Charles F. Urbanowicz, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Anthropology
California State University, Chico
Chico, CA 95929-0400
csurbanowicz@gmail.comu or
1 May 2015

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NOTE: I am scheduled to be the Smithsonian Journeys Expert on the February 2016 cruise of the Paul Gauguin in French Polynesia.  I have been studying various aspects of Pacific anthropology and history for more than 45 years. Since retiring twelve years ago I have provided lectures on more than 25 Pacific cruises, placing destinations and events into context.  For a complete listing of cruises, please see; for an on-going list of cruise references, please see For a brief résumé see I have taken all of the pictures in this brief article.


Toward the endof World War II, Operation Downfall wasthe overall name for the planned invasions of Japan.  The first invasion was scheduled to begin on November 1,1945, and was code-named Operation Olympic.  The second invasion, code-named Operation Coronet, wasscheduled for March 1, 1946. Hundreds-of-thousands individuals, in addition to planes, ships, andsupplies, would have been involved and casualties on all sides would have beenhorrific. After American PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, Vice-President Harry S Trumanbecame President and it was his decision to use two atomic bombs againstJapan.  On August 6 Hiroshima wasbombed and on August 9 Nagasaki wasbombed. The invasion of Japan never tookplace.  Japansurrendered on August 15, 1945 with the formal ceremony ending World War IIoccurring on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay onSeptember 2, 1945.


Events leadingup to September 2 had a lengthy history and logistics played a vital part inall campaigns of World War II. Operation Bobcat in French Polynesia in 1942 was a wake-up call forUnited States planners. The coastaldefense guns from that operation can still be seen to this day on Bora Bora.


As one approaches the harbor of Vaitape, Bora Bora, French Polynesia, two coastal defense guns can be seen.


AlthoughAmericans usually date the beginning of World War II with the Japanese attackon Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, individuals in Asia date the beginning ofthe war from September 1931 when the Japanese Kwantung Army invaded threeprovinces in northeast China, named Manchuria.  For Europeans, the beginning of the war occurred inSeptember 1939 when German forces invaded Poland. The beginning and ending ofthe war for the United States can be viewed at Pearl Harbor on the Hawai'ianisland of O'ahu where one can visit the memorials for the USS Arizona, sunk in the December 7th attack and the USS Missouri where the instrument of surrender was signed betweenthe Allied Powers and Japan.


Flying into Honolulu International Airport one sees "Battleship Row" with the Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri.



Located at 1 Arizona Memorial Place, Honolulu, Hawai'i 96818.



Interior of the USS Arizona (BB-39) Memorial with the inscription:  "To the memory of the gallant men here entombed and their shipmates who gave their lives in action on December 7, 1941 on the U.S.S. Arizona."




Battleship Missouri Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawai'i.





"Over this spot on 2 September 1945 the instrument of formal surrender of Japan to the Allied Powers was signed thus bringing to a close the Second World War - The ship at that time was at anchor in Tokyo Bay."


Whenthe United States entered World War II on December 8, 1941, it was determinedthat Australia, New Zealand, and the "Far East" had to be suppliedwith personnel and materiel.  Onemistake that the Japanese made was their inability to grasp the immense size ofthe Pacific Ocean, one-third of the planet or 64,186,300 square miles, andAmericans would not make that mistake. Another mistake the Japanese made was tobelieve that the size of the Pacific made them immune to attacks from theUnited States of America.  Both mistakesproved to be flawed and fatal for the Japanese.  It was difficult, if not impossible, for various Japaneseforces in the Pacific, and on the Asian mainland, to lend mutual support to oneanother across large areas of land and sea.  The initial successes of the Japanese required their supplylines to become that much longer. American military personnel were aware of the problems faced by theJapanese and planned accordingly.

UnitedStates planners realized that the size of the Pacific Ocean could be a problemin transporting personnel and materiel and they looked at two routes from theUnited States into the Pacific: one route would be from the West Coast of the United States, via Hawai'i, and one from the East Coast of the UnitedStates, via the Panama Canal. Bythe end of December 1941, Operation Bobcat was created and put into action andit would be the first joint United States Navy-United States Army effort tosend troops and supplies to the Pacific to build a military base.  The plan called for constructing arefueling station for ships crossing the Pacific from the Panama Canal. It wouldbe established in French Oceania on the Polynesia island of Bora Bora.  

Theships for Operation Bobcat departed the East Coast of the United States in twostages:  some from New York harboron January 20, 1942 and some from the Charleston, South Carolina, NavyYard.  The assembled convoydeparted Charleston on January 27, 1942 and the five transports andaccompanying escort vessels arrived in Bora Bora on February 17.  When they arrived, personnel began tounload the 20,000 tons of supplies necessary to establish the base.  A major problem developed: theequipment, including heavy tractors, trucks and bulldozers necessary forunloading the ships had been loaded first back in the United States and were atthe back of the ships when the convoy arrived in Bora Bora.   As a result of this error it took52 days to get everything unloaded.   A lesson was learned about how to load cargo vesselswhich gives truth to the fact that "logic" is an important part ofthe term logistics.  

TheJapanese never attacked Bora Bora and the fuel facilities established thereproved vital for the ships crossing the Pacific.  Some of the eight coastal defense 155mm guns installedaround the island are still visible and somewhat accessible to residents andvisitors to Bora Bora. 


Location of one of the eight coastal defense guns on Bora Bora, French Polynesia.


Any protectionthat Japan felt because of Pacific distances was shattered by the B-25B bombingraid on the home islands of Japan led by Lieutenant James ("Jimmy")Doolittle on April 18, 1942. Doolittle's sixteen bombers did wonders for the morale of Americans,coming within five months of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The raid caused Japan to reconsiderpart of their war plans: they decided they had to invade the Hawai'ianIslands.  First they had toneutralize and occupy Midway Island, en route to Hawai'i.  Over the days of June 4-7, 1942, theBattle of Midway was a disaster for the Japanese.  Although the Americans lost one aircraft carrier and morethan a hundred planes, the Japanese lost four aircraft carriers, more than 200planes, and many of their best pilots. Japanese invasion plans for Hawai'i were cancelled.

From the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial.



From the National World War II Memorial, Washington, D.C.


The next majorbattle after Midway, and viewed by many as the decisive one that contributed tothe ultimate downfall of Japan, occurred on the island of Guadalcanal.  United States Marines landed in theSolomon Islands on August 7, 1942 in order to stop the Japanese from completingan airfield they were building on Guadalcanal and which could prevent Americansupplies from reaching Australia and New Zealand.   The Marines routed the Japanese and finished theairfield, naming it Henderson Field. This was in honor of United States Marine Major Lofton R. Henderson (1903-1942)who died on June 4, 1942, at the Battle of Midway.  The victory on Guadalcanal did not come easily and"Bloody Ridge" was the location of a tremendous victory for Americanforces.  Over the days and nightsof September 12-14, 1942, United States Marines defeated Japanese troops who hadbeen successful in almost all of their campaigns to date in Pacific locations and on the Asian mainland.  There would be many more Americanvictories in the Pacific before the war in the Pacific would end in 1945, butit was at Bloody Ridge that American morale received another tremendous boostbecause of the hard-earned victory.


Location of "Bloody Ridge" also known as the "Battle of Edson's Ridge" Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands.


After the1942-1943 success in Guadalcanal, there were other battles in the SolomonIslands and elsewhere:  Tarawa in1943, Kwajelein, Eniwtok, Saipan, Tinian, Guam, and Peleliu in 1944, and IwoJima in 1945.  The 35-day strugglefor Iwo Jima, named Operation Detachment, was one of the bloodiest up to thattime, but the worst was yet to come in Operation Iceberg.

The Marine Corps War Memorial (also called the Iwo Jima Memorial) at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C.  The sculpture is based on the photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal (1911-2006) on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945. One of the inscriptions on the sculpture include the words of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz (1885-1966) who was the Commander-in-Chief, United States Pacific Fleet: "Uncommon valor was a common virtue."


OperationIceberg was the invasion of the Ryuku Islands, including Okinawa.  As the war in the Pacific progressed,locations for the personnel and materiel for the invasion of Japan and astaging area had to be secured and prepared and Okinawa was that location. The82-day battle for Okinawa began on April 1, 1945, with the greatest naval assault ever to take place in thePacific.  The carnage sawthousands-of-thousands Allied forces, Japanese forces, and civilians on Okinawakilled. While the battle for Okinawa raged, Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945and the European war was over.  Theresistance on both Iwo Jima and Okinawa contributed heavily to the decision ofPresident Truman to use the atomic bombs against Japan to bring the war to afinal conclusion. 


Peace Memorial Park, Okinawa, Japan, and black granite slabs with more than 230,000 engraved names inscribed in English, Japanese, and Korean.


Numerous eventshad to occur for World War II to formally and finally end with the ceremoniesin Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. Operation Bobcat in French Polynesia contributed to the successes in thePacific.  The Pacific is vast. Thewar was brutal. Many aspects of the Pacific war are visible to this date aswell as the effects on the cultures of the islanders.


~1,773 words}            1 May 2015


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