As I’ve mentioned before (and as many of you know), the time from December of 1941 until May of the following year was pretty much Japan’s “time on top”. They ran wild in southeast Asia. Thailand was invaded on the 8th (along with Malaya) and quickly fell, formally aligning with the Japanese on December 14, 1941. Hong Kong fell on Christmas Day, after a week-long siege, and Kuala Lumpur fell on January 11th.
And that doesn’t include their success in the Pacific. Tarawa and Makin Atolls in the Gilbert Islands (which we discussed in some detail in November) were occupied at this time. Wake Island was overrun, Guam captured, and Borneo invaded. The biggest prize, the Philippine Islands, came into Japanese hands as a late Christmas gift, falling on December 26th.
All in all, a bunch of big-time victories for the island country desirous of an empire.
As mid-January rolled in, the Japan’s design on conquest continued largely unabated, with Burma taking on the roll of “next target”. Thailand’s quick fall in December gave the Japanese freedom of movement through the country, allowing them to assemble on the Thai side of the Kra Isthmus (that long strip of land hangs on the east side of Burma and on Thailand’s western border).
Japan’s goals in Burma were largely focused on capturing Rangoon. As the country’s most important seaport, it fed supply lines in that ran into China…supply lines that Japan really wanted cut. In addition, the capture of Burma provided a western buffer that protected their gains in Malaya and Dutch East Indies.
On January 15, 1942, the hammer fell as Japan crossed the border and invaded Burma. This marked the beginning of a battle that would last for more than three years, really only ending when the atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan surrendered.
For me, the CBI (China/Burma/India) theater has been largely obscured by both the Pacific War and the War in Europe. If you like to study WWII, maybe it’s been that way for you as well. So hopefully, as time goes on, we’ll discuss this relatively unknown conflict, and shed more light on it.
Recommended Reading: The Burma Road – I’ve just started Webster’s book and I’m already learning stuff, which tells you how little I actually know about the CBI.