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?

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    What research have you done already? Sep 21 at 3:26
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    Their "Zero" airplanes were the best in the Pacific theater until 1942.
    – Evargalo
    Sep 21 at 6:18
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    Welcome to History Stack Exchange. Can you clarify what is unclear in Wikipedia's summary of Japan's conquests in the Pacific Theater?
    – Robert Columbia
    Sep 21 at 12:48
  • 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.

  • +1 Can not disagree!
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 21 at 5:37
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    "The US Navy was pretty much neutralized in the attacks on Pearl Harbor". This seems to be bit of an overstatement and definitely needs some supporting evidence / academic sources. None of the carriers were touched, for example. Sep 21 at 6:14
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    And the sinking of the two British ships, Prince of Wales and Repulse, immediately following Pearl Harbour greatly assisted the Japanese taking of Malaya and Singapore. The loss of the ships was largely due to the lack of air cover. In late 1941 the UK was short enough of aircraft simply to defend Britain - precious few were available for the Far East theatre.
    – WS2
    Sep 21 at 6:42

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.

  • Actually, no. They weren't good jungle fighters. But they did have bicycles, lots of them. Their infantry didn't walk 5 km/hr but cycled at +15 km/hr.
    – Jos
    Sep 21 at 12:48
  • @Jos better than the Brits and Dutch :) And they certainly were a lot more mobile in the jungle than the Europeans who got lost when they couldn't see a road pretty much.
    – jwenting
    Sep 22 at 7:05

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