The Japanese blitzkrieg in the Pacific War was a series of swift advances that Japan's army made soon after Pearl Harbor during 1942. Their blitzkrieg was very effective and gained lots of territory for the rising Japanese Empire. For the Allies, such set-backs extended the war in the Pacific by years.
In late 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) bombed the US naval base of Pearl Harbor. The bombing of Pearl Harbor sank four battleships, a couple of destroyers and hundreds of US aircraft were also lost at the airfields. The only consolation was that the oil depots remained untouched, and that four US aircraft carriers that were out of port on the day.Credit: This is a public domain image from Wiki Commons.
However, the Japanese were now ready to begin their campaign in the Pacific. Inspired by German military doctrine Blitzkrieg tactics would provide the basis for the Japanese to establish their empire. As such, days after Pearl Harbor the Japanese began to advance on their targets of Hong Kong, Guam and Wake Island. All of which the Allies lost.
In 1942, Japan's soldiers continued their advances into Burma and the Dutch East Indies. Manila and Rabaul also fell to Japan in early 1942. MacArthur fled the Philippines after the Battle of Corregidor in May.
Malaya was another campaign for the Japanese army. While Japan's advances continued, the British garrison at Singapore was preparing a defense of Malaya. After their victories in Malaya, the Japanese army approached Singapore. Their supply line may have been stretched, but despite this the Japanese army advanced into Singapore.
The Battle of Singapore
Japan's soldiers reached Singapore by the February 1, 1942. After reaching Singapore, their advance was temporarily halted for a few days. During the period they laid down further plans for the landings at Singapore, and Japanese aircraft bombed naval bases and fuel stored there. Their artillery also targeted Allied positions along Singapore's coastline.
The Battle of Singapore began on the February 8. Approximately 23,000 Japanese troops landed on the northwestern coastline of Singapore. Along the northwestern coastline were divisions of Australian troops which took out a good number of Japan's soldiers. Despite this, they still retreated further inland, and the Japanese gained a firmer footing in Singapore. A smaller number of Japanese troops also landed on the eastern side of Singapore, which ensured that Britain diverted some divisions away from the main point of the Japanese landings.
Among the main targets for Japan's army was Tengah Airfield. After an air and artillery bombardment Japan's troops moved in toward the airfield as the Australians and Indian divisions fell back. It was here that Japan established one of its headquarters for the battle.
On the 10th February, Japan's troops made their way to Bukit Timah. An increasing number of Japanese tanks supported the soldiers, which poured into Singapore across a repaired causeway that the retreating Allies had previously blown up. Bukit Timah fell to Japan, which also ensured the fall of the pumping station and reservoirs at Singapore. Now that the Allies were running short on water supplies, they could not continue the battle for long.
By the February 13, the Allies had been pushed back to Singapore City. Gradually Japanese troops surrounded the city, and their general began to request that the Allies surrender. They themselves were also running low on ammunition supplies, but cut off from the pumping stations and reservoirs left the Allied troops with little water.
The battle continued for a few days longer. At Bukit Chandu the Malayan Regiment had established new positions after their retreat from the Panjang Ridge. They were not defeated until February 14.
On February 15, the Allied general and officers met with the Japanese at their headquarters in Bukit Timah. It was here that they surrendered to Japan's army in Singapore. Even though they had many thousands of troops remaining, without any fresh water supplies they could not keep the battle going for much longer. The RAF had been decimated in Malaya and Singapore, so airlifting supplies to them was not a possibility. What was left of the Allied naval presence was moving away from Singapore as Japanese aircraft bombed their warships.Credit: This is a public domain image.
After the battle, Japan occupied Singapore until 1945. Here they could establish new airfields and naval bases. Further European colonies in the Dutch East Indies were also occupied by their armies in the months followed.
The Dutch East Indies Campaign
The Dutch East Indies Campaign began soon after Pearl Harbor. Japan's troops approached Borneo, the largest inland in the region, where Britain and Holland had stationed only a few troops. In December Japan's troops steadily advanced further into Borneo. By the end of January 1942 much of Borneo had fallen, including Balikpapan.
Japan's army was also advancing further elsewhere in the Dutch East Indies. At Celebes and Moloccus the army sustained its victories as both fell to Japan in 1942. Japanese troops also landed at Sumatra where they occupied oil refineries at Palembang, as well as key Allied airfields. On the eastern side of Java Japanese paratroopers took Timor.
Their troops gradually island hopped their way through the region, and occupied additional airfields which further expanded the range of their aircraft. With more airfields the Japanese air force stepped up their aerial bombardments. Aircraft bombed Allied troop convoys, supply ships and other warships out of the water. In February, hundreds of Japanese planes swarmed across Darwin targeting Allied shipping in port and planes.
But the Allies still held Java where thousands of their troops were stationed. Japan sent an invasion fleet to transport about 35,000 soldiers to occupy Java. Japanese destroyers and cruisers escorted them to provide additional naval cover if Allied warships intercepted the fleet.
On February 27, an ABDA (American, British, Australian, Dutch and Australian) fleet did indeed intercept the IJN escort fleet at the Java Sea. It was here that Japanese warships sank much of the ABDA fleet. The ABDA ships gradually dispersed, and the IJN intercepted those warships that did make an effective withdrawal soon after. The Battle of Java Sea ensured the IJN invasion fleet reached its designated target, albeit a little later than planned.
In March Japan's troops landed at Java. During this period they landed at three points along Java's coastline, and from here they advanced further inland. For the Battle of Java Japan had both naval and air superiority. Although the Allies had a numerical advantage, without adequate air and naval support they could not hold Java. By the 5th Japan's troops occupied the capital, Batavia. By the 8th the remaining Allied troops surrendered to the Japanese in Java.
With the fall of Java, the Japanese had effectively won the Dutch East Indies Campaign. The Allies evacuated what troops they could shortly after. The campaign had been a great victory for the Japan as the Dutch East Indies was absorbed into the empire. After the fall of Java, the Japanese army headed eastwards toward New Guinea.
The Japanese blitzkrieg in the Pacific had seen Japan advance near to Australia. Japanese landings on Australia remained a possibility. However, Japan had still not won the war.
Japan's advances were eventually checked at sea. Two naval battles involving the IJN and US carrier fleets went some way to turning the war. The Battle of Coral Sea was the first, where the Japanese abandoned their advance on Port Moresby. The Japanese then lost four of their aircraft carriers and hundreds of planes at the Battle of Midway
As such, the Japanese blitzkrieg had all but ended in the Pacific. Japan began to pursue an alternative strategy aimed at establishing an effective perimeter defense of the empire. Crushing naval defeats at Midway had provided the Allies with a platform for their own advances in the Pacific War, and gradually the Japanese Empire lost most of its territory.