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The War Map of the Great East Asia

  • Author: Anonymous (Japanese author)
  • Date: 1942
  • Dimensions: 90 x 51 cms


Japanese propaganda map, printed in English, showing the extent of her conquests in S.E. Asia & the Pacific to February 1942

About this piece:

The War Map of the Great East Asia – “Asia for the Asiatics”

Printed colour lithograph map on one single large sheet. Some old fold damages with verso reinforcements & repairs, together with careful retouching of the printed colour, principally at fold intersections.

Unusual in being published in English, this extremely rare Japanese propaganda map of South East Asia, the Far East & Pacific Theatres of War shows the extent of Japanese conquests in these areas in the first three months of conflict following the surprise attack on US forces at Pearl Harbour in December 1941. It is interesting to note that Pearl Harbour is identified as both a “Naval Battle” and “Bombed Area” according to the map’s key.

Two particular themes predominate: In its title, The War Map of the Great East Asia, and the prominent slogan “Asia for the Asiatics”, Japanese propagandists present the emergent Asian conflict in terms of a protracted liberation struggle.  Imperial Japan was to be viewed as a benevolent supporter and the long-awaited liberator of Asian & Far Eastern neighbours, all too long subdued under the brutal yoke of European colonialism, most notably at the hands of the British Empire. The underlying aim was to seek whatever begrudging support might be garnered from  “Friendly Powers” – the indigenous populations of Asian countries & colonial outposts – that had fallen in Japan’s rapid campaign of conquest since Pearl Harbour, here presented so clearly.

A second concurrent theme played on the perceived indigenous resentment of the European colonial powers’ financial and economic exploitation of the rich natural resources of East Asia & Oceania. With this in mind, a new policy, proposing the creation of “The Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Area” (Dai-tō-a Kyōeiken) was announced in June 1940 by Japanese Foreign Minister Hachirō Arita in a national radio address entitled “The International Situation and Japan’s Position”.  The ostensible aim was to create a coherent cooperative bloc “of Asian nations led by the Japanese and free of Western powers”. As the war progressed, it soon became clear that the cooperative element in the Co-Prosperity Area was a fiction and that Japan  would maintain a superior role, exerting its influence through punitive military control & exploiting the region’s resources for its own economic purposes & financial gain, in much the same way as the pre-war European powers.

The map which is “compiled up to February 22, 1942“, appears to have been published directly after the surrender of Singapore on February 15th 1942. It also pinpoints the very recent Japanese landings in Eastern Indonesia, then part of the Dutch East Indies. After fierce fighting in late January, Allied forces on the island of Ambon had finally surrendered on February 3rd. On February 19th Japanese forces landed near the town of Senur on Bali and met with little resistance from the small local Dutch defence force. Concurrently special Japanese parachute units were dropped in West Timor (Kopang) and Portuguese Timor (Dili) on February 19th. They were met with fierce initial resistance but, as on Ambon, the main Australian “Sparrow Force”, badly under-equipped, was forced to surrender within three days. An Australian commando unit and surviving Allied troops who escaped capture after the initial invasion continued a fierce guerilla campaign in the mountainous Timorese interior for another 12 months. Japanese superiority in the East Indies would be confirmed just a few days later in the defining Battle of the Java Sea on Feb 27 1942, and in ensuing secondary naval actions in the days immediately thereafter.

Another interesting feature of the map is the clearly demarcated Japanese Mandate area in the South Pacific. As one of the victorious Allied powers following World War I, under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Japan was given a League of Nations mandate to govern all the former German colonial outposts in Micronesia, north of the Equator. Under the terms of the mandate it was specified that the islands should be demilitarised and that Japan should not extend its influence further into the Pacific. However by the late 1920’s and early 1930’s requests for League of Nations inspections & increased scrutiny of these mandated territories were rejected by the Japanese authorities. Indeed by the early 1930’s the mandated territories witnessed an extensive programme of Japanese airfield construction and naval & military defence projects, which, as we see here, a decade later, provided important staging posts for the prosecution of Japan’s Pacific War, though by this point, only the former American outpost of Guam had been taken, having been invaded & captured on December 8th 1941, just a day after the attack on Pearl Harbour.

In some senses, the map marks the absolute high watermark of Japanese power & conquest in East Asia & the Pacific in early 1942.

April 1942 would witness the first of the large American air raids on Tokyo – the so-called Doolittle Raid – which badly dented Japan’s domestic morale. Many Japanese civilians had hitherto lived in the misguided belief that their homeland lay safely beyond the range of enemy war planes.

A new form of naval warfare – one directed from aircraft carriers with enemy naval formations located at considerable distances from each other – emerged in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, though without any decisive outcome.

It was a month later, in early June 1942, in the vicinity of Midway Atoll (first captured by the Japanese in the days immediately after Pearl Harbour in December 1941, and shown here as the most easterly of Japanese conquests to date) that the tide of the Pacific War finally turned in the Allies favour. Military historian John Keegan has called the Battle of Midway “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.”  American & Japanese carrier fleets met once again, this time US Admiral Nimitz’s force sank all four of the Japanese aircraft carriers – Soryu, Kaga, Akaga & Hiryu – for the loss of only the already damaged Yorktown. The battle was the first decisive Allied victory against the Japanese, badly depleting her carrier fleet. The high casualty rate also badly reduced Japan’s pool of experienced naval aircrew, flight-deck crew, armourers, mechanics & technicians and impacted heavily on future operational capabilities. The victory at Midway & the ensuing months of naval combat would witness the Americans  finally wrest maritime control of the Pacific from the Japanese. Midway also provided a platform for new US strategic initiatives, such as the ensuing landings on Guadalcanal and the continued attritional prosecution of the Solomon Islands campaign.

We have been able to trace only one other example of this map in institutional collections worldwide.

Refs: Hoover Institution Archives Poster Collection