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.”

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J. Robert Oppenheimer and President’s Day 2019

I appreciate that February only has four weeks, but must they be as long as they are? What? They’re the same length as those in June? No, can’t be. You’re making that up. Next week is National Tell Me A Fairy Tale Day, not this week.

Nuclear Club: Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer 
LIFE Magazine cover, 1947.

Well, given that…Julius Robert Oppenheimer (known either as Robert or Oppie) was born on 22 April 1904 in New York City to an affluent first-generation German Jewish immigrant family in the textile business. Young Robert’s early education was typical of secular Jews in Manhattan, but untypically Robert was introduced to the quasi-Christian/quasi-atheist Ethical Culture movement in the primary grades, which may have informed his life thereafter. 

Young Robert, like the physicist Oppie would become, had a wide-ranging mind and interests that ranged from English and French literature to horseback riding and mineralogy. At Harvard he majored in chemistry but gravitated to physics, graduating summa cum laude in just three years. He moved on to Cambridge and to the University of Göttingen, where he earned his PhD in physics at the age of 23 while he developed his most cited work, the Born–Oppenheimer approximation in quantum physics.

After university, Oppie (from a Dutch-derived nickname) was much sought after, dividing his time between the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) and Harvard for a year. Known to work himself to exhaustion while still in school, he was also subject to fits of depression. He had no spare time, dividing himself between hard science and Eastern philosophy, learning Sanskrit on his own so he could read the Bhagavad Gita in the original. He supported communist ideals in the ’30s while supporting refugee scientists from Europe–including many who he would work with on the atomic bomb. At the same time he practically ignored the world around him, and was unaware of the Wall Street crash of 1929 until he was told about it two years later.

Morally Oppenheimer could be described as a mess. He had an affair with divorcee Jean Tatlock, a fellow communist sympathizer who really was a communist, that supposedly ended in 1938. Then he married another communist, divorcee Katherine Puening, who had two children with him while he was still sleeping with Tatlock from time to time. All of this made for interesting reading and constant surveillance while he worked on the most secret project of WWII.

Oppenheimer joined the Manhattan Project in 1942 as the head scientist, in part because he was a good referee. Oppie was the one world-class physicist among all those in the Western world who all the others would work for. The military head of the project, Army brat Leslie R. Groves, had been the overseer for the building of the Pentagon and was regarded as one of the best civil engineers in the Army. The unlikely pair–unruly and eccentric Oppenheimer and straight-laced career soldier Groves–got along famously and became lifelong friends, though Groves was always concerned about Oppenheimer’s serial indiscretions. 

In July 1945 Oppie and thousands of other workers watched the Trinity device–a plutonium core nuclear bomb–ignite the very air in the New Mexico desert.  His reaction over the years has been described and reinterpreted, but the one that makes the most sense was relief. After all, the Manhattan Engineer District had cost the United States $3,000,000 for every man, woman, and child in North America. There were scientists who thought that the thing wouldn’t work and others who thought that it would cause a continuing chain reaction and consume the Earth. If he thought of the Bhagavad Gita at that instant we can’t know now, even as much as he said he did later.

His early flirtations with communist organizations, direct or not, caught up with him in the coming Cold War. He lost his security clearance in 1954, and his situation was made worse by his pronouncements that science knew no politics. As the head of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton from 1947 until 1966 when he began chemotherapy for throat cancer, he encouraged research of all kinds and consistently spoke for harnessing science for the public good. J. Robert Oppenheimer died 18 February 1967, eulogized by many and remembered as a cautionary yet unapologetic voice for the harnessing of science for the public good.

President’s Day 2019

From right, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter in College Station, Texas,  Oct. 21, 2017.  (AP Photo/LM Otero) ORG XMIT: TXMO103

The appellation “President’s Day” originated in the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, which took effect in 1971. The Act established Washington’s birthday as the third Monday in February, in the week of 15-21 February; it didn’t officially merge Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthday, nor did it establish a “President’s Day” by law…pop culture seems to have done that all on its own. 

The photo up top is of a unique club: five men who get to be called “Mister President” at the opening of the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California. There’s another to the right: a hurricane relief concert in 2017 when there were five living former presidents. WIth the incumbent in the White House, this was a period during which there were six living members of the President’s Club, which has happened four times. There have been six periods when there were no living former presidents:

  • When George Washington died in 1799;
  • When Andrew Johnson died in 1875;
  • When Grover Cleveland died in 1908;
  • When Calvin Coolidge died in 1933;
  • When Lyndon Johnston died in 1973.

Richard Nixon is the only person to have been both the only living US president (January 1973, after Johnson died, to August 1974, when he resigned) and one of six living presidents (January 1993, after Clinton’s inauguration, to his death in April 1994). Everyone should be known for something odd.

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.

 

 

Bataan Begins and National Cuddle-Up Day

So, you’ve survived The Holidays, that period between late November and the end of the year when the Western world goes mad for made-for-TV movies with the same plot, metalized paper strips, dead trees in their homes, and spending too much money on things that the recipients of your largesse don’t really want. Welcome to the depths of January.

The war that Japan started with the West in December 1941 had been going pretty much according to the plan by the end of the year. The earliest Japanese landings under Homma Masaharu on the big Philippine island of Luzon began on 10 December 1941. On 22 December the main offensive on Luzon began. Always outnumbered, 48,000 Japanese with complete air and sea supremacy pushed against the 151,000 American and Filipino troops who rarely saw friendly air support of any kind. The issue was never really in doubt.

https://vintagevisualizations.com/products/manila-bay-and-approaches-1

US Coast and Geodetic Survey map ca 1940. The Bataan Peninsula is right (west) of Manila Bay.

The prewar plan that the Philippines’ senior officer, Douglas MacArthur, had out was for the ground forces to fall back into the Bataan Peninsula to deny any attackers free use of Luzon’s greatest asset: Manila Bay. The evacuation to Bataan was fairly orderly, with 80,000 troops of two US/Philippine army corps filing in, along with 26,000 civilian refugees, and needed supplies ferried in from Manila.

The first problem for the Americans was that the supplies earmarked for the upcoming siege was only for 46,000 people, not 106,000. The first problem for the Japanese was that the defensive lines, the American artillery, and the American determination to make a stand were not a part of the Japanese plan.

On 7 January 1942, the same day that the Soviets declared victory at Moscow and began their own counteroffensive, Homma started a general assault on the Bataan defensive lines and was repulsed at every point. Also on that day, President Roosevelt announced the largest increase in defense spending in American history, tripling the size of the US military in 18 months. Neither the Soviets nor the Americans were acting according to the Japanese plan.

While the Bataan battle was raging, the Americans and their Filipino allies were starving, and the Japanese–some of them, anyway–were starting to wonder what went wrong with their brilliant plan. The Declaration by the United Nations, where the US, China, Great Britain, and her Commonwealth, the Soviet Union, all the governments-in-exile from Europe and Scandinavia, and a host of smaller states declared that they would fight on for as long as possible, and none would seek a separate (unilateral, like Russian pulling out of WWI) peace with any “signatory of the Tripartite Pact.” This Declaration was a direct attack on Japan’s main goal for attacking the West in the first place: a negotiated settlement to Japan’s advantage.

The American/Filipino Bataan plan was borne of the outdated hope that a US fleet and avenging army would be only a few months away from succoring the Philippines. However, as early as 1910 US planners knew that a rescue of a Philippine garrison was logistically impossible. In the 1920s, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) was built on the idea that the US would crawl across the Pacific into a massive ambush. By 1940 that plan was scrapped, but the entire fleet had been trained for it, and every ship built for it. Though hastily retrained and reorganized, it was hard to get that obsolete plan out of many Japanese sailor’s heads.

But the US Bataan plan was meant to make the invader hurt–and that it did. For three months the ragtag army held out, inflicting over 20,000 casualties on the Japanese, including China campaign veterans who were impossible to replace. By the time the last position was overrun on Bataan, some 76,000 captives were in Japanese hands, more men than the Japanese had started the campaign with, and four times what they were prepared for. While the Japanese eventually defeated the Americans and Filipinos on Bataan, they did it at a cost that it would have been unsustainable, was two months behind schedule, and had consumed far more resources–especially fuel–than had been planned for.

And the Americans were showing no signs of heading to the negotiating table.

Bataan and Wake Island were only two of many early “victories” that Japan obtained in the early days of the war that were but portents of the resistance they would encounter. Read all about it in Why the Samurai Lost Japan: A Study of Miscalculation and Folly now available from JDB Communications, LLC.

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Cover for Why the Samurai Lost Japan


Yesterday was National Cuddle-Up Day because:

  • The good folks at the National Day Calendar said it was;
  • 6 January is also my sister’s birthday–which has nothing to do with Cuddle-Up Day but I just thought I’d give her a holler: Hi, Barb! Happy Day yesterday! How many anniversaries of your 39th birthday have you had now?

January typically contains some of the coldest days of the year, so what better way to stay warm and reap health benefits than by cuddling with a loved one on National Cuddle Up Day? Whether it’s a three-dog-night (not the musicians but what they were named after: a night so cold it takes three dogs to cuddle up with to stay warm) or only slightly chilly, there are many benefits to cuddling with human or canine or other warm-blooded pet.

http://97zokonline.com/yes-its-cold-so-good-thing-its-national-cuddle-up-day/

The original and still the best pain-and-stress reliever

Cuddling (defined as holding another close as a means of showing affection) releases oxytocin, which gives us warm-and-fuzzies and reduces minor pain. When the cold makes muscles and joints ache, cuddling can help. Oxytocin also helps reduce heart disease, reduces blood pressure, stress and anxiety. If it weren’t free, cuddling would be covered by health insurance–but don’t give anyone any ideas.

In the days before humans became fleshy extensions of social media that they have become, personal presence was important. Communication is more than just e-mails and texts (or blogs, for that matter). Physical contact can communicate trust, commitment, safety, and reassurance. This goes for human-to-human contact as well as human-to pet-contact. Cuddling expresses everything vital in a healthy relationship.

Dopamine released while in close contact with a loved one stimulates the brain to seek pleasure…a little or a lot. Cuddling can also boost sexual desire, so, ah, hence the “warning” on the sign up on top.

Eh, just hope it was enough for ya…timer or not.

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

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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

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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.