Though World War II was fought all around the globe—from the tiniest of islands to the most expansive of countries—there were certain locations that proved to be more significant than others. If you want to take a tour of all of the most crucial sites of World War II, it’s going to be a hefty stretch of travel. But if we narrow your journey to the most iconic locations of the Pacific Theater, it becomes a more manageable excursion.
The following places around the Pacific proved to be turning points through the duration of the war in the Pacific.
Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii
The final catalyst for the United States joining World War II. On December 7th, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy flew into Pearl Harbor and launched a devastating assault on the American naval base and other military installations on Oahu. Over the course of two hours, Pearl Harbor underwent an intense bombardment that resulted in serious damage to most of the vessels present—including the total destruction of two battleships—and left over 2,400 Americans dead.
The attack on Pearl Harbor opened the Pacific Theater of World War II and represented the start of armed American conflict with Japan.
Midway Atoll, North Pacific
The first major turning point of World War II in the Pacific. The Japanese forces attempted to surprise the US base at Midway just as they had at Pearl Harbor. This time, unlike at Pearl Harbor, American cryptanalysts broke Japan’s communication code and discovered its plan to attack Midway. In a preemptive maneuver, the US delivered a crushing blow to Japan’s fleet, destroying many of its assets including four of the six aircraft carriers that participated in the Pearl Harbor attack just six months earlier.
After Midway, Japan was never able to recover its losses, mostly due to the lack of necessary resources.
Iwo Jima, Japan
The setting for the most iconic photograph from the Pacific Theater, the Battle for Iwo Jima took place from February 19th to March 26th, 1945, and resulted in Japan’s forces being dislodged from the island. Against a much stronger American force, approximately 18,000 Japanese troops (out of 21,000) were killed, while nearly 20,000 of the 110,000 American servicemen were wounded and almost 7,000 were killed.
Despite a clear Allied victory on Iwo Jima, the strategic value of the invasion in light of its extremely bloody cost has long been disputed.
One of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific Theater, the Battle of Okinawa was fought so the United States could establish bases for a planned invasion of the Japanese main islands. The 82-day battle through the spring of 1945 resulted in the deaths of over 20,000 Americans and over 100,000 Japanese troops. It’s estimated that approximately 100,000 civilians were killed during the brutal campaign on Okinawa.
Due to the incredibly high death toll of Okinawa, the United States determined that continued battle with the Japanese would result in an immense number of further casualties. To curb these additional losses, the decision was made to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki later that summer.