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  • Writer's pictureMichael Baker

War In The Pacific 1941-45

The Pacific War, fought mainly by the Americans against the Japanese in WW2, is often misconceived as a land war because of the dominant place within it of a narrative in which heroic GIs - typically, they were Marines - engaged in murderous combat with a fanatical Japanese enemy on a succession of rocky Pacific atolls - Guadalcanal, Saipan, Guam, Iwo Jima, Okinawa. Indeed, the iconic photograph of a band of marines raising the Stars and Stripes on the summit of Mount Suribachi at the culmination of the bloody battle for Iwo Jima in early 1945 has become emblematic of American grit and triumph in the Second World War as a whole. In fact, the moment recorded was not the end of this ferocious battle and three of the six marines in the picture went on to be killed on Iwo Jima. Equally, the broader reality of the Pacific War is that it was principally an oceanic struggle waged by fleets of warships and, above all, squadrons of warplanes, which would be brought to battle on giant aircraft carriers. In some of the greatest naval battles of WW2 - notably the 1942 battles of the Coral Sea and Midway - no American or Japanese surface vessel ever came in sight of an opposing ship because all the fighting was done by warplanes, with dive bombers playing a key role in the sinking of enemy carriers and battleships. And if you think General MacArthur was the hero of this Pacific war (as he was in the eyes of the wartime American press and public), historians are now much more sceptical of his reputation, won seemingly less by real achievement than skilful manipulation of the media.

If you think you know about WW2, it's time to think again.

An Understanding History Podcast

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