The Battle of the Coral Sea, the first naval battle in which the participating ships never came in sight of each other, ended.
The Coral Sea is situated off the northeast coast of Australia. Following Japan’s entry into the Second World War, the Imperial Japanese Navy sought to establish perimeter defences in the region to protect the Japanese empire and isolate Australia and New Zealand from their ally the United States.
Japanese forces launched Operation MO, in which they planned to seize Port Moresby in New Guinea and Tulagi in the Solomon Islands, on 3 May 1942. However, the Allies had intercepted messages about the impending attack and launched a series of surprise airstrikes against the Japanese from the U.S. fleet carrier Yorktown.
The Allied attack failed to stop the Japanese landings on Tulagi, but caused significant damage to the fleet that reduced its effectiveness in the second stage of the plan. Clearly aware of the presence of enemy aircraft carriers in the area, the Japanese consequently sought to locate and destroy the allied naval forces.
On the morning of 7 May, Japanese carrier-based planes located and sank a U.S. destroyer and an oiler while American planes sank the light Japanese carrier Shōhō and a cruiser. The following day Japanese aircraft damaged the U.S. carriers Yorktown and Lexington, which was later scuttled. Meanwhile the Japanese carrier Shōkaku was heavily damaged and had to withdraw, while Zuikaku suffered large aircraft losses that excluded it from the Battle of Midway the following month. Consequently while Japan experienced a tactical victory in terms of the number of ships sunk, the Allies gained a strategic advantage as Japan was forced to abandon Operation MO.
Thomas Stevens departed San Francisco on a large-wheeled Ordinary, also known as a penny-farthing, to become the first person to cycle around the world.
Stevens was born in England and emigrated to the USA when he was seventeen years old. A contemporary magazine describes him as having worked a railroad mill in Wyoming before securing a job at a Colorado mine where he had the idea of cycling across the United States. Having already developed a love of cycling, Stevens bought a 50-inch Columbia penny-farthing in 1884. Built by the Pope Manufacturing Company of Chicago, it was on this bicycle that he departed San Francisco at 8am on 22 April 1884.
The first leg of Stevens’ journey took him 3,700 miles east to Boston, which he reached after more than three months’ travelling along everything from wagon trails to canal towpaths. Determined to travel light, his handlebar bag contained only a change of socks and shirt, a raincoat that doubled as a tent, and a revolver.
Stevens arrived in Boston on 4 August, making him the first person to cycle across North America. He then chose to wait until the following year to cross the Atlantic to Liverpool and begin the next part of his journey. Crossing the Channel to France, he cycled across Europe to Constantinople before crossing into Asia.
Stevens made it to Iran before being forced to turn back to Turkey, having been denied passage through both Siberia and Afghanistan. He resorted to taking a steamship to Karachi from where he cycled to Calcutta and another ship to Hong Kong. More cycling to China’s east coast got him to a ship bound for Japan where his incredible ride finished on 17 December 1886. His journal records “DISTANCE ACTUALLY WHEELED, ABOUT 13,500 MILES”.
Port Arthur was a fortified naval base in the south of Manchuria that had been leased to Russia since 1898. After crushing the Boxer Rebellion as part of an eight-nation coalition, Russia infuriated Japan, which claimed parts of Manchuria within its own sphere of influence, by refusing to remove its troops. Japan was willing to recognise Russian dominance in Manchuria in return for access to Korea, but an agreement could not be reached and Japan broke off diplomatic relations on 6 February 1904.
Three hours before the Russian government received the declaration of war on 8 February, the Japanese Imperial Navy conducted a pre-emptive strike. Japanese Admiral Tōgō sent ten destroyers to Port Arthur where their torpedoes damaged two of the Russian fleet’s most powerful battleships as well as a cruiser. Although none of the ships were sunk due to the effectiveness of torpedo nets in the port, the Russian fleet was seriously weakened as the ships that had been hit were put out of action. The attack was halted at around 2am the following morning after the Russians turned on their searchlights and began to return fire.
At around 8am Admiral Tōgō sent a reconnaissance mission through the morning mist to inspect Port Arthur. With his observers reporting that the Russian fleet had been crippled by the previous night’s attack, the Japanese fleet were ordered to launch an attack on the port. In reality the reconnaissance was wrong and the Russians were prepared for battle. The Battle of Port Arthur resulted in ships on both sides suffering damage before the Japanese fleet retreated.
On the 13th December 1937, the Nanking Massacre began at the end of the Battle of Nanking – part of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Troops from the Imperial Japanese Army captured the city, which at the time was the capital of the Republic of China, and began a six-week long series of atrocities against the city’s residents. A highly contentious historical event, estimates of the number of victims vary from 40,000 to over 300,000 dead.
Japanese troops arrived at the city on the 9th December, and despite attempts by a group of foreigners in the city to negotiate a peaceful handover of the city, Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek ordered that the city be defended “to the last man”. Meanwhile, Japanese troops were ordered to “kill all captives”.
The Chinese defence collapsed on the 12th, and the victorious Japanese army entered the following day. According to eyewitness accounts, the following six weeks saw them engage in numerous war crimes including rape, murder, theft and arson. Captured Chinese troops were the victims of extrajudicial killings by machine gun or by being used for live bayonet practice. Meanwhile children, the elderly, and approximately 20,000 other women of the city were raped with many killed immediately afterwards.
Japanese General Iwane Matsui expressed his regret at the behaviour of his troops just a few days after taking control of the city, but atrocities didn’t end until the start of February 1938. At the end of the Second World War, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East convicted only two people for their role in the massacre.
At 7:48 on the morning of the 7th December 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack against the United States’ Hawaiian naval base at Pearl Harbor. Sixteen US Navy ships were sunk or damaged by 353 Japanese fighter, bomber and torpedo planes. Nearly 2,500 American servicemen were killed, with another 1,000 injured. The Japanese lost just 64 men.
Japan chose to attack Pearl Harbor in order to prevent the U.S. Pacific Fleet from becoming involved in Japan’s advance into Southeast Asia, particularly British-controlled Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. Although the United States was not involved in the Second World War at the time, it had previously provided financial support to the Republic of China in the Sino-Japanese War and stopped selling equipment such as aeroplanes, parts and aviation fuel to Japan in1940. Remaining oil shipments were stopped in July 1941.
Japan’s military commanders became convinced that the USA would eventually intervene as they advanced further into Southeast Asia. On the 26th November, the main Japanese attack fleet left port for Pearl Harbour. However, Emperor Hirohito only gave final approval for the attack on the 1st December. By this point most Americans expected imminent war with Japan, but the attack on Pearl Harbour caught everyone by surprise.
At 7:48am on the 7th December the first wave of Japanese planes began their attack. The entire assault was over within 90 minutes. The following morning, President Franklin D. Roosevelt described it as “a date which will live in infamy” and called for Congress to declare war on the Empire of Japan. They did so less than an hour later.
On the 25th November 1936, Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact. Although directed against the Communist International, the international organisation that sought to create a worldwide communist republic, the treaty was in reality specifically against the Soviet Union.
The idea for an anti-Communist alliance had first been suggested in late 1935, as Hitler and Mussolini sought to present themselves as upholding traditional values in the face of Soviet Communism. However, the plan stagnated while the German foreign ministry weighed up the pros and cons of an alliance with the arch-enemy of their traditional Chinese ally.
By summer 1936 the military were an increasingly dominant force in Japan’s government. Meanwhile Europe was beginning to fear the implications of the Franco-Soviet Alliance that went into effect at the end of March. As a result Hitler pushed ahead with the Pact in the hope of securing an Anglo-German alliance as a result.
The Pact didn’t result in Hitler’s desired alliance with Britain, but did later expand to include Italy. Mussolini’s decision to join with Germany and Japan on the 6th November 1937, two years after the collapse of the Stresa Front with France and Britain, led to the formation of what was to become known as the Axis Alliance.
The Anti-Comintern Pact specifically stated that the signatories would not make any political treaties with the Soviet Union. However, on the 23rd August 1939, Germany signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact, also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This caused a rift with Japan, but the relationship began to heal following the later Tripartite Pact in September 1940.
On the 18th September 1931, the Manchurian Crisis – also known as the Mukden Incident –began when Japanese soldiers blew up a section of their own railway in the Chinese region of Manchuria. Although it caused only minimal damage, the explosion was blamed on Chinese rebels and led to the Japanese using it as an excuse to invade.
The South Manchuria Railway had been controlled by Japan since the end of the Russo-Japanese War, but the relationship between the Japanese military who guarded the line and the local Chinese population was tense. Following the onset of the Great Depression, some renegade members of the Japanese Kwantung Army believed that a conflict in the area would be beneficial for Japan.
A small quantity of dynamite was detonated near the tracks at around 10.20pm on the evening of the 18th September. The explosion caused such little damage that a train was able to go over the section of track ten minutes later without incident, but within hours the resident Japanese forces had driven the nearby Chinese garrison from their barracks in retaliation for the alleged attack.
Over the next few days the Japanese army took control of towns and cities along the entire railway line, acting independently of the government in Tokyo. The politicians, unable to reign in the army, eventually lent support to the invasion and sent additional troops to support the invasion.
The Chinese government appealed to the League of Nations for assistance, which promptly passed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Japanese troops. Japan ignored the League, and ruled Manchuria as a puppet state.
On the 17th August 1982, the very first commercial compact disc was produced in the German town of Langenhagen. Although it was a number of months before the disc was actually available to purchase, the advent of the CD marked a seismic shift in the way people listened to music.
Having initially developed separate prototype digital audio discs, engineers at electronics giants Philips and Sony came together in 1979 to develop a standardised digital audio disc. Interestingly, this was happening while they sat on opposite sides of the VHS-Betamax war over home video formats.
In 1980 the engineers agreed on and published their ‘Red Book’ standard, which is still used – with some minor amendments – as the basis for all Compact Discs. Having agreed on the standard format, marketing could then begin. The first public demonstration was given on Tomorrow’s World, a BBC television program about new science and technology, in 1981 and saw presenter Kieran Prendiville smear strawberry jam on a CD of the Bee Gees’ album Living Eyes to demonstrate the supposedly indestructible nature of the new format.
A year later, the first CD was produced to be sold commercially. Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau’s recording of Chopin waltzes was pressed at Philips’ Polydor Pressing Operations plant, with the pianist himself starting the machine. Philips apparently believed that classical music fans were generally more affluent and therefore more likely to pay the hefty price tag for CDs and their players. However, the first ‘pop’ music CD to be produced was the The Visitors – the last album recorded by the Swedish super-group ABBA.
On the 6th August 1945, the USA dropped an atomic bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” on the Japanese city of Hiroshima from the B-29 aircraft Enola Gay. 70,000 people were killed instantly, of whom 20,000 were military personnel. Approximately another 70,000 died over the following months due to radiation sickness, burns, and other injuries directly related to the explosion.
The Potsdam Declaration issued on the 28th July by the Allies called for the unconditional surrender of Japan. If the government did not surrender they threated “the complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and…utter devastation of the Japanese homeland”. Having completed the successful Trinity atomic test on the 16th July, the USA felt that the atomic bomb could quickly end the war in the Pacific.
Hiroshima was chosen as a target due to its industrial and military significance since it was the command centre for the defence of southern Japan and contained approximately 40,000 military personnel. The Enola Gay and six accompanying aircraft had a 6-hour flight from the air base at North Field, Tinian before reaching the city where they released the bomb at 8.15am. It exploded 600m above the city as planned, with the equivalent to 16 kilotons of TNT. Virtually all buildings within a mile of the blast were flattened.
Following the bombing, President Truman warned that if Japan did not surrender, “they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.” Japan did not surrender. A second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later.
At 9am on the 26th March 1945, the Battle of Iwo Jima ended as US Marines officially secured the island from the Japanese Imperial Army during the War in the Pacific. The US invasion of the 8 square mile island, known as “Operation Detachment”, led to five weeks of fierce fighting between around 21,000 Japanese troops and 110,000 Americans. The United States suffered 26,000 casualties of which nearly 7,000 died. Meanwhile the Japanese forces were virtually wiped out.
The objective of Operation Detachment was to capture Iwo Jima and its three airfields, in order to provide a base for US aircraft involved in attacks on the Japanese mainland. The island had been subjected to nine months of aerial bombings and naval bombardments prior to the US invasion, but the Japanese had dug an extensive network of tunnels beneath the volcanic island that provided shelter for much of the defence force.
The first Marines landed on the island on the 19th February and, despite facing little initial opposition, suffered significant casualties as they struggled to make their way inland. The strong Japanese defences meant that despite their superior numbers the Americans were sometimes only able to progress a few hundred metres a day.
However, Mount Suribachi was eventually captured and the iconic photograph of five Marines raising the United States flag was taken – albeit when a second, larger, flag was raised to replace the first. On the 16th March the island was declared secure, but sporadic fighting continued until the night of the 25th, when a final Japanese assault by 300 soldiers was defeated in a vicious 90-minute firefight.