In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section World War II and the Far East

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Grand Strategies in Conflict
  • Fall of Hong Kong, Malaya, and Singapore
  • Retreat and Reconquest of Burma
  • China and Stilwell
  • Wingate and the Chindits
  • Air and Naval Battles
  • Military Leadership
  • Espionage and Counter-Espionage
  • Commonwealth Armies
  • Imperial Japanese Army and Japanese Satellite Armies
  • Soldier’s Voices
  • Prisoners of War
  • War, Economy, and Society

Military History World War II and the Far East
Kaushik Roy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 July 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0007


The Japanese Blitzkrieg started on 7/8 December 1941. While the US Pacific Fleet was bombed at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese started landings at Hong Kong, Indonesia and Thailand. Singapore surrendered on 15 February 1942. By 8 March, the Japanese had occupied Rangoon, and British and Indian soldiers retreated into eastern India. By April, Japan had achieved the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. After being worsted in Midway (June 1942), the Japanese were not in a position to make any offensive move in the Far East. 1943 was a year of stalemate. In February and March 1944, the Japanese launched two offensives at Arakan and in northeast India. The revitalized Commonwealth forces in India inflicted the greatest land defeat on the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). By mid-1944, the Japanese were in full retreat. The dropping of atom bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war on 15 August. This essay does not take into account the Pacific theater, where mainly US forces fought the Japanese. Here the objective is to analyze to what extent Japanese success in mainland Asia during the first half of the war was the result of Japanese superiority, or of the inferiority of the Allied forces, and to what extent the success of the Allied forces from 1944 on was the product of materialschlacht— the application of superior firepower and aggressive small unit tactics. Further, the importance of Chindits and American assistance to the Kuomintang within the broader context of the Allied policy of defeating Japan is also assessed. Finally, the contributions of the Asians who were hitherto subject peoples of the Western maritime powers, and the impact of the war on them, are also noted.

General Overviews

Thorne 1986 provides a snapshot of the domestic societies of the Asian states in turmoil under the pressure of war. An introductory account of the war in the Pacific and in the Far East is available in Willmott 1999, which links Japanese expansion in China with Japan’s entry into the global war. Credit is due to Willmott for contextualizing the war in the broader economic and political context. While Willmott mostly focuses on the Western perspective, Ienaga 1978 gives an overview of the war in the Far East and the Pacific from the Japanese side. Ienaga emphasizes totalitarianism in the domestic context, which gave rise to Japanese expansionism in the foreign sphere. The Japanese militarists portrayed World War II to the domestic audience as a war to solve the “China problem.” Paine 2012 focuses on the political, diplomatic, and military impact of Japan’s China War within the overall context of World War II. Both Ienaga and Willmott accept that for Japan, the war started in 1931 and continued until 1945. Paine traces the origins of Japan’s war in Asia to 1911 and considers the Pacific War as an extension of Tokyo’s China War. While Hastings 2007 claims that the land war in Asia was irrelevant to Japan’s fortunes during World War II, the anthology Marston 2010 and Paine’s monograph give equal importance to the Pacific theater and the land war in Asia. The following online resources are also available: Burmastar, Chindits, and National Archives.

  • Burmastar.

    An interesting site for getting information about British soldiers who fought in Burma.

  • Chindits.

    For beginners, this site provides introductory information about Wingate’s force.

  • Hastings, Max. Nemesis: The Battle for Japan, 1944–45. London: HarperCollins, 2007.

    Hastings gives a balanced overview of the strategic decisions and tactical moves of the armies and navies engaged in the Pacific and in mainland Asia. However, the author makes the controversial point that ultimately the land war in which Japan engaged in the various regions in Asia was irrelevant in the broader context.

  • Ienaga, Saburo. The Pacific War: 1931–45. Translated by Frank Baldwin. New York: Pantheon, 1978.

    Ienaga connects the failure of democracy at home and imperialism in Korea and China with Japan’s catastrophe. Rather than the military aspects, this volume emphasizes the sufferings of common people during the conflagration. Originally published in 1968 (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten).

  • Marston, Daniel, ed. The Pacific War: From Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima. Oxford: Osprey, 2010.

    This collection of thirteen essays with color maps gives equal attention to the air, land, and naval warfare that occurred from Hawaii and Midway in the Pacific to Arakan and Ledo in the west. The contributors take the position that the Pacific theater and the Asian war were equally important to Japan’s fate. Originally published in 2005.

  • National Archives.

    Several British Cabinet papers related to the Far East can be downloaded. Moreover, researchers can also search the relevant Cabinet documents and order photocopies of them. This site is a must for researchers.

  • Paine, S. C. M. The Wars for Asia: 1911–1949. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139105835

    Traces the linkages between Japan’s ambition in China and Tokyo’s broader goals in Asia.

  • Thorne, Christopher. The Far Eastern War: States and Societies, 1941–45. London: Unwin, 1986.

    Though a bit dated, still the best wide-ranging survey of matters military and nonmilitary.

  • Willmott, H. P. The Second World War in the Far East. London: Cassell, 1999.

    This book is beautifully illustrated with diagrams, charts, and color photographs and accompanied by a highly informative narrative. It is an essential volume for the undergraduate students.

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