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Air Power in the Pacific Air War of 1941-1945 Essay

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Updated: Aug 1st, 2021

The outbreak of World War II was marked by the frequent defeat of the Allies not only on land but also in water. In the Pacific, where the struggle against the Japanese was waged, the enemy dominated. Its lightning-fast offensive operations were dangerous, and the situation was complicated by the fact that small allied forces were concentrated in the east since the main struggle was conducted in Europe. However, subsequently, the Allies managed to turn the tide of the war and free the territories occupied by the Japanese, and aviation was one of the main resources. The power of the bombing became the driving force of the Pacific War, in which the battles for individual islands and military bases were largely dependent on air attacks. In this work, the examples of air power will be described during the Allied military operations against the Japanese in the Pacific Ocean. Decisions on the use of aviation will be reviewed and analyzed in battles in the Coral Sea, Solomon Islands, New Guinea, the Central Pacific, and Okinawa. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as the outcome of the hostilities, will be evaluated.

After most of the US fleet was destroyed at the beginning of World War II at the Battle of Pearl Harbor, the focus on combat aircraft was made as to the only possible strike force. The Allied armies teamed up for massive attacks in the Pacific, and airstrikes became the main means of fighting the Japanese. According to Pearson (2015), in 1942, a massive battle took place in the Coral Sea, where airpower was used massively for the first time. Aircraft fire and bombing were from different angles, which was the beginning of counterattack actions. Japanese expansion halted, and it was one of the turning points (Stern, 2019). As Logel (2014) notes, the battle in the Coral Sea was the first when infantry did not meet, and the fighting was conducted only in the air. The Japanese army suffered serious losses, although its equipment allowed it to resist by shooting down enemy planes. Hodge (2015) states that the success of the Allies was achieved largely due to the unpreparedness of enemy troops for the massive bombing. Therefore, the importance of air power during this crucial period of the war was significant.

After success in the Coral Sea, the Allied forces continued attacking the enemy from the air and drove it from the occupied territories. In 1943, the Solomon Islands were chosen as the target for further hostilities, where massive bombing continued (Pearson, 2015; Lardas, 2018). This object was strategically important for attacks because, as Newell (2015) notes, the Japanese deployed a large military airbase here, which had to be destroyed. During fierce battles with the use of artillery from air and water, the dominance of the enemy in the Pacific Ocean was lost (Yenne, 2019). All further Allied offensive operations pushed the opponent to its borders by separating enemy groups from one another. Due to the use of aircraft carriers, landings of combat fighters at sea were possible, which simplified the task. The effectiveness of bombing was high, and the military potential of the Japanese was significantly undermined. Large losses in the navy and aircraft forced them to retreat. However, separate island territories were still occupied by Japan, and despite the courage and dedication of the Allied forces, the liberation mission was not completed (Douglas, 2016).

The massive Allied offensive in the Pacific continued, and individual air battles proved the success of the strategy based on engaging combat aircraft as the main driving force. According to Yenne (2019), after battles in the Solomon Islands, liberation forces marched southwest to New Guinea, which, as Goodman and Moos (2019) state, experienced severe difficulties caused by the Japanese occupation. Despite the fact that infantry was involved, aviation forces played a dominant role, and by 1944, all the island territories of the region had been liberated (Sherman, 2017). As Nishino (2017) remarks, the Allied Army chose the tactics of conquering and retaining individual islands, and special attention was paid to those territories in which large accumulations of Japanese armament were located. The strategy of heavy fire from different angles was chosen, and using the capabilities of fighters, in particular, their maneuverability and speed, helped eliminate enemies. Moreover, massive air attacks ruled out the possibility of continuing hostilities in the liberated territories. As a result, according to Russell (2019), the Allied Army did everything possible to exclude military communication among enemy units, which became one of the key success factors.

The offensive continued in the central Pacific, where joint infantry and air operations were productive. Sherman (2017) notes the high professionalism and dedication of General MacArthur, who coordinated fire on individual groups of the enemy and relied on the power of fighters. However, the enemy’s resistance was massive – the Japanese first resorted to kamikaze attacks, which proved the Japanese government’s unwillingness to surrender. Stille (2017) calls the battle in the Philippine Sea the confrontation between the power of aviation and that of people’s blind selflessness. Heinrichs and Gallicchio (2017) argue that the Japanese army suffered a crushing defeat due to less competent tactics and the superior forces of Allied airborne equipment. The Japanese defense was not ready for bombing from all sides, and the Allied forces exerted massive pressure on the enemy, supporting attacks from the sea continuously. According to Borneman (2016) and Martell (2015), the combined operations of the fleet and aviation made it possible to destroy the opponent’s forces through a competent long-range fire strategy. As a result, the Allied army managed to approach the borders of Japan and continue its attacks through the ongoing bombing.

After approaching the borders of Japan, the Allies were ready to inflict a final strike on the enemy troops and invade the territory of the country. All air forces were involved, and the battles for individual islands were fierce and long. According to Lardas (2019), the opponents fought back hard, and there were numerous losses on both sides. However, when assessing the situation, one can note that the Allied victory was more likely since, by 1945, the Nazi armies were in decline and did not have enough strength and resources to conduct counterattacks (Cahill, 2018). At the same time, Pearson (2015) argues that the Allied command was stunned by the resistance of the Japanese and was not ready for such significant losses in the fourth war year. Involving all available combat aircraft was a logical decision because the Japanese relied on exhausting the enemy and relied on sudden attacks. Thus, when preparing for one of the final battles in Okinawa, there was no certainty that the liberation campaign would be successful (Craig, 2015). Therefore, the massive bombing was the only possible solution in the face of severe confrontation.

The battle for Okinawa was the largest and bloodiest struggle at the final stage of the Pacific War. According to Astor (2015), the Allied command still used the strategy of concentrating the maximum possible forces in a narrow area, which would crush the enemy with one massive strike. The long and powerful bombing was carried out, and all available military equipment was involved, including aircraft carriers as significant support from the sea (Cahill, 2018). As Lardas (2019) argues, Japanese troops could not provide due resistance due to the lack of weapons and superior enemy forces. However, the siege of the island was a test for the allied forces, and tactics of quick and massive attacks did not prove their effectiveness in practice. Later, it became known that the Japanese command did not plan to win this battle and hoped to exhaust the rivals, thereby forcing them to retreat (Astor, 2015). As a result, all available units of aircraft supported the Allied landing forces, which became decisive during the battle. Thus, the superior forces of the liberators and their significant airbase became the main factors of the victory in Okinawa.

One of the most controversial events in the history of the Pacific War was the use of nuclear weapons and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to Sanchez and Xidias (2017), this was the first-ever involvement of military aircraft to launch a nuclear strike from the air. The outcomes of these bombings are debated today, and many researchers believe that these airstrikes were inflicted in revenge on the long siege of Japan and heavy losses from the Allies (Langley, 2017; Takenaka, 2015). These events were not a battle and were an attack on the defeated enemy. Ultimately, the Japanese command could not resist the Allies, which led to the unconditional surrender of the aggressor. As Suzuki (2018) argues, the main goal of these airstrikes was to achieve complete dominance and prevent the risks of warfare. The ambiguity of such a bombing is explained by the fact that, by the time the atomic bombs were dropped, Japan was not ready to resist, and tens of thousands of civilians were victims (Takenaka, 2015). Therefore, airstrikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the subject of many historical disputes.

One of the possible interpretations of involving aviation for nuclear strikes is the desire to prove world domination. From a social perspective, there was no need to use air power to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, as Langley (2017) notes, when considering this event from a strategic position, the destruction of large Japanese cities helped the Allied army prevent the Nazi command from trying to continue the fighting. The country’s remoteness from the continent and its insular position in the Pacific Ocean allowed avoiding the defeat of neighboring territories, and these bombings became an additional factor restraining hostilities in Europe. Sanchez and Xidias (2017) cite the concept of “war without mercy” and note that the position of the Allies regarding the destruction of the two Japanese cities was obvious and predictable (p. 13). Therefore, the key aspect that influenced the use of aviation forces to deliver a massive nuclear strike was the losses of Allied forces over the four years of the Pacific War.

The result of the Pacific War is the complete surrender of Japan as one of the main aggressor countries. The use of military aircraft by the Allies had a significant effect on the outcomes of the hostilities and became the factor conducive to victory. According to Russell (2019), the mid-20th-century weapons capabilities were not as advanced and diverse as they are today, but air power reflected its significance totally. The outcome of the war is logical since the Allied forces were superior to those of the Japanese, and, despite the confrontation, the liberation troops managed to recapture the occupied territories and stop the aggression. As Goodman and Moos (2019) state, the war for dominance in the Pacific Ocean became decisive for Japan and the United States, but as a result, many countries were involved in this conflict. Aviation proved its relevance as an important military weapon and was one of the most important resources that ensured the victory of the Allies.

When summarising the aforementioned facts, one can argue that military aviation had a strong influence on the outcomes of the Pacific War and was one of the key forces in the battles for individual islands. The use of atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by aircraft proves the destructive power that air attacks can carry. The turning points of the war and the advancement of the Allies to Japan were largely due to the use of aviation since the strategies of massive strikes and attacks from different directions were promoted. Airpower became a significant aspect of many military operations, including battles in the Coral Sea, the Solomon Islands, and other hot spots. The Allies won the battle of Okinawa that brought numerous casualties on both sides due to the involvement of massive airstrikes that supported infantry attacks. The assessment of military operations in the Pacific Ocean in 1941-1945 implies analyzing the successful operations of the air forces under the leadership of dedicated commanders and discussing the effects of strategically designed attacking solutions.

References

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6 Sanchez, V., & Xidias, J. (2017). War without Mercy: Race and power in the Pacific War. London, UK: Macat Library.

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6 Takenaka, A. (2015). Collecting for peace: Memories and objects of the Asia-Pacific War. Verge: Studies in Global Asias, 1(2), 136-157.

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