Battle of Coronel, Author’s Day, and Stella’s Game

Yes, someone actually decided that authors were worthy of recognition. This happened nearly a century ago…when people were still reading and not waiting for the video.

Battle of Coronel: 1 November 1914

The Endless Game of Weapons Innovation

In the late 19th century, naval ship development was driven by two contrasting needs: beat the other fellow and do it cheaply. The “other fellow” was often hard to define, but the biggest challenge that European navies felt they faced would be merchant ships that their warships couldn’t outrun. Propulsion systems for merchant–especially passenger–ships of all kinds were being developed faster than the more hidebound, budget-conscious navies could adapt.

If this starts to look like a game of paper-scissors-rock, you’re got the right idea

In the mid-19th century, Russia built the first ship called an “armored cruiser” that was meant to show the flag powerfully at distant stations. This preceded by a decade or so the first armed merchant cruisers by that giant arbiter of naval fashion, Britain’s Royal Navy. Their idea was to take one of those speedy merchantmen and arm it to catch other speedy merchantmen. Then someone popped their heads up and announced to no one’s surprise that the enemy could make those, too. so the RN adapted the Russian idea of a powerful warship on a smaller hull but with great speed and range to counter the theoretical armed merchant cruiser menace. Then these ships got big, and fast, and powerful and in 1911 the RN came up with the third part of this deadly game: the battle cruiser. If this starts to look like a game of paper-scissors-rock, you’re got the right idea, but arms designers had done this for centuries at sea: this ship design to counter that one, then another innovation to overcome the next.

…the bosses back in Berlin were light on how this flotilla would survive on the other side of the world if the war went on more than a few months.

Then came WWI, and the game became deadly. Trapped in the Pacific at the start of the war was the German East Asia Squadron, led by Maximilian von Spee. Its mission was to raid enemy commerce in the Pacific in the event of hostilities. While a great idea for a short war, the bosses back in Berlin were light on how this flotilla would survive on the other side of the world if the war went on more than a few months.

So, after running more or less wild in the Pacific for a couple of months, von Spee decided to raid the coast of Latin America for a while. At the same time he realized that he’d run out of ammunition pretty soon, so he decided he’d hightail it for home around the end of the year. But the Royal Navy got in the way.

the German ships were manned by long-service professionals…the British by reservists just called up. German gunnery was renowned; British gunnery…not so much.

The Germans had two armored cruisers (see above) and three light cruisers (defined as a warship in size and power somewhere between that of a destroyer and of a bigger cruiser) with them, in addition to a number of auxiliaries and storeships. To counter this force, Britain’s Christopher Cradock commanded two armored cruisers, a light cruiser, an armed merchant cruiser and a pre-Dreadnought battleship. On paper it looks like the British had the advantage with that big battlewagon…but they didn’t because the battleship was too slow to keep up with the rest of the squadron. In addition, the German ships were manned by long-service professionals; most of the British vessels were manned by reservists just called up. German gunnery was renowned; British gunnery…not so much.

Battle off Coronel, Chile. British ships in red; German in black. Wikimedia Commons

The result was well within the realm of predictable on 1 November 1914. British losses were over 1,600 men and both armored cruisers, which were literally buried in shells. German losses were three men wounded. However, that was but one battle in a long campaign, and to win that fight the Germans expended half their irreplaceable ammunition. Any more commerce raiding anywhere would have to wait; von Spee decided to run for home.

It was the heyday of the half-century long race to outrun those fast armed merchantmen

But in this deadly game of paper-scissors-rock, the rocks were dispatched to break the scissors. Two battlecruisers arrived in the Falklands just in time to destroy the German squadron a month later. It was the heyday of the half-century long race to outrun those fast armed merchantmen, then to outgun those fast armored cruisers. It was also the last demonstration of this kind of deadly one-upsmanship, as the armed merchant cruisers were replaced in strategic importance by the submarine, making the armored cruisers and the battlecruisers strategically pointless.

National Author’s Day

The Unknown Author, plugging away…

Now you, too can honor at least one author…me…by buying at least one of my books. Or at least, by putting one on your list.

In 1928, Nellie Verne Burt McPherson, teacher, avid reader and president of the Bement, Illinois Women’s Club had an idea of setting aside a day to celebrate American authors. She did this because she sent a fan letter–remember those, not just likes on a page somewhere–and decided that mere thanks were not enough. She submitted the idea of an Author’s Day to the General Federation of Women’s Clubs–that’s still around, too–which passed a resolution declaring 1 November as National Author’s Day. The US Department of Commerce followed suit in 1949.

Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendship

Have a seat; we’re dealing Stella’s Game.

And here’s one you really should put on your list–Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendship, due for publication 3 December 2019. Stella’s Game follows four kids from 1963 to 1974; half their lives. It’s about friends, family, learning, challenging, fun and danger. It’s also the first volume in a trilogy that will follow these kids until 2001. Look for it in December.

American Carriers and National Tell a Fairy Tale Day

Dragging our way through February in the Great Lakes…why do we live up here? Snow, ice, cold wind. The only good thing about it is that it does make spring look that much better.

USS Ranger passing through the Panama Canal in 1945.
Wiki Commons

On 25 February 1933, the Navy launched the aircraft carrier USS Ranger, named after a renowned Revolutionary War vessel (as most US pre-WWII carriers were). As the fourth US Navy aircraft carrier, her hull number was CV-4. Smaller than the two previous 36,000-ton carriers of the Lexington class and the next, the 20,000-ton Yorktown class, 14,500 ton Ranger was, like so many warships in the 1930s, a compromise to stay within Washington Naval Treaty requirements. She was more notably the US Navy’s first ship designed from the beginning as an aircraft carrier. Everything about Ranger was a learning experience, including her pre-1939 deployments in Latin America, the eastern Pacific, and Alaska: she was the first aircraft carrier to launch and recover aircraft under Arctic conditions. Designed to house and launch as many as 76 planes, Ranger was also the first to get Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats for her fighter squadron in October 1940.

Because of her size and geared turbines, she lacked the range and speed to operate in the Pacific. Pearl Harbor found Ranger returning to Norfolk from a Neutrality Patrol off the Carribean.  Ironically, the US Navy’s smallest “fleet” carrier (a designation developed during WWII, she wasn’t referred to as that) was the largest aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Ocean in 1942, spending much of her time as an aircraft ferry, even though she still took part in the naval battle of Casablanca 8 November 1942. Ranger was famous enough for the Germans to have claimed to have sunk her with torpedoes in April 1943–when she was in drydock.   She spent the last half of 1943 as part of the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet, participating in a raid on Norway known as Operation Leader on 4 October.

The Norway raid was Ranger’s last combat operation. A plan to lengthen and modernize her in 1944 was abandoned as not worth the resources. She spent the rest of the war as an aircraft ferry and training carrier, once again venturing into the Pacific as far as Hawaii. In 1945 Ranger trained carrier pilots for night intercepts and transported returning personnel. She was decommissioned in 1946 and scrapped in 1947.

On 25 February 1945, the US Navy’s Task Force 58, consisting of 11 fleet and five light carriers, turned away from their ravaging of Japanese airfields that had begun 16 February in support of the Iwo Jima landings that began on 19 February.  Though the numbers are fuzzy, there may have been as many as a thousand US planes involved in the attacks, resulting in a claim of over 400 Japanese aircraft destroyed to less than a hundred US losses. These attacks on the Japanese Home Islands were not undertaken with impunity, for the Japanese responded with kamikaze and conventional air attacks. It is interesting to note that Ranger’s predecessor, USS Saratoga (CV-3), then the oldest operational aircraft carrier in the world, was among the fleet carriers attacking Japan, and survived a kamikaze attack on 21 February 1945. It is also interesting to recall that Saratoga was expended at a nuclear target in 1946 and that her hull was still intact as late as 2011.

National Tell A Fairy Tale Day

National Tell-A-Fairy-Tale Day is tomorrow, 16 February, once again because the good folks at the National Day Calendar say it is. Fairy tales, as we all know, are supposed to be fanciful renditions of what were once grim moral folk stories told for the benefit of children that since the late 19th Century have always ended with “and they all lived happily ever after.” According to the Australian Fairy Tale Society: “Once upon a time, the people tried to define fairy tale. They are still trying.” Their website suggests the modern fairy tale hearkens back to ancient mythology, and I’ve got nothing to dispute that. Yes, there really is an Australian Fairy Tale Society: click on the link above if you don’t believe me.

More tellers of fairy tales

But tellers of fairy tales aren’t just in children’s books. They include salesmen of all sorts, especially of used cars, life insurance, and retirement investments. They are also tort lawyers, publicists of all stripes, and marketing and advertising copywriters. Included in this group are, of course, the mass media of both “wings” of American discourse: those at left are merely the most notorious. 

The most pernicious, however, are the tellers of fables among elected officials (which would be nearly all of them) and their hangers-on, all of whom scream that they are scrupulously honest right up to the election day. The image on top is, of course of those famous tellers of fairy tales, President Clinton and Wanna-Be-President Clinton. We all remember Wille Jeff’s memorable nationally-televised and emphatic finger-pointing telling of “I did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky,” and Hilly Rod’s spookily animated “it was the video” fable in 2012, and the serial denials that she told it afterward…and that Congressional hearing? Epic fable-telling at its best, right up there with Nixon’s “I am not a crook.”

January 28th Incident and Groundhog Day 2019

As January grinds down once again, it’s time to reflect on a few truths. It’s cold in the Great Lakes, and it is in most of North America this time of year. It’s also wet, and cold and wet is the most miserable way to feel. Therefore, a good roof and furnace is vital; I hope you have both.

Since its successes of the late 19th century, the Japanese military leadership had been ever searching to expand Japan’s power base. WWI demonstrated to them that the single most important thing any state needed on its own was resources. While Japan had some things in abundance in the Home Islands–coal and silk–it lacked many of the resources that modern states needed to be competitive in the world market. Unfortunately, as an agrarian state, Japan was too poor to buy them. So the military leadership steeped in the samurai traditions resolved to take by force that which she needed.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:China-Manchukuo-map.svg

East Asia, 1932. Japanese Empire in salmon; Manchukuo in green. Wikimedia Commons

Japan’s annexation of Korea and aggrandizing its South Manchuria Railroad holdings to include all of Manchuria while China was in a state of civil war was relatively easy, often bloodless. By 1932 China itself had settled down after Kuomintang (KMT) party had taken control of the administrative apparatus of the country.

China in 1932 was a tinderbox waiting for a light, and Japan was more than willing to supply the flame. The cosmopolitan city of Shanghai on the Wangpoa River near the East China Sea coast was a busy seaport and Pacific Rim financial center, with several “concessions”–European quasi-colonies resulting from the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion. Japan saw Shanghai as a potential target for another takeover…as long as it could make up a reason to do so.

On 18 January 1932, five Japanese Buddhist monks were beaten by a Chinese mob in Shanghai: one died. Later that same day, a factory was burned down and a policeman killed. It is impossible to think that these incidents were not brought about at the instigation of the Japanese military, who were adept at creating “incidents” of this kind. They weren’t necessarily sanctioned by the government in Tokyo, but the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) didn’t necessarily care: they created these situations knowing that the leadership would–eventually–back them.

By 27 January, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) had positioned 7,000 IJA troops, some 40 warships (including Japan’s first aircraft carrier task force of 38,000-ton Kaga and 9,000-ton Hosho) and 40 combat aircraft for the coming battle. Also, there was the Shanghai Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF) of some 2,000 men. The force that would become the Shanghai Expeditionary Army was commanded by Shirakawa Yoshinori. Just outside Shanghai, the Chinese 19th Route Army*–called by some little more than a warlord force–containing about 20,000 men in three divisions. Though they had been paid to go away, they were in the city when the fighting started. With fortress garrisons and armored trains, China had maybe 30,000 initially available men for the defense of Shanghai, overall commanded by Cai Tingkai.

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/132996995218105171/?lp=true

Shanghai, 1932

On 27 January, the Japanese issued an ultimatum to China, demanding reparations for any damage to Japanese property or harm to Japanese citizens. While China agreed by the deadline, Japanese carrier aircraft attacked Shanghai at midnight on 28 January, the first major aircraft carrier attack in East Asia and a foretaste of the terror bombing of civilian populations that would follow. Simultaneously, IJA troops attacked targets all over the city, meeting fierce Chinese resistance.

As the fighting spread throughout the city, the members of the international communities tried to broker a cease-fire, which the Japanese at first refused, pouring more men and aircraft into the fighting up until 12 February, when a half-day truce was agreed to so that civilians could get out of the way.  That same day, the Japanese demanded that all Chinese troops be withdrawn. The Chinese responded on 14 February by sending the Chinese 5th Army– of two divisions and an independent brigade, perhaps another 20,000 men–to Shanghai.

The fighting continued until the Japanese had sent nearly 100,000 men into the battle. The two Chinese armies, pummeled by superior Japanese artillery and desperately short of supplies, had to withdraw on 29 February. Chinese casualties were about 13,000 to Japan’s 5,000.

The “peace process” brokered by the League of Nations that followed made a mockery of Chinese sovereignty, but there was no hope for it. Shanghai was “demilitarized” only of Chinese soldiers–the Japanese were allowed to keep a small garrison.

The 28 January Incident in Shanghai was yet another example of Japanese military passive-aggressive tactics that succeeded so often it gave them a sense of false confidence. They came to believe that anything they did–even a strong bluff like southern Indochina–they could eventually get away with because of their military prowess and the fear of the West of another war. When they went too far in 1941, their fate was sealed.

*A Chinese Route Army was a larger field force than an Army of more than two divisions, often more than three corps.


Yes, yes…Groundhog Day is 2 February; next Saturday. The American/Canadian custom date was first documented in 1840, in a Morgantown, Pennsylvania (traditionally Pennsylvania Dutch country) diary, where the locals believed that if a groundhog saw its shadow on Candlemas (also 2 February), the winter would be longer than if it didn’t.

My mother, of old German/English stock, knew the accuracy of the groundhog-swami to be absolute, declaring to my sisters and me that if the shadow were seen, winter would last another six weeks; if not, spring would arrive in just a month and a half.

Don’t overthink it.

The more formal custom followed in 1887 in Puxatawney, Pennsylvania, which is known for nothing else at this writing. The beast is coaxed out of its lodgings at a given time, and its handlers declare whether or not Puxatawney Phil has seen its shadow. Accuracy figures are sketchy but don’t seem to exceed those of random chance.

SInce 1887, other locales have acquired their own overgrown squirrels, from Texas to Russia to Nova Scotia–and some are stuffed. Potomac Phil in Washington DC predicts the end not of winter but of Congressional gridlock–and has never been right.

SOMEONE has to point out that Bill Murray has turned an otherwise dull and mundane non-holiday into a freaking meme. For those who haven’t seen the 1993 Harold Ramis film,  Groundhog Day was released to generally favorable reviews and good sales worldwide. The story centers on a TV weatherman (Murray) who is trapped in a time loop, reliving the same 2 February over and over again with the same people, but he’s the only one who realizes it. While better film analysts and critics than I have dissected the film over and again, I have to state that I found it was mildly amusing the first time, but afterward was dull not because of the repetitive nature, but because, like many comedies, the fun stems from the unexpected.

Since the film’s release, “Groundhog Day” has become shorthand in popular culture for the repetitive nature of everyday life.  Frankly, the only thing about Groundhog Day that this correspondent finds repetitive is the insistence upon attention to it. But that’s me.

Operation Ke and National Nothing Day

Mid-January already. Wow. While here in the Great Lakes we’re stuck in a deep freeze that started last November, I can only hope you aren’t. I can also hope that you keep reading.

https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/coast-watchers-in-the-solomons/

The Solomon Islands, Bismarck Archipelago, and New Guinea. Guadalcanal is in the lower right just about 10 degrees S latitude and bisected by 160 degrees E longitude.

As early as November 1942, low-level Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) officers had been advising that Guadalcanal couldn’t be retaken or held. At the far end of a logistical chain that stretched over 3,500 air miles back to Japan, the nearest Japanese base to Guadalcanal of any size was Rabaul, still over 600 miles away with limited air cover in between.

By January 1943, Imperial General Headquarters (IGHQ) decided to pull out.  The Japanese weren’t used to retrograde operations, but they were so short on troops that they had to learn, and quickly.  In five months the Japanese forces on the island had gone from less than a thousand before the US Marine landing on 7 August 1942, to 36,000 at their peak in October, to 11,000 in January 1943, and the survivors were in awful shape. Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) resupply runs from Rabaul were increasingly hazardous due to the American buildup on the island. Conditions were so primitive on what the troops called Starvation Island–where the sick rate approached 50% on any given day– IJA Seventeenth Army’s commander Hyakutake Harukichi’s staff was less than ten men.  Mikawa Gunichi commanded the IJN Eighth Fleet at Rabaul responsible for the Solomon Islands. On him would fall the responsibility for the evacuation. dubbed Operation Ke.

Commanding the Allied naval forces in the South Pacific Area was William F. Halsey with two fleet carriers and six escort carriers, six battleships, and a relay of 12 light and heavy cruisers and sundry escorts and destroyers. Commanding the American ground troops on Guadalcanal was Alexander Patch with about 40,000 soldiers and Marines. Halsey enjoyed supremacy of ships, aircraft, and logistics over Mikawa; Patch had numbers and logistics over Hyakutake. At the same time, they knew that their opponents were no pushovers. Aware of an uptick in activity in early January 1943, the Americans suspected a major reinforcement of either Guadalcanal or New Guinea, and they moved to counter both.

A fresh battalion of infantry and a battery of guns were landed on 14 January to act as a rear-guard, which was the first time that Hyakutake was aware of the withdrawal. Backed by two aircraft carriers, an IJN air superiority campaign from Rabaul commenced at about the same time. The Japanese air campaign was not a severe threat to the Allies in the area since their air power in the region was outnumbered by about 500 Allied to 400 Japanese.

Aided by covering surface ship skirmishes, radio deception, desperate air attacks, and long-practiced deception operations on the ground, the IJA ground troops disengaged and moved off from the front. The Americans, attacking as ever, exploited the weak lines and pushed forward. Still fearing a counterattack on his weary ground troops, Patch again moved cautiously. It should be remembered that tropical conditions weren’t to the liking of the Americans either: their sick rate was close to 20%. At the same time, a withdrawal was not thought to be in the Japanese playbook.

Still suspecting that a reinforcement was underway, a small surface task force under Robert C. Giffen was sent to patrol between the south coast of Guadalcanal and Rennell Island. In a confused air-surface night action 29-30 January, USS Chicago was sunk, and another US destroyer damaged to 12 IJN torpedo bombers shot down. But this minor battle had the effect of brushing back the Americans, enabling the evacuations to continue unimpeded by heavy surface forces.

The first IJN evacuation was conducted 1-2 February, pulling nearly 5,000 sick and emaciated soldiers off the island in 11 destroyers. It was opposed primarily by PT boats and ground-based aircraft from Guadalcanal. The second (4-5 February) and third (7-8 February) lifts were similarly opposed by light forces. Halsey’s ships were 200 miles away to the south. Unaware of how high Japanese casualties were among their long-range medium bombers, he did not venture to interfere in a major way. Halsey and the other commanders were also becoming convinced that the Japanese were evacuating Guadalcanal–not reinforcing–since the resistance on the ground was rapidly vanishing, and saw no need to keep the Japanese from leaving the rock that they had fought over for six months.

Operation Ke was arguably one of the last Japanese successes in WWII.  Called an “operational success” by some sources, it was nonetheless a retreat–not on the scale of Dunkirk but a retreat nonetheless.  It cost the Japanese a destroyer and a submarine sunk and 56 aircraft shot down to save a little over 10,000 sick and emaciated soldiers, about a third of whom would never serve in the field again. The Allies lost a cruiser, a destroyer, and three PT boats, in addition to 53 aircraft. The balance sheet tilted slightly towards the Japanese in raw numbers, but they also lost the southern Solomon Islands, a position they could–unlike the British and French after Dunkirk–never regain.

The Americans weren’t asking for negotiations: in fact, with the Casablanca conference underway between US, British and French leaders, such thoughts seemed ages away. After the collapse of German resistance at Stalingrad on 2 February, the Soviets weren’t giving up either.

One by one, Japanese prewar miscalculations were adding up to doom.


Wednesday, 16 January,  is traditionally recognized as National Nothing Day since it was allegedly invented in 1972 by Harold Pullman Coffin, a San Francisco Examiner columnist who went to his nothing reward in 1981. He also created the National Nothing Foundation in California, which may have gone to nothing since as well.

https://electropiknik.cz/viral/7-duvodu-proc-by-s-vami-mel-vas-pes-spat-v-posteli/2017/08/

A great way to do nothing…

Nothing Day was supposed to be the one day that we were supposed to be able to recognize or celebrate or remember anything at all. In part, it has been co-opted by a “buy nothing” movement that has always been the alternative to Black Friday: the day after American Thanksgiving. Regrettably, for Coffin’s non-day, 16 January is also:

  • National Fig Newton Day (since…no one’s sure);
  • National Religious Freedom Day (since 1993);
  • National Without a Scalpel Day (since 2016).

While the idea is pretty neat, like everything else, time and events have a way of catching up to intent. When Washington first proclaimed a day of thanksgiving, he could not have imagined the Macy’s Parade. No American could imagine a greater catastrophe than Pearl Harbor in 1941, right up until 9/11.

Or, as the expression goes: Man proposes; God laughs.

 

 

Pearl Harbor Reconsidered Part IV: The Beginning of the End, and Christmas 2018

WHY_07_CUT

Cover for Why the Samurai Lost Japan

This is the final installment of my “Pearl Harbor Reconsidered” essay, and the final blog of the year…therefore my last pitch for Why the Samurai Lost Japan, Those of you who have hung in there since the beginning of December…many thanks. For those just now picking it up, just go to the website and start with the 3 December blog.

And don’t forget to pick up a copy of the book while you’re there…

While the Pearl Harbor strike began five minutes or so before the actual declaration of war on the United States was to be effective (but hours before it was finally delivered), that minor misstep was a good deal more important to the civilian diplomats than it was to their bosses in the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy. Diplomacy no longer mattered to the samurai leadership…it hadn’t really mattered to the samurai since the Triple Intervention in 1895 “stole” Japan’s hard-won gains in China. If they were successful in their enterprise of getting the Americans back to the bargaining table in 1942, no one would either care or notice a five-minute gap between the diplomatic and the military; and if the Americans didn’t stop fighting, the samurai knew they were probably doomed.

http://www.rockit.news/2015/12/24/churchills-christmas-message/

Churchill’s Christmas Address, 1941

And there is the crux of it…all of it. Japan had to succeed big and FAST. Even the most enthusiastic samurai bosses knew that in any protracted conflict—one lasting more than six months—Japan stood no chance of being able to carry on with a conflict against any Western power, especially the United States. Resources aside, Japanese technological edges were razor-thin, and in some areas non-existent. In any prolonged war, Japan from the beginning knew that she had but two real advantages: distance and time. Japan was half a world away, and that she was but one of three major enemies that the West was fighting at the time.

The attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 was expected to require only a few months…Britain was expected to capitulate…leaving the Americans alone to face a Eurasian hegemony.

But before Pearl Harbor, Japan had planned everything they were to do with a short war as the starting premise. When the British and Americans decided on “Europe first” in March 1941 it came not as a surprise but a relief to Japanese planners. As long as Britain held out, Europe would be an easier target than Japan as long as Russia was out of the equation. The attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 was expected to require only a few months before the Soviets were either destroyed or sought an armistice. After that, Britain was expected to capitulate, as were the Dutch, leaving the Americans alone to face a Eurasian hegemony.

…the samurai didn’t realize that merely wanting to break even as a war strategy made it extremely difficult to succeed against a superior enemy…

But the Japanese failed to appreciate the depths of Stalin’s hatred of the Nazi regime in 1941 and the lengths to which he could get the Soviet Union to drive its people to crush Germany. They also failed to appreciate that their own fragile war machine could be crippled in mere minutes by unforeseen events—in this case, two naval battles in early 1942 that devastated their cadre of carrier pilots and maintainers. Finally, the samurai didn’t realize that merely wanting—and hopefully being able—to break even as a war strategy made it extremely difficult to succeed against a superior enemy. Even if Great Britain only wanted a return to the pre-1941 status quo ante, they at least had the wherewithal to try and, in some cases, succeed. Japan, once it lost any of its hard-won 1941-42 gains, could never get them back, and the leadership knew it.

The complete destruction of a battleship or two in Hawaii—and twenty minutes worth of 1944 aircraft production—by a hazardous attack so far away wasn’t required to start a war with the US.

While Pearl Harbor traditionally angered the US into a dreadful fury that ended in Tokyo Bay, any military action by Japan against any American territory in late 1941 would probably have had the same result. In the Atlantic, the US Navy had already been in a quasi-war with the Germans for close to a year by December 1941 and had lost a destroyer to German torpedoes in October. The American military was already on high alert; the National Guards and Reserves had all been called up starting in 1940 with the fall of France and a draft filling in the ranks since September 1940. American war materiel was being shipped to Britain and France (and the Soviets after June 1941) and was delivered to the “fighting French” in the Pacific. Even if Japan had only ventured upon a bombing raid on the Philippines, a war in the Pacific would probably have been the result anyway: the Americans were already tacit belligerents against the Germans. The complete destruction of a battleship or two in Hawaii—and twenty minutes worth of 1944 aircraft production—by a hazardous attack so far away wasn’t required to start a war with the US.

The Pearl Harbor attack should be seen as the beginning of the end of the swaggering swordsmen of Japan

The Pearl Harbor attack, ultimately, was a devastating blow to samurai-dominated Japan far more than it was to the United States. Even if the US prewar carriers had been in the harbor, the war would have delayed the ultimate result by perhaps a few months. For while rousing the sleeping giant/tiger/dragon (choose your metaphor) was the result, the destruction of Japanese military power only left a clean palate for more representative government to take hold once the power of the samurai to dictate affairs had been broken. The Pearl Harbor attack should be seen as the beginning of the end of the swaggering swordsmen of Japan.

Future essays of the “Reconsidered” variety, based on our research for the book, will follow in the next few months. Look for future series on Coral Sea/Midway, the Solomons and the atomic bombings.


Tomorrow is Christmas in the US, and for those of my readers who are far from home serving their country in the way they can, have a restful and peaceful day, and good luck.

http://adolfhitlerbestpictures.blogspot.com/2009/12/adolf-hitler-pictures-in-christmas.html

Fröhliche Weihnachten, Mein Herr

There’s a certain ambiguity to imagery like this. Hitler is trying to be just another regular guy, and it’s before his Final Solution got started so it may be easy to dismiss this imagery as “early.” But there’s an eerie sort of shadow over it, no?

Then again, we have the image above, of future President Reagan hawking cigarettes as Christmas presents while plugging his 1952 movie, Hong Kong, which fell to the Japanese on Christmas Day, 1941. While the ad men didn’t care, the timing seems odd. Celebrity endorsements of tobacco products were common in the 1940s and ’50s, so there’s no issue there…but giving smokes to all your friends for Christmas? Huh.

 

 

Pearl Harbor Reconsidered Part III–Hit and Miss…and Wright Brother’s Day

WHY_07_CUT

Cover for Why the Samurai Lost Japan

This is the third installment of my “Pearl Harbor Reconsidered” essay, and for those of you who have read the other two, thanks for sticking with me. Of course, I know you’ve all bought copies of Why the Samurai Lost Japan for yourselves and for all your friends (perfect Christmas gifts) as soon as it was available (which should have been Saturday).

No? What are you waiting for? This essay is just a sample of our research and analysis. Get the whole picture.

As far as “gambles” go, Japan’s Pearl Harbor attack wasn’t much of one, either strategically or tactically. The strikes were carefully planned practically to the last bomb, torpedo, bullet, and ounce of fuel—they had to be because Japan could not carry more fuel for an attack so far away. The aircraft were fueled and armed in a flurry of activity beginning very early in the morning of 7 December, the second wave being hoisted to the flight deck as the first was taking off, and was launching as the first wave was returning. It was a practiced ballet of logistics, material handling, and timing—and nearly impossible to repeat on the same day with damaged aircraft and tired aircrews and maintainers.

https://pearlharborwarbirds.com/japanese-attack-on-pearl-harbor-maps/

Map of the Japanese attack on Oahu, 7 December 1941

The attack had intended to catch the American aircraft carriers in Pearl Harbor, but those ships were prevented from entering the harbor by the same storm that battered the Japanese task force en route to Hawaii. That the American carriers weren’t in Pearl Harbor (and their air groups parked on the airfields) was a grave disappointment…and created a grave danger. They and their 100+ aircraft were somewhere in the area…but Japanese intelligence was unable to say where. That one was near Wake Island, and two more were at sea a day away from Hawaii was unknown to the Japanese. For that reason, Nagumo had reason to fear for the safety of his command. Worse, he had no good idea how severe the American land-based aircraft losses were. His fleet was already low on fuel, including aviation fuel. Staying an extra day would have meant that some of the escorting destroyers would have been sucked dry of fuel for the carriers and abandoned…not recommended at the beginning of a trans-oceanic war.

https://www.omaha.com/news/military/timeline-of-pearl-harbor-attack-what-happened-on-dec/article_c02f0b0a-8058-5032-8116-17ae16c43077.html

Detail of Pearl Harbor

The first two attack waves had been well planned, timed and executed, but a third wave that some say should have been mounted was impractical. Sending the superbly trained pre-1941 carrier pilots on a third mission that day would have been a tremendous risk for an uncertain (and unlikely) result. Though “sparing” the dockyards, maintenance shops, and the tank farm meant the US could swing into action in the Pacific faster, it is unlikely that these less-than-vulnerable facilities could have been significantly harmed, and would have exposed the fleet to much more risk that the risk-adverse IJN would have been willing to commit to.

…at 250 miles an hour (or more) while being shot at it is impossible for any pilot, regardless of training or nationality, to distinguish between an empty warehouse and a full one, or a storage shed from a machine shop.

Preparing the returning planes for another attack would have taken until at least mid-afternoon, meaning that the aircraft of a third wave would have been recovering at night. In 1941, only the Royal Navy had experience with carrier landings at night. Success would have been uncertain because American anti-aircraft performance improved between the first and second waves. Moreover, the strength of Hawaii’s remaining land-based air power was undetermined. The second wave, while damaging, had not done near as much as the first in part because there was a limit to how much damage any single-engine aircraft could do.

Further, at 250 miles an hour (or more) while being shot at it is impossible for any pilot, regardless of training or nationality, to distinguish between an empty warehouse and a full one, or a storage shed from a machine shop. The odds against hitting the drydocks effectively were even higher, and severely damaging the concrete basins or the massive doors would have been sheer luck for any pilot of that time and place. Great Britain, desperate as they were, mounted a commando raid on St. Nazaire in 1942 to disable the drydocks there and expended a destroyer and several hundred men to do it. Mere air-delivered bombs—regardless of size—weren’t going to do a lot of damage to the drydocks of Pearl Harbor without a great deal of luck.

Presuming that the third wave attack on Pearl Harbor would have been unopposed, perfectly excecuted with a few hours of planning and 100% successful is too much to ask.

Many “counterfactual” claims for the value of a third strike emphasize the potential damage caused by the destruction of the millions of gallons of fuel stored at Pearl Harbor. While possible, these claims require the Americans either do absolutely nothing to stop the attacks on those big targets or that they do everything wrong. Letting out a few thousand gallons and setting it alight would have created a good smokescreen in a few minutes that could have baffled any further attacks…and a single successful bomb on one tank or pump complex might have done the same thing. Presuming that the third wave attack on Pearl Harbor would have been unopposed, perfectly executed and 100% successful with a few hours planning is too much to ask.

Though the never-planned third strike on Pearl Harbor has been much touted over the years, and it is said that Yamamoto later regretted Nagumo’s decision to withdraw (though he supported that decision at the time), he afterward said it had been a mistake not to order a third strike. Sorry, but that sounds a great deal like second-guessing for the history books after the tide had already turned. While the raid on Pearl Harbor was at least a tactical success, the strategic value of it was diminished because it missed the American carriers.

In my next and final installment of “Pearl Harbor Reconsidered,” I’ll examine the consequences of the Pearl Harbor attack, and its long-term effects on Japan and, more important, on the samurai leadership that ordered and planned it. While the Eastern Operation may have been perfectly executed, that perfect attack resulted in a disastrous war with an enemy they knew they could not defeat.


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Langley’s Aerodrome

Today is Wright Brothers Day, one of the many commemorative days that is codified in US law. Though the brothers first flew on 17 December 1903, it took until 2014 before Congress passed the bill recognizing the fact. One of the reasons for the long delay was the inventor of the contraption on the left, Samuel P. Langley. He was said to have launched an unmanned powered kite in 1896 and convinced Congress to give him a contract to continue his research. It helped that Langley was the head of the Smithsonian Institutions at the time.

He had two failed manned launches in October and December 1903, and never went back to his experiments afterward in part because of the Wright brother’s success, and in part, because he couldn’t get money to continue. Langley died in 1906, having spent orders of magnitude more on several decades of failed tries to build a powered, manned, controllable heavier-than-air vehicle than the Wrights spent to succeed.

Even as the aviation industry took off and the Wrights undeniably went into the business of building airplanes, the battle for bragging rights over who flew first continued well into the 20th century. Though the first Wright Flyer was destroyed in a storm in early 1904, the Smithsonian wouldn’t even have a replica of it in its halls, instead emphasizing Langley’s efforts and even denying that the Wrights were first until well into the 20th century.

 

Why the Samurai Lost Japan: A Study in Miscalculation and Folly

Finally, it’s here! Why the Samurai Lost Japan is now available in paperback and PDF!

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Cover for Why the Samurai Lost Japan

JDB Communications, LLC is proud and pleased (and relieved, after two years) to announce the publication of Why the Samurai Lost Japan: A Study in Miscalculation and Folly by John D. Beatty and Lee A. Rochwerger, a reworking of their earlier and acclaimed What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look at Japan at War, 1941-1945 (Merriam Press, 2009).

Why the Samurai Lost Japan isn’t just another “west triumphant” hagiography of WWII. Nor is it a “Japan as victim” story of lost opportunities for peace. Instead, it is a study of agrarian and cash-poor Japan’s desperate need for resource independence, and of the warriors who sought to satiate that need…the samurai.

When Perry sailed to Japan in 1854, the whole of the Japanese Empire had fewer paved roads than a square mile of the city of London. In 1941, Japan sent the largest aircraft carrier task force in the world to attack the United States Navy at Pearl Harbor. How this three-generation, breakneck-paced modernization, and industrialization affected Japan is just one subject explored in Why the Samurai Lost Japan.

Beginning in the late 19th century, Imperial Japan embarked on a program of aggressive military overseas adventures in Asia and the Pacific. Yet, it wasn’t until the 1930s that Japan’s economy changed from largely agrarian to mostly industrial. Between 1904 and 1941 Japan conquered Korea, Manchuria, large parts of China, and French Indochina, and occupied large swaths of Pacific islands. This provided tremendous resources, but it still wasn’t enough: food riots wracked Japan right up to 1945. How this powerful-yet-weak empire managed these conquests is also explored by Why the Samurai Lost Japan.

Japan’s empire-building aggressions were driven by the ancient cult of samurai warriors who were answerable only to their Emperor. The samurai followed a freewheeling, freely interpreted “code” of bushido—a code better understood than it was understandable, more spoken of than written down with authority. Bushido left only one option for any failure, regardless of scale or import—death. Why the Samurai Lost Japan is also a study of that code and the warriors who followed it—their aspirations, successes, miscalculations, and follies.

In 1941 the samurai picked a fight with arguably the greatest western industrial power on the planet at that time—the United States. They led Japan into a horrible war—the Pacific Theater of World War II—stretching across a third of the Earth’s surface, and spanning an additional three years, eight months, three weeks and five days. Their early and easy victories convinced them of their invincibility. They refused to believe that their fighting spirit could be defeated by superior firepower. However, before they started the war, the samurai knew they could not win outright. The west had to stop fighting early on, or Japan was doomed…and they had no Plan B.  Why the Samurai Lost Japan explores the expectations of the samurai planners, and their main planning tool—hope.

The samurai’s war ended after two nuclear devices were used over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Most authorities believe that Japan’s seeking peace after the atomic bombings were connected to those bombings. Why the Samurai Lost Japan discusses and challenges how the war in the Pacific really ended…and questions the popular assumptions about governance in pre-1945 Japan.

Why the Samurai Lost Japan is available in trade paperback for $24.95 plus shipping and $9.95 in PDF from The Book Patch and fine booksellers everywhere.