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In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan advanced against British controlled islands and territories in the Pacific. By April of 1942 Hong Kong and Singapore were both in Japanese hands, General Douglas Mac Arthur controlled a large American and Filipino force in the Philippines. A large Japanese force landed there, and in March MacArthur was forced to abandon his troops and go to Australia. On May 6, 1942, Americans holding out on the Bataan Peninsula were finally forced to surrender. 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners were forced to endure the 60-mile Bataan Death March, during which over 10,000 prisoners were executed or died from weakness (it was several years before Washington became aware of this March.

Just two days later the Americans won their first decisive victory at the Battle of the Coral Sea. American airplanes launched from aircraft carriers were able to stop the advance of several large Japanese troop transports, Troops on these ships were to be used for an attack on Australia. After this defeat the Japanese could never again mount a planned attack there. American airplanes also played a crucial role in the Battle of Midway. This battle took place in early June 1942; in it the Japanese lost 4 aircraft carriers and over 300 planes. Many military historians consider the battle to be the turning point of the Pacific War; after this Japan was never able to launch a major offensive. By mid-1942 American industrial might became more and more of a factor; the Americans could simply produce more airplanes than the Japanese could.

The Japanese were again halted at the Battle of Guadalcanal, which began in August of 1942 and continued into the following year. American marines engaged in jungle warfare and even hand-to-hand combat. On many occasions Japanese units would fight nearly until the last man. Beginning in 1943 the Allies instituted a policy of island-hopping; by this policy key Japanese strongholds would be attacked by air and sea power as American marines would push on around these strongholds. By late 1944 American bombers were able to reach major Japanese cities, and unleashed massive bombing attacks on them.

By 1944 the war had clearly turned against the Japanese. In late October General MacArthur returned to the Philippine island of Leyte (although the city of Manila was not totally liberated until the following March). The Japanese began to use kamikaze pilots in a desperate attempt to destroy Allied ships. Several more bloody battles waited ahead for American forces: America suffered 25,000 casualties at the Rattle of Iwo Jima, and another 50,000 at the Rattle of Okinawa. After these battles, however, nothing was left to stop an Allied invasion of Japan.

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