U.S. troops recapture Philippine island of Corregidor


Year
1945
Month Day
February 26

On February 26, an ammunition dump on the Philippine island of Corregidor is blown up by a remnant of the Japanese garrison, causing more American casualties on the eve of U.S. victory there.

In May 1942, Corregidor, a small rock island at the mouth of Manila Bay, remained one of the last Allied strongholds in the Philippines after the Japanese victory at Bataan. Constant artillery shelling and aerial bombardment attacks ate away at the American and Filipino defenders. 

Although still managing to sink many Japanese barges as they approached the northern shores of the island, the Allied troops could not hold the invader off any longer. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, commander of the U.S. armed forces in the Philippines, offered to surrender Corregidor to Japanese Gen. Masaharu Homma, but Homma wanted the complete, unconditional capitulation of all American forces throughout the Philippines. Wainwright had little choice given the odds against him and the poor physical condition of his troops—he had already lost 800 men. He surrendered at midnight. All 11,500 surviving Allied troops were evacuated to a prison stockade in Manila.

But the Americans returned to the Philippines in full strength in October 1944, beginning with the recapture of Leyte, the Philippines’ central island. It took 67 days to subdue, with the loss of more than 55,000 Japanese soldiers during the two months of battle, and approximately another 25,000 mopping up pockets of resistance in early 1945. The U.S. forces lost about 3,500.

Following the American victory of Leyte was the return of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the struggle for Luzon and the race for Manila, the Philippine capital. One week into the Allied battle for Luzon, U.S. airborne troops parachuted onto Corregidor to take out the Japanese garrison there, which was believed to be 1,000 strong, but was actually closer to 5,000. Fierce fighting resulted in the deaths of most of the Japanese soldiers, with the survivors left huddling in the Malinta Tunnel for safety. 

Ironically, the tunnel, 1,400 feet long and dug deep in the heart of Corregidor, had served as MacArthur’s headquarters and a U.S. supply depot before the American defeat there. MacArthur feared the Japanese soldiers could sit there for months. The garrison had no such intention, though, and ignited a nearby ammunition dump—an act of defiance, and possibly of mass suicide. 

Most of the Japanese were killed in the explosion, along with 52 Americans. Those Japanese who survived the blast were forced out into the open and decimated by the Americans. Corregidor was officially in American hands by early March.

READ MORE: Douglas MacArthur – General, WWII & Korean War

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Japan invades Hong Kong


Updated:
Original:
Year
1941
Month Day
December 18

Japanese troops land in Hong Kong on December 18, 1941, and slaughter ensues.

A week of air raids over Hong Kong, a British crown colony, was followed up on December 17 with a visit paid by Japanese envoys to Sir Mark Young, the British governor of Hong Kong. The envoys’ message was simple: The British garrison there should simply surrender to the Japanese—resistance was futile. The envoys were sent home with the following retort: “The governor and commander in chief of Hong Kong declines absolutely to enter into negotiations for the surrender of Hong Kong…”

The first wave of Japanese troops landed in Hong Kong with artillery fire for cover and the following order from their commander: “Take no prisoners.” Upon overrunning a volunteer antiaircraft battery, the Japanese invaders roped together the captured soldiers and proceeded to bayonet them to death. Even those who offered no resistance, such as the Royal Medical Corps, were led up a hill and killed.

The Japanese quickly took control of key reservoirs, threatening the British and Chinese inhabitants with a slow death by thirst. The Brits finally surrendered control of Hong Kong on Christmas Day.

The War Powers Act was passed by Congress on the same day, authorizing the president to initiate and terminate defense contracts, reconfigure government agencies for wartime priorities, and regulate the freezing of foreign assets. It also permitted him to censor all communications coming in and leaving the country.

FDR appointed the executive news director of the Associated Press, Byron Price, as director of censorship. Although invested with the awesome power to restrict and withhold news, Price took no extreme measures, allowing news outlets and radio stations to self-censor, which they did. Most top secret information, including the construction of the atom bomb, remained just that.

The most extreme use of the censorship law seems to have been the restriction of the free flow of “girlie” magazines to servicemen—including Esquire, which the Post Office considered obscene for its occasional saucy cartoons and pinups. Esquire took the Post Office to court, and after three years the Supreme Court ultimately sided with the magazine.

READ MORE: How Hong Kong Came Under ‘One Country, Two Systems’ Rule

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Battle of Midway ends

Year
1942
Month Day
June 07

On June 7, 1942, the Battle of Midway—one of the most decisive U.S. victories in its war against Japan—comes to an end. In the four-day sea and air battle, the outnumbered U.S. Pacific Fleet succeeded in destroying four Japanese aircraft carriers with the loss of only one of its own, the Yorktown, thus reversing the tide against the previously invincible Japanese navy.

In six months of offensives, the Japanese had triumphed in lands throughout the Pacific, including Malaysia, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, and numerous island groups. The United States, however, was a growing threat, and Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sought to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet before it was large enough to outmatch his own. A thousand miles northwest of Honolulu, the strategic island of Midway became the focus of his scheme to smash U.S. resistance to Japan’s imperial designs. Yamamoto’s plan consisted of a feint toward Alaska followed by an invasion of Midway by a Japanese strike force. When the U.S. Pacific Fleet arrived at Midway to respond to the invasion, it would be destroyed by the superior Japanese fleet waiting unseen to the west. If successful, the plan would eliminate the U.S. Pacific Fleet and provide a forward outpost from which the Japanese could eliminate any future American threat in the Central Pacific.

READ MORE: How Codebreakers Helped Secure U.S. Victory in the Battle of Midway

Unfortunately for the Japanese, U.S. intelligence broke the Japanese naval code, and the Americans anticipated the surprise attack. Three heavy aircraft carriers of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were mustered to challenge the four heavy Japanese carriers steaming toward Midway. In early June, U.S. command correctly recognized a Japanese movement against Alaska’s Aleutian Islands as a diversionary tactic and kept its forces massed around Midway. On June 3, the Japanese occupation force was spotted steaming toward the island, and B-17 Flying Fortresses were sent out from Midway to bomb the strike force but failed to inflict damage. Early in the morning on June 4, a PBY Catalina flying boat torpedoed a Japanese tanker transport, striking the first blow of the Battle of Midway.

Later that morning, an advance Japanese squadron numbering more than 100 bombers and Zero fighters took off from the Japanese carriers to bomb Midway. Twenty-six Wildcat fighters were sent up to intercept the Japanese force and suffered heavy losses in their heroic defense of Midway’s air base. Soon after, bombers and torpedo planes based on Midway took off to attack the Japanese carriers but failed to inflict serious damage. The first phase of the battle was over by 7:00 a.m.

In the meantime, 200 miles to the northeast, two U.S. attack fleets caught the Japanese force entirely by surprise. Beginning around 9:30 a.m., torpedo bombers from the three U.S. carriers descended on the Japanese carriers. Although nearly wiped out, they drew off enemy fighters, and U.S. dive bombers penetrated, catching the Japanese carriers while their decks were cluttered with aircraft and fuel. The dive-bombers quickly destroyed three of the heavy Japanese carriers and one heavy cruiser. The only Japanese carrier that initially escaped destruction, the Hiryu, loosed all its aircraft against the American task force and managed to seriously damage the U.S. carrier Yorktown, forcing its abandonment. At about 5:00 p.m., dive-bombers from the U.S. carrier Enterprise returned the favor, mortally damaging the Hiryu. It was scuttled the next morning.

READ MORE: 5 Things You Might Not Know About the Battle of Midway 

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto still had numerous warships at his command, but without his carriers and aircraft he was forced to abandon his Midway invasion plans and begin a westward retreat. On June 5, a U.S. task force pursued his fleet, but bad weather saved it from further destruction. On June 6, the skies cleared, and U.S. aircraft resumed their assault, sinking a cruiser and damaging several other warships. After the planes returned to their carriers, the Americans broke off from the pursuit. Meanwhile, a Japanese submarine torpedoed and fatally wounded the Yorktown, which was in the process of being salvaged. It finally rolled over and sank at dawn on June 7, bringing an end to the battle.

At the Battle of Midway, Japan lost four carriers, a cruiser, and 292 aircraft, and suffered 2,500 casualties. The U.S. lost the Yorktown, the destroyer USS Hammann, 145 aircraft, and suffered 307 casualties. Japan’s losses hobbled its naval might–bringing Japanese and American sea power to approximate parity–and marked the turning point in the Pacific theater of World War II. In August 1942, the great U.S. counteroffensive began at Guadalcanal and did not cease until Japan’s surrender three years later.

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Japanese war crimes trial begins

Year
1946
Month Day
May 03

In Tokyo, Japan, the International Military Tribunals for the Far East begins hearing the case against 28 Japanese military and government officials accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during World War II.

On November 4, 1948, the trial ended with 25 of 28 Japanese defendants being found guilty. Of the three other defendants, two had died during the lengthy trial, and one was declared insane. On November 12, the war crimes tribunal passed death sentences on seven of the men, including General Hideki Tojo, who served as Japanese premier during the war, and other principals, such as Iwane Matsui, who organized the Rape of Nanking, and Heitaro Kimura, who brutalized Allied prisoners of war. Sixteen others were sentenced to life imprisonment, and two were sentenced to lesser terms in prison. On December 23, 1948, Tojo and the six others were executed in Tokyo.

Unlike the Nuremberg trial of Nazi war criminals, where there were four chief prosecutors, to represent Great Britain, France, the United States, and the USSR, the Tokyo trial featured only one chief prosecutor–American Joseph B. Keenan, a former assistant to the U.S. attorney general. However, other nations, especially China, contributed to the proceedings, and Australian judge William Flood Webb presided. In addition to the central Tokyo trial, various tribunals sitting outside Japan judged some 5,000 Japanese guilty of war crimes, of whom more than 900 were executed. Some observers thought that Emperor Hirohito should have been tried for his tacit approval of Japanese policy during the war, but he was protected by U.S. authorities who saw him as a symbol of Japanese unity and conservatism, both favorable traits in the postwar U.S. view.

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The Firebombing of Tokyo continues


Year
1945
Month Day
March 10

On March 10, 1945, 300 American bombers continue to drop almost 2,000 tons of incendiaries on Tokyo, Japan, in a mission that launched the previous day. The attack destroyed large portions of the Japanese capital and killed 100,000 civilians.

In the closing months of the war, the United States had turned to incendiary bombing tactics against Japan, also known as “area bombing,” in an attempt to break Japanese morale and force a surrender. The firebombing of Tokyo was the first major bombing operation of this sort against Japan.

Early in the morning, the B-29s dropped their bombs of napalm and magnesium incendiaries over the packed residential districts along the Sumida River in eastern Tokyo. The conflagration quickly engulfed Tokyo’s wooden residential structures, and the subsequent firestorm replaced oxygen with lethal gases, superheated the atmosphere, and caused hurricane-like winds that blew a wall of fire across the city. The majority of the 100,000 who perished died from carbon monoxide poisoning and the sudden lack of oxygen, but others died horrible deaths within the firestorm, such as those who attempted to find protection in the Sumida River and were boiled alive, or those who were trampled to death in the rush to escape the burning city. As a result of the attack, 10 square miles of eastern Tokyo were entirely obliterated, and an estimated 250,000 buildings were destroyed.

During the next nine days, U.S. bombers flew similar missions against Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe. In August, U.S. atomic attacks against Hiroshima and Nagasaki finally forced Japan’s hand.

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Battle of Okinawa ends

Year
1945
Month Day
June 22

During World War II, the U.S. 10th Army overcomes the last major pockets of Japanese resistance on Okinawa Island, ending one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. The same day, Japanese Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima, the commander of Okinawa’s defense, committed suicide with a number of Japanese officers and troops rather than surrender.

READ MORE: Remembering the Battle of Okinawa 

On April 1, 1945, the 10th Army, under Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, launched the invasion of Okinawa, a strategic Pacific island located midway between Japan and Formosa. Possession of Okinawa would give the United States a base large enough for an invasion of the Japanese home islands. There were more than 100,000 Japanese defenders on the island, but most were deeply entrenched in the island’s densely forested interior. By the evening of April 1, 60,000 U.S. troops had come safely ashore. However, on April 4, Japanese land resistance stiffened, and at sea kamikaze pilots escalated their deadly suicide attacks on U.S. vessels.

During the next month, the battle raged on land and sea, with the Japanese troops and fliers making the Americans pay dearly for every strategic area of land and water won. On June 18, with U.S. victory imminent, General Buckner, the hero of Iwo Jima, was killed by Japanese artillery. Three days later, his 10th Army reached the southern coast of the island, and on June 22 Japanese resistance effectively came to an end.

The Japanese lost 120,000 troops in the defense of Okinawa, while the Americans suffered 12,500 dead and 35,000 wounded. Of the 36 Allied ships lost, most were destroyed by the 2,000 or so Japanese pilots who gave up their lives in kamikaze missions. With the capture of Okinawa, the Allies prepared for the invasion of Japan, a military operation predicted to be far bloodier than the 1944 Allied invasion of Western Europe. The plan called for invading the southern island of Kyushu in November 1945, and the main Japanese island of Honshu in March 1946. In July, however, the United States successfully tested an atomic bomb and after dropping two of these devastating weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, Japan surrendered.

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U.S. flag raised on Iwo Jima


Year
1945
Month Day
February 23

During the bloody Battle for Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines from the 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment of the 5th Division take the crest of Mount Suribachi, the island’s highest peak and most strategic position, and raise the U.S. flag. Marine photographer Louis Lowery was with them and recorded the event. Americans fighting for control of Suribachi’s slopes cheered the raising of the flag, and several hours later more Marines headed up to the crest with a larger flag. Joe Rosenthal, a photographer with the Associated Press, met them along the way and recorded the raising of the second flag along with a Marine still photographer and a motion-picture cameraman.

Rosenthal took three photographs atop Suribachi. The first, which showed five Marines and one Navy corpsman struggling to hoist the heavy flag pole, became the most reproduced photograph in history and won him a Pulitzer Prize. The accompanying motion-picture footage attests to the fact that the picture was not posed. Of the other two photos, the second was similar to the first but less affecting, and the third was a group picture of 18 Marines smiling and waving for the camera. Many of these men, including three of the six Marines seen raising the flag in the famous Rosenthal photo, were killed before the conclusion of the Battle for Iwo Jima in late March.

In early 1945, U.S. military command sought to gain control of the island of Iwo Jima in advance of the projected aerial campaign against the Japanese home islands. Iwo Jima, a tiny volcanic island located in the Pacific about 700 miles southeast of Japan, was to be a base for fighter aircraft and an emergency-landing site for bombers. On February 19, 1945, after three days of heavy naval and aerial bombardment, the first wave of U.S. Marines stormed onto Iwo Jima’s inhospitable shores.

The Japanese garrison on the island numbered 22,000 heavily entrenched men. Their commander, General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, had been expecting an Allied invasion for months and used the time wisely to construct an intricate and deadly system of underground tunnels, fortifications, and artillery that withstood the initial Allied bombardment. By the evening of the first day, despite incessant mortar fire, 30,000 U.S. Marines commanded by General Holland Smith managed to establish a solid beachhead.

During the next few days, the Marines advanced inch by inch under heavy fire from Japanese artillery and suffered suicidal charges from the Japanese infantry. Many of the Japanese defenders were never seen and remained underground manning artillery until they were blown apart by a grenade or rocket, or incinerated by a flame thrower.

While Japanese kamikaze flyers slammed into the Allied naval fleet around Iwo Jima, the Marines on the island continued their bloody advance across the island, responding to Kuribayashi’s lethal defenses with remarkable endurance. On February 23, the crest of 550-foot Mount Suribachi was taken, and the next day the slopes of the extinct volcano were secured.

By March 3, U.S. forces controlled all three airfields on the island, and on March 26 the last Japanese defenders on Iwo Jima were wiped out. Only 200 of the original 22,000 Japanese defenders were captured alive. More than 6,000 Americans died taking Iwo Jima, and some 17,000 were wounded.

READ MORE: The Battle of Iwo Jima, Revisited

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Battle of Midway begins

Year
1942
Month Day
June 04

On June 4, 1942, the Battle of Midway–one of the most decisive U.S. victories against Japan during World War II–begins. During the four-day sea-and-air battle, the outnumbered U.S. Pacific Fleet succeeded in destroying four Japanese aircraft carriers while losing only one of its own, the Yorktown, to the previously invincible Japanese navy.

In six months of offensives prior to Midway, the Japanese had triumphed in lands throughout the Pacific, including Malaysia, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines and numerous island groups. The United States, however, was a growing threat, and Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sought to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet before it was large enough to outmatch his own.

READ MORE: 5 Things You Might Not Know About the Battle of Midway

A thousand miles northwest of Honolulu, the strategic island of Midway became the focus of his scheme to smash U.S. resistance to Japan’s imperial designs. Yamamoto’s plan consisted of a feint toward Alaska followed by an invasion of Midway by a Japanese strike force. When the U.S. Pacific Fleet arrived at Midway to respond to the invasion, it would be destroyed by the superior Japanese fleet waiting unseen to the west. If successful, the plan would eliminate the U.S. Pacific Fleet and provide a forward outpost from which the Japanese could eliminate any future American threat in the Central Pacific. U.S. intelligence broke the Japanese naval code, however, and the Americans anticipated the surprise attack.

In the meantime, 200 miles to the northeast, two U.S. attack fleets caught the Japanese force entirely by surprise and destroyed three heavy Japanese carriers and one heavy cruiser. The only Japanese carrier that initially escaped destruction, the Hiryu, unleashed all its aircraft against the American task force and managed to seriously damage the U.S. carrier Yorktown, forcing its abandonment. At about 5:00 p.m., dive-bombers from the U.S. carrier Enterprise returned the favor, mortally damaging the Hiryu. It was scuttled the next morning.

When the Battle of Midway ended, Japan had lost four carriers, a cruiser and 292 aircraft, and suffered an estimated 2,500 casualties. The U.S. lost the Yorktown, the destroyer USS Hammann, 145 aircraft and suffered approximately 300 casualties.

Japan’s losses hobbled its naval might—bringing Japanese and American sea power to approximate parity—and marked the turning point in the Pacific theater of World War II. In August 1942, the great U.S. counteroffensive began at Guadalcanal and did not cease until Japan’s surrender three years later.

HISTORY Vault

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Americans secure Guadalcanal


Year
1943
Month Day
February 08

On February 8, 1943, Japanese troops evacuate Guadalcanal, leaving the island in Allied possession after a prolonged campaign. The American victory paved the way for other Allied wins in the Solomon Islands.

Guadalcanal is the largest of the Solomons, a group of 992 islands and atolls, 347 of which are inhabited, in the South Pacific Ocean. The Solomons, which are located northeast of Australia and have 87 indigenous languages, were discovered in 1568 by the Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendana de Neyra (1541-95). In 1893, the British annexed Guadalcanal, along with the other central and southern Solomons. The Germans took control of the northern Solomons in 1885, but transferred these islands, except for Bougainville and Buka (which eventually went to the Australians) to the British in 1900.

The Japanese invaded the Solomons in 1942 during World War II and began building a strategic airfield on Guadalcanal. On August 7 of that year, U.S. Marines landed on the island, signaling the Allies’ first major offensive against Japanese-held positions in the Pacific. The Japanese responded quickly with sea and air attacks. A series of bloody battles ensued in the debilitating tropical heat as Marines sparred with Japanese troops on land, while in the waters surrounding Guadalcanal, the U.S. Navy fought six major engagements with the Japanese between August 24 and November 30. In mid-November 1942, the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, died together when the Japanese sank their ship, the USS Juneau.

Both sides suffered heavy losses of men, warships and planes in the battle for Guadalcanal. An estimated 1,600 U.S. troops were killed, over 4,000 were wounded and several thousand more died from disease. The Japanese lost 24,000 soldiers. On December 31, 1942, Emperor Hirohito told Japanese troops they could withdraw from the area; the Americans secured Guadalcanal about five weeks later.

The Solomons gained their independence from Britain in 1978. In the late 1990s, fighting broke out between rival ethnic groups on Guadalcanal and continued until an Australian-led international peacekeeping mission restored order in 2003. Today, with a population of over half a million people, the Solomons are known as a scuba diver and fisherman’s paradise.

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United States scores major victory against Japanese in Battle of the Philippine Sea

Year
1944
Month Day
June 19

On June 19, 1944, in what would become known as the “Marianas Turkey Shoot,” U.S. carrier-based fighters decimate the Japanese Fleet with only a minimum of losses in the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

The security of the Marianas Islands, in the western Pacific, were vital to Japan, which had air bases on Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. U.S. troops were already battling the Japanese on Saipan, having landed there on the 15th. Any further intrusion would leave the Philippine Islands, and Japan itself, vulnerable to U.S. attack. The U.S. Fifth Fleet, commanded by Admiral Raymond Spruance, was on its way west from the Marshall Islands as backup for the invasion of Saipan and the rest of the Marianas. But Japanese Admiral Ozawa Jisaburo decided to challenge the American fleet, ordering 430 of his planes, launched from aircraft carriers, to attack. In what became the greatest carrier battle of the war, the United States, having already picked up the Japanese craft on radar, proceeded to shoot down more than 300 aircraft and sink two Japanese aircraft carriers, losing only 29 of their own planes in the process. It was described in the aftermath as a “turkey shoot.”

Admiral Ozawa, believing his missing planes had landed at their Guam air base, maintained his position in the Philippine Sea, allowing for a second attack of U.S. carrier-based fighter planes, this time commanded by Admiral Mitscher, to shoot down an additional 65 Japanese planes and sink another carrier. In total, the Japanese lost 480 aircraft, three-quarters of its total, not to mention most of its crews. American domination of the Marianas was now a foregone conclusion.

Not long after this battle at sea, U.S. Marine divisions penetrated farther into the island of Saipan. Two Japanese commanders on the island, Admiral Nagumo and General Saito, both committed suicide in an attempt to rally the remaining Japanese forces. It succeeded: Those forces also committed a virtual suicide as they attacked the Americans’ lines, losing 26,000 men compared with 3,500 lost by the United States. Within another month, the islands of Tinian and Guam were also captured by the United States.

The Japanese government of Premier Hideki Tojo resigned in disgrace at this stunning defeat, in what many have described as the turning point of the war in the Pacific.

READ MORE: The Pictures that Defined World War II

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