Lesson 1: Turning the Tide in the Pacific, 1941–1943

In December 1941, Japanese armed forces launched a massive offensive, attacking targets as far East as Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and as far West as Burma. The goal was to create what the Japanese called the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere—an empire in which Japanese industries would have access to the substantial oil, rubber, and tin resources of Southeast Asia and Indonesia, plus a string of distant island bases from which this far-flung empire could be protected. By the beginning of spring 1942, the Japanese military was close to meeting its objectives. Nevertheless, in a series of engagements during the spring and summer of that year Allied forces succeeded in stopping the Japanese advance, so that by early 1943 it was the Allies who were on the offensive.

This lesson plan will focus on the overall strategies pursued by the Japanese and the Allies in the initial months of World War II in Asia and the Pacific. By examining military documents and consulting an interactive map of the Pacific theater, students will compare what each side hoped to accomplish with what actually happened. Also, students will have an opportunity to read personal accounts by those who fought in the Pacific War, giving them a glimpse of what conditions on the battlefront were actually like.

Guiding Questions

How did the Allies manage to turn the tide against the Japanese in World War II?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students should be able to: articulate the overall Japanese strategy for 1941–1942, and to assess how successful it was.

Discuss Allied strategy for 1941–1942, and to assess how successful it was.

Identify on a map locations that were important to the early war in the Pacific.

Identify the most important military engagements as well as explain their significance.

Discuss anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States, and how it affected the way the Pacific War was fought.