Japan realised that their natural resources were dwindling but that their population was rapidly growing.
So in 1931 it ‘annexed’ the large northern province of Manchuria from China and with the fall of France in 1940 it allowed them to gain a foothold in South-East Asia which was occupied by French Indo-China, and this is where they realised they could expand their empire.
The Japanese realised that the United States of America was the only power with a strong military presence in Asia who could oppose its expansionist plans.
During talks between Japanese and USA diplomats, the Japanese had been plotting to attack the US Pacific Fleet which was based in Pearl Harbour.
The USA refused to remove an embargo that was threatening to cripple Japan’s mighty war machine so the Japanese put their plan into operation.
On the same day that the assault on Pearl Harbour took place, the Japanese also attacked Malaya, the Philippines, Guam, Java, Thailand, Hong Kong, Borneo and the fortress of Wake Island.
Within a few months, Japan had extended the boundaries of its empire and establised a defensive perimeter far out in the Pacific and by crippling the US fleet, they hoped to safeguard their newly won territories.
Shaken by its losses at Pearl Harbour America devoted it’s energy into re-arming the Pacific fleet. All but two of the battleships sunk or damaged in Pearl Harbour were raised, repaired and refitted.
On April 18th 1942, a Colonel James H.Doolittle sent off 16 B-25 bombers from the carrier USS Hornet and staged a daring bombing raid on Tokyo.
Then thee weeks later in the battle of the Coral Sea, American carrier-based flyers shot down some 75 Japanese planes and prevented them from landing in Papua New Guinea.
Although this was a successful mission, it was marred by the loss of the carrier ‘Lexington’, through an explosion of petrol vapour released by an earlier battle. Thankfully, most of te crew members were saved and the consequent crippling of two Japanese carriers had a major effect on future operations.
In June 1942,a strong US Pacific Fleet, under the command of Admiral Chester Nimitz had a crushing victory over the Japanese at Midway, sinking four carriers, a heavy cruiser and shooting down around 275 aircraft.
Within the three days of this battle, Japan’s long range striking capacity had been destroyed. Over the next few months, with the help of the Australians, they had retaken Guadalcanal and other island outposts including Rabaul, in New Britain. This meant that Japan’s main base in the area had been put of of commission.
Over the next two years and during some of the bloodiest naval battles the Japanese army, navy and airforce had been decimated.