As bombs were dropping on Pearl Harbor, thousands of miles to the west Japan unleashed a juggernaut that would soon roll over Allied defenses in Malaya and the Philippines.
For Americans, the attack on Pearl Harbor tends to dwarf other events in the Pacific during December 1941. Yet it was just one component in a much larger scheme of interlocking Japanese operations. Japan’s overarching goal was to secure the resource areas of Borneo, Java, and Sumatra, but to do that it first had to destroy the important Allied bastions in the Philippines and Malaya. As the first month of war unfolded, the Allies were made grimly aware of just how well-prepared for war their opponents were—and how badly equipped their own forces were to cope with these well-thought-out plans.