When I go after Japan, I don’t commit much beyond my starting units as the US to Africa. As the US I think it’s usually better to go after the islands ASAP and before trying to destroy the Japanese fleet. If I am a) getting desperate, the Axis are winning big or b) think I can make a high odds attack on Japan’s navy, I can take Wake Island and buy all planes. This allows me to shuffle fighters to bring more into the fight.
The first turn buy for the USA in a Pacific Campaign depends if you can counterattack PHII and if Japan even did PHII. Obviously, people will vary on what is best.
A) Japan did PHII and there’s no counter. I buy 2 carriers and a fighter. The US has 3 fighters at the start of their first turn so at the end, they have 2 loaded Carriers. Total: BB, 2 CV, 4 VF, DD, transport.
B) Japan did PHII and there is a counter. I might buy a transport, sub, carrier, and fighter. There’s more flexibility here because you don’t know for sure what will survive the counter and you need to replace the transport you use for fodder that is almost certainly dead. Total: whatever survives the counter + DD + whatever you built.
C) Japan skipped PHII. I would buy a carrier and 3 subs(or 2 subs and 1 transport, some might get a battleship). Check if you can take the Solomons safely on the first turn. Total: BB, 2 CV, 4 VF, DD, 4 SS, transport.
My goals when Island Hopping usually are:
1. To get a fleet to the Solomons quickly that can withstand a Japanese attack that turn. From the Solomons I can hit any island worth money and Tokyo itself.
2. From there, if necessary, I build up. If I can, I’ll grab an island as long as it doesn’t lose me my fleet.
3. Philippines, East Indies, and Borneo all make excellent places for factories and they should be built there if I can defend them.
4. From here, I can either neutralize or destroy the Japanese fleet. I can build much closer now so it’s easier to do. When the IJN is destroyed or irrelevant, I can start transporting from my factories to the mainland.
Have you tried other US strategies? Often, I don’t even consider sending America after Japan unless they had a rough first turn, skipped PHII, or I can counterattack PHII. More traditional US play would be liberating Africa and then either shipping in the Baltic or Med.