Saturday, May 18, 2019

Nagumo's Dilemma

On 27 May 1942 a disastrously understrength 1st Mobile Striking Force set sail on from the Hashirajima Island anchorage in Japan’s Inland Sea.  The IJN had been the first Navy ever to concentrate multiple aircraft carriers into a single tactical formation, a revolutionary innovation back then, which the USN later copied with devastating blowback.  

But this time the IJN brought only four out of the six large carriers associated with the 1st Air Fleet.  The results are well known.  Hundreds of books, articles, and web pages, plus several US and Japanese movies have been devoted to them; including a new $100M blockbuster scheduled for release later this year. 

I won’t try to improve on any of those or retell the story.   But comments regarding carrier warfare on FDChief’s 10 May post ’Arresting Development’ by Andy (regarding Blue Water ISR) and Sven (regarding multi-carrier battle fleets) have been scratching at my brainpan ever since.   So I went back to look at Midway Atoll, specifically the book ’Shattered Sword’ by Tully and Parshall, which tells the tale according to official Japanese sources.  Also FDChief’s excellent post regarding Midway that he posted back in 2008.

But the one source that makes it easy for even a chowderhead like me to follow is the computerized and detailed chronological recreation on YouTube.  Titled 'The Battle of Midway 1942: Told from the Japanese Perspective (1/2)', hopefully part two will be posted soon.  It was put together by frequent YouTube military history contributor Montemayor, who I suspect may be the Anthony Tully that helped research and cowrote 'Shattered Sword'.  It is excellent and the 40 minutes goes by quickly.  It is well worth your time.  But ignore the dramatic music. 

I have only one question on the above sources.  Call it a snivel.  These sources and all others I am aware of claim the major motive for Japan was to lure the USN carriers into a trap at Midway.  I have no doubt that would have been in Yamamoto’s mind as a hopeful side benefit.  But it seems to me that the primary reasons were:

1]  Occupy Midway and establish a base for their long range (>4000 nautical miles) Kawanishi flying boats to warn of any future possible Doolittle Raids - and to deny its use by USN PBY reconnaissance assets.

2]  Establish a submarine base there putting their I-boats within 110 nautical miles of Pearl and 3000 nautical miles from Frisco.  By the way, America's COMSUBPAC did set up a base there soon after the battle for refitting their submarine patrols.  That base allowed them to refuel, re-arm, resupply, and repair four subs simultaneously.  Plus being that much closer gave them extended patrol time in Japanese waters.

3]  Protect flank of their carrier attack on Dutch Harbor and the invasion force headed to Attu and Kiska.  Why they mounted that campaign has been a subject of debate among historians.  It’s probable though that Tojo believed it would prevent any attempt to invade Japan’s home islands by way of the Aleutian chain.  It was only 660 nautical miles from Attu to the IJN base and to the many Japanese Army bases and airfields at Paramushiro Island off the tip of Kamchatka. General Buckner of Alaskan Command reinforced this belief when he started building airfields immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack.  Plus he gave an interview to the press where he stated that the shortest way to Japan was via Alaska.

But those are just my brainfarts from an armchair, a long way from the Central Pacific in both time and space.  I’m sure the historians had better insight into Japanese intentions.

Good to see that currently Midway Atoll and her surrounding waters are a National Wildlife Refuge and Hawaii State Marine Reserve protecting thousands of endemic and endangered species.  It is on the northwestern end of the Papahānaumokuākea National Monument named after a Hawaiian Goddess of Creation.  It covers a surface area of more than 1.5 million square kilometers, about the size of the Gulf of Mexico and 50% larger than the North Sea and the Baltic Sea combined.  It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been designated as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) by the International Maritime Organization.  I'm a big fan of these lyrical Hawaiian place-names.  They remind me of Llanfairpwllgwyngyll in Wales where me Aunt Gwynn was born.

Pics cortesy of the USN, the History Channel, Rene Francillon, and NOAA.


  1. Single carrier CVBGs looked like the way to go in USN Fleet Experiments during the 1930's because defences were leaky and those who found their targets first would win the battle with a first strike.
    The Japanese rather desired powerful attacks such as the one on Pearl Harbor, and such powerful attacks were best coordinated in a single large CVBG. The vulnerability to attack wasn't solved by them, and they were outright stupid in their insistence on slow, short-ranged floatplanes for air search. They could hardly find their target first (later in WW2 they developed the astonishing C6N carrier-borne search aircraft). They should have used D3A for air search. The D3A's modestly powerful 250 kg bombs weren't the main striking power against ships anyway.
    Later in WW2 the employment of long range radars largely solved the 'leaky defences' issue in daylight, as seen at the Marianas.


    Now about Midway; the motives as given by most book authors don't make much sense.
    You don't do a huge distraction/deception operation if you seek a decisive battle.

    Midway made a little sense as a forward flying boat base (for large area search on the ocean west of PH), but it was indefensible. Maybe IJN-controlled Midway was meant as bait for a later decisive battle.

    The submarine base idea does not work out well given the Japanese submarine doctrine (which was fleet support) and the huge range of their submarines. Also, the Aleutians would have sufficed as forward submarine base for West Coast sub patrols if that would have been the intent.

    I think the Japanese ran out of good ideas how to win by mid-1942. They knew they had barely enough cargo shipping, barely enough oil production, were still tied up in China, had no chance to take India or Australia or Oahu and their production capacity for war material was insufficient. The U.S. was politically stable unlike Russia in 1904/05.

    I could tell how they could have held out much, much longer (maybe to 1948) with my hindsight knowledge, but Yamamoto couldn't.

    1. Concur with your comment about "bait for a later decisive battle".

      Also concur on the cruiser-launched scout planes. But why only send out seven, they had enough to double that. Do not agree with using the D3As for air search, those D3As were half their strike force. No way they were going to use their dive bombers as scouts. They did well in the war and were used in combination attacks with the torpedo planes. I don't understand why Nagumo was not supported by the big Kawanishi H8Ks flying out of Wake in addition to his cruise-launched scouts?

      As for a sub base on Midway? It would have made sense if your theory about bait for a later decisive battle was relevant and in their planning. Plus from Midway those subs could patrol the entire eastern Pacific from the Aleutians to to Panama to Pearl.

  2. I think it's important to keep and eye on 艦隊決戦, Kantai Kessen, the idea of a "decisive battle" that the 軍令部, the Gunreibu or Naval General Staff, had absorbed largely from the writings of Mahan (and that was fixed in their minds, IMO mistakenly, by the accident of Tsushima).

    I think the idea of Midway WAS to bring the USN to a mid-ocean engagement and defeat it decisively. I agree with all Sven's arguments about the feasibility of Midway as an advanced position. It would have been indefensible for the US had the Kido Budai found the USN carriers first rather than the other way around. Sven's comment about the technical issues with Japanese scouting is accurate. I would add that the Japanese arrogance about their coding capabilities played as much or more a part of their failure, as well.

    But beyond the purely technical and tactical the problem was that, much like the current US foreign policy community, the Gunreibu wasn't able to think past the grand tactical or operational to the geopolitical scale. The notion that you could win (or lose) battles without achieving geopolitical goals was beyond their ken. Yamamoto was, I think, desperate. He realized that, given the relative disparity in economic and industrial capacities, Japan was effectively doomed. They could hold out, but only that, until eventually the weight of the US' industrial might would bear them down. Midway was a gambler's throw.

    Ironically, all those big carriers and battleships were built at the cost of things like better radars and escort vessels and ASW technologies that might have helped secure their supply lines that might have, indeed, helped them hang on a bit longer...

    1. I think Japan was simply not technologically and industrially advanced enough - similar to Italy.
      They were importing instruments for their aircraft as late as 1941 and were importing entire aircraft designs from Germany for operational use till the mid-1930's.

      They had few very advanced pieces of hardware;
      - 21" and 24" "oxygen" torpedoes
      - ultra long range two-engine bombers
      - ultra long range three engine flying boat
      - best air-dropped torpedo as of 1941/1942
      - first SSK prototype
      - naval night optics
      - Dc-3 (license-built)
      - quick torpedo reload magazines on destroyers
      - Ki-46 photo reconnaissance aircraft
      - first dedicated amphibious assault ship
      - fully functional carrier gear

    2. I assume the first dedicated amphibious assault ship you mention was the Shinshū Maru whose keel was laid in 33.

      More importantly I think were her ship-to-beach boats, the 14-meter Daihatsu Class landing craft. The Daihatsu's drop-ramp bow and skegged hull were later incorporated into the Higgins Boat turning it into the LVCP. In 1943 during the Salerno and New Guinea landings, the US navy had 14,072 vessels - 90% of those (12964) were LCVPs or larger derivatives. After the war when historian Steven Ambrose interviewed Eisenhower, Ambrose was shocked when Ike told him that the LCVP had won the war for the Allies.

      There is a lot more to the story of how the USN and USMC adopted Japanese amphibious techniques. Probably deserves a post of its own later.

    3. Sven -

      PS: I think the Japanese Fubuki Class Destroyer innovations of the late 1920s deserve to be on your list also.

    4. They weren't anything new by 1941, same with Yubari.

      Their destroyer Shimakaze (laid down pre-war) was extreme, but just that - extreme and on the edge. Not really advanced.
      The Japanese were obsessed with destroyer speeds as were the Italians with cruiser speeds. In the end, it was pointless in both cases.
      Torpedoes were anti-pursuit munitions, or in the case of the Japanese, line battle munitions. There was no reason why a destroyer should be able to be faster than 34 kts.
      What mattered much more were ASW equipment, AAW equipment, range/endurance, seaworthiness, crew comfort and ability to keep up with capital ships in heavy seas. Destroyer guns and torpedoes for surface actions were very rarely used in WW2 - and often with unsatisfactory result.

    5. Sven -

      I agree that ASW and AAW were desperately needed. Especially AAW, in which the entire IJN was deficient. If the destroyer divisions screening the four carriers at Midway had effective AAA the result might have been much different. The IJN did start to belatedly build the Matsu Class, which improved those capabilities. But they were more of a very large destroyer escort than a fleet destroyer. And the laying of the first keel in August 43 was too late to help.

      I disagree with your last sentence on destroyer torpedoes. Long Lance torpedoes launched by destroyers were credited with sinking four cruisers, ten destroyers, and they severely damaged many more. Plus they delivered the coup-de-gras to fleet carrier USS Hornet, sending her to the bottom after she had been damaged by naval air attacks.

    6. None of those kills by destroyer torpedo did really matter.

      Meanwhile, Japan had an insufficiently small merchant marine and the many merchant ships it captured in 1941 and early 1942 merely increased the available merchant marine to the pre-war civilian needs (approximately).
      The U.S. proceeded to slaughter the Japanese merchant marine after it solved its submarine torpedo crisis in 1942 (stocks were down to hundreds after loss of Manila AND the fuzes/depth control combination was mostly duds). Later on (1945) they added air-dropped magneto-acoustic mines to the havoc.

      The Japanese didn't have the escort numbers to run a proper convoy system for a long time, and then they still had poor ASW with hardly any real intelligence/sonar/weapon/munitions improvements over late WWI.
      They also failed completely at sweeping magneto-acoustic mines (it's not THAT hard!) and used minebreaking instead, sacrificing small ships to clear a lane.

      You thought tactically there. The huge mistakes were made on the strategic level and in force structuring.

    7. You're right, in the end they didn't matter. My comment was only in rebuttal to yours that said they were rarely used.

      Change of subject: which IJN sub were you claiming was the first ever SSK prototype?

    8. SO wrote: "You thought tactically there. The huge mistakes were made on the strategic level and in force structuring."

      For Japan there was NO military scenario in which it could counter US industrial might. The only chance was to break at the beginning of the war the moralof the opponent by inflicting a few large defeats.

      Within this (faulty) framework the tactical set up of the Japanese forces made quite sense IMHO.

      On the strategic level only avoiding war with the USA was an solid approach.


    9. @Mike;
      There were boats with high underwater speed before, but they weren't that fast and were not meant for the same thing (evading ASDIC, which at that time didn't work if the escort was faster than about 15 kts).

  3. Pluto: part 1

    I'll throw my two cents in as well. I was crazy about the Pacific war for a couple of decades and would argue that I was at one point, one of the top 100,000 amateur military historians who never wrote a book on the subject (it never occurred to me that you should actually write a book as an historian, just that you'd read as many as possible, and work out who was closer to right). Ah, those were the giddy stupid days of my life. Fortunately wisdom came around and whacked me HARD upside the skull, right where I needed it...
    The Chief basically has it right with a few BIG additional tweaks from me (I hope my corrections are correct, it has been a LONG time). I fell out of love with the Pacific War because the IJN had so many fewer resources than the USN, it forced them emphasize a doctrine that couldn't adapt to change,
    The IJN originally went into WWII with an attritionist strategy of the oddest sort you've ever heard of. They expected that their superior aircraft (and most WERE superior) flown by superior pilots (and most WERE VASTLY superior) using superior tactics (not as big a lead as the IJN thought), would win at least 75% of the battles with few casualties and cause massive damage to the US in the battles they lost (preferably taking fewer casualties than the IJN deserved).
    The theory partly comes from Mahan and partly comes from their own experiences and isn't quite as crackpot as it sounds at first (at least from a Japanese perspective). Skilled fighters get better when facing other skilled fighters. Newly trained fighters with insufficient experience tend to make dumb mistakes that skilled fighters can exploit. The Soviets lost at least 400:1 against the Germans in the first few weeks of the war due to poor leadership, poor training, poor equipment (or more specifically poorly used equipment), and poor doctrine.
    The Japanese were well aware that true deep sea carrier fighting required a VERY specialized set of skills that took a LONG time to acquire. They were also aware of the fact that they had to put EVERY SINGLE effective warfighter on the line every time to win the initial battles against the US but they figured that the US would rapidly lose cohesion under pressure (the IJN knew themselves well enough that they feared losing cohesion within their air groups more than anything else) and would become easier and easier to fight as the US lost the skills to do deep sea carrier fighting.

  4. Pluto part 2:
    Now lets move on to the weaknesses of the IJN system:
    - Emphasis on torpedo bombing rather than aerial attack against ground targets. I would argue this emphasis was logical but also lost them the war. They KNEW they would have relatively few chances to kill the carriers and they went after them with a vengeance, ignoring all other critical opportunities.

    - Emphasis on attacks to keep the enemy off balance. This, again, was intensely logical. Yamamato and Nagumo both had lived in the US and understood the vast differences in industrial production. But it also prevented the IJN from developing effective defensive tactics (their defensive tactics were essentially: attack and attack again). Again, this fit nicely into the Japanese Bushido pride and made them feel like they were right and everybody else was wrong. Unfortunately for the Japanese, they were critically wrong.

    - Lack of interest in infrastructure warfare, either in attack or defense. An IJN submariner that attacked an unarmed merchant ship would be gently chastised for revealing their position to the US. The submariners were supposed to support the main battle line or make independent attacks on CV's and BB's, which the Japanese rightly considered the most important elements once the main battle lines were engaged. It just never occurred to them (for both good and bad reasons as I've shown above) that the US wouldn't make the same discoveries and go the same direction. The USN discovered in WWI (which the Japanese only sort of participated in and from an odd direction) that unrestricted commerce raiding against an island nation is devastating. The Japanese were too busy absorbing other lessons to learn the benefits of developing powerful ASW forces (and there WERE a LOT of bad lessons from WWI to learn to avoid, and the Japanese did learn a lot, just not a couple of key lessons). To make matters worse, defensive tactics, such as effective ASW, could be a big loser for them in terms of drawing away manpower from the critical offensive striking power and they knew it.

    - Lack of interest in the ability to refit quickly refit/repair ships and train new pilots. This is less defensible than other aspects of the IJN strategy and was due mostly to a lack of willingness to plan for bad things happening. Which is pretty much impossible in warfare as you all know.

  5. Pluto part 3:
    Pearl Harbor was a perfect example of everything going right for the IJN (except for the US carriers not being there) and everything going wrong for the IJN at the same time. The IJN hit ALL the battleships and some of the cruisers. If the Enterprise and the Hornet (smaller but still useful carriers) had been at Pearl they would have been the primary targets and quickly destroyed. On the negative side, the IJN totally ignored the submarine bases, the mine layers and mine sweepers, the huge oil tanks, the massive quantities of bombs and torpedoes, etc.
    The net effect of the IJN strike at Pearl was to emphasize to the Japanese leadership the effectiveness of their own doctrine while hiding the negative effects at the same time. The USN was forced into the correct strategy of biding their time, building their forces, seeing what the IJN did and why (from the codebreakers, among others) while giving away tremendous amounts of space that weren't all that important to them (even if they WERE important to the IJN) and using infrastructure warfare to weaken the IJN benefit from the terrain taken and turn it into a weakness (example: let your opponent capture an island (for oil for example) force them to garrison it (to protect the oil infrastructure from the original workers), and then torpedo all the oilers that go to the one harbor on the island that can send the oil to Japan.
    Furthermore, the USN had a vastly larger and better developed doctrine that emphasized command flexibility (retreat when you're getting crushed just doesn't enter the minds of a country as tiny as Japan because there's nowhere left to go if you lose the first battle), building lots of supply/repair ships, and saving pilot lives that the IJN was forced to ignore because they just didn't have the resources to pay attention to it (and those IJN leaders who did see them prayed that the IJN would never need to use them because they KNEW that the IJN would be bad at them in part due to the Bushido code).

    For 6 months the Japanese seemed to be invincible: Taking Singapore (the Gibraltar of the East) and the US Philippines, the Dutch East Indies (oil and mineral wealth). Australia was very concerned about being knocked out of the war by the Japanese while their military was being used by the British against Rommel. But the Japanese were wearing out the IJN strike forces with all that success, letting them run out of ammunition, keeping them from integrating new pilots, and preventing them from doing critical maintenance.

    Then came Coral Sea. The IJN knew they were in trouble and had suffered very serious casualties but had hurt the USN badly (not as badly as they thought, due to quick training, massive and fast repair facilities, and flexible doctrine). The only logical thing to do in IJN doctrine was to attack again, preferably setting up a new attack on Pearl Harbor, before the USN could recover.

    The rest, as they say, is history. Especially due to some good US luck (code breaking and weather for starters), better doctrine (hiding behind Midway and using it as an indestructible information platform), and some very smart US leadership who understood the IJN mindset very well and used it very well against them.

  6. Pluto -

    Thanks for that good scoop! I agree.

    Note that on YouTube, the contributor Montemayor that did the Midway chronology according to Japanese records also did the same for Pearl and for the Battle of the Coral Sea. He also did one for the non-carrier battle at Savo Island America's worst defeat of the war. His conclusions are much like yours. Battle of the Coral Sea - Montemayor on Pearl Harbor - Montemayor of Savo Island - Montemayor

    Ditto for the book 'Shattered Sword' - and again I stress that book was based on official records, not only of the IJN but also of the Impreial General HQ, and interviews with survivors of the Kido Butai. Plus they collaborated with experts on Japanese aviation and Japanese shipbuilding and design. This book corrected some of the myths about that battle, the versions that had been set in stone for over 60 years. Not only myths promulgated by the Navy and by historians, but also by IJN Nakajima pilot Mitsuo Fuchida's self-promotion book that has largely been debunked by now.

    1. "battle at Savo Island America's worst defeat of the war"


    2. Naval I meant, of course.

      And yet - Rommel never did get his breakthrough through the pass(es) and threaten the Allied flank. Thanks to the cannon-cockers!

      General Fredendall was blamed and rightfully so. But Brit General Anderson, Fredendall's superior in the chain of command had a lot to do with it for piece-mealing US units and breaking 1st Armored Division into penny packets.

      My father came ashore in North Africa during November 42, the same month I was born. Luckily he missed Kasserine.

  7. FDChief -

    I understand and agree on your point about IJN fixation on decisive battle. Unfortunately for Yamamoto neither he nor Admiral of the Fleet Osami Nagano, who was Chief of the IJN General Staff, were the key decision makers. That would have been the Imperial General HQ and the Supreme War Council. Both were dominated by General Hideki Tojo, who was PM and Minister of War at the time. He had Hirohito in his pocket. And he was a bully-boy, like your favorite Orange Foolius. He regularly overrode Admiral Nagano.

    The guy had 'victory disease'. Per Wiki, attributed to Gerhard Weinberg's 2005 book "A World In Arms A Global History of World War II", he (Tojo) wanted Alaska, Washington State, Panama, and Hawaii; as well as Canada's Yukon and British Columbia.

  8. I don't have the relevant knowledge to comment intelligently on this topic, but just wanted to say this is an interesting and excellent discussion.

  9. Andy -

    Your the only former carrier sailor reading this that I know of. So I suspect your relevant knowledge is eons ahead of mine and everyone else here.

  10. Mike,

    I appreciate that, thanks! I don't have the historical knowledge - if we were talking about modern carrier ops, I'd have something to say, but I'm just not that familiar with WWII carrier strategy and doctrine, much less the operational and tactical details of the events at Midway.

  11. The bookend for this is the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot", where all the technical and tactical changes that were nascent at Midway came and hammered the IJN flat:

    Recommended if only for my own favorite observation on Mahan's work and the IJN's obsession with it:

    "The idea was that the naval part of the Pacific War would be decided - in Japan's favor, of course - by one great decisive battle. The IJN had been designed around this monster gunbattle because of a book and a battle.

    The book was Mahan's The Influence of Seapower Upon History and the Japanese were just one of the many groups of squids who got all misty-eyed and semi-erect reading Mahan.

    His was a seductive tale of naval power, a sort of
    Fifty Shades of Battleship Gray naval strategy porn for the wannabe admiral, a stirring ode to battleships and their command of the sea that would lead to total victory."

    Sometimes I write something that just makes me want to hug myself...

    1. You definitely have a gift for words Chief.

    2. FDChief -

      Your bookend re the Philippine Sea is on point. That is where early in the war the IJN was hoping to pull off their great decisive battle when the USN came in relief of the Philippines. Unfortunately for the IJN by mid 1944 when that battle took place their fleet was in shambles. They had already lost six carriers and had others heavily damaged, plus their aircrews were poorly trained and inexperienced.

      So Mahan's 'decisive battle' did happen, but it was won by the USN. And by the way the US became a great two-ocean sea power due to in part to Mahan. You are much too harsh on the man.

      It was not Mahan's fault that Japan could not match the US in shipbuilding and industrial muscle. It was not Mahan's fault that the IJN focused just on his mention of decisive sea battle and ignored or downplayed his emphasis on the blockade, control of strategic locations, and naval support of land forces.

      The other booster and cheerleader of Mahan's theories was primarily a land power run by a Kaiser who wanted a fleet of his own so that he could be a compeer of his British cousins. And you can't blame Mahan for the fact that the battleships of the Kaiserliche Marine were in a bottled up situation in Kiel and Wilhelmshaven.

      Current fans of Mahan are the Indian and Chinese Navies. No telling what they will read between the lines in his writings.

      BTW The five major carrier-on-carrier battles were the Coral Sea (5/42), Midway (6/42), Eastern Solomons (8/42), Santa Cruz (10/42), and the Philippine Sea (6/44). Why so long between Santa Cruz and the Philippine Sea? I would guess they were licking their wounds, rebuilding, and training new aircrew? But the bookends would be the first and the last.

    3. The above quote goes on to note that the other thing that got the Gunreibu all jiggy about Mahan was a battle, and that was Tsushima.

      The problem with that was it was the wrong lesson. They thought that the result vindicated Mahan's theory that the decisive battle would give the victor command of the sea lanes and thus geopolitical power. What it actually meant was that political (and economic, technical and tactical) competence would decide the decisive battle long before the first projo went downrange.

      The Russian fleet the IJN defeated in 1905 was a floating shitshow, and the tsarist system behind it a mess. The Russians were defeated long before they met the Japanese fleet.

      And so with Midway and the Philippine Sea. Yamamoto, poor fool, knew it. He knew that his country had no business trying to take on the U.S. (backed by all the other allies, yes, but largely for its own capabilities). The failures of the Japanese politicians, the weakness of the Japanese industrial base, the lack of foresight of the war planners...all of them doomed the IJN before the first bombs fell on Pearl.

      The U.S. could have lost the war. But, providing the U.S. was even moderately well led, it was nearly impossible for the Japanese to win it. The "lesson" they thought they had learned from their defeat of Russia was utterly wrong...

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. FDC: "The Russians were defeated long before they met the Japanese fleet."

    Can anybody think of a major war where the above quote wasn't true? I can't.

    War is almost always declared after one side or the other has accumulated a decisive advantage. It then gets played out on the battlefield in blood and misery.

    This is why I stopped studying military history and went into economic and political history instead. Much less depressing and much more insightful.

    1. Thirty Years War, Seven Years War, First World War...

      Lots of idiots and haphazarders are declaring war, and thus they often with the wrong idea about whether they're going to "win".
      We're writing here about the pacific War that was declared by Japan, remember?

    2. Sven: I know, the comments below are gross simplifications of very complex conflicts but they still get the heart of the discussion.

      Thirty Years War - Attempted to keep European executive branch rulers Catholic. Failed because the Protestant population had gotten too large and too militant before the fighting started. Yes, it spread to other topics quickly but they still tended to revolve around Catholic control over aspects of European society. Protestants could NOT be suppressed so the fighting was primarily about what the new rules (and rulers) would look like.

      Seven Years War - Two issues:
      1. Can the French and Austrians prevent Prussia from controlling Germany's fate
      2. Can the French make incursions into British colonial holdings that have the power to turn into a modern empire?
      Answer to both question? Nope! They waited too late to control Prussia's army and Britain's Navy.

      3. WWI:
      Can a resurgent Germany militarily defeat geography and opposing alliances to become a great naval/European land power. Result: Failed as soon as Britain joined the Allies side, which, in spite of what the Kaiser thought and British diplomats said, was pretty self-evidently going to happen sooner or later. Admittedly the Germans had a REALLY good plan to achieve their goal but they just didn't quite have the power to make it happen in spite of large quantities of initial French stupidity.

      All three of your examples prove both sides points. Care to suggest any other major wars?

      Now back to your comment about the Pacific War. I fully remember the topic but can't find anything else to say about it. The Japanese were doomed from the moment they dropped the first bomb. Everything else is entertaining window dressing.

    3. Peloponnesian War
      Punic War I & II
      pretty much everytime the Turks marched to Vienna
      early 1700's war of Spanish Succession
      1st Silesian War
      lots and lots of Roman-Parthian wars
      lots and lots of Byzantine-Sassanid wars
      PRC punitive invasion of Vietnam
      War of 2nd triumvirate

      There's no such thing as examples proving both sides.
      There's such a thing as a rule not being a real rule when there are many exceptions, though.

  14. Sven -

    The first dedicated amphibious assault ship that you mentioned, the Shinshū Maru, appears to be the predecessor on which the USN designed an developed the Landing Ship Dock (LSD). At least 16 of those were built during WW2. So this was another idea that the US adapted from the IJN along with the LCVP and multi-carrier battle groups. Adapted and improved upon and put into mass production I should have said.

    Shinshū Diagram

    I note though that the Shinshū apparently does not flood her well deck. The USN LSDs did flood their well deck which made it much faster to disembark their landing craft.

    The Shinshū and her five(?) sister ships were used for amphibious landings very early in the war in Malaya, the PI, and the Dutch East Indies; and also pre-war in China. However the Warship Porn website claims: "Given that the Japanese were on the defensive for the bulk of the War in the Pacific, these ships spent most of their time as supply vessels and troop transports, rather than conducting amphibious operations."

  15. I always thought it strange that Japan did not take and hold Midway

    I mean it's RIGHT THERE IN THE NAME, MID was such an idiot.

    I think the IJN was never interested in taking Midway, btw, this is post Military History major...and I think part of the reason was Logistics.

    IJN was having a devilish time supplying their islands chains in their neighborhood, and committing naval forces to protect their shipping lanes just in amongst those islands.

    Imagine trying to keep Midway supplied?
    Just the enormous cost in manpower and ships would be prohibitive.
    And if they weren't going to invade the US...of which Midway would be a really good forward base of operations...then they had "other" reasons.

    My take away is the failed to take out America's carriers in Hawaii, and Midway was their "calling out" the US fleet.

    Bring in your guns, lets have it out.

    And just plain bad luck was against them.

    They over-estimated their superiority, under-estimated US Naval resolve, and just sheer willpower, and with some front loaded bad luck (who saw who first) was the right mix of conditions to make for a bad day to be part of the IJN.

    Personally, I think the IJN should have anticipated US observation aircraft (Duh, come on, if IJN is using Observation Aircraft, then the US would be using Observation aircraft as well).
    Their strategic blunder, imo, was thinking that numbers equaled they had the upper hand...rather than being cagey, and sucking the US into assuming they had numbers and the upper hand.

    Anyway, great reads everybody,
    Thank you so much!

  16. Mike: "BTW The five major carrier-on-carrier battles were the Coral Sea (5/42), Midway (6/42), Eastern Solomons (8/42), Santa Cruz (10/42), and the Philippine Sea (6/44). Why so long between Santa Cruz and the Philippine Sea? I would guess they were licking their wounds, rebuilding, and training new aircrew? But the bookends would be the first and the last."

    You got it already but I will fill in the pieces. By the end of Santa Cruz, the IJN carrier fleet was still intact but had almost zero aircraft left. Remember what I said about the IJN hating losing cohesion in their air groups? They lost almost the entire naval air force and spent almost 2 years rebuilding it.

    The IJN admiralty staff also FINALLY spent some time trying to learn what the USN was doing right and they where doing wrong but the handwriting was already on the wall in glowing neon lights 20 feet tall. The Japanese had the choice of admitting that they were screwed or taking one last chance in the Philippine Sea and pray that this time they could get lucky.

    The problem was that they DID get lucky BUT everything else went wrong for them. The USN:
    - built massive quantities of aircraft carriers (grew the fleet from 4-6 effective carriers (limited by supply, repair, and training issues) to 25-30 larger and more effective carriers)
    - massively improved the aircraft available (Hellcat at least 50% more effective than the Zero, Avenger at least 200% more effective than the Kate, SBD improved to be at least 100% more effective than the Judy (most due to doctrine)
    - massively improved pilot training based on experience (remember what I said about the Japanese theory of attrition? The USN REALLY made it work for themselves instead)
    - massively improved radar technology
    - massively improved tactical doctrine based on radar technology (the US fleet saw the Japanese pilots coming from hundreds of miles away which showed them where the IJN carriers must be)

    Sadly, the IJN KNEW most of the above but launched the attack anyway because they didn't have anything else that could possibly help them. Basically Yamamoto KNEW he was committing the fleet and pilots to their likely deaths but didn't feel like he had a choice and, hey, a miracle MIGHT occur and justify the whole mess! But the results were even worse than he feared due to the US attack at dusk (which the USN would never have dared try two years before).

    Not only was the sword shattered, it was shown to be made of tinsel. The IJN admiralty was knocked completely out of the war (allowing the General Staff to try their hand at running ships, terrible idea) and the Japanese SHOULD have surrendered right then and there. But they grimly hung on until a single airplane dropped a single bomb in 1945 and an entire city vaporized. I get nauseated trying to imagine what the General Staff thought they were doing that could possibly be viewed as positive in the year of the war.

  17. Pluto: "All three of your examples prove both sides points"
    Sven: "There's no such thing as examples proving both sides."

    Sorry, Sven, I was unclear. I meant to say that all of your examples proved both my comment (that wars are almost always started AFTER reality has determined who will win) and your comment (Lots of idiots and haphazarders are declaring war, and thus they often with the wrong idea about whether they're going to "win").

    You are also correct that my side musing was distracting from the main discussion about the IJN in WWII.