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Strategic Imperatives

Philippines & Hawaii Malaya Java & Sumatra Burma Strategic Imperatives

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Map taken from Unsung Heroes of the Royal Air Force by Les and Pam Stubbs

The real strategic significance of Japanese victories in Malaya and the Dutch East Indies and beyond lay in their gains of important air and naval bases that could be used to interfere with key shipping routes vital to Allied war efforts.

Occupation of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal on 23rd March further provided a naval anchorage with direct access to the Indian Ocean. This was demonstrated on 9th April when Japanese aircraft attacked the Trincomalee naval base in Ceylon destroying 2 British cruisers and one aircraft carrier.

Naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean became central to Allied war strategy which led to the pre-emptive occupation of Madagascar by Britain thus denying the island to Japan. Such a base would have allowed the Japanese to operate freely in the Indian Ocean.    

It was vital for the Japanese to consolidate their gains and ensure continued supplies and protection for their armed forces. Due to a real shortage of civilian manpower, the use of forced labour became essential to meet these objectives. Greatest pressure was applied to those projects of greatest military significance:

The Burma-Siam railway was designed to provide a link between the two main North-South railways on the East and West coasts by joining Nom Pladuk  with Thanbyuzayat. Only 14 months were allocated for this enormous project through dense jungle and difficult terrain.

The Sumatra railway was built between Pakenbaroe on the NE coast and the existing railway at Mauaro in the West. It was designed to transport men and material rapidly to help repulse the anticipated Allied attack on Sumatra.

The repair and upgrading of airfields in the islands captured in Java, Sumatra, Borneo and the Philippines was essential to Japanese plans to take Borneo and protect its newly conquered territories.

Maximising the output of metal ores, and other key raw materials, from captured islands and territories was essential to the war effort. Kinkaseki mine on Formosa, the largest producer of copper in the Japanese Empire, became notorious.

The mines, ports and factories of Japan required forced labour to maintain supplies essential to the Japanese war effort as the demands of its own armed forces had reduced the number of men available for such work.    

Thus the vast army of POWs became an integral part of this vast machine that gave no quarter in the pursuit of its military and imperial objectives. This was contrary to the Geneva Convention but the Japanese had never ratified this and indicated that they would adhere to the Principles “only as far as they were able”.                                                                            Top