After the Japanese defeat at Midway in June 1942, the war in the Pacific shifted south, as the Japanese focused on winning complete control of the Solomon Islands. They already had a strong foothold at the north end of the island chain, but occupying the central island, Guadalcanal, was crucial. When the Japanese took Guadalcanal in July 1942, the move threatened Allied shipping throughout the region, and Allied leaders were determined to respond. On August 7, the Allies launched an offensive on Guadalcanal via an amphibious landing of more than 16,000 U.S. Marines onto the island. The landing went relatively smoothly, although the Japanese naval forces sank eight Allied cruisers, two heavy carriers, and fourteen destroyers, killing more than 1,000 men.
Once on the island, the Marines found little resistance at first, since the only Japanese present were construction workers building military facilities. The Americans soon captured an airfield, which they quickly made operational, and all was quiet except for a series of Japanese air raids, which were fought off with the help of U.S. naval air support. By mid-October, however, Japan began streaming troops onto the opposite end of the island, sending wave after wave of soldiers despite terrible losses to American gunfire. The Japanese fought to the last man in virtually every engagement, regardless of the odds, which was shocking and intimidating to the U.S. troops. Attrition and limited supplies eventually resulted in unsustainable losses for the Japanese, but it was a slow process: the Battle of Guadalcanal continued until February 1943, when Japan was forced to abandon the island.
While the Allied campaign in Guadalcanal was going on, the United States and Australia launched a joint offensive on November 16, 1942, into New Guinea, the control of which the Japanese and Allied forces had both been struggling over for many months. As at Guadalcanal, the Japanese displayed a tenacious will to fight for every inch of territory, regardless of the cost in human lives. Although the majority of Japanese forces were driven off the island by January 1943, the Allies were unable to remove them fully, and fighting in New Guinea continued well into 1944.
Japan’s conquests in Southeast Asia during the first half of 1942 extended as far west as Burma. Britain, along with its colonial armies in India, took responsibility for containing this portion of the conflict. The British campaign did not go well, however, and on March 8, 1942, the Burmese port of Rangoon fell to Japan. This setback was a particularly bitter loss for the Allies, as it had been a primary supply point and the site of a crucial base for the British Royal Air Force. By May, the Japanese had driven the Allies back across the Indian border. During the rest of 1942, British-Indian forces launched minor offensives into Burma, but with little success.
It was only in mid-1943, when the Allies organized a new command structure in the region—the Southeast Asia Command—that they made any substantial progress in driving the Japanese back. Under this new command, the British cooperated with the Chinese to advance on the Burmese border, while U.S. and British special operations forces went behind enemy lines to cut communications and create chaos in general. A major focus of the campaign was to capture the town of Myitkyina, which was a principal Japanese communications post. There was a prolonged struggle for the Myitkyina, which finally fell on August 4, 1944. Another goal was to secure the so-called Burma Road, which linked Burma and China but was blocked by Japanese forces. The Burma Road was reopened in January, 1945. Finally, the Allies recaptured Rangoon on May 3, 1945.
Following their success in the Solomon Islands, the Allies fought fiercely throughout 1944 and 1945 to free the many other South Pacific island groups that Japan had seized earlier in the war. Many of these islands had formerly been territories of the United States, Britain, or other Allied countries. The largest of the island groups included the Marshall Islands, the Marianas, the Philippines, and the Ryukyu Islands. The battles took place on land, on the sea, and in the air.