World War II (detail from Pearl Harbor photo)

Across the Pacific

In 1943, the U.S. Army and Navy jointly began a two-pronged attack through the central Pacific and across New Guinea to the Philippines.

In the central Pacific, vast ocean areas separated critical island bases. Fast carrier task forces and army bombers attacked the targeted islands while slower amphibious forces made bloody assaults on island strongholds. Once captured, the islands became airfields and supply hubs for the next attack.

In the south, Allied forces continued west around Rabaul, bound for the Philippines, supported by the Army Air Forces and, at times, the central Pacific Fleet.

Island assaults began with massive bombardments from ships and aircraft against shore positions. Forces landed in specially designed landing craft, many of which could move up on the beach itself before unloading. Once on the beach, the men fought their way inland, attacking enemy troops spread out in caves, bunkers, and fortified heights, often suffering heavy losses. Their weapons included not only mortars, rifles, and machine guns, but also fearsome flamethrowers.

In October 1944, General Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines (he was forced to evacuate in March 1942) and began pushing back the Japanese. The Japanese islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa fell in March and June of 1945.

General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz, 1944
Coast guard ships kept island bases supplied
Flamethrower at New Georgia, Solomon Islands, 1943
Dead soldiers on the beach at Buna, Papua New Guinea, 1943
165th Infantry assault wave on Butaritari, Gilbert Islands, 1943
Marine sighting a Japanese sniper at Shuri, Okinawa
Mortar fire on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, February 20, 1945
American flag on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, February 1945
Indian “code talkers” used their complex and largely unknown language in an innovative program to protect communications. Some 400 Navajos were trained to convey information about troop movements and tactics. They took part in every Pacific assault from 1942 to 1945, and their code was never broken.

Related Artifacts