We all know about Pearl Harbor. But I’m curious how Imperial Japan managed to take Guam, Wake, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and China. The only reason I can think of to explain these conquests were that American and Allied troops were outnumbered. I’m also curious how they kept racking up victories between December 7 and Midway. The only explanation I can think of there might be the substantial damages the American navy sustained. Or could it have been faulty intelligence during the first years of the war?
- The Japanese navy was the second biggest in the Pacific Ocean.
- The Japanese navy had the most modern and most experienced carriers of the world at that time.
- England, France and The Netherlands were at war in Europe. France and The Netherlands were occupied by Germany.
- The colonial forces of FR, GB and NL were more like expanded police forces for internal control rather than to defend against foreign invaders.
- Japan had lots of combat experience fighting in China.
- The most important allied navy was the US Navy. The defence of European colonies in Asia depended for a large part on the US Navy.
- The US Navy was pretty much neutralized in the attacks on Pearl Harbor and on the Philippines.
Neutralized is a strong word, as they weren't out of the war. But with regard to the Japanese campaign conquering SE Asia, they were. All they had left were their carriers and submarines, which they put to good use. But that wasn't enough to stop the Japanese.
The attack on Pearl Harbor and on the Philippines and Malaysia and Thailand and the Dutch East Indies at almost the same time came as a rude shock to the allies and the US.
The Japanese excelled at jungle fighting. That's how they were able to sweep through Malaya and take Singapore from the side that the British had left undefended in the idea that it was impossible to move an army there: the jungle.
They also had naval superiority, and were able to wipe out the combined US/British/Dutch fleets in the battle of the Java Sea, leaving the Dutch East Indies effectively undefendable (the island garrisons did what they could but they could never hope to do more than delay defeat long enough to evacuate some people to Australia, which is what the Dutch did).
The island campaign in the central Pacific was basically the same story. With naval superiority (however temporary and sometimes tenuous) over the USA, and the air superiority that brought with it, the Japanese were able to overcome the island defenses that were designed to only have to last a very limited amount of time before reinforcements from Pearl Harbour could arrive.
Once the US Navy recovered from Pearl Harbour and the rebuilding started in earnest, the Japanese window of opportunity closed rapidly, as predicted by admiral Yamamoto by the way, he had advised against dragging the US into the war for exactly that reason, and the US was able to recover lost ground relatively quickly, in pretty much the same way that the Japanese had done but with their far greater strategic reserves allowing them to keep up the pace to the bitter end.