In this Globe Trekker Special, Ian Wright, Megan McCormick, Matt Young and Zay Harding travel across the Pacific, visiting key Second World War locations in some of the world’s remotest and most beautiful places.
Our journey starts at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. Megan McCormick attends the Remembrance Day ceremony held each year to honour those who died in the surprise Japanese attack on the United States Pacific fleet on December 7th, 1941.
Within 6 months of Pearl Harbour the Japanese conquered a vast empire across the Pacific and Southeast Asia, and decided they needed to build a new railway line from Thailand to supply their troops in Burma on the front line of their expanding empire. Visiting the famous Bridge Over the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, Zay Harding travels along the line which came to be known as the ‘Death Railway’, as a result of the 12,000 Allied Prisoners of War, and more than 80,000 Asian labourers, who were worked to death building the railway for the Japanese.
In July 1942 the Japanese attacked Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, from the north, overland along the rugged and mountainous Kokoda Trail. Matt Young treks through remote Papuan jungle in the footsteps of the Australian troops as they retreated from the Japanese advance, and sees many relics of the battle that have survived undisturbed until today.
By the end of 1943, the tide of the war in the Pacific turned, as a result of the United States increasingly superior air and seapower, putting the Japanese onto the defensive. Zay Hardingtravels to the spectacular volcano-surrounded harbour of Rabaul, in New Britain, Papua New Guinea, home to a massive wartime Japanese naval base which was heavily bombed towards the end of the war. He dives in the harbour, exploring the wreck of a Japanese Zero Fighter Plane discovered just a few months ago.
One thousand miles north of Rabaul, the Micronesian island of Chuuk was also home to a huge wartime Japanese naval base. Megan McCormick goes wreck diving in the lagoon, exploring a Japanese ship sunk during a massive US bombing attack in February 1944. Closer still to Japan, the Japanese troops defending the remote Marshall Islands came under heavy attack from US forces in 1944. Zay Hardingtravels tothe very rarely visited island of Mili, and dives a recently discovered intact AmericanB-25 Bomber that was shot down in the lagoon.
Whilst Megan McCormick explores the atmospheric ruins of a Japanese defensive bunker on the island of Palau, Zay Harding travels to the beautiful island of Saipan. Just 1,500 miles south of Tokyo, Saipan was defended ferociously by the Japanese, as they knew that the capture of its airfields would allow the US to attack Japan directly with long-range bombers. Zay attends the Memorial Day ceremony to honour those who died during the US invasion of June 1944, and visits Banzai Gulch and Suicide Cliff with local historian Don Farrell. Here he learns about the suicidal banzai charge of over 3,000 cornered Japanese troops, as well as the shocking suicides of over 5,000 Japanese civilians who jumped from the island cliffs.
Following the capture of Saipan, the Japanese island of Okinawa came under attack in April 1945. Ian Wright visits the underground Japanese naval headquarters, where around 4,000 Japanese servicemen committed suicide rather than suffer the dishonour of surrender as they saw it.
Despite relentless firebombing of Tokyo and countless other Japanese cities, Japan refused to surrender although defeat was inevitable, and so the United States took the fateful decision touse a terrifying new weapon that had just been invented. Zay Harding travels to the tiny island of Tinian, near Saipan, visiting the now disused airfield from which the Enola Gay took off on August 6th 1945, loaded with an atom bomb, bound for Hiroshima.
Ending the programme, Ian Wright visits the Peace Museum in Nagasaki, dedicated to the memory of those who died in the second atom bomb explosion 3 days after Hiroshima, and hears the harrowing testimony of one of the survivors of the bombing.
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