By the time World War II was in full swing, Japan had the most interest in using biological warfare. Japan’s Air Force dropped massive amounts of ceramic bombs filled with bubonic plague-infested fleas in Ningbo, China. These attacks would eventually lead to thousands of deaths years after the war would end.
In Japan’s relentless and indiscriminate research methods on biological warfare, they poisoned more than 1,000 Chinese village wells to study cholera and typhus outbreaks. These diseases are caused by bacteria that with today’s technology could potentially be weaponised.
A map of the Canterbury in New Zealand prepared by the Japanese Military following the attack on Pearl Harbour
Main articles: South-East Asian theatre of World War II and South West Pacific theatre of World War II
The South-East Asian campaign was preceded by years of propaganda and espionage activities carried out in the region by the Japanese Empire.
The Japanese espoused their vision of a Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, and an Asia for Asians to the people of Southeast Asia, who had lived under European rule for generations. As a result, many inhabitants in some of the colonies (particularly Indonesia) actually sided with the Japanese invaders for anti-colonial reasons.
However, the ethnic Chinese, who had witnessed the effects of Japanese occupation in their homeland, did not side with the Japanese.
Japanese troops march through the streets of Labuan, Borneo on January 14, 1942.
Hong Kong surrendered to the Japanese on December 25.
In Malaya the Japanese overwhelmed an Allied army composed of British, Indian, Australian and Malay forces. The Japanese were quickly able to advance down the Malayan Peninsula, forcing the Allied forces to retreat towards Singapore. The Allies lacked air cover and tanks; the Japanese had air supremacy.
The sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse on December 10, 1941, led to the east coast of Malaya being exposed to Japanese landings and the elimination of British naval power in the area. By the end of January 1942, the last Allied forces crossed the strait of Johore and into Singapore. In the Philippines, the Japanese pushed the combined Filipino-American force towards the Bataan Peninsula and later the island of Corregidor. By January 1942, General Douglas MacArthur and President Manuel L.
Quezon were forced to flee in the face of Japanese advance. This marked one of the worst defeats suffered by the Americans, leaving over 70,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war in the custody of the Japanese.
Battle of Singapore, February 1942.
On February 15, 1942, Singapore, due to the overwhelming superiority of Japanese forces and encirclement tactics, fell to the Japanese, causing the largest surrender of British-led military personnel in history. An estimated 80,000 Indian, Australian and British troops were taken as prisoners of war, joining 50,000 taken in the Japanese invasion of Malaya (modern day Malaysia). Many were later used as forced labour constructing the Burma Railway, the site of the infamous Bridge on the River Kwai.
Immediately following their invasion of British Malaya, the Japanese military carried out a purge of the Chinese population in Malaya and Singapore.
The Japanese then seized the key oil production zones of Borneo, Central Java, Malang, Cepu, Sumatra, and Dutch New Guinea of the late Dutch East Indies, defeating the Dutch forces.
However, Allied sabotage had made it difficult for the Japanese to restore oil production to its pre-war peak.
The Japanese then consolidated their lines of supply through capturing key islands of the Pacific, including Guadalcanal.
Tide turns (1942–45)
Battle of Midway.
The attack by dive bombers from USS Yorktown and USS Enterprise on the Japanese aircraft carriers Soryu, Akagi and Kaga in the morning of 4 June 1942.
Japanese military strategists were keenly aware of the unfavorable discrepancy between the industrial potential of the Japanese Empire and that of the United States.
Because of this they reasoned that Japanese success hinged on their ability to extend the strategic advantage gained at Pearl Harbor with additional rapid strategic victories.
The Japanese Command reasoned that only decisive destruction of the United States’ Pacific Fleet and conquest of its remote outposts would ensure that the Japanese Empire would not be overwhelmed by America’s industrial might.
In April 1942, Japan was bombed for the first time in the Doolittle Raid. In May 1942, failure to decisively defeat the Allies at the Battle of the Coral Sea, in spite of Japanese numerical superiority, equated to a strategic defeat for Imperial Japan.
This setback was followed in June 1942 by the catastrophic loss of four fleet carriers at the Battle of Midway, the first decisive defeat for the Imperial Japanese Navy.
It proved to be the turning point of the war as the Navy lost its offensive strategic capability and never managed to reconstruct the “‘critical mass’ of both large numbers of carriers and well-trained air groups”.
Australian land forces defeated Japanese Marines in New Guinea at the Battle of Milne Bay in September 1942, which was the first land defeat suffered by the Japanese in the Pacific.
Further victories by the Allies at Guadalcanal in September 1942, and New Guinea in 1943 put the Empire of Japan on the defensive for the remainder of the war, with Guadalcanal in particular sapping their already-limited oil supplies.
During 1943 and 1944, Allied forces, backed by the industrial might and vast raw material resources of the United States, advanced steadily towards Japan.
The Sixth United States Army, led by General MacArthur, landed on Leyte on October 20, 1944. In the subsequent months, during the Philippines Campaign (1944–45), the combined United States forces, together with the native guerrilla units, liberated the Philippines. By 1944,
the Allies had seized or bypassed and neutralized many of Japan’s strategic bases through amphibious landings and bombardment.
This, coupled with the losses inflicted by Allied submarines on Japanese shipping routes began to strangle Japan’s economy and undermine its ability to supply its army.
By early 1945, the U.S. Marines had wrested control of the Ogasawara Islands in several hard-fought battles such as the Battle of Iwo Jima, marking the beginning of the fall of the islands of Japan