This was one of the bloodiest beach assaults of the Pacific war. Despite a massive preliminary naval and air bombardment, the Japanese garrison survived to fiercely contest the landings. In a three and a half day battle, the US 2nd Marine Division suffered 978 killed and 2,188 wounded. A total of 4,690 Japanese and Korean troops were killed.
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On 7 December 1941, Japan launched a surprise air attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The Philippines and Allied possessions in south-east Asia were also overrun. Japan hoped for a short war, seeking to quickly cripple US naval strength and capture strategically vital oil supplies. But American industrial might proved overwhelming.
In June 1942 the decisive aircraft carrier battle near Midway Island marked the end of Japanese expansion. Allied forces also successfully fought back in New Guinea and the Solomon islands, and removed the threat to Australia.
The United States now had the initiative and began a two-pronged campaign to drive back the Japanese. In the south-west Pacific, General MacArthur advanced towards the Philippines. The main thrust was in the central Pacific, where Admiral Nimitz fought an island-hopping campaign with his carrier battle-groups. The capture of islands such as Tarawa, Saipan and Iwo Jima saw heavy casualties on both sides.
In April 1945 the Americans assaulted Okinawa, only 350 miles from Japan. Hundreds of kamikaze suicide planes failed to stop the landings. B-29 bombing raids and a submarine blockade now brought Japan to its knees. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the final act that ended the war.
The US Navy aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill on fire after being struck by two Japanese suicide planes off Okinawa, 11 May 1945. The Americans needed Okinawa, in the Japanese Ryukyu Islands, as a base for the projected invasion of Japan, and had assembled a massive task force. The use of kamikaze tactics was a major element in the Japanese defence. A total of 368 American ships were damaged and 28 sunk, and naval casualties exceeded those of the land forces ashore.
American infantry wade ashore unopposed on Morotai in the Dutch East Indies, 14 September 1944. The island was to serve as the principal military base for General MacArthur’s campaign to liberate the Philippines, which began with the invasion of Leyte in October 1944.
Fleet Air Arm Grumman Avenger torpedo aircraft flying over the battleship HMS King George V and other units of the British Pacific Fleet (BPF), May 1945. The BPF played a subsidiary role in the later stages of the Pacific war, mounting attacks on oil installations at Palembang in Sumatra in January 1945, and then operating in May against the Sakishima Islands in support of the US Navy at Okinawa.
Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser signs the Japanese instrument of surrender for Great Britain on board the American battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, 2 September 1945. Formerly Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, Fraser was appointed to command the BPF in November 1944. He reported to the American Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, Admiral Chester W Nimitz.