Japan Comes South

The War in the Pacific

Australasia 1942.0123

Japan Comes South

Australia, New Zealand and World War II in the South Pacific (23 January 1942)

Historical Map of Australia, New Zealand & the Southwest Pacific

Even as their planes racked Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were moving south to conquer the resource-rich colonies of Southeast Asia and secure a strategic island perimeter. The Americans, British, Dutch and Australians responded by forming a joint command (ABDA) in an attempt to coordinate a defence.

Main Events

Japanese invasion of the Gilbert Islands

Forces of the Imperial Japanese Navy occupy the British colony of the Gilbert Islands, landing on Tarawa on 9 December and Makin the following day. They build a seaplane base on Makin and disperse troops along the coastlines of the atolls to monitor the movement of Allied forces in the South Pacific.

Sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse

Japanese land-based bombers and torpedo bombers of the Imperial Japanese Navy sink the British Royal Navy battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse off the east coast of British Malaya, near Kuantan. The British ships had been sent to intercept the Japanese invasion fleet north of Malaya.

Battle of Borneo

A Japanese invasion convoy sent from Cam Ranh Bay, French Indochina, lands troops at Miri, Sarawak, and Seria, Brunei, in an attack on British Borneo, after traveling for three days undetected. The two towns fall with minimal British resistance and a few hours later, the Japanese also capture Lutong, Sarawak.

Allied occupation of east Timor

In response to the threat of Japanese invasion and Portugal's refusal to co-operate with the Allies, a 400-man combined Dutch-Australian force from Dutch Timor occupies Portuguese Timor, facing no resistance from the Portuguese garrison. Although Portugal protests the occupation and the governor declares himself a prisoner in order to preserve the appearance of neutrality, the local authorities tacitly co-operate with the Allied force.


The United States of America, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the Commonwealth of Australia form ABDA (American-British-Dutch-Australian) Command in an attempt to halt the Japanese advance.

Battle of Rabaul

In Operation R, the South Seas Force of the Imperial Japanese Navy lands 3,000-4,000 troops on New Ireland, an island of the Australian Territory of New Guinea, seizing the main town of Kavieng without opposition. The next day, before dawn, the invasion fleet enters Simpson Harbour by Rabaul, the most important port on New Britain and the former capital of the Territory, landing around 5,000 troops. The Australians mount a desperate defense but are forced south, where they surrender a few weeks later.

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