The Royal New Zealand Navy
CHAPTER 16 — The Aggressions of Japan
The Aggressions of Japan
IN 1853 an American squadron under Commodore Matthew Perry, USN, paid an unwelcome visit to Tokyo asking for trade facilities in Japan. That historic occasion marked the beginning of the end for Japan of more than two centuries of complete seclusion from the rest of the world. Japan had closed her harbours to all foreign ships in 1638 and a strictly enforced edict forbade any ocean-going enterprise, the building of ships being limited to small coastal vessels. That law was revoked in 1853, and a treaty with the United States was soon followed by others with European nations; but forty years passed before Japanese merchant ships were seen outside Far Eastern waters.
The transition of Japan from feudalism to modern ways was swift beyond all precedent, and violent. The final overthrow of the Shogunate and the restoration to power of the Emperor in 1868 marked a point from which Japan began the organisation of her land and sea forces and a rapid development of her internal resources and overseas trade. Japan, like Great Britain, is an island outpost of a great continent and, once she had accepted the Western model of nineteenth-century progress, it was inevitable that she would develop into a great sea power.
The Japanese developed their navy on the British model under the guidance of officers lent from the Royal Navy. Japanese officers were trained in England and returned to Japan in three small warships built in Britain.1 There was a wealth of good seamen among the virile people of Japan.
If the world had been surprised by Japan's quick defeat of China, it was with amazement that it saw the overthrow of Russia's naval and military might in the Far East. Though Japan's fleet, largely foreign-built, was small, it was well trained and superbly efficient. Her then inadequate merchant marine had to be supplemented by many chartered foreign supply ships. Seldom, if ever before, had more decisive results been achieved by sea forces so limited. With aggressive skill and determination, the Japanese exploited the ‘flexibility, the celerity and the baffling nature of amphibious power’, as they were to do on a vaster scale less than forty years later.
The war merely substituted Japan for Russia in southern Manchuria and the former was no more scrupulous in respecting China's rights than the latter had been. Almost immediately after the conclusion of peace, complaints began to be made that the Japanese authorities in Manchuria were discriminating against the nationals of other countries. Yet Japan, in her treaty with Britain, had declared that she was ‘actuated solely by a desire to maintain in status quo and general peace the extreme East’, to uphold ‘the independence and territorial integrity of the Empire of China and the Empire of Korea’, and ‘to secure equal opportunities in those countries for the commerce and industries of all nations.’ By her annexation of Korea in 1910, Japan moved her frontier to the south-eastern edge of Manchuria.
The decade following the war saw a great growth of Japan's naval and military power, as well as of her industries and overseas trade. Her naval dockyards were organised on modern lines and superbly equipped and by 1907 were building the battleships and other warships which formerly had been beyond her resources. Many private shipyards were developed to build the liners and cargo vessels needed to cope with her ever-expanding trade. In 1904–5 Japan, with a merchant fleet of some 600 ships of 672,000 tons, ranked in eleventh place among the shipowning countries of the world. Thirty-five years later, she had advanced to third place with 2340 ships of 5,630,000 tons.
When the First World War started in August 1914, Japan promptly seized the opportunity to further her ambitious aims in the Pacific. Her assistance in terms of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty was page 240 not invoked by Britain, but on 15 August Japan addressed an ultimatum to Germany demanding the unconditional surrender of the naval base of Tsingtau in the leased territory of Kiaochow on the Shantung Peninsula. Tsingtau was Germany's most important overseas naval station and the base of her Pacific Squadron, but its reduction was too formidable a task for the limited British forces then available. Japan commenced hostilities on 23 August when a powerful expeditionary force—which included the old British battleship Triumph—moved to the investment of Tsingtau which fell on 7 November.
Meanwhile, Japanese squadrons actively co-operated with the British naval forces covering the trade routes and searching for the enemy's ships in the Pacific. One Japanese cruiser, the Ibuki, formed part of the escort for the New Zealand and Australian expeditionary forces proceeding to Egypt.
In the first days of the war a special sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence had arranged, inter alia, that Australian forces should occupy Rabaul in the Bismarck Archipelago, north of New Guinea, as a base of operations for the seizure of the cable and wireless stations on Nauru Island and Yap and Angaur in the Western Carolines. New Zealand was invited to take similar action against German Samoa, which was occupied on 30 August 1914. Rabaul was seized on 12 September and HMAS Melbourne had destroyed the wireless station on Nauru Island three days earlier.
No action had been taken in respect of Yap and Angaur when, on 14 October, the Australian authorities were informed by the Colonial Office that the Japanese had ‘temporarily occupied’ Yap but were ‘ready to hand it over to an Australian force.’ Because of its strategic importance, it was ‘desirable to relieve the Japanese as quickly as possible of the task of holding the island.’ This suggestion was strongly supported by the Australian Naval Board, which submitted to the Minister of Defence proposals for the effective occupation and administration of the German islands which were of ‘great strategic importance’ and ‘closely affect the whole question of the naval defence of Australia in the future.’
That was a compelling reason for prompt action, but five weeks elapsed before the Admiralty was informed that an expedition was about to leave Rabaul to occupy Saipan in the Marianas, Yap, Angaur, and Ponape in the Carolines, Jaluit in the Marshalls, and Nauru Island. But on 24 November the Colonial Office informed the Australian Government that it was ‘desirable for the present’ that the expedition should not proceed to any islands north of the Equator. When Australia asked for further information, the reply was made that as the Pellew, Marianas, Caroline, and Marshall page 241 Islands were occupied by the Japanese, who were at Britain's request policing the north Pacific, it was considered ‘most convenient for strategic reasons, to allow them to remain in occupation for the present, leaving the whole question of future to be settled at the end of the war.’1
In February 1917 the Australian Prime Minister, replying to the British Government, said his Government had no objection to a pledge being given to Japan that the islands north of the Equator would be hers after the war. On the day it referred the matter to Australia, the British Government had informed the Japanese Government that it would support Japan's claim to the islands north of the Equator on the understanding that she would treat in the same spirit Britain's claims to the German islands south of the Equator. In return for this promise, Japan agreed to send destroyers to the Mediterranean to assist in convoy operations.
During the war relations between Britain and Japan were marked by mutual distrust. Ill-feeling against Britain frequently found vehement expression in the Japanese press, notably when the war in Europe was going badly for Britain and her Allies. Military aid for Britain was never forthcoming, and even when naval assistance was given a price was always exacted.
Japan also seized the opportunity in January 1915 to present her notorious Twenty-one Demands on China which included far-reaching political, economic, and territorial concessions. These caused great indignation in China and called forth severe criticism in Britain and the United States. Japan was constrained to make some modifications in her demands, but she had the upper hand and knew it and China had to submit.
At the Imperial Conferences in 1917 and 1918 and the Peace Conference in 1919, New Zealand and Australia made it clear that they would not tolerate the Pacific islands being returned to Germany. With considerable misgiving they yielded to the British pledges already made to Japan regarding the islands north of the Equator, and only when a special type of mandate – C class – was devised to meet the special situation in the Pacific, under which the trustee power was not obliged to keep the door open to foreign commerce and foreign immigration, did they agree to accept anything short of full possession of the islands and territories south of the Equator.
1 When the proposal to hand Yap over to Australia became known in Japan, there were hostile demonstrations in Tokyo and great pressure was brought to bear on the Japanese Government, which withdrew its offer. Possibly, it had not intended to hand over the eastern groups of islands. The original offer mentioned only Yap.—Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–18, Vol. IX, p. 136.
This grim prospect of a great naval armament ‘race’ was dispelled by the Washington Conference of 1921–22, at which it was agreed that the United States should retain eighteen existing capital ships of 500,000 tons, Britain twenty-two of 580,000 tons, Japan ten of 301,000 tons, France ten of 221,000 tons, and Italy ten of 183,000 tons. In addition, the United States was to complete two ships already launched and then scrap two others; and when two ships to be built by Britain were ready, four old ships were to be scrapped. Apart from these exceptions the Powers agreed that all their other capital ships built or building should be disposed of. (In the case of Japan, four, and of the United States, two, partly built ships were converted into aircraft-carriers.) They further agreed to abandon their respective capital-ship building programmes and not to construct any new capital ships except as replacements when existing vessels reached an age limit of twenty years. No capital ship was to exceed 35,000 tons standard displacement or carry guns larger than 16-inch. Cruisers were to be limited to 10,000 tons and 8-inch guns. Less than twenty years later Japan was secretly building three battleships of 73,000 tons displacement, armed with 18-inch guns, one of which was later converted into an aircraft-carrier.
The Washington Treaty put a limit to the total tonnage of aircraft-carriers for each power and no ship of this class was to exceed 27,000 tons. The London Naval Treaty of 1930 provided that no capital ships were to be laid down before 1936 and fixed the ratio of total tonnage of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines for Britain, the United States, and Japan at approximately 5:5:3.
The Anglo-Japanese Alliance of twenty years' standing was ended by the Washington Conference. The United States delegation was determined that the treaty should not be renewed, taking the view that as the menace of Russia and Germany no longer existed, the Alliance could only be directed against America. The British Ambassador to Washington had several times warned his government that renewal of the Alliance would antagonise the United States. When the matter was debated at the Imperial Conference page 243 of 1921, the British Prime Minister, Mr Lloyd George, held that ‘friendly co-operation with America is for us a cardinal principle’; to renew the Alliance in face of America's opposition would then be to destroy the whole basis of British foreign policy. This view was supported by Canada and South Africa who sternly opposed a renewal of the Alliance. Australia and New Zealand, on the other hand, argued strongly in favour of its continuance.
The Four Power Pact, signed by Great Britain, the United States, Japan, and France, took the place of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. The Pact, which was Article XIX of the Treaty for Limitation of Naval Armament, provided that the status quo with regard to fortifications and naval bases should be maintained in specified Pacific islands and territories.
This was a good bargain for Japan who, in addition to the great naval bases in her home islands, already possessed a chain of secondary bases in the Kurile, Bonin, Ryukyu and Loochoo islands, Formosa, and the Pescadores. On the other hand, while the Hawaiian Islands were not affected by the Pact, the United States could not strengthen or develop Guam in the Marianas, the Philippines, or Pago Pago in Samoa. Britain fared little better. Hong Kong, the oilfields of Sarawak, the whole of North Borneo, and island groups in the Pacific were all in the status quo area. Since Hong Kong, the only British naval base of any size in the Pacific, could not dock large capital ships, it meant that, until Singapore had been developed, Britain had no adequate naval base nearer than Malta in the Mediterranean. Japan was thus secured against new British and American naval base development nearer to her shores than Singapore or Hawaii.
The Nine Power Treaty with China, signed at Washington, was an agreement to provide the fullest opportunity to China to develop an effective and stable government, to promote ‘equal opportunity for the commerce and industry of all nations throughout China’, and to refrain from seeking ‘special rights or privileges which would abridge the rights of subjects of friendly nations and from countenancing action inimical to the security of such States.’ Japan returned the Shantung Peninsula to China and Britain withdrew from Wei-hai-wei. But Japan's ambitions were in no way abated and she bided her time.
In September 1931, on a pretext of quelling local disorders, Japanese forces seized Mukden and the zone of the Manchurian railway. Four months later Japanese troops landed north of the international concession at Shanghai; the Chinese resisted with spirit but were driven inland. At about the same time the Japanese, who had occupied the whole of southern Manchuria, created the page 244 puppet state of Manchukuo. A year later the province of Jehol was annexed to it and Japanese troops had reached the Great Wall of China.
These moves were well timed. The world was in the depths of the Great Depression. The British and American Governments were pacifist and gravely preoccupied with internal problems – the former also with embarrassments in Europe. China appealed to the League of Nations, which called upon Japan to remove her troops from Manchuria and appointed a commission under Lord Lytton to conduct an inquiry on the spot. Angered by Japan's actions, the United States informed her that she would not recognise any agreement impairing her treaty rights or infringing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. Britain preferred not to take any action likely to antagonise Japan.
Lord Lytton's report, holding that the state of Manchukuo was the artificial creation of the Japanese General Staff, proposed the declaration of an autonomous Manchuria which would remain part of China under the aegis of the League. In February 1933 the League declared that the State of Manchukuo could not be recognised. A month later Japan withdrew from membership of the League. At the end of January Hitler had taken office as Chancellor of Germany.
These pregnant events were overshadowed in New Zealand and Australia by pressing internal economic and political problems, both countries being still in the throes of the depression. No protest came from either government at the time. Soon after it assumed office in 1935 the New Zealand Labour Government under Mr Savage made it known that its foreign policy was based on the Covenant of the League of Nations and this was reaffirmed at the Imperial Conference of 1937. The proposal of the Prime Minister of Australia at that conference of a regional pact for the Pacific came to nothing when Japan resumed her undeclared war in China, which soon extended far and wide.
Not only in the Far East but in Europe, the moral authority of the League of Nations was shown to be devoid of any physical support at a time when its activity and strength were most needed. Germany and Japan had both withdrawn from the League, and in November 1936 the latter joined the Axis Anti-Comintern Pact. In December 1934 Japan had announced her intention to withdraw from the Washington Naval Treaty, as a year later she did from the London Naval Treaty. Germany was helped on her rapid way to rearmament by the Anglo-German naval agreement which, though it provided that the German Navy should not exceed one-third of the British, in effect allowed her a programme of new construction at maximum activity for at least ten years. All these happenings, page 245 and many others, gave sombre emphasis to the warning of the Committee of Imperial Defence at the Imperial Conference of 1937 of the grave risks to the Empire of being involved in war simultaneously in Europe and the far East.
In September 1937 China had again appealed to the League of Nations, the Far Eastern Advisory Committee of which passed a resolution solemnly condemning the Japanese bombing of open towns and later recommended a conference of members of the League which were parties to the Nine Power Treaty of 1922. Japan flatly refused to take part in the conference, which was held in Brussels, holding that the conflict lay outside the scope of the Treaty, that it had been caused by China, and that the League by assuring China of moral support had impugned the honour of Japan. Since neither Britain nor the United States was willing to take positive action in the form of economic sanctions against Japan, the conference achieved nothing. New Zealand had previously assured the British Government that she would support sanctions,1 but Australia and South Africa were opposed to them and Canada was non-committal. In 1938 and again in January 1939, China made futile appeals to the League of Nations.
In November 1937 Italy joined the already firmly established Anti-Comintern Pact and in the following year, while Britain and France were preoccupied with the Czechoslovakia crisis and Munich, Japan extended her war in China. Canton and Hankow were captured in October 1938 and the Chinese Government of Chiang Kai-shek had retired to Chungking. A few months later Japan seized the strategically placed island of Hainan and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Seriously perturbed by the swift march of events in Europe and the growing aggression of Japan in the Far East, the New Zealand Prime Minister proposed to Britain and Australia a conference to discuss the ‘strategic situation in the Western Pacific in its widest aspect and embracing all those political, economic and geographical considerations which would arise in a simultaneous war in Europe.’ The conference opened at Wellington in April 1939. The United Kingdom delegation stressed the intention to defend Singapore ‘as one of the two keystones on which the survival of the British Empire depended’ and to send a British fleet to the Far East immediately on the entry of Japan into the war.
1 Many resolutions in favour of a boycott of Japanese goods were passed by trade unions and other organisations in New Zealand. In 1937 waterside workers several times refused to load scrap metal into Japanese ships, and on 8 October of that year a Government embargo was imposed on the export of all scrap metal.
From the summer of 1938, while Britain pursued her policy of appeasement in Europe where she ‘sustained a defeat without a war,’ she was compelled to let matters take their course in the Far East. On the other hand, United States policy towards Japan stiffened, and in July 1939 it was decided to end the American-Japanese commercial treaty of 1911. In August 1939 the British Government contemplated denouncing the Anglo-Japanese commercial treaty, and the New Zealand Government intimated that it was prepared to end its trade agreement with Japan provided the other Dominions acted similarly. The British Government, however, decided to defer ‘consideration of the matter.’ After the outbreak of war in Europe, Britain did everything possible to avoid antagonising Japan, especially in regard to contraband control and her right of search at sea.
The fall of Holland and France in May-June 1940 brought inevitable repercussions in Japan, where the extremists expanded their ideas from a liquidation of the ‘China Incident’ to the setting up of a ‘Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere’ by moving south and seizing French Indo-China and the coveted Netherlands East Indies. The moderate cabinet of Admiral Yonai resigned and was replaced by that of Prince Konoye, with General Tojo as Minister of War and the pro-German Matsuoka as Minister of Foreign Affairs.
For Britain, faced with the possibility of a German invasion, the prospect was bleak indeed. Without the assistance of the French Navy she had not sufficient forces to deal with the German and Italian naval forces in European waters and withstand the Japanese fleet in the Far East. This meant, in effect, that the basis of Imperial defence in the Pacific was shattered and nothing lay between Japan and New Zealand and Australia save Singapore, which could be of page 247 little value if there was no powerful naval force to keep the seas in the Far East.
In June 1940 Japan demanded that Marshal Petain stop the movement of war material to China by way of Indo-China, and that Britain close the Burma Road and the Hong Kong frontier to supplies to Chiang Kai-shek and withdraw her garrison from Shanghai. At the end of August, Petain consented to a Japanese military occupation and the construction of airfields in northern Indo-China.
At first the British Government decided not to accede to the Japanese demand regarding the Burma Road and there was a hostile outburst in Japan. It was then arranged to suspend traffic along the road for three months on the understanding that Japan would move toward a just and equitable settlement with China. Japan, however, did nothing to fulfil her part of the bargain and in September 1940 entered into a treaty with Germany and Italy, who recognised the ‘leadership of Japan in the establishment of a New Order in Greater East Asia.’ Each would assist the others if attacked by the United States.
While the Australian Government was for temporising in negotiations with Japan concerning the reopening of the Burma Road, the New Zealand Government was averse to making further concessions, holding that the Chinese should be encouraged to continue their struggle which was a ‘major safeguard to the remaining British interests in the Far East and in the South seas.’ The United States when consulted expressed the hope that the road would not remain closed. It was reopened in October 1940.
With this stiffening of British policy came evidence of a similar trend in that of the United States Government, on whose initiative private staff talks took place at Washington in January–March 1941 between representatives of the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands Government to discuss the forces available for common action in the Pacific and to collate plans for prompt action if the need arose. No clear-cut discussions were reached at this conference, nor at those held at Singapore in February and April.
Plans for economic sanctions against Japan now began to take shape. The British Government proposed that throughout the Empire the export to Japan of all essential goods and raw materials should be brought under licence. The New Zealand Government agreed to adopt this policy. Already the United States had imposed drastic restrictions on the export to Japan of various minerals and chemicals, aircraft and their components, aviation fuel and lubricants, and scrap metal; and the embargoes were widened at the end of the year.page 248
In February 1941, while arid discussions were proceeding between the British and Japanese Foreign Ministers, the Japanese Vice-Consul in New Zealand, Mr Nakafuji, called on the Prime Minister to discuss Japanese foreign policy, which he said was based upon a desire for peace, particularly with the British countries in the South Pacific. In his reply Mr Fraser did not mince words. New Zealand, he said, was ‘most anxious that no trouble should come in the Pacific’ and that her people entertained none but the most friendly feelings towards Japan. If, however, war did come, New Zealand would play her part to the best of her ability along with the other members of the British Commonwealth.
Meanwhile, Japan stepped up her warlike preparations. In April she concluded a non-aggression pact with Russia (which two months later was invaded by Germany). On 25 July the Japanese Foreign Minister announced that Vichy had agreed to admit Japan to a ‘joint protectorate’ in French Indo-China – in other words, Japan was free to complete her military occupation of that country, which she did forthwith.
On the following day the British and United States Governments issued orders ‘freezing’ all Japanese assets in their respective countries. The Netherlands Government acted similarly in respect to the East Indies. At the same time the British Government gave notice of the termination of the Anglo-Japanese commercial treaty, and on 27 July the acting Prime Minister announced that New Zealand would end her trade agreement with Japan.
Thus Japan was deprived at a stroke of vital oil supplies and other essential war supplies. She had long been building up great stocks of oil and now was forced to trench upon that reserve, which amounted to about eighteen months' supply. The choice before Japan's military rulers was either to get an agreement (on their terms) with Britain and the United States or go to war. For the latter event they were already well ahead with their plans.
It is important to remember that the Japanese Cabinet, which was not responsible to Parliament, was completely dominated by the military in the persons of the War and Navy Ministers, who were invariably high-ranking officers on the active list. If a Prime Minister could not get a general or admiral to hold office he could not form or maintain a Cabinet, and no officer would serve as Army or Navy Minister whose policy was not approved of by his particular service. The Emperor was regarded as the supreme head and embodiment of the State and all actions were taken in his name. The Imperial Headquarters, created only in time of war, had been formed in November 1937. Its nucleus was the two general staffs and it was headed by the Chiefs of Staff of the Army and Navy.page break page 249
For the next four months the efforts of the governments of the United States and the British Commonwealth to secure a settlement in the Far East were concentrated in the discussions at Washington between the representatives of America and the Japanese Ambassador, Admiral Nomura. In Japan the extremists gained control in October 1941 when Prince Konoye resigned and General Tojo became Prime Minister, still retaining his office as Minister of War and taking that of Home Affairs as well.
At the beginning of November the Japanese chiefs of staff concluded a ‘central agreement’ between the Navy and the Army which aimed at the ‘reduction of the primary foundations of American, British and Dutch power in Eastern Asia’ by the occupation of the whole of the ‘southern areas’, including Hong Kong, Malaya, Burma, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, and the Bismarcks. Detailed plans for the various phases of this vast objective, as well as for the attack on Pearl Harbour, had already been completed.
In the meantime, in the unduly optimistic hope that their presence would have a deterrent effect, it was decided to send the Prince of Wales and Repulse and the aircraft-carrier Indomitable out to the Far East as the forerunners of a British Eastern Fleet. The Indomitable was temporarily disabled by an accident, but the other two ships arrived at Singapore less than a week before the Japanese struck.
1 The date was later advanced to 29 November. The Japanese force which was to attack Pearl Harbour sailed from Japan on 26 November and the expeditionary forces for the invasion of Malaya and Siam (Thailand) were on their way southward.
At 7.50 a.m. on 7 December the aircraft from Admiral Nagumo's carrier force began the treacherous attack on Pearl Harbour that, in barely two hours, crippled the United States Pacific Fleet for six months.1 In Washington, less than an hour after the attack had begun, the Japanese envoys presented to the Secretary of State, Mr Cordell Hull, a reply to his proposals. When he had finished reading it Mr Hull said he had ‘never seen a document that was more crowded with infamous falsehoods and distortions.’ A few hours later the Emperor's reply to Mr Roosevelt was handed to the American Ambassador in Tokyo. ‘Establishment of peace in the Pacific,’ it said, ‘has been the cherished desire of His Majesty, for the realisation of which he has hitherto made his government continue its earnest endeavours.’
Simultaneously with the attack on Pearl Harbour the Japanese struck hard in the Far East. In the early hours of 8 December2 they landed at Kota Bharu in Malaya and at Singora in Siam (Thailand), and air attacks were made on Hong Kong and Manila. Two days later the Prince of Wales and Repulse were sunk by air attack during a sortie from Singapore that, when it started in the evening of the 8th, was already too late to counter the enemy landings.
The Japanese now held undisputed command of the sea in the Western Pacific, and the strategic balance in the world war was for the time being fundamentally changed. During the next four or five months the Japanese war machine operated with hideous efficiency against the utterly inadequate sea, air, and land forces of the Allies, who had to bear a heavy load of defeat in the South-West Pacific.
During December the main efforts of the Japanese were directed against Malaya and the Philippines,3 while minor forces occupied Pacific islands. Guam was captured on 12 December, Tarawa and Makin in the Gilberts on the 18th, and Wake Island on the 24th. Hong Kong surrendered on Christmas Day. By the end of the month all the outlying islands north of the Equator and west of the 180th meridian were in Japanese hands.
1 On 25 July 1894 a Japanese cruiser squadron made a surprise attack on a Chinese naval force and, a few hours later, sank the British steamer Kowshing which was carrying Chinese troops. The Japanese formally declared war on China seven days later. Again, on 8 February 1904, a midnight surprise attack by Japanese torpedo-boats on the Russian fleet anchored outside Port Arthur preceded a formal declaration of war.
2 Hawaiian time is 10 ½ hours behind and Malayan time 7 ½ hours ahead of Greenwich mean time – a total difference of 18 hours. Thus, 7.50 a.m., 7 December, at Pearl Harbour was 1.50 a.m., 8 December, at Kota Bharu. The Japanese landing at the latter place, 12.25 a.m., 8 December, therefore, actually started 1 hour 25 minutes before the attack on Pearl Harbour.
3 The Philippines were soon isolated from Allied assistance and, though the defence of the Bataan Peninsula continued till 9 April and the island fortress of Corregidor in Manila Bay held out till 6 May, their conquest was only a matter of time.
Toward the end of December it was decided to set up a unified command of all American, British, Dutch, and Australian sea, air, and land forces in the South-West Pacific. General Wavell was appointed supreme commander of this ABDA area and opened his headquarters at Bandoeng in Java on 10 January 1942, the day on which the Japanese began the invasion of the Netherlands East Indies. With inadequate forces and no strategic reserve at his disposal, Wavell could do little to stay the enemy advance.
Borneo and other Dutch islands were captured in quick succession. Lae and Salamaua in New Guinea and Rabaul and Kavieng in the Bismarcks were occupied, Darwin and Port Moresby were attacked from the air, and Burma was invaded from Siam. Singapore surrendered on 15 February, the day on which Palembang, the great oil centre in Sumatra, was captured. A week later the ABDA Command was ended and General Wavell returned to the defence of India. On 27 February the disastrous naval action in the Java Sea sealed the fate of Java. An Allied squadron of five cruisers and ten destroyers under the command of Rear-Admiral Doorman, RNN,1 was practically annihilated by powerful Japanese forces, four American destroyers alone escaping. Java capitulated on 9 March. The occupation of the Andaman Islands in March extended Japanese control to the eastern part of the Bay of Bengal.
Meanwhile, the British Eastern Fleet had assembled at Colombo. It consisted of five old battleships, one old and two modern aircraft-carriers, two 8-inch cruisers,2 five light cruisers, and sixteen destroyers. They were all that could be spared for the Indian Ocean. The main part of this fleet was fuelling in the Maldive Islands when a powerful Japanese force of five carriers, four battleships, three cruisers, and nine destroyers made a raid in the Bay of Bengal. Colombo and Trincomalee were heavily bombed, the cruisers Cornwall and Dorsetshire, the Hermes and a destroyer, and more than 112,000 tons of shipping were sunk.
The conquest of Burma was complete by the end of April when Lashio, terminus of the road to China, was captured. By 10 May the British troops had evacuated Burma and the fall of Corregidor had put an end to organised resistance in the Philippines.
During this period of triumph the Japanese exploited to the utmost their command of the sea gained by the crippling of the American Pacific Fleet and the non-existence of a powerful, balanced British naval force in eastern waters. A notable feature of their operations was the recognition of the interdependence of the sea, air, and land forces expressed in a masterly co-ordination of the functions of all three. This, and their demonstration of the mobility, range, and striking power of aircraft-carrier forces, set the pattern for the war in the vast expanses of the Pacific. Fundamentally, the Japanese successes derived from their able exercise of sea power. Once the immeasurably greater maritime resources of the United States and Britain were marshalled, the doom of the Japanese Empire was certain.