A SUNDAY IN DECEMBER : A Chronology of War
Major Battles in the Pacific Theater and Events in Europe/North Africa 1941 DEC 7: Japanese planes attack U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. DEC 7: Midway bombarded by Japanese naval ships. DEC 8: Surprise attack on U.S. Far East Air Force in Luzon marks beginning of Japanese invasion of the Philippines. DEC 8: Guam attacked. U.S. Marines surrender two days later. DEC 11: Germany and Italy declare war on the United States. DEC 23: Wake Island falls to the Japanese after U.S. forces defend island for two weeks.
1942 1. JAN 23-24: The Battle of Makassar Strait, near Balikpapan, Borneo--the first major naval engagement in Pacific War. Four U.S. destroyers sink 4 large Japanese transports. FEB 15: The surrender Singapore on Feb. 15, 1942, has been called the greatest military disaster in British history. More than 130,000 British, Indian, Australian and local volunteer troops capitulate after a one-week battle to a Japanese force half their number. FEB 27-28: Battle of the Java Sea. Allied forces suffer their worst naval defeat of the war losing five cruisers and seven destroyers. MARCH 12: Lt. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander-in-chief of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, leaves Philippine island of Corregidor for Australia under orders from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. MacArthur, on departing, promises “I Shall Return.” 2. APRIL 9: About 76,000 U.S. and Filipino forces on the Bataan Peninsula surrender to Japanese. During a later forced, 55-mile march to prison camps in central Luzon--the Bataan Death March--7,000 to 10,000 of those prisoners die from wounds, disease, starvation and mistreatment. Thousands more perish in the camps. APRIL 18: Sixteen B-25 bombers under command of Col. James Doolittle bomb Tokyo for first time in war. Yokohoma, Yokasuka and Nagoya also hit by 13 bombers that reached their targets. 3. MAY 4-8: The first carrier battle of the Pacific war repels a Japanese attempt to occupy Port Moresby on the south shore of New Guinea and proves the U.S. can hold its own against a numerically superior enemy fleet. On May 7 and 8, 1942, aircraft from the carriers Yorktown and Lexington sink one Japanese carrier and heavily damage another. The Lexington is set afire and has to be abandoned, while the Yorktown sustains minor damage. MAY 6: U.S. and Filipino troops on Corregidor Island surrender, giving Japanese forces total control of Philippines. 4. JUNE 3-6: A decisive U.S. Navy victory at the Battle of Midway reverses course of the war in the Pacific, putting the Japanese navy on the defensive for first time. Four of six Japanese carriers and one heavy cruiser are lost against one American carrier and one destroyer. More than 300 Japanese planes are downed, against less than half that number of U.S. aircraft. 5. AUG 7: About 11,000 U.S. Marines land on Guadalcanal and four other Solomon Islands, taking ground offensive for first time in Pacific war. the epic naval and Marine battle for Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands lasts for six months before the last Japanese resistance ceases on Feb. 9, 1943. It is the beginning of the U.S. campaign to take and hold key islands at the perimeter of Japan’s Pacific conquests, using them as steppingstones towards Japan itself. SEPT 16: German troops begin the siege of Stalingrad. NOV 8: Allied troops land in Northwest Africa. NOV 19: Russian troops open counteroffensive at Stalingrad.
1943 JAN 22: Campaign on Papua New Guinea ends with first Allied land victory, ending threat to Australia. FEB 9: Guadalcanal finally secured by American forces. MAR 2-5: Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Sixteen-ship Japanese convoy is blocked and heavily damaged en route to New Guinea to reinforce units. Allied losses light. APRIL 18: Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, commander-in-chief of Japanese combined fleet, dies when his plane is shot down at Bougainville by U.S. planes from Guadalcanal. AUG 2: PT-109 commanded by Navy Lt. John F. Kennedy, sinks after being rammed by Japanese destroyer in Blackett Strait in Solomons. Eleven members of 13-man crew survive. NOV 20-23: U.S. Marines land on Tarawa and Makin in Gilbert Islands, first of central Pacific operations. Fierce battles ensue with high losses on both sides.
1944 FEB 16-18: U.S. attacks Truk, a major Japanese base in the Caroline Islands, that had been considered impregnable. JUNE 6: Allies invade Normandy. JUNE 19-20: Battle of the Philippine Sea. Considered the decisive Allied victory that finally destroyed Japanese naval air strength. JULY 9: U.S. forces secure Saipan, in the Mariana Islands, after three weeks of heavy fighting. Japanese government considers this defeat a “great disaster.” JULY 21--AUG 10: U.S. forces land on Guam and secure island inflicting heavy casualties. AUG 25: Paris liberated by Allied troops. SEPT 15-NOV 25: U.S. Marines land on Peleliu Island of Palau group, east of Mindanao in Philippines and inflict heavy losses on Japanese. OCT 10-15: The first reported Japanese “kamikaze” or “divine wind” suicidal attacks reported off the Philippines. By war’s end, 1,228 kamikaze pilots will die in suicide missions while sinking 34 American ships and damaging 288. OCT 20: Landing of U.S. forces on Philippines after 2 1/2 years. 6. OCT 23-26: Battle of Leyte Gulf, often called the greatest naval clash in history and the last duel between battleships. Nearly 170 U.S. ships and 1,400 aircraft destroy 35 Japanese warships. DEC 16: Battle of the Bulge. Germans attack Allied forces in the Ardennes forest.
1945 FEB 19: Battle on Iwo Jima. U.S. Marines invade Japanese-held island with 30,000 troops, after heavy preliminary air attacks. MARCH 2: Gen. MacArthur returns to the Philippines. As he wades ashore, he broadcasts: “People of the Philippines. I have returned.” MARCH 9-10: U.S. planes taking off from Tinian and Saipan use area incendiary bombs on Japanese cities with Tokyo the hardest hit. Sixteen square miles of the city are destroyed by bombs from 279 American B-29s, killing 83,793 and wounding 41,000. 7. MARCH 16: Iwo Jima secured after long and bloody fight for the small strategic island. More than one-third of the Americans who landed are killed or wounded, and the island’s more than 20,000 Japanese defenders are slain almost to a man, often in brutal close-in fighting. 8. APRIL 1: The 81-day struggle for Okinawa begins. Perhaps the grimmest of all Pacific battles, it costs more than 90% of the Japanese defenders their lives--110,000 men. Only 7,400 surrender, some of whom were too badly wounded to commit suicide. U.S. losses are 12,520 soldiers and Marines killed and nearly 37,000 wounded. APRIL 25: United States and Soviet troops meet at Torgua on the Elbe in Germany, marking the defeat of the Nazis. MAY 8: VE (Victory in Europe) day declared. JULY 5: MacArthur declares Philippines are liberated. AUG 6: U.S. drops atomic bomb on Hiroshima. More than 70,000 die immediately, and within five years the toll from direct exposure to the blast reaches an estimated 200,000. AUG 8: U.S. drops atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing more than 20,000 instantly. Ultimately, about 74,000 Nagasaki deaths are attributed to the blast. AUG 15: V-J Day proclaimed by Allies as Japanese surrender unconditionally. SEPT 2: Formal surrender of Japanese in Tokyo Bay aboard battleship Missouri. Note: Casualty and damage figures are approximations and are constantly being reevaluated by historians. Sources: Costello, John, The Pacific War 1941-1945. Goralski, Robert. World War II Almanac 1931-45 Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Two-Ocean War. Parrish, Thomas. Simon & Schuster Encyclopedia of WW II. Potter, E.B. and Chester W. Nimitz, eds. The Great Sea War U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey: The Campaigns of the Pacific War, 1969.