Western accounts generally consider the war to have started with the Pearl Harbor attack of December 1941. Chinese accounts date it from Japan's invasion of central China in July 1937, or even their expansion into Manchuria in 1931. The war ended with Japanese surrender in August, 1945; an important factor was that the first, and so far the only, atomic bombs used in warfare had just been detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
|“||Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.||”|
—US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, December 8, 1941
Japan began to expand in the late 19th century, annexing Okinawa in 1879, then defeating China in a short decisive war in 1894/95, annexing Taiwan and the Liaodong Peninsula, and forcing China to give up its influence over its vassal state Korea. In the same period, the US became more active in the Pacific, taking over the Philippines in 1898 after a war with Spain, and annexing Hawaii and Guam. Various European powers also expanded their holdings or influence in the region.
Japan won a war against the Russian Empire in 1905, the first time in centuries that a non-European power defeated a European one. Once the Russians were out of their way, they annexed Korea outright in 1910. Japan would join the Allies during World War I, and would thus gain more territory from the defeated Central Powers, including the former German concessions in China, following the end of that war in 1918.
There was a faction fight among the Japanese high command in the late 30s; they all agreed that expanding the empire was a fine idea, but how? Should they "Strike North", expand into Mongolia and Siberia and fight only the Russians, or "Strike South" which would mean fighting the US, the British Empire, and other colonial powers — the French, Dutch and Portuguese? Striking north was tried, but in 1939 the Soviets gave Japanese forces a thorough thrashing at the Battle of Kalkhin Gol in Mongolia; after that, they concentrated on striking south.
Japan staged the Mukden Incident — an attack on a railway actually done by Japan but blamed on locals — and used it as a pretext to occupy Manchuria in 1931, setting up a puppet state called Manchuko. They invaded central China in 1937, and soon managed to occupy much of eastern China, including the then-capital Nanjing. This invasion turned out to be a disaster for both sides.
The Chinese were fighting an invader with far better armament and training, making do with whatever weapons their allies could send (many of them World War I surplus), enduring some spectacularly vicious oppression, and taking enormous numbers of casualties — over ten million military and civilian deaths, far more than any other nation except the Soviet Union. Moreover, they were disunited; the Communists and the Nationalists (Kuomintang) were sometimes more interested in their own disputes than in battling Japan.
Despite all that, the Chinese Army (run by the Nationalists with American advisors) managed to give the Japanese a remarkably hard time. Japanese planners thought they could take all of China in three months, leave a small force to hold it, and move most of their armies elsewhere. Actually, it took them three months just to take Shanghai and in eight years of fighting, 1937-1945, they never managed to take more than about half of China. The Chinese Army fought on through the entire war, often retreating but always at a cost to the enemy. Chinese guerrillas and saboteurs — Nationalist, Communist and independent — harassed the Japanese everywhere. Roughly half of the total Japanese ground forces were tied down in China throughout the war, including troops they had planned to use elsewhere. All the Allied land victories in the Pacific War were partly due to Chinese tenacity.
American, British and Dutch sanctions were imposed on Japan after the invasion of China; those, in particular restrictions on oil imports, were the main reason Japan gave for going to war with those nations. The western powers also sent supplies to China via the Burma Road.
Japan joins the world war
Meanwhile, World War II in Europe began with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, and became more complex when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941.
The conflict became global in December 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, other US bases in the Pacific, the Philippines, and British possessions such as Hong Kong, Burma and Malaya. The United States and the entire British Empire immediately declared war on Japan, and Germany declared war on the US. The Soviet Union did not declare war on Japan until after the end of the war in Europe.
After that, Japan proceeded to invade and occupy much of Southeast Asia and parts of Oceania; they even managed to bomb the city of Darwin in Australia. By the middle of 1943, virtually all of Southeast Asia had been conquered by Japan, with the colonial powers of the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Portugal and the United States all having suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of the Japanese.
The Japanese took effective control of some areas without fighting. The Vichy government in France, essentially a German puppet regime, ordered French administrators in French Indochina (now Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) to co-operate with Japan, and most did. Thailand, the only country in Southeast Asia not colonized by Western powers, remained nominally independent but was forced to dance to the Japanese tune. Japan was able to establish military bases in these countries and to freely move troops and supplies through them.
Japanese propaganda claimed they were driving out Western imperialists, leading an "Asia for Asians" movement, and this got them some support; countries such as India had both pro-Japanese and pro-Allied movements. Subhas Chandra Bose, the leader of the pro-Japanese Indian National Army (INA), is widely regarded as a national hero in India. In many areas, this was also divided along ethnic lines; in Malaya, at least initially, the Japanese were welcomed by the ethnic Malays and Indians, but opposed by the ethnic Chinese. In China both the Kuomintang and the Communists opposed Japan, but they were sometimes more interested in fighting each other. Everywhere, the local political movements were jockeying for control and trying to use the war to gain independence and/or domestic political influence for the time after the war.
Japanese rule in the occupied territories was brutal, and by the end of the war, the Japanese had lost the support of much of the local population who initially supported them (e.g. Burmese independence hero Aung San). In the occupied areas, Japanese troops engaged in mass rapes, massacres and pillaging, with Nanking Massacre of 1937-38 being the most notorious. Many women from China, Korea and other occupied areas were forced to serve as "comfort women", sex slaves in Japanese military brothels. The Japanese also performed inhumane experiments on captive locals from the occupied territories, the most famous being Unit 731 in Manchuria (listed below), though other similar units existed throughout the occupied territories. They also treated prisoners of war very badly; perhaps the most famous incidents were the "Bataan death march" and the Bridge on the River Kwai, but there were many others.
As retribution for their role in resisting Japanese rule in China, the ethnic Chinese — both in China and in Southeast Asia — were singled out for the harshest treatment; in all the occupied territories, they were rounded up for "screening" by the Japanese, and the unfortunate ones who were identified (often arbitrarily) as anti-Japanese were brought to remote locations and shot.
The tide turns
The Japanese suffered two important naval defeats at the hands of the Americans early in 1942, the Battle of the Coral Sea in May and the Battle of Midway in June. These were the first naval battles in history fought mainly by aircraft carriers which never came within sight of each other. The Americans were intercepting Japanese communication, and had broken many Japanese codes, which was an advantage in both battles. At Midway they surprised the Japanese by destroying their aircraft carriers when the planes were away on a bombing raid.
Two land campaigns, both hard fought and both starting in mid-1942 and lasting until early 1943, also went badly for Japan. In what is now Papua New Guinea, a mainly Australian force gave them their first defeat on land of the war at Milne Bay, then drove them back along the Kokoda Track. Meanwhile the Americans took the island of Guadalcanal after a prolonged and intense fight, allowing them to defend their supply and communication lines to Australia and New Zealand, and to create a forward base for island-hopping toward Japan. This marked the turning point in the Pacific War.
After that the Aussies continued the New Guinea campaign while the British re-took Burma with the help of the Chinese, and reopened the Burma Road to supply Chinese forces. The Japanese had spread their forces too thinly in China, and the Chinese were able to counterattack and reclaim some of the occupied territories. At sea, Japan was defeated by the British in the Indian Ocean and repeatedly by the Americans, with some Commonwealth help, in the Pacific.
The Americans re-took the Philippines and captured a series of islands across the Pacific, including some like Guam that Japan had taken from them in the first months of the war. In early 1945 they won fierce battles in Okinawa and Iwo Jima and occupied those islands, putting them in position to bomb or invade the Japanese home islands. Having by then won the naval part of the war, they also bombarded Japanese cities with their ships. Japan tried desperation tactics such as sending kamikaze pilots on suicide missions to crash planes full of explosives into American ships, but even that did not make a large difference.
The invasion never took place. The Americans dropped the first (and to date only) atomic bombs to be used in actual combat on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, followed by Nagasaki on 9 August 1945; on the same day the Soviet Union invaded Manchuria. Japan surrendered unconditionally to the Allies on 15 August 1945, bringing World War II to an end.
Following the surrender, Japan was occupied by the Americans and forced to give up all its colonies. While the Emperor remained on his throne, many political and military leaders were indicted in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, and many were sentenced to death. Taiwan and Manchuria were returned to China, though the Chinese Civil War would resume following the Japanese surrender, eventually resulting in victory for the Communists in the mainland, and the Nationalists being forced to retreat to Taiwan, which continues to be governed separately to this day. Korea regained its independence, but would be split into the communist North Korea and the capitalist South Korea, leading up to the Korean War. The Americans would eventually leave mainland Japan in 1952, though the American military continues to maintain several bases in different parts of the country. Okinawa was only returned to Japan in 1972, though the United States continues to maintain a strong military presence there.
The Western colonial powers also got their colonies back, but the war had galvanised many nationalist movements, which were to come of age in the years to come and eventually lead to the independence of the colonies. The first was the Philippines, where American rule ended in 1946; the largest was the end of the British Raj in 1947, which became the modern countries of India, Pakistan and later Bangladesh. The Indochina Wars were a brutal example of lingering national and ideological conflict in Asia. Hong Kong and Macau would eventually be given back to China in the 1990s but part of the agreement between China and the former colonial powers stipulates a "one country two systems" arrangement that makes both act like independent countries in some regards.
Many places that were sites of battles, atrocities or other wartime activities can be visited. There are also many museums with exhibits wholly or partly related to this war.
- 1 Darwin Military Museum. Darwin was an important staging point for Australian and American forces during the war, and would be the only Australian city that was subject to Japanese bombing raids. The museum houses exhibits about the bombing of Darwin.
- 2 Australian War Memorial. Located in Canberra, the memorial also includes a military museum dedicated to the memory of Australian soldiers who fought in various wars including both world wars.
See Chinese Revolutions for background.
- 3 Nanjing Massacre Memorial (侵华日军南京大屠杀遇难同胞纪念馆). Commemorates the late 1937 slaughter of a huge number of civilians in and around Nanjing by the invading Japanese army.
- 4 Nanjing Memorial Hall to Aviation Martyrs Killed in the War of Resistance Against Japan (南京抗日航空烈士纪念馆, Nanjing Anti-Japanese Aviation Martyrs Memorial Hall) (Nanjing). Dedicated to all those who fought and died during the aerial battles that were fought against the Japanese during the Second World War. The memorial hall is close to a cemetery where around 3500 aviation martyrs are buried, including 870 from China, 2197 from the US, 237 from the Soviet Union and 2 from Korea.
- 5 Nanjing Non-Government Museum of the War of Resistance Against Japan (南京民间抗日战争博物馆) (Nanjing). A privately-run museum dedicated to the Second Sino-Japanese War.
- 6 Former site of Japanese Shinto shrine (日本神社旧址) (Nanjing). Built in 1939 by the Imperial Japanese Army during their occupation of the city. The shrine, officially known as the Nanjing Shrine (南京神社), was one of the largest Shinto shrines the Japanese built on Chinese soil. It was also one of the very few that was not demolished after the war. Today the site is being used as an activity centre for retired Communist Party cadres, so you might not be able to enter the building, but viewing it from the outside should be okay.
- 7 John Rabe's former residence (拉贝旧居，拉贝故居, 拉贝与国际安全区纪念馆 John Rabe and International Safety Zone Memorial Hall) (Nanjing). John Rabe (1882-1950) was a German businessman and Nazi party member who is widely celebrated in China for his efforts to protect civilians during the Japanese occupation. This house was his residence from 1932 to 1938. It is now a museum dedicated to telling the story of Rabe's life and the Nanjing International Safety Zone that he helped to establish and which is credited with saving thousands of lives.
- 8 Liji Alley Comfort Station Site (利济巷慰安所旧址) (Nanjing). The term 'comfort station' was a euphemism used by the Japanese army in World War II to refer to a brothel where so-called 'comfort women' were held captive and forced to render sexual services to Japanese soldiers. This particular comfort station was one of the largest in Asia. It is now a museum run by the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall. Entry is by appointment only. Visitors are required to make an appointment at least one day before visiting and cannot visit more than twice a month or more than 10 times a year. Due to the adult content of the exhibitions, children are not permitted inside the building.
- 9 Shanghai Songhu Memorial Hall for the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (上海淞沪抗战纪念馆) (Baoshan District, Shanghai). Commemorates the Battle of Shanghai, one of the largest and bloodiest battles of the Second Sino-Japanese War.
- 10 Sihang Warehouse Battle Memorial (上海四行仓库抗战纪念馆) (Zhabei District, Shanghai). The Sihang Warehouse is a historic warehouse on the north bank of Suzhou Creek. It was built in 1931 by four banks, hence the literal name of the warehouse is the 'Four Banks Warehouse'. In 1937, the warehouse became a flashpoint in the latter stages of the Battle of Shanghai. At that time, it was being used as the headquarters of the 88th Division of the National Revolutionary Army. The division was preparing to retreat to the city's hinterland, but left one battalion behind at the warehouse in order to buy time for the retreat and also to demonstrate to the international community the determination of the Chinese people to resist the Japanese. The battalion successfully defended the warehouse for about 6 days before eventually retreating to the International Concession, where they were promptly disarmed and arrested by British troops acting under pressure from the Japanese. Part of the warehouse is now a museum about the Defence of Sihang Warehouse and the Battle of Shanghai.
- 11 Chinese "Comfort Women" History Museum (中国“慰安妇”历史博物馆) (French Concession, Shanghai). A museum about the women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army during the Second World War.
- 12 Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum (上海犹太难民纪念馆) (Hongkou District, Shanghai). The museum is at the site of what used to be the Ohel Moishe Synagogue. The synagogue was built in 1928 by Russian Jews and was one of the principal places of worship for Jewish refugees in Shanghai during the Second World War.
- 13 9.18 Memorial Museum (“九•一八”历史博物馆, 9.18 History Museum) (Shenyang). Dedicated to the Mukden Incident, which is usually referred to as the '9.18 Incident' in Chinese. At 22:30 on 18 September 1931, a bomb exploded beside the Japanese-run railway line near Shenyang. The Japanese had actually planted the bomb themselves, but the Chinese were blamed, giving the Japanese an excuse to invade and occupy the whole of the northeast of China. Shenyang was the epicenter of that invasion, so it is most appropriate that the museum for the '9.18 Incident', as it is known, is in Shenyang next to the spot where the explosion occurred. The museum, as one would expect, depicts the incident from a Chinese perspective. It is not for the faint of heart because it unflinchingly displays the atrocities of war. Only the main descriptions are available in English, but it's enough to follow the course of events. The pictures and exhibits speak for themselves, anyway.
- 14 Unit 731 Museum. A museum in Harbin located in a former bio-chemical weapons testing facility built by the Japanese and used to perform experiments on Chinese citizens and POWs. After the war, the Americans agreed to cover up their actions and grant immunity from prosecution to the scientists involved in exchange for being granted exclusive access to the data, as they feared that the data would end up in the hands of the Soviet Union, and many of those scientists ended up having successful careers in academia.
- 15 Changsha. The site of four separate battles between the Chinese and Japanese in 1939, 1941, 1942 and 1944. The first of those was the first significant victory scored by the Chinese over the Japanese during World War II. The Japanese were only able to capture Changsha on their fourth attempt in 1944. One of the battlefields has been preserved at the Yingzhushan War of Resistance Site Park (影珠山抗战遗址公园) about 70km northeast of downtown Changsha. One can also visit war memorials, graves and former military buildings at the Yuelu Mountain National Scenic Area (岳麓山国家重点风景名胜区) in the western part of the city.
- 16 Chongqing. The "temporary capital" of China during World War II, after Nanjing had fallen to the Japanese. Despite numerous attempts by the Japanese to take it, Chinese resistance in the inland areas was much fiercer than the Japanese expected, and though it was heavily bombed, Chongqing managed to avoid Japanese occupation for the duration of the war.
- 17 Kunming Flying Tigers Museum. This commemorates a group of volunteer American fighter pilots who fought in China. Kunming was their main base. Some of their other bases included Huaihua, Guilin, Liuzhou and Chongqing. These cities also have their own museums dedicated to the Flying Tigers.
- 18 National Cemetery to the Fallen of World War II (国殇墓园) (Tengchong, Yunnan). War cemetery with the graves of thousands of Chinese Nationalist soldiers, as well as 19 American soldiers, who died in a 1944 battle in which the Chinese were victorious and managed to reclaim Tengchong from the occupying Japanese.
- 19 Museum of the War of Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (中国人民抗日战争纪念馆) (Fengtai District, Beijing). The largest museum in China about the Second Sino-Japanese War. The museum is inside the Wanping Fortress, a Ming-era fortress next to the Lugou Bridge (or Marco Polo Bridge), which was the site of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident - a battle between Chinese and Japanese forces in July 1937 that led directly to the outbreak of full-scale war between the two nations. The fortress was fired upon during the battle and shell-holes are still visible today.
- 20 Zhongshan Warship Museum (武汉市中山舰博物馆) (Jiangxia District, Wuhan). This museum, near the right bank of the Yangtze in the far southwestern suburbs of Wuhan, commemorates a naval battle that happened here, hundreds of miles from the sea, in October 1938. Sunk by the Japanese air force - just three years before the Pearl Harbor attack on the US fleet - the Chinese warship Zhongshan was raised from the bottom of the Yangzte in 1997, restored, and is now displayed in this museum's main hall. Adjacent are exhibits on the history of the ship, as well as the process of its lifting from the river bottom and its restoration. On the top of a hill across the small lake from the museum is a memorial to the 25 sailors, including the ship's captain, who found their watery grave in the Yangtze, far from their hometowns on Fujian's northern coast. The lake is surrounded by sculptures commemorating various aspects of the Battle of Wuhan in 1938, as well as of the city's eventual liberation after the surrender of Japan in 1945. Various other exhibits of military and patriotic nature, such as a sampling of PLA's older weaponry, can be seen here as well.
- 21 Khalkhin Gol. Site of a battle in 1939 in which the Soviets demolished a large Japanese force. This turned Japanese thinking away from expansion into Mongolia and Siberia; instead they adopted a "strike south" strategy which led directly to Pearl Harbor and their attacks in Southeast Asia.
- 22 Burma Road. This road ran from Western China into Burma (now Myanmar) and connected to Assam in Eastern India as well. It was built by the Chinese in the late 1930s, upgraded by the Americans later, and used throughout the war.
- 23 Reflections at Bukit Chandu, 31K Pepys Road, Singapore 118458, ✉ RBC@nhb.gov.sg. An interpretive centre of the Battle of Pasir Panjang, one of the fiercest battles in the Malayan Campaign that pitted the Malay Regiment (today the Royal Malay Regiment, the most decorated regiment in the Malaysian Army) against the Japanese.
- 24 Sandakan Memorial Park. This memorial in the Malaysian city of Sandakan was built at the site of a former Japanese POW prison camp with funding from the Australian government to commemorate the Allied POWs who lost their lives during the Sandakan Death Marches. Only 6 people out of several thousand survived the march, and only because those 6 managed to escape. Incidentally, all 6 survivors were Australian.
- 25 Ford Motor Factory, 351 Upper Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 588192. A former factory of American automobile manufacturer Ford, and the first motor vehicle factory to be opened in Southeast Asia. This is also the site where the British lieutenant-general Arthur E. Percival surrendered unconditionally to Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita on 15 February 1942, thus ending the Malayan Campaign. It was also used by the Japanese to produce military vehicles during the occupation. It has now been converted to a museum dedicated to life in Singapore during the Japanese occupation. The boardroom in which the surrender took place has also been reconstructed for viewing.
- 26 The Battlebox, 2 Cox Terrace, Singapore 179622. A former British military bunker and command centre which served as the headquarters for the British forces in Malaya during the Malayan Campaign. This was where Lieutenant-General Arthur E. Percival met with his senior officers and made the decision to surrender to the Japanese. It has been converted to a museum dedicated to the Malayan Campaign, and a re-enactment of how it functioned during the war.
- 27 Changi Museum. A former POW camp-turned-museum has information about the Japanese occupation of Singapore and what life was like in the POW camp. It focuses on the general history and conditions as well as containing personal accounts and artifacts donated by former prisoners.
- 28 Syonan Jinja. A Shinto shrine built by the occupying Japanese in Singapore (which they re-named Syonan-to) in 1942, located at MacRitchie Reservoir, and destroyed after the Japanese surrender on 15th August 1945. The ruins of the shrine still exist, but are now in the middle of the jungle with no footpaths leading there, making it very hard to find.
- 29 Syonan Chureito. A memorial built by Australian POWs to honour the Japanese war dead during World War II, with a smaller memorial behind that to commemorate the Allied war dead. Both memorials were torn down following the Japanese surrender, and today, only the road and stairs leading up to the memorial, as well as two pedestals at the bottom of the stairs, survive. A television transmission tower now occupies the former memorial site.
- 30 Pearl Harbor. Site of the bombing in Western Honolulu that caused the United States to enter the war.
- 31 The National WWII Museum, New Orleans, ☏ . Museum commemorating the American war effort in both theatres of World War II, with interactive displays that aim to re-create the battlefield experience for visitors.
- 32 MacArthur Memorial, 198 Bank St; Norfolk, VA 23510, ☏ , fax: . 10am-5pm Tu-Sa; 11am-5pm Su. Museum dedicated to the life of Douglas MacArthur, the general who led U.S. forces to victory over the Japanese in the Philippines, and was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. His grave is located within the museum. The last non-president to have been granted a U.S. state funeral. Free.
- 33 , ☏ (reservations). Tours available Th-Sa at 12:45PM (allow 1.5 hours). Not all dates and times may be available. No public access Su-We. This memorial honors 320 individuals (including 200 young African American men) who were killed in a munitions accident during World War II while loading munitions and bombs onto ships bound for the Pacific Rim. Following the explosion many of the enlisted men refused to work, resulting in the Navy's largest mutiny trial and eventually helping to push the US Armed Forces to desegregate. The memorial is located on an active military base and as a result reservations must be made at least two weeks in advance and all visitors must be US citizens or permanent residents. Reservations can be made by calling or via an online reservation form. All visitors are shuttled to the memorial from John Muir National Historic Site in nearby Martinez.
- 34 Aleutian World War II National Historic Area (Visitor Center located on the apron of the Dutch Harbor airport), ☏ . Year round, but May-October offer the best access. This site is the remains of one of four WWII era forts constructed to defend Dutch Harbor against a potential Japanese attack. The visitor center is free, however, a Land Use Permit must be obtained to visit the historic site on Mount Ballyhoo. Free.
A number of sites in the US commemorate the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war.
- 35 Manzanar Internment Camp. The largest internment camp in the United States where approximately 110,000 Japanese-Americans and Japanese nationals living in the United States during the war were forced to live after being ordered to leave their homes. This museum contains information about the camp, the experiences of those who were forced to live here, and life after the war.
- 36 WWII Japanese American Internment Museum. A former internment camp turned into a museum to educate people about the lives of Japanese-Americans at the Rohwer Relocation Center.
- 37 Topaz Museum. The Topaz Relocation Center (internment camp) housed over 11,000 Japanese-Americans. Because people were moved here before it was finished, internees were actually hired to build the wire fences to pen themselves in.
- 39 Wake Island. This US-controlled island was taken by Japan shortly after Pearl Harbor and held by them throughout the war. There are ruins of Japanese fortifications, a monument for the American defenders who put up a stiff fight despite being badly outnumbered and outgunned, and a monument for a group of 98 POWs executed by the Japanese. Today the island is a US military base, off limits for most visitors.
- 40 Henderson Airfield (HIR IATA). The Japanese began constructing an airfield in May 1942 in Honiara on Guadalcanal. Knowing that if they completed it, they'd be able to both isolate Australia from its allies and launch potentially devastating attacks, America quickly moved to take control of the airfield. It took six months to secure the airfield, after which the Americans finished construction on it and used it to launch attacks on other islands.
Henderson Airfield was later expanded to become the international airport of the Solomon Islands, so of course it can be visited. Other sites around the airport include Bloody Ridge (where America defended against the Japanese), the Gifu (named after the city by the same name, it was a Japanese post attacked by the US), Mount Austin (used by the Japanese to get a full view of the airfield in their plan to retake it), as well as memorials for both the Americans and Japanese that fought here.
- 41 Betio Island. Within a few days of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese took the Gilbert Islands, then a British colony, now part of the independent nation Kiribati. America's first attack on Japanese forces occurred in Butaritari, in the Gilberts, shortly after that.
In late 1943, the Allies came to oust Japan from the islands, which by then had been heavily fortified. Betio Island in Tarawa was the site of the Battle of Tarawa, considered to be one of the bloodiest battles of the war. While war relics can be found on multiple islands throughout Kiribati, Betio Island is where the main battle took place and also where the most remains. Visitors can see tanks, bunkers, shipwrecks, guns, and memorials built by the Japanese, Americans, and Australians and New Zealanders.
- 42 Kokoda Track. An important battle line in Papua New Guinea, between Australia and Japan, it is now a trekking destination, especially for Australians.
- 43 Darwin. The only Australian city to have been attacked by a Japanese air raid has a memorial monument on its wharf, and a veterans' cemetery nearby.
- 44 Command Ridge (Nauru). During World War II, Nauru was occupied by the Japanese from August 1942 until their surrender at the tail end of the war in the wake of three years of near-continuous Allied air raids. Today, rusting relics from this era are scattered throughout the island — disused Japanese pillboxes line the shore every couple of kilometres, and old cannons can be seen along roadsides barely hidden by forest or even in plain sight between homes.
However, for those who want a firsthand look at Nauru's WWII history, Command Ridge (Nauruan: Janor) is the place to go. As the island's highest point, rising to an elevation of 63 m above sea level, it was a natural lookout point for the occupiers. Today you'll find a bevy of old artillery emplacements (including a pair of six-barrel antiaircraft guns still pointed skyward), the ruins of a prison complex used to hold interned Nauruan natives (who were treated brutally by the Japanese) as well as five members of the Australian military captured during the invasion, and — most impressive of all — the former communications center, now open for any visitors to enter. The interior is not well lit, but bring in a lantern or torch and you'll still be able to make out faded Japanese writing on the walls.
- 45 War in the Pacific National Historical Park. On Guam, but part of the US national park system since Guam is an American territory. The park honors all those who fought in the Pacific, not just on Guam and not just Americans. Guam was taken by the Japanese early in the war and retaken by the US in 1944.
- 46 Gizo. Located on Ghizo Island, Gizo evokes the memories of vivid fighting in WWII. It is nowadays a tourist centre and some wrecks can be found underwater, including the Toa Maru.
- 47 Corregidor Island. Established as an American fort to defend Manila from naval attacks, it fell to the Japanese in 1942, and was liberated in 1945. This is where General MacArthur left and uttered his most famous line "I shall return", a promise he fulfilled in 1944.
- 48 Capas. A largely rural municipality housing Camp O'Donnell, an American military camp turned into a POW camp where the infamous Bataan Death March in 1942 ended. Two memorial shrines dedicated to the American and Filipino prisoners of war who suffered and died under the hands of the Japanese are erected here, and two abandoned railroad stations where the prisoners were unloaded have been turned into museums and memorials. The exact number of prisoners on the march is unknown; estimates range from 6,000 to 18,000.
- 49 Coron. This town in Palawan Province has excellent wreck diving; the US Navy sank about a dozen Japanese ships in shallow water nearby in 1944.
- 50 MacArthur Landing Memorial National Park. This is where General McArthur landed on his return to the country in 1944; it is in Palo municipality on Leyte Island, near Tacloban.
- 51 Camp Pangatian. A former American military camp turned into a POW camp by the Japanese, it is the site of the raid at Cabanatuan, a major engagement of the liberation of the Philippines in 1945. The camp, now a shrine, is northeast of Cabanatuan city (then a rural area) in Nueva Ecija province.
- 52 Okinawa Peace Park and Himeyuri Monument. The site of one of the most brutal and bloody battles of the war, Okinawa island has many war remnants and memorials. Outside of Japan, Okinawa is often viewed as the first battle on Japanese soil. However, like the other Pacific Islands, Okinawa was also colonized territory so the local population was not fully trusted by the Japanese and often treated as expendable. With the Americans being obvious enemies and the Japanese not being complete allies, the question on many Okinawans' minds was not "How am I going to survive?" but "How do I want to die?". The museums here show the war from a uniquely Okinawan perspective, including life for citizens, students and military. It also depicts well how they were mistreated by both the Japanese and the Americans during and after the war. The Peace Park and the Himeyuri Monument in Itoman are the best places to learn about the battle, but remnants and reminders of the war can be found throughout the island.
- 53 Iwo Jima. Another group of islands close to Japan, scene of some extremely fierce fighting. An image of victorious US Marines raising the Stars and Stripes there is quite famous. US Military Tours has exclusive rights to the island and only US citizens who are members of the Iwo Jima Association of America, WWII veterans, or WWII prisoners of war are eligible to join the tours.
- 54 Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots. As the war approached the home islands, the desperate Japanese began sending out young men to fly aircraft packed with explosives into American ships. The museum is located in Minamikyushu over the former spot where the tokko pilots (known abroad as kamikaze pilots) were trained and flew from. The museum contains information about the pilots, artifacts and letters from them, and recovered kamikaze planes.
- 55 Hiroshima Peace Park and Memorial Museum. Hiroshima was the first place in the world to be attacked with an atomic bomb. The museum shows how devastating the bomb was to the city and the effects it had on the people from the immediate aftermath to the present day.
- 56 [dead link] Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Memorial Hall. Museums that are on the site where the atomic bomb was dropped on August 9, 1945. The Nagasaki bombing led to Japanese surrender and is also noted as the last place to have an atomic bomb dropped on it.
- 57 Yasukuni Shrine (靖國神社 Yasukuni-jinja), 3-1-1 Kudan-kita, ☏ . A controversial shrine to Japan's war dead, housing the souls of some 2.5 million people killed in Japan's wars — including numerous Taiwanese and Koreans, and controversially, convicted war criminals executed by the Allies. Often visited by Japanese politicians, drawing sharp criticisms from neighbours China and South Korea in the process. If you choose to visit, consider keeping it a secret from your Chinese or Korean friends.
There are also many other sites that commemorate parts of the war.
- The 58 US Marine Corps Memorial at Arlington, Virginia, depicts the famous scene of the raising of the (American) flag on Iwo Jima, whose history is told by the movie Flags of our Fathers directed by Clint Eastwood. One of the soldiers involved, Ira Hayes, is commemorated in a fine song by Johnny Cash.
- 59 US National Museum of the Pacific War. In Fredericksburg (Texas), home town of Admiral Chester Nimitz who commanded US forces in part of the Pacific, this is a large museum complex with many exhibits.
- Bank Kerapu. There is a small war memorial and museum in the former Bank Kerapu building in Kota Bharu, Malaysia, which served as a secret police station during the Japanese occupation; it might not merit a special trip but is worth visiting if you are in Kota Bharu
- There are Commonwealth War Cemeteries in Taukkyan, Thanbyuzayat, Kranji, Taiping, Labuan, Sai Wan, Kanchanaburi, Imphal, Chennai and Yokohama as well as an American War Cemetery in Manila, in which many of the Allied war dead are buried.
- World War I
- Holocaust remembrance
- World War II in Europe
- World War II in Africa
- Industrialization of the United States for non-military US history of the 1930s and 40s
- Long March
- Nuclear tourism