World War II: The Pacific Theater

Be a part of the largest naval war in world history, experiencing the heat of battle under the sea, in the air, and on land.
World War II: The Pacific Theater is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 134.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from good history of pacific war I learned some interesting details about the battles and the persons involved on both sides. I appreciate the many maps and graphs which helped to explain the large ocean war. The instructor appears very knowledgeable but did not face the camera much of the time. I found that very distracting.
Date published: 2021-06-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Discussion of the U.S. Navy's Role The course provides an excellent discussion of the U.S. Navy's role in the Pacific. The lectures are clearly enunciated and well organized. Prof. Symonds does a great job explaining the complicated naval Battle of Leyte Gulf, making the action understandable. He provides welcome tactical detail about the war's naval actions. . A better title for the course would be the American War in the Pacific. There is little mention of the war in China where more than a million Japanese troops were involved but American activity was relatively light. There is little discussion of the British war in Burma, Malaysia and India, again areas where American military activity was relatively light.. Although ground combat is not ignored, particularly when the U.S. Marine Corps is involved, the professor should have devoted more time to discussions of ground combat,. There was little discussion of MacArthur's ground campaign in New Guinea and the Southwest Pacific. which were mainly Army operations. Little detail was offered about ground operations in the Philippines, where the U.S. Army did the heavy lifting. Although the U.S. Navy was arguably the principal actor in the Pacific, the Army made a significant contribution to victory. Though not, ignored additional detail about ground operations, especially those of the Army, would have been beneficial. Better editing of photos and film on the video is needed. On more than a few occasions, the photos do not match the narration – showing the wrong aircraft, military of the wrong nation and the wrong location. That is indicative of sloppiness and is at times irritating. Despite the quibbles noted above this is a fine course and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the American war in the Pacific.
Date published: 2021-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Outstanding! Of the many lecture series I have watched, this is the very best. Professor Symonds is an awesome presenter who demonstrated his deep knowledge of the topic and his ability to present background circumstances that made both the defeats and the victories very clear. As a cold war submarine sailor I knew some of the history of what was accomplished by my predecessors, but he brought fresh perspective to the huge contribution, and the sacrifices and hardships they endured as they destroyed Japan's ability to import from it's conquests.
Date published: 2021-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and Engaging Account! “World War II: The Pacific Theater” is an excellent and engaging account of the epic contest between Japan and the Allies. It is well coordinated, logically sequenced, and every episode tells an important, interesting, and impactful story. Perhaps the best feature is historian and professor Craig Symonds who presents the series in a captivating narrative. He highlights interesting aspects, addresses important nuances of complex issues, shares his own opinion where he feels that it is warranted, frequently presents the Japanese perspective, and is always respectful of the tragic and horrible outcomes of battle and war. In the end even 12.5 hours is not enough time to cover all of the important facets of this vast conflict. The compromises that were made, however, in my opinion appropriate. What was included was of more importance to capturing the core thread of the essential history than what was left out. I would strongly encourage anyone with more than a passing interest in the Pacific War to complete this course.
Date published: 2021-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and comprehensive I was born about 2 weeks before VE Day, into a world shaped by WWII. Everyone was thoroughly worn out by war by the time I was growing up, so I never heard it discussed until I got to high school and made friends with kids who had lost relatives in the Holocaust. So, until now I have mostly read about the European war, and the Pacific theater seemed almost a side issue. But I had two uncles who served in the Pacific, one of whom died recently (he served on a supply ship), and when this course came along it seemed the time was right to learn more. Learn more indeed! Prof. Symonds does a terrific job of capturing the complexity, the personalities, and the horror. TGC recruits the finest teachers, and Symonds is one of the best of the best. His knowledge of and passion for his subject bring it alive; his delivery is compelling. The choice of visuals, from massive ships to individual soldiers, did a terrific job of illustrating the lectures. I appreciated that we learned a lot about the Japanese military thinking as well. I always have a TGC series in progress, and this is one of the most compelling.
Date published: 2021-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding One of the best DVD sets that I have purchased - very good job.
Date published: 2021-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Battlefield Europe is only Half the Story I had a great uncle who fought at the Battle of Okinawa and for me I wanted to learn more about the battle and the role that he had it in. Before I never cared much for studying about World War Two. But now that I know that my family did take part in it, I found myself more invested in studying about this conflict. It was smart of the Teaching Company and History Channel to present the history of World War Two as a two part course. Trying to cover both theaters of action would have been a hard task for anyone. Having this luxury made it easier to look at these island and naval battles in a lot more depth. I think the takeaway that I got from the course was that the dropping of the atomic bomb was necessary and Truman chose the right act. Before I was against the United States using it and should have taken the opportunity to demonstrate its power to the Japanese. But such an act would not have forced the Japanese to surrender. Now I see that we did make the most cost-effective move, but I still think that dropping them on two cities was not the appropriate target. Still, I think that it tells me that this course has both entertained me and challenged my level of opinions and thinking, which should be the job or any class.
Date published: 2021-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome Lecture Series I am a WWII history buff but focused on the European theater. I wasn’t able to find a comprehensible overview of the War in the Pacific until I found this course. Professor Symonds is outstanding. I particularly appreciate his explanation of the strategic issues facing the contending nations and their resolution of those issues. Episode 11 in which he explains the way the U.S. turned itself into an industrial juggernaut and global super power in just 2 years is simply superb.
Date published: 2021-04-12
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Survey the largest naval war in world history and gain insight into the strategy and tactics of battle from sea, air, and land.


Craig L. Symonds
Craig L. Symonds

Luck plays a role in all battles, but in the end, it is the men who win and lose them.


U.S. Naval War College

Craig L. Symonds is the Ernest J. King Distinguished Professor of Maritime History at the US Naval War College and Professor Emeritus of History at the US Naval Academy. Professor Symonds received his PhD in History from the University of Florida. He served as Professor of Strategy at the Britannia Royal Naval College from 1994 to 1995.


During a 30-year teaching career at the US Naval Academy, Professor Symonds served a four-year term as department chair and held the Class of 1957 Distinguished Chair of Naval Heritage from 2011 to 2012. He was the first person to win both the Class of 1951 Civilian Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Civilian Faculty Award for Excellence in Research, and he also received the Navy Superior Civilian Service Award on three occasions.


Professor Symonds is the author or editor of 29 books, including prize-winning biographies of Civil War figures Joseph E. Johnston, Patrick Cleburne, and Franklin Buchanan. His book Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History won the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Prize in Naval History. He also wrote Lincoln and His Admirals: Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. Navy, and the Civil War, which won the Benjamin Barondess Award, the Daniel M. & Marilyn W. Laney Prize, the John Lyman Book Award, the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, and the Abraham Lincoln Institute Book Award.


More recently, Professor Symonds has focused on World War II naval issues. His books on the subject include The Battle of Midway; Neptune: The Allied Invasion of Europe and the D-Day Landings, which won both the Commodore John Barry Book Award and the RADM Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval Literature; and World War II at Sea: A Global History. Additionally, Professor Symonds received the Nevins-Freeman Award in 2009 and the Commodore Dudley W. Knox Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.

By This Professor

World War II: The Pacific Theater


The Road to War in the Pacific, 1931–1941

01: The Road to War in the Pacific, 1931–1941

The origins of the war predate December 7, 1941. In this opening lecture, trace the events that led up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Investigate Japan’s interest in taking over China, and the strategic need for oil and other supplies threatened by the US-controlled Philippines.

33 min
Infamy! The Japanese Attack Pearl Harbor

02: Infamy! The Japanese Attack Pearl Harbor

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a tactical success for Japan, in that it destroyed much of the US naval fleet. But it also proved to be one of the most reckless and irresponsible strategic decisions in the history of warfare. Witness the events that occurred on the day of “infamy,” and reflect on how and why the US was caught off guard.

32 min
Japan Moves South, December 1941–May 1942

03: Japan Moves South, December 1941–May 1942

During the first six months of 1942, the Japanese military juggernaut moved from success to success in the Pacific, conquering new territory at a dizzying pace. Learn how the Japanese were able to wreck Allied naval forces in the Java Sea, and examine the invasion of the Philippines, the Bataan Death March, and General Douglas MacArthur’s escape to Australia.

31 min
The Doolittle Raid on Japan, April 1942

04: The Doolittle Raid on Japan, April 1942

In 1942, the United States needed a morale boost, and the Doolittle Raid against Tokyo and other cities was a public relations coup. Here, as elsewhere, many of the operational decisions in the Pacific Theater revolved around logistics and supplies—such as how to equip planes with enough fuel to fly 650 miles over open sea while carrying 500-pound bombs.

29 min
Station HYPO: Breaking the Japanese Code

05: Station HYPO: Breaking the Japanese Code

Codebreaking is one of the most captivating stories in World War II, both in Europe and the Pacific. While the British were breaking German codes, Americans stationed in Hawaii wrestled with Japanese intercepts. See what they were able to decipher, and how even partial codebreaking contributed to success in battle.

28 min
Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942

06: Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942

The Battle of the Coral Sea was the first naval battle in history fought entirely by carrier-based airplanes, in which opposing fleets never caught sight of each other. Although the Japanese inflicted more tactical damage—including the sinking of the US carrier Lexington—they failed to achieve their objective: Port Moresby in New Guinea.

30 min
Midway: 10 Minutes That Changed the War

07: Midway: 10 Minutes That Changed the War

Why were the Japanese determined to capture an American base on a tiny atoll in the middle of the Pacific? The surprising answer has to do with the changing nature of naval warfare, and recognition of the important role carriers played. Go inside this astonishing battle, minute by minute, and reflect on how critical decisions affected the outcome.

32 min
Guadalcanal: Jungle Warfare

08: Guadalcanal: Jungle Warfare

Even before the improbable victory at Midway, Ernest J. King, the Commander in Chief, US Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations, wanted to initiate an offensive. His first target was the island of Guadalcanal, where the Japanese were building an airfield. Meet the dueling personalities in the US command and go ashore with the Marines to seize and hold the airfield.

32 min
Ironbottom Sound, 1942–1943

09: Ironbottom Sound, 1942–1943

The battle for the Solomon Islands—including Guadalcanal—was a grinding and wasting six-month campaign. After multiple bloody engagements on both land and sea, Admiral Yamamoto and the Japanese high command cut their losses. By then, so many ships had been sunk that the waters nearby became known as “Ironbottom Sound.”

31 min
MacArthur, Halsey, and Operation Cartwheel

10: MacArthur, Halsey, and Operation Cartwheel

General MacArthur was a controversial figure, a brilliant but complex commander with a large ego, who found himself sharing command of the Pacific with US Navy Admiral Chester Nimitz. Watch these two commanders conduct a dual campaign on both New Guinea and in the Solomon Islands.

33 min
The Big Blue Fleet and American Industry

11: The Big Blue Fleet and American Industry

For all the military planning and hard fighting, much of the American success in World War II was due to the country’s astonishing industrial output. From the Grumman-built F6F Hellcat fighter planes to new Essex-class aircraft carriers, the American industrial juggernaut produced weapons at an unprecedented rate.

31 min
Battle for Tarawa: A Square Mile of Hell

12: Battle for Tarawa: A Square Mile of Hell

By 1944, the American offensive strategy was to island-hop across Micronesia, and the first step was the island of Tarawa, a name that haunts the history of the US Marine Corps. Follow the invaders to see how a tidal anomaly and Japanese defenders led to a bloodbath as 3,000 Marines were killed or wounded in only three days.

32 min
A Three-Front Pacific War, January–May 1944

13: A Three-Front Pacific War, January–May 1944

By 1944, the momentum in the Pacific Theater had shifted decisively in favor of the Americans. Learn the lessons of Tarawa and continue your study of the stepping-stone strategy as the US military advanced from the Gilberts to the Marshalls and beyond. Then consider the Japanese quagmire in China and its effect on the war.

33 min
The US Leaps to the Marianas, June 1944

14: The US Leaps to the Marianas, June 1944

One of the reasons Japan attacked the United States in the first place was because it needed a secure supply of oil to fight China, but by 1944, Japan’s supply lines were failing. The US, too, was stretched in June 1944, with simultaneous campaigns planned for both Normandy and the Marianas. Examine the set up for a decisive confrontation in the Pacific.

32 min
Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 1944

15: Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 1944

Since the 1930s, both the American and Japanese war strategists assumed that any war between the two countries would be decided by a major sea battle in the western Pacific. See why the Battle of the Philippine Sea was nothing like what the planners had imagined, how the battle actually played out, and what impact it had on the war.

30 min
Bombing Japan: Fire from the Sky

16: Bombing Japan: Fire from the Sky

Shift your attention from the sea to the sky, where the US Army Air Forces conducted both tactical and strategic air campaigns. Review the technology and personalities of the air war against Japan and witness the devastation American bombs wrought on the Japanese homeland.

30 min
American Submarines in the Pacific, 1944–1945

17: American Submarines in the Pacific, 1944–1945

American submarines played important roles in some of the biggest battles of the Pacific War, including the Battle of Midway and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Yet the biggest contribution of the submarine force was not in sinking warships, it was in the destruction of Japanese maritime trade. Dive under the sea to explore US submarine warfare.

32 min
MacArthur Returns to the Philippines

18: MacArthur Returns to the Philippines

When General MacArthur left the Philippines at the start of the war, he famously announced, “I shall return.” Go inside MacArthur’s meeting with President Roosevelt and follow the general’s long preparation for his return. Then, travel to the sandy beaches of the island of Leyte, the site of his return to the Philippines.

30 min
Battle of Leyte Gulf, October 1944

19: Battle of Leyte Gulf, October 1944

Here, find out why Professor Symonds calls the Battle of Leyte Gulf the greatest naval battle in history. The Japanese had a complex plan, and for several hours, the Americans in Leyte Gulf teetered on the brink of disaster. Find out how and why, despite confusion and misunderstandings, the US Navy was able to inflict a decisive defeat on the Imperial Japanese Navy.

32 min
Admiral Halsey’s Typhoons, 1944–1945

20: Admiral Halsey’s Typhoons, 1944–1945

Meet Admiral William F. Halsey, a fighting admiral and a man of action who led the American carrier forces during the Philippine campaign. In December 1944, he made several command decisions amid a typhoon that led to a naval investigation and inspired the movie The Caine Mutiny. Enter the high seas in a storm and see first-hand what the admiral faced.

30 min
Battle for Iwo Jima, February–March 1945

21: Battle for Iwo Jima, February–March 1945

Iwo Jima is the iconic battle of the US Marine Corps, and a living symbol of the determination and sacrifice of the Marines. Review why Iwo Jima became a strategic target, watch the battle unfurl, and then consider its tragic consequences.

30 min
Battle for Okinawa, April–June 1945

22: Battle for Okinawa, April–June 1945

By spring 1945, the United States sought to cut off Japan’s supply line to the resource-rich islands of the South Pacific. An invasion of the island of Okinawa would achieve this objective. Codenamed “Operation Iceberg,” this bloody battle shattered any remaining prospect of Japanese victory in the war.

31 min
Kamikazes: Japan’s Special Attack Units

23: Kamikazes: Japan’s Special Attack Units

During the bitter fighting for the Japanese island of Okinawa, American sailors confronted a horrifying new peril—Japanese suicide bombers from the sky. Explore both the Japanese justification for this new protocol and the history of this vicious battle tactic and experience the horror of being attacked by human bombs.

31 min
Dropping the Atomic Bomb

24: Dropping the Atomic Bomb

In this final lecture, reflect on a new era in human civilization. Although Japan was essentially defeated, the government refused to surrender. Travel with President Truman to Potsdam, Germany, where he and Churchill issued a declaration calling for “prompt and utter destruction” if Japan refused to surrender. Then deconstruct the justification for the use of the atomic bombs.

34 min