a surprise attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack severely damaged the American fleet and prevented serious American interference with Japanese military operations for a while. As a reaction to this, the United States declared war on Japan. Following Germany's declaration of war on the United States, the United States also declared war on Germany.


After the attack on the U.S at Pearl Harbor, Japan achieved a long series of military successes. In December 1941, Guam and Wake Island fell to the power of the Japanese, which was also followed in 1942 by the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, and Burma. Australian and New Zealander forces in New Guinea and British forces in India were able to halt the Japanese advance in mid-1942.

Conflict in the Pacific

The turning point in the Pacific war came with the American naval victory in the Battle of Midway in June 1942, where the Japanese fleet sustained heavy losses and was turned back. In August 1942, American forces attacked the Japanese in the Solomon Islands, forcing a costly withdrawal of Japanese forces from the island of Guadalcanal in February 1943. The Allied forces slowly gained naval and air supremacy in the Pacific, and moved intelligently from island to island, conquering them and often sustaining significant casualties. The Japanese, however, managed to successfully defended their conquests on the Chinese mainland until 1945.

Late in 1944, American forces liberated the Philippines from Japan and began massive air attacks on Japan. In early 1945, American forces suffered heavy losses during the invasions of Iwo Jima in February and Okinawa in April, an island of strategic importance off the coast of the Japanese main islands. Despite these casualties and loses as well as suicidal Japanese air attacks known as "Kamikaze" attacks, American forces conquered Okinawa in mid-June 1945, which was a significant conquest for the American's and made Japan weaker.


Significant Bombings

Oe of the worst atomic bomb attacks in history is known as the bombing of Hiroshima. On August 6, 1945, the United States Air Force dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Tens of thousands of people died in the initial explosion, and many more died later on from radiation exposure. Three days later, the United States dropped a bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. About 120,000 civilians died as a result of the two blasts. The impact of the bombings continued well after August of 1945, debilitating the lives of survivors, who, because of their perceived atomic contamination from the bombs, also faced discrimination from their fellow citizens. Also, on August 8, 1945 the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and invaded the Japanese occupied territory of Manchuria.

After Japan agreed to surrender on August 14, 1945, American forces began to occupy Japan. Japan officially surrendered to the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union on September 2, 1945.