Pacific News Minute: June 6, 1944 In The Pacific

Jun 6, 2019

The U.S. fleet at Majuro Atoll in 1944. Visible (among many other ships) are three Independence-class light carriers, four Essex-class carriers, USS Enterprise (CV-6, right front), a South Dakota-class battleship, and two Iowa-class battleships.
Credit U.S. Navy

While all eyes focus on the coast of France on this 75th Anniversary of D-Day, we sometimes overlook events on the other side of the world. That same day, June 6, 1944, a huge attack force cleared Pearl Harbor on its way to invade Japanese positions in the Mariana Islands.

The force that headed west across the Pacific may have been smaller in numbers than the armada that gathered off the coast of Normandy, but the U.S. 5th Fleet boasted no fewer than 16 aircraft carriers and more than 900 combat aircraft. The attack group carried two divisions of Marines and one of Army infantry and the stakes of both invasions were similar.

British Historian and strategist HP Wilmott argues that, in May 1944, both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan retained some hope of avoiding defeat, but, while much bloody fighting would remain, the battles in Normandy and the Marianas left no doubt about the outcome. 

The Marianas were the strategic key of the Western Pacific.

Airbases on Guam and Tinian put Tokyo within range of the new B-29 bombers that would reduce Japan’s cities to ashes. Guam provided a forward base for the American submarines that would sink what was left of Japan’s shipping. The Japanese acknowledged the importance of the islands by sending nearly all of their Navy out to fight, and lost three aircraft carriers and 90 percent of their carrier aviation in the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

In his book, June 1944, HP Wilmott notes that in addition to Normandy, this month saw American troops take Rome, Marines storm the beaches of Saipan and B-29s bomb Japan. From bases in Southern China, supplied from India. No other nation ever waged war on such a scale.

75 years ago today, the United States emerged as a super power.