In order to reduce casualties as well as maximize their resources, the American forces employed the island hopping strategy against the Japanese in the Pacific theater in World War II.
The term island hopping, or land hopping, was first mentioned by British-American reporter, Hector Charles Bywater, in his fictional novel, The Great Pacific War.
The attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, brought to light the huge gaps in the defense of the American forces. Soon, the United States joined the Allies in their fight against the Axis powers. To thwart their attacks, a battle plan named War Plan Orange was set into motion, which soon saw the light of the day due to the looming advance of the Japanese army.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked a collection of islands in the Philippines that were under US control. This prompted General Douglas MacArthur and 14 staff officers to escape to Australia. General MacArthur soon formulated a strategy to recapture the Marshall and Gilbert islands, as well as liberate the Philippines. This was to be achieved by a strategy that came to be known as island hopping or land hopping or leapfrogging.
The Island Hopping Strategy
The Japanese outnumbered the United States Army in terms of forces. They also refused to surrender since they deemed it a dishonorable way to live and hence committed suicide. The Japanese had established bases on many islands and were inching closer towards their goal to control the Pacific.
◆ The island hopping strategy involved capturing a nearby island, and defending it till reinforcements arrived, and then help drive away the Japanese resistance.
◆ The army engineers and naval units would help construct airbases and harbors, and repair any bases if needed. This made it easier to gather supplies, reconnaissance, and attack the other bases.
◆ After capturing an island, the American army would move to the next less-fortified island and establish a base there. The first island would serve as a headquarters for safe anchorage and last-minute training, while planning their assault on the next island.
◆ If some islands were heavily garrisoned, the US forces would skip it and go to the less-fortified one, such as Rabaul.
◆ This strategy created a vacuum in the Japanese forces, since the Americans were able to decipher their code and prepare for their attack.
How Was It Used?
The islands under the possession of Japan were Saipan, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Iwo Jima, Pelelieu, Okinawa, and Truk,, while the islands held by the US were Midway, Guam, Tarawa, Guadalcanal, Johnston Island, Honolulu, and Wake.
The Battle of the Pacific began from the Midway islands, named so because of the location of the islands between Japan and Hawaii.
The strategy was formed by General MacArthur and General Chester W. Nimitz of the US Navy. The US only concentrated their efforts on islands with lesser defenses, thus the base at Rabaul with heavy Japanese armed presence was left to wither.
Using a two-pronged approach, General MacArthur advanced along the northeast coast of New Guinea, while other forces under the command of General Chester W. Nimitz advanced towards Bougainville through the Solomon islands.
Where Was It Used?
◆ The Battle of Guadalcanal had reduced the numbers of the American army and limited the numbers of carriers assigned to each regiment.
◆ The first step was to capture the Tarawa atoll in the Gilbert Islands. This would let the US forces establish a base on the islands, hold off any attack until reinforcements arrive, and attack the Marshall Islands and then the Marianas.
◆ The US Marines landed on November 20, 1943 and captured the island over the next 3 days. In this battle, the US lost 1001 soldiers and had 2,296 wounded. Only 17 Japanese soldiers were taken as prisoners of war (PoW).
◆ At Kwajalein and Eniwetok islands, the Japanese forces were overrun by continuous aerial and naval bombardments. The Japanese fought till their last breath, with only 105 of 8,000 surviving.
◆ Meanwhile, at Truk, US planes sank 25 merchant men, 6 destroyers, 3 light cruisers, and 270 aircraft. With this, the Gilbert and Marshall Islands were captured and the US looked towards the Marianas.
◆ The Marianas consisted of 3 islands, Guam, Tinian, and Saipan.
◆ The Battle of the Philippine Sea that lasted for two days was fought for control over the waters of the Marianas with 5 carriers of the Japanese against 7 carriers of the US fleet. The American air force shot down 600 aircraft while losing 123 of their own.
◆ On Saipan, the Japanese started committing mass suicides, with their general leading a final assault against the American forces. This was the costliest battle with 14,111 casualties on the US side, with the entire garrison of 31,000 Japanese men at Saipan killed.
◆ The US forces moved to Guam with 36,000 men and cornered the Japanese resistance of 18,000 to the north, till it was secured on August 8, 1944. As the battle in Guam was in progress, US forces arrived at Tinian on July 24 and secured the island after six days of combat.
◆ On 20 October 1944, General MacArthur returned to Philippines and fulfilled his promise. The first step was to capture Peleliu. The US forces landed on September 15 and were supported by reinforcements from the nearby island of Anguar. It took 2 months to secure Peleliu, with 2,236 Americans killed and 10,695 Japanese dead.
◆ On December 15, 1944, US forces landed on Mindoro and made this the primary base to commence their attack on Luzon.
◆ With 175,000 men in tow, MacArthur captured the smaller islands of Clark Field, Bataan, and Corregidor. With the capture of these islands, the US forces were advancing towards Manila.
◆ The US forces landed on Mindanao and the rest of the battle would continue on Luzon and Mindanao.
◆ The next step was to capture Iwo Jima, the final obstacle to the Japanese mainland. The US bombarded the island continuously, resulting in the soldiers emerging from their underground bunkers. This was the final stand between the Japanese soldiers and the US forces which lasted for 36 days. The US lost 6,381 men while 20,000 Japanese soldiers perished.
◆ The final island to be taken was Okinawa. The US forces swept across the south-central part of the island and captured two airbases. The US fleet, supported by the British fleet, defeated the naval threat of the Japanese super battleship Yamato. On June 21, the last of the Japanese were defeated, with casualties amounting to 12,513 Americans and 66,000 Japanese dead.
Thus, the island hopping strategy was used successfully against the Japanese forces. After two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan finally surrendered, signaling the end of the war.