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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 156.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from An excellent but flawed presentation This is a beautifully organized course with a talented presenter. But whoever was in charge of production should seek other work. The otherwise engaging lectures and archival photos and footage are significantly diminished but the hairbrained idea to play background music during much of each lecture. It is annoyingly distracting and inappropriate, like an unrestrained belch in a fine restaurant. Why?
Date published: 2022-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well written and well presented Watching this course I thought that it was one of the best among all those I've bought. It is well written and the enthusiasm of the lecturer comes through. Very engaging and comprehensive material. We would look forward to settling in with it after dinner. Although it is replete with pics and wartime footage, a lot of it gets recycled throughout the various chapters and one always thirsts for more. Have noticed in at least two courses in this batch (of 5) one does a lot of watching the lecturer sit in a chair speaking. Better to dwell on what visuals are given for a bit longer.
Date published: 2022-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb - informative & thought provoking. Very detailed, but not dry. Great overview, but also personal details. Easy to follow chronological presentation. Note - while I was very pleased, the subject, the depth is way to broad to cover every detail in this time and format. But more then enough to encourage further study to those so inclined. Likely complete enough to satisfy many. I will view repeatedly.
Date published: 2021-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best I have seen Of all of the courses that I have watched or listened to (well over 100), this ranks as "one of", if not "the" best. The lecturer is an imminent historian who has written numerous books. He has taught as the US Naval Academy, and the Naval War College. But this connection does not give him a one-sided bias in his presentation. He seeks to understand the motivations and actions of all sides, and to present them fairly and honestly. Pointing out successes, failures, and bad mistakes (Halsey at Leyte, for instance). His presentation in this course has prompted to purchase some of his books (many of which have won prestigious awards), for if they are of they same high standard as this course, then they will be invaluable in their information, insight, and analysis. If I do have one (and only "one") complaint, is that he continually mispronounces the name of Brisbane, in Australia. It is NOT Brisbane (rhyming with "rain"), it is Brisbane, (rhyming with "bin").
Date published: 2021-12-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from More “TALKING HEAD” Syndrome!! I SO wish Great Courses would not keep passing off AUDIO presentations as VIDEOs! Dr. Symonds’ obvious, in depth knowledge of his subject and his practice of using his voice as a tool to keep his audience’s attention somewhat rescue this course from severe criticism on my part. But, once again, Great Courses has given us an AUDIO course disguised in VIDEO clothing - - a “talking head”, reading a script - with minimal supporting video content. I long for the good old days of having a true “professor” - presenting an actual “lecture” - using just notes for support - with robust supporting video material when practical. In the case of World War II, there is AMPLE supporting video material that could be used. I’m not expecting a full-scale documentary - - but four-second stills or video clips don’t cut it!! The Great Courses are becoming a Great Disappointment.
Date published: 2021-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive review of the Pacific War. I have listened to the World War 2 course. I wanted a little more in depth on the Pacific War. This course is well organized and presented by one of the best in the field, Dr. Craig Symonds. Very good at explaining the complex nuances in the multiple strong personalities and organization of the war effort. Some are so good I have listened to the lecture multiple times. You won't be disappointed.
Date published: 2021-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A superlative cover of America's Pacific Ocean war For those seeking to raise one's awareness of, and familiarity with, a very impactful period of (still relatively) recent world and American history, this is an excellent course of learning. As the course is (again, relatively) short (i.e. only 24 lecutures) coverage is minimal regarding events and nations on the Asian mainland, the Aleutian Islands, or other locations on the periphery of the Pacific Ocean. But as to the focus of the course, America's primary challenges and battles as it reached for the Japanese mainland, the course content is solid and very well presented. A very satisfying learning experience.
Date published: 2021-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Best Course I Have Taken As with other Wondrium courses I have completed, the primary takeaway has been how little I really knew about an important topic. Professor Symonds' course is organized logically and chronologically, making it easy to follow. The content was full of revelations for me, and the professor was so smooth and conjunctive in his delivery, so variable in his speaking voice, and so obviously knowledgeable on the topic that he was extremely easy to listen to and learn from. Here’s an example: Grammar school history students learn the importance to victory of American industrial might, but never have I seen it so clearly illustrated as in Lesson 11, where the professor’s statistics show how US industry outproduced the entire output of all the Axis Powers, by factors of 500% or more… There are a few annoying slips in accuracy, in which Professor Symonds' accurate narration is ill-supported by the video in the background: For example, repeated confusion of Army Air Forces aircraft types. Several shots of Doolittle’s twin-engine B-25s, for example, were actually of the much larger 4-engine B-24 Liberators. Understandable as they both had that big double tail, but still…Similar in Lesson 10, where while the verbiage discusses B-17s, the film clips are showing B-29s that were not even operational by that time. This gets worse in Lesson 16 on strategic airpower, where the B-17 continues to appear while the professor discusses the unique characteristics of the B-29… The background music is usually okay, but can be intrusive and distracting in some lessons, and thus not helpful. The Tarawa lesson is just one example, where the music competes so much with Professor Symonds' narration that it becomes difficult to hear him; There are plenty of similar cases, especially later in the course. Some inevitable Navy bias leaks through, despite the professor’s attempts to be even handed, eg in the treatment of the admittedly arrogant Gen MacArthur, and the criticism of Hap Arnold's push for the invasion of Iwo Jima. Suggesting that Arnold and the USAAF wanted Iwo Jima in order to justify their past financial expenditures on the B-29 program seemed to me--a long ago B-29 crew member--a little dubious... But these are minor issues. The course is just fantastic, the best Great Courses/ Wondrium offering I have taken to date, and the pedagogical performance by Professor Symonds was just marvelous. Many, many thanks.
Date published: 2021-09-20
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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
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