Lesson 4: Victory in the Pacific, 1943–1945

The U.S. victory over the Japanese Navy at Midway succeeded in stopping the Axis advance in the Pacific, and by early 1943 the Marines had driven the Japanese from Guadalcanal. Thus began the long, slow process of forcing the enemy out of a series of fortified positions in the Central and South Pacific. The strategy employed was often called "island-hopping" or "leap-frogging"—concentrating on certain critical enemy bases while bypassing others in the hope that, cut off from their supply routes, they would "wither on the vine," as the American commander, Douglas MacArthur, put it. By early 1945 the noose was tightening around Japan itself, as Allied forces captured islands close enough to be used as airbases for bombing raids against Japanese cities. One by one the largest cities in Japan were hammered from the air—a strategy that culminated in the use of the first atomic bombs, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in August 1945. The government in Tokyo announced its surrender soon thereafter, bringing World War II to an end.

This lesson will guide students through the military campaigns of the Pacific theater, tracing the path of the Allied offensives. Through an examination of historical documents and the use of an interactive map, students will gain an understanding of what the Allies were trying to accomplish, and why. Moreover, they will consider the controversial issue of the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Guiding Questions

How did the Allies manage to defeat Japan?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students should be able to: discuss the overall Allied strategy in the Pacific from 1943–1945, and to assess how successful it was.

Explain the reasons behind the dropping of the atomic bombs, and why the use of these weapons was controversial.

Articulate the reasons behind the Japanese surrender, and the role the atomic bomb played in that decision.

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

Identify and explain the significance of the most important military engagements.