Pacific War Timeline

PACIFIC WAR TIMELINE: Japanese nationalism had been on the rise since the 1860s, when the idea of a unified Japanese nation, rather than a collection of feudal states, really took hold.  Military nationalism was known as Bushido meaning the “Way of the Warrior”.
Japan allied with the Western Allies in World War I and seized the opportunity to expand its sphere if influence in China, emerging as a “great power” in international politics by the end of the war.

mukden-incident-tankA Japanese Renault tank in Manchuria, in late 1931. @ Pacific War Timeline

In the 1920s Japan had control of the railways and much of the economy in north-eastern China, known as Manchuria.  In September 1931 the Japanese staged a dynamite attack on a Japanese railway in near Mukden in southern Manchuria.  This has become known as the Mukden Incident or the Manchurian Crisis.

Although the attack failed to blow anything up, Japan used it as a pretext to invade. The Japanese took over Manchuria within six months and set up the puppet state of Manchuko.
Japan and China again crossed swords in 1937 in the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. This marked the beginning of total war between the two countries.
At the time the Japanese referred to the war as the Greater East Asia War, seen as a pan-Asian struggle to stop aggression from China and West.  Japan sought to create a “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” free of interference from Europe or the rest of the world.

Pushes into China

Japan invades Indochina (September 22 - 26, 1940) Japan occupies northern Vietnam to stop China’s fuel and weapons supply routes through South-East Asia.  The Allies respond by freezing Japan’s assets and the US starts a complete oil embargo.

The Hundred Regiments Offensive (August 20 – December 5, 1940) The Chinese communist army successfully attacks the Japanese in central China.  Japan responds with its “Three Alls” – kill all, burn all, destroy all – policy towards China.

New Fourth Army Incident (January 7 to 13, 1941) Chinese communists and nationalists clash, ending their co-operation.

The gamechanger

japanese-executionAn Australian sergeant from a special
reconnaissance unit about to be beheaded by the
Japanese in New Guinea, October 1943.
@ Pacific War Timeline

Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) Japan attacks and destroys most of the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.  Most of the US Navy’s battleships and cruisers are sunk but its aircraft carriers and submarines escape unharmed. President Roosevelt proclaims it “a date which will live in infamy”.

The Empire expands (December 1941) Japan captures Hong Kong, attacks Malay and seizes US bases on Guam and Wake Island.

The Fall of Singapore (February 15, 1942) British Commonwealth forces surrender Singapore after a weeklong siege by the Japanese. About 80,000 British, Indian and Australian prisoners of war are taken, leading Churchill to call the Fall the “largest capitulation” in British history.

The Battle of the Java Sea (February 27 – March 1, 1942) Allied navies suffer a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Fall of Rangoon (March 7, 1942) The Allies abandon the Burmese capital of Rangoon to the advancing Japanese.  The resulting occupation of Burma leads to widespread disorder in eastern India and a famine in Bengal which cause up to three million deaths.

The Philippines go down (May 8, 1942) More than 80,000 American and Filipino forces surrender to the Japanese in the Philippines.  The US Pacific command, led by General Douglas MacArthur, retreats to Australia.

Sub attack (June 8, 1942) Two Japanese midget submarines shell Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

First Allied victories

soldiers-honoring-pearl-harbor-victimsUS Navy sailors honoring the victims of Pearl Harbor,
Oahu, Hawaii, 1942 . @ Pacific War Timeline

Doolittle Raid (April 18, 1942) The US sends 16 medium bombers to attack Tokyo and other Japanese cities from an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.  Though the raid was strategically insignificant, it provided a much-needed morale-booster for the US and caused some Japanese to doubt their leadership. 

Battle of the Coral Sea (May 4 – 8, 1942) American aircraft carriers engage and rout their Japanese counterparts in the South Pacific.  Although the Allies suffered more casualties and destroyed ships, this was a strategic defeat for the Japanese.

The Battle of Midway (June 4 – 7, 1942) The turning point of the Pacific War.  The Americans defeat the Japanese Navy at Midway Atoll, sinking four carriers and one cruiser.

Operation Cartwheel (June 1942) The Allies cut off parts of Japanese-occupied New Guinea, paving the way for Admiral Chester Nimitz’s island-hopping campaign towards Japan.

Australian victory (September 1942) The Japanese continued to advance through the Solomon Islands and New Guinea but are beaten back by the Australian Army at Milne Bay in September.  This is the first outright defeat of Japanese land forces since 1939.


chinese-soldiersBritish-equipped Chinese soldiers preparing
to march into Burma . @ Pacific War Timeline

Guadalcanal (August 7, 1942 – February 9, 1943) US Marine-led forces win a drawn-out battle of attrition against the Japanese over this small island.

The Battle of Changde (November 2 – December 20, 1943) The Japanese use biological and chemical weapons including the bubonic plague against the Chinese.

The Battle of Tarawa (November 20 – 23, 1943) American marines use “Alligator” amphibious tanks against the Japanese to take the island of Tarawa.  Though US casualties are high, this is their first victory in the critical Central Pacific region.

Cairo Conference (November 22, 1943) Roosevelt and Churchill meet Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek in Cairo to discuss strategy for defeating Japan.  The meeting concludes with the Cairo Declaration to beat Japan into an unconditional surrender.

Operation Ichi-Go (April 19 – December 3, 1944) A major Japanese push across Central and Southern China.  The Japanese gained a lot of ground before being stopped at Guangxi.

Operation U-Go (March – June 1944) The Japanese launch unsuccessful attacks into India from Burma.

Battle of Saipan (June 15 – July 9, 1944) US forces capture the island of Saipan, where they build massive airbases for B-29 Superfortress bombers within range of the Japanese Home Islands.

America rules the waves

iwo-jima-ltvsAmerican amphibious landing craft or "LVTs" off
Iwo Jima, February 1945 . @ Pacific War Timeline

The Battle of the Philippines Sea (June 19 – 20, 1944) The US destroys the Japanese Navy's ability to conduct large-scale carrier actions.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 23 – 26, 1944) Arguably the largest naval battle in history involving over 250 warships and almost 2000 aircraft.  This the first time Japanese aircraft carry out organized kamikaze attacks.  The battle is a decisive Allied victory.

Return to the Philippines (October 20, 1944 – September 2, 1945) Allied forces fight a bitter land campaign to liberate the Philippine islands.   

Iwo Jima (February 19 – March 26, 1945) US marines capture the heavily defended island of Iwo Jima.  A dramatic photo of marines raising the American flag on the island is often cited as the most reproduced flag of all time.

The Battle of Okinawa (April 1 – June 21, 1945) The largest amphibious assault of the war.  Over 100,000 Japanese soldiers (94 percent of their force)  and 65,000 Allied troops are killed.

End of the Empire

Firestorm (March 9 – 10, 1945) About 100,000 people are killed in a firestorm caused by an attack on Tokyo.

japanese-surrenderThe Japanese delagation ready to officially surrender
aboard the USS Missouri, September 2, 1945 .
@ Pacific War Timelinee

Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) American B-29 bomber Enola Gay makes the first nuclear attack in history by dropping an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

Nagasaki (August 9, 1945) The city of Nagasaki suffers a nuclear attack.  These two nuclear bombs kill more than 240,00 people. 

Russia attacks (August 9, 1945) A force of 1,000,000 battle-hardened Soviets invades Japanese-held Manchuria and quickly overcomes the defenders.

Victory (August 15, 1945) V-J (Victory over Japan) Day.  Japan submits its total surrender to General Douglas MacArthur aboard the battleship USS Missouri.

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The page Pacific War Timeline was written by S. Anderson, 2011. Last updated 2011.

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References for Pacific War Timeline

• World Encyclopedia, 2005

• The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition 2008

• A Short History of World War II, James L. Stokesbury, 2008

• Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945, Sir Max Hastings, Nov 1, 2011

• Britannica


Photo sources for Pacific War Timeline

• Japanese tank in Manchuria

• Japanese execution

• US Navy soldiers from the United States National Archives, ID code 80-G-K-13328

• Chinese soldiers

• LTVs from the United States Navy Naval History and Heritage Command, ID code NH 104318-KN

• Japanese surrender from the United States National Archives, ID code USA C-2719


• German troops in Russia

Unless otherwise stated, all photos used on the page Pacific War Timeline are, to our knowledge, in the public domain. If you think otherwise, please let us know.