Tuesday, August 13, 2013

History, my ass.

Young Isoroku Yamamoto chillin' with Secretary of the Navy Curtis E. Wilbur.

History my ass.
One of the oft-quoted fallacies of history is that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, December 7, 1941, was ‘inspired’ by the successful night attack by Swordfish torpedo planes on the Italian fleet at Taranto. This took place in November 1940. The British used a handful of planes, at night, whereas the attack on Pearl Harbour used 363 aircraft, timed for dawn or thereabouts on a Sunday morning.
While the Japanese decision to attack might have been encouraged by the success of the British attack, it was clearly not solely inspired by it. There are too many facts that speak otherwise.
This idea, and this might surprise the reader, has been largely promulgated by British historians.
The story is so much more complex than that, and while writers can be excused for national pride, the highlights of the full story are worth the re-telling.
U.S. Army Air Force General Billy Mitchell demonstrated bombing techniques against ships at anchor, (high-level, precision bomb-aiming) and his crews sank the Ostfriesland with 2,000-lb. bombs in 1921. This was under ideal conditions, with no air cover and the ship at anchor. There were no time constraints in the sense of a scramble of defensive machines or anti-aircraft gunfire.
In WW I, British cruisers engaged, out of sight of the enemy, using naval guns, German raiders hidden in creeks in East Africa, with the help of naval reconnaissance aircraft. I can’t find a specific link for this, but a friend’s dad served in light cruisers and escort carriers in WW II. He had a lot of books on the shelf, one of which was about British light cruisers. All the navies of the world were experimenting with the use and coordination of aircraft and fleet units.
The Bremen, a commerce raider of WW I.
In WW I, the British launched Sopwith Camels off of towed barges, as well as capital ships, to attack German dirigibles.
LZ 66 was destroyed on August 21, 1917. The British aircraft was launched from a platform on the cruiser H.M.S. Yarmouth.
There was no shortage of naval strategists between the wars. Japanese naval staff had read all the books, all the newspapers, all that was to be known about modern warfare when they began to have Imperial aspirations, and built up both a strong Army and a strong Navy. They knew all about Billy Mitchell, in fact Yamamoto spent time in the U.S. as a naval attache if memory serves.
Hans Ulrich Rudel, Stuka pilot and the Eagle of the Eastern Front in the German press, sank the Russian battleship Marat in September 1941.
In 1940, the German cruiser Konigsberg, damaged by coastal guns during the battle of Norway, was sunk in harbour by British bombers. They were light bombers at that.
Bombers were an important component of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, as shallow water and constricted space meant torpedoes were only of limited effectiveness, although deadly when the planes could drop them and running time was sufficient to arm the warhead. The Japaneses took special pains to modify the torpedoes for the conditions of the attack. They were really meant to attack ships at sea in the context of a classic naval battle, if such a thing can be said to exist. The Battle of the Coral Sea demonstrates this. (Described as the first battle in history when the fleets never saw each other.) That’s because the tactics of the previous war envisaged long lines of battleships and cruisers, engaging at extreme range (visually, hence the high observation towers on the vessels) with naval artillery, with destroyers laying smoke screens and racing in to launch torpedo attacks. In such an engagement, numbers and weights of ammunition delivered would be the deciding factor. Jellicoe crossing the ‘T’ at Jutland does nothing to contradict this notion. The weight of broadsides would always be superior to frontal guns only. In WW II, battleship engagements, with the exception of the Bismarck, (and to be fair, the sinking of the Hood,) were actually rare exceptions. The range of a battleship without refueling was limited, the range of the guns was limited, and the cost of a mistake was very high. The whole history of German commerce raiders bears this out. Sooner or later, a bigger ship, with bigger guns, would come along, or the raider would be swamped by force of numbers vectored onto a point of reference: last-seen here.
Aircraft, more specifically, aircraft carriers, would be decisive on the oceans in the same way as the massed panzer formations would be decisive on land. (Massed panzer formations were used against dispersed armour reinforcing classic infantry dispositions.) Their force could be concentrated when the enemy’s was dispersed, unprotected by strong and vigilant air cover of its own, on land as in the Maginot Line, or at sea and better yet, at anchor in harbour on a sleepy Sunday morning Japan’s doctrine at sea was one of mobility, just as the Germans’ doctine on land was one of mobility.
The Val dive-bomber was designed in 1936.
The Kate torpedo-bomber was designed in 1935.
These, along with the Zero fighter, were the principal aircraft used at Pearl Harbour. The great tragedy from the Japanese standpoint was the fact that the U.S. carriers were absent when the raid occurred. The Japanese were sobered by this realization at the time.
Long before the raid on Taranto, the whole Japanese Navy was predicated on aerial attack from the sea—Japan’s six large carriers, concentrated into one strike group, make this simple fact undeniable. These strike groups were not designed for a defensive war. They were designed for attack. Their only enemies of consequence could be the U.S., whose Pacific Fleet was anchored at Pearl Harbour, and the British Asiatic Fleet, based on Hong Kong and Singapore. The French and the Dutch, the other colonial powers in the region, had substantially smaller naval presences in the Pacific.
What is surprising is that the Japanese Navy did not go on to smash San Diego or disrupt (or even capture) the Panama Canal, surely logical objectives in any navy man’s book of strategy. A dozen large tankers in waiting positions would have sufficed to have achieved this objective.
General Isoroku Yamamoto was responsible for a number of innovations in Japanese Military Aviation.
‘In January 1941, Yamamoto went even further and proposed a radical revision of Japanese naval strategy. For two decades, in keeping with the doctrine of Captain Alfred T. Mahan, (an American) the Naval General Staff had planned in terms of Japanese light surface forces, submarines and land-based air units whittling down the American Fleet as it advanced across the Pacific until the Japanese Navy engaged it in a climactic ‘Decisive Battle’ in the northern Philippine Sea (between the Ryukyu Islands and the Marianas Islands), with battleships meeting in the traditional exchange between battle lines.
Correctly pointing out this plan had never worked even in Japanese war games, and painfully aware of American strategic advantages in military productive capacity, Yamamoto proposed instead to seek a decision with the Americans by first reducing their forces with a preventive strike, and following it with a ‘Decisive Battle’ fought offensively, rather than defensively. Yamamoto hoped, but probably did not believe, if the Americans could be dealt such terrific blows early in the war, they might be willing to negotiate an end to the conflict. As it turned out, however, the note officially breaking diplomatic relations with the United States was delivered late, and he correctly perceived the Americans would be resolved upon revenge and unwilling to negotiate. At the end of the attack upon Pearl Harbor, upon hearing of the mis-timing of the communique breaking diplomatic relations with the United States earlier that day, it is reputed Yamamoto said, ‘I fear all we have done today is to awaken a great, sleeping giant,’ however, there is no documented evidence the statement was made.
The Naval General Staff proved reluctant to go along and Yamamoto was eventually driven to capitalize on his popularity in the fleet by threatening to resign to get his way. Admiral Osami Nagano and the Naval General Staff eventually caved in to this pressure, but only insofar as approving the attack on Pearl Harbor.’ > (Wikipedia.)
On December 10, 1941, the British battleships Repulse and Prince of Wales were sunk by Japanese naval aircraft using bombs and torpedoes. The ships were at full steam and underway at the time of the engagement. The Japanese needed little or no inspiration from the British, and this writer can state with some accuracy that their tactics, their strategy, and their doctrine had been a long time in the development.
By the end of WW II, off the coast of Japan were over a hundred U.S. aircraft carriers. The tactics were by no means superior, the skill and bravery of the men by no means any more superlative than that of the Japanese pilot, sailor or soldier.
What won WW II was industrial capacity—and the wealth to fuel it, and to sustain it, over a long war when the enemy was counting on a short one.
Let us not forget the lessons of history, otherwise we are doomed to repeat them.

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