22 February 1943–21 November 1944
From the Allied vantage point early in the spring of 1943, progressclearly had been made in the wars against Germany and Italy inEurope and the Mediterranean and Japan in the Pacific. During thewinter an entire German army had been killed or captured deep withinthe Soviet Union at Stalingrad. In Africa, once-invincible Axis forceswere in full-scale retreat, eventually to surrender in mid-May. Thespecter of continued Axis expansion in Europe was no longer thethreat it had been a year before.Halfway around the world, the Japanese offensive in the Pacificalso had crested. The May 1942 Battle of the Coral Sea, followed quickly by the great American victory at Midway, had cost Japan thestrategic initiative. By February 1943 American and Australian troopshad thwarted a Japanese pincer movement in Papua New Guinea,defeating an overland drive on Port Moresby, evicting the Japanesefrom Buna, and beating back an attack against Wau. That same month,hundreds of miles to the east in the Solomon Islands, American troopshad wrested Guadalcanal from the Japanese. Victory required sevenmonths of torturous fighting, but it secured the Allied line of commu-nications to Australia. The Allied High Command now could takeadvantage of its improved strategic position.
As early as 1941 the United States and the United Kingdom had agreed that the defeat of Germany would be their top priority in anywar with the Axis Powers. Until the Allies had defeated Germany,operations against Japan would be primarily defensive in nature. Thisstrategic judgment, popularly known as the “Germany-first” decision,was based on the belief that Germany was the more dangerous enemyand became the cornerstone of Allied war strategy.Once the United States entered the war, American strategistsdiscovered that implementing the Germany-first policy was more compli-cated than they had anticipated. After Pearl Harbor the American pub-lic clamored for retaliation against Japan. Further, the stunning seriesof Japanese victories throughout the Pacific in the six months follow-ing 7 December 1941 demanded some military response lest Japanese