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The Japanese Military’s Threat to Americans
The war in the Pacific was unlike the European and Mediterranean campaigns. Throughout the European campaign the allied forces focused on strategic bombing and ground forces. Tank usage was more evident during the African and European theatres also. There were many changes in warfare that occurred during World War II. Warfare in the African and European theatre was fought mainly in the air and on ground. Due, in part, to the landscape of the Pacific warfare evolved: sophistication in technology and weaponry increased, heated struggles with a fanatical enemy, and increased coordination between air and naval support. Island hopping became the paradigm in the Pacific, naval and air support would lead the way.
The U.S. Navy moved into the Pacific in 1942. “Americans combined air, land, and sea forces for tremendous strides across the ocean.”# The navy fighter planes and bombers would inflict serious damage upon the Japanese navy. “In one day aircraft sank all the transports and four destroyers; the Japanese lost 3,000 soldiers and most of the 51st Division’s staff.”# Naval craft moved troops and planes into the Pacific. Fighter planes and bombers cleared the way for the oncoming fleets. This led to the ability of the American forces to begin taking strategic islands. Sledge described naval support, “H-hour, 0800. Long jets of red flame mixed with thick black smoke rushed out of the muzzles of the huge battleships’ 16-inch guns…The giant shells tore through the air toward the island, roaring like locomotives.”# The bombardment of the beaches was necessary due to the resistance of Japanese forces that protected them. “On the reef and beach amtracs and DUKW’s burned while Japanese machine-gun fire went splashing through the water.”# American forces would secure islands while sea and air forces worked hand in hand supplying the troops. Supplies were received from sea through amphibious landings and air drops. The air and naval forces proved effective due to the sophistication of technology and weaponry they carried.
New technology allowed the allied forces to land on the beaches from carriers out at sea. Problems arose when low tides stranded Higgins boats on reefs far from the beaches. “…lowered water levels caused Higgins boats (LCVP: Landing Craft, Vehicle and Personnel) to strand on the reef… the use of amphibian tractors (LVTs: Landing Vehicles, Tracked; assault amphibians) to carry the troops across the reef.“# The navy supported landings with more powerful artillery then in previous wars. Bombardment would last for days at a time in order to handicap the Japanese resistance. The Japanese were dug in and protected by caves, which increased the difficulty in crippling their defenses. “…the Japanese favored a complex defense based on supporting positions in caves and pillboxes extending deeply into the interior of the island…they had constructed an in-depth defense and fought until the last position was knocked out.”# The increased power and range of artillery fire would provide only some support for the landing infantry. Sledge commented, “More of out 155’s swished over, erupting above the Japanese. We stood in silence and watched as the artillery fire took its toll on them.”#
Infantry was trained to use multiple weapons prior to participating in combat situations. Sledge wrote, “We received an introduction to the 37mm antitank gun, 81mm mortar, 60mm mortar, .50 caliber machine gun, .30 caliber heavy and light machine guns, and the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).”# The instruction of multiple weapons proved valuable to the infantry troops in the Pacific campaign. The terrain and defensive positions of the Japanese would make them hard targets. Multiple weapons became necessary in order attack them with any success. “The Japanese were protected in the front and rear from the exploding artillery shells. Because of the steeper trajectory of our 60mm mortar, the shells fell right into the ravine.”# The infantry dealt with oncoming Japanese soldiers in close quarter fire fights. They defeated a series of well hidden and entrenched Japanese with weapons like artillery and mortars. Attacking an enemy in this type of terrain had not really been seen or accurately planned for before. The most advanced weapon the Pacific theatre brought to the world would be the atomic bomb. “…August 6, 1945, three B-29’s flew over Hiroshima…Over 90,000 died in a flash brighter than the sun.”# The destructive force of the A-bomb brought Japan to surrender on August 15, 1945. “Along with the destruction the bombs had, they showed the technological and philosophical revolution in war.”# These changes helped equip American troops for the unexpected ferocity of the Japanese fighting spirit.
The Japanese exemplified a new enemy the American forces faced. Unseen in other theaters of the war was a centralized and entrenched enemy that literally fought to the death. Sledge would say, “This mutual hatred resulted in savage, ferocious fighting with no holds barred. This was not the dispassionate killing seen on other fronts or in other wars…brutish, primitive hatred, as characteristic…of war in the Pacific as the palm trees and the islands.”# American and Japanese soldiers brutally killed each other, and were known to mutilate dead soldiers. Troops never before saw or were prepared for tactics like kamikaze dives. Sledge commented, “…the kamikaze pilot headed straight down toward a transport. We saw the smoke where he hit the ship…It was the first kamikaze I had seen…but it wasn’t the last.”# The Japanese proved to be an unrelenting enemy that tested the soldier’s will and breaking points. The Japanese showed no mercy in firing at stretcher crews, launching night raids, and would fire at their own surrendering soldiers. Sledge wrote, “…the Japanese never appeared afraid, merely chagrined or ashamed because they had acted disgracefully by surrendering…To the Japanese, surrender was the ultimate disgrace.”# The fighting tactics of the Japanese proved to strain the American troops psychologically, pushing many soldiers past the breaking point..
The Pacific campaign showed the world many grisly changes that World War II brought. New technology and weaponry changed ferocity of war forever. The destructive capabilities of world powers became clearly evident with the release of the A-bomb. War could now be waged on a much larger scale in the air, on the ground, and in the sea. The fighting spirit of the Japanese would increase the prowess of American military and give later generations a feel of what the enemy would fight like in future wars.