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It is difficult to pin point a single battle as the turning point in marking the end of World war II especially in a theater which encompassed an area as large as the Pacific, in a war lasting more than four years. A concrete claim could be that the attack at Pearl Harbor was a turning point since it involved Japan in a war with the United States which had superior economic resources. This attack also made the American public to support the war effort. On the other hand, some historians have viewed Tarawa’s invasion in November 1943 as the turning point since a direct attack was made on a territory which the Japanese had held before the war.
The debate over the turning point of World War II partly lies on the importance attributed to numerous factors which were necessary in conducting operations in the theater. The land bases as well as logistical, naval, air, amphibious and ground forces were all integral in the war. From the perspective of the balance of naval forces, the attack on Pearl Harbor was not of much significance since the ships which were lost together with those which were later mended were not so much needed in the campaign. Tarawa on the other hand did not posit much naval casualties even though it had an impact on the Japanese defense perimeter, stripping away from them a forward base. Guadalcanal and the Midway campaign, by contrast, had a massive effect on the war due to the losses in ships and carriers which were important mobile strike forces in the Pacific war. As such, the period between October 1942 and February 1943 can be referred to as the turning point period for the war since many decisive battles were fought during this time. In this paper, my argument favors Guadalcanal and Midway as the major campaigns which turned the fortune of World War II.
The Japanese military forces carried out successful military campaigns from December 1941 to June 1942 from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean without much opposition. Considering the vastness of the theater, these victories were very impressive. Within six months, Singapore, Guam, Wake, the Dutch East Indies, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Java, New Britain, Sumatra and several other areas were under the control of Japanese forces. The Allied forces, up through the Midway Battle, were on the defensive reacting to the offensive operations by the Japanese. The offensive operations which were done by the Allies prior to the Battle of Midway were mere raids on the perimeter. The Japanese were forced to be on the defensive both psychologically and militarily after the Battle of Midway. From a military perspective, the Japanese lost two thirds of its fleet carriers which were important in offensive operations. The Japanese also lost ninety of their veteran pilots at Midway. This was a significant loss since the Japanese trained about one hundred carrier pilots every year. The following years proved that the loss was a major blow just like the destruction of the carriers.
It is apparent that the loss was shattering psychologically. The Battle of Midway was to be decisive. The American carriers were to be drawn to battle with the capture of Midway since it was vital in closing the western Perimeter. Before opting for an offensive meant to isolate Australia, the major step was to destroy the American carrier arm even though an immediate operation which could jeopardize Australian supply lines was favored by many officials in the Imperial Headquarters. The loss of the battle by the Japanese dealt a major blow on their morale since they had meant to stamp their naval supremacy in the battle. After the Battle of Midway, the Japanese did not carry out any meaningful offensive operation opting for a defensive plan. This was remarkably a fundamental change from the planning prior to Midway when a study was carried on further offensive operations. The course of the war was altered by the Japanese the loss at Midway. Going by the earlier records, the Americans did not have any right to win the war yet they did. The results at Midway thwarted any hopes of the Japanese gaining any favorable outcome in the war. Even Winston Churchill regarded Midway as the turning point of the war.
The struggle for Guadalcanal has been viewed by many authors as marking the turning point of World War II. Various reasons have been laid in support of this argument. The Japanese lost their territory for the first time during this campaign. Their navy suffered serious losses which included two battle ships, thirteen destroyers, a carrier and four cruisers. The ground and air forces which the Japanese committed to Guadalcanal was also characterized by heavy casualties. The Japanese were not in a position to replace the air losses they had suffered after Midway.
The offensive which was taken by the Allies in the Solomons in August 1942 would have not occurred had they lost at Midway. As such, Midway altered the balance of power by creating opportunities for the Allies while positing problems for the Japanese. The offensive option was not open to the Allies early in the war hence the Battle of Midway was an important turning point for the war in the Pacific. Had the war been won by the Japanese, the war may have been prolonged.
In the history of naval warfare, one of the lengthiest and fiercest was the naval campaign around Guadalcanal. This lasted for almost six months with heavy casualties for both the United States and the Japanese. From the naval perspective, it also marked the turning point of the war in the Pacific theater. After the Battle of Midway, the well trained and experienced Japanese fleet still proved its superiority to the United States fleet hence posed a threat to them until it was checked in Guadalcanal. The victory in Midway came at the right moment for the united States. The major instrument of power for the United States after the loss of almost all of its battleships at Pearl Harbor was its few aircraft carriers. The bulk of the Japanese navy was engaged by three American operational carriers accompanied by few cruisers and destroyers. Four Japanese heavy carriers were sunk in the ensuing engagement. Even though this was a major blow to the Japanese High Command, the Japanese Combined fleet was still in good form and hence, the loss of the war was not made inevitable.
With the available strength at the Guadalcanal campaign, the effects of the defeat at Midway could have been reversed. Japanese had many advantages especially with the situation in southern Solomons. As much as Midway was a major United States victory, it was not the true turning point in the War. The victory succeeded in incapacitating valuable carriers even though the rest of Japanese fleet was largely left unscratched. For most of the beginning of the Guadalcanal campaign, the Japanese displayed a remarkable superiority in firepower. However, the morale of the Americans was considerably high considering their victory at Midway yet much of its navy was inexperienced and unsure. The Guadalcanal campaign proved to be very expensive for both sides and even though both sides were determined to win the battle, American strategies helped to crush the Japanese. It is the strategies which the Americans adopted rather than their victory at Midway which ensured their success. The decisions by the Allied command made Guadalcanal the turning point of the war in the Pacific. The Japanese strategy was flawed, depending largely on night battles which were successfully countered by the Americans.
It is difficult to weigh the factors which mark whether the turning point of World War II was at Midway or Guadalcanal. The Japanese were prevented from securing Midway which left some sections of its perimeter open. However, it is not clear whether the Japanese would have maintained a garrison near Hawaii. Logistical problems might have led them to abandon the operation. In contrast, Guadalcanal was supposed to serve as an important forward base. Supply routes to Australia were threatened by this location besides providing good flanks for operation in the Coral Sea. The Japanese were therefore forced to depend on the base in New Britain after losing Guadalcanal. They did not have major bases in the Solomon. With this regard, the tables were turned with the occupation of the Allies in Guadalcanal since the Japanese naval forces in southern Solomon could be interdicted.