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Posted on May 9, 2006 in Front Page Features, War College

The War in the East – Part One

By Wild Bill Wilder

The Hammer Falls

The final decision to go to war with the United States was made on December 1st, 1941. Coinciding with the plan were invasions of the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, Malaya and other strategic targets. As for the attack on US forces, a large carrier fleet had already sailed for Pearl Harbor and received the signal to proceed with its attack. Six days later, at 7:49 AM, on Sunday, December 7th, the first wave of Japanese torpedo planes and bombers gracefully swept over Pearl and the US forces peacefully resting there.

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Within minutes, the American fleet was a horrid shambles, hulls ripped open by torpedoes, superstructures shattered by armor piercing bombs. The nearby airfields were laid waste and as the Japanese aircraft were being secured on the six carriers of the strike force, the American Pacific fleet had effectively ceased to exist! Fortunately, the two carriers assigned to the Pacific, the Yorktown and the Hornet, were at sea and escaped a sure death at Pearl. Immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack, other American positions all across the Pacific, including Wake Island, The Philippines and Guam came under the Japanese gun.

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The military forces of the Japanese Empire were not, as pictured by many as a bunch of ignorant primitive “mini-men,” with no concept of today’s war tactics. Japan’s army was battle hardened from years of fighting in China. The navy, with 6 large fleet carriers, was in reality the predominant sea force in the Pacific. Its air force was on a par with any nation in the world. Japan was to all intent and purposes already a world power and a deadly foe.

Most Japanese strategists recognized that this effort would not culminate in a final and complete victory by any means. The only strategic value of the strike was to buy time for the Imperial Japanese military forces. This would give them the opportunity to prepare defensive positions in a ring around Japan that would keep her enemies at bay. It was hoped that after failing to penetrate those defenses, America would sue for a peace of some sort that would allow Japan to continue her own expansionist program without any major intervention.

In December 1941, Japan had within her naval fleet ten battleships, ten aircraft carriers, eight heavy and eighteen light cruisers, 113 destroyers and 63 submarines. It was a formidable fighting force, fully modernized and manned by some of the most capable seamen in the world.

America and other countries of the free world had been shaken to her foundation by the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the response was immediate. President Roosevelt officially declared war upon Japan under the authorization of the Congress of the United States. The viciousness of the "unprovoked and dastardly attack" would have an appropriate response. On declaring war against Japan, the United States had become irrevocably involved in the war in Europe. In England there was great rejoicing even in the sadness of American loss of life. The attack proved to be a grateful reprieve for the British Empire. Until that moment, Great Britain was the last bastion of freedom standing between Hitler and total domination of Western Europe. Churchill declared,

"So we had won after all! Hitler’s fate was sealed. Mussolini’s fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder. All the rest was merely the proper application of overwhelming force." It would not, however, come immediately. Instead, defeat after defeat would plague the United States as it geared up for a war on two fronts. The Allied powers were also facing similar challenges in mainland Asia and the islands nestled nearby in the waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The riches of these areas in oil and other natural resources were the key to Japan being able to maintain her aggression in the East.

The Allies, Reel, then Recover

As the Japanese continued their attacks, Wake Island fell, then the Philippines. The Chinese continued to retreat from enemy attacks. Japanese forays began in Indo-China, Burma, and Malaya. Singapore was overrun. The British naval presence in the form of the capital ships, Repulse and Prince of Wales were quickly annihilated by Japanese carrier air power. Rapidly the symbol of the Rising Sun extended itself over thousands of miles of land and sea, and the Allies could do nothing to stop it.

[continued on next page]

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