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One Introduction: Washington, London, and Two Very Separate Wars, 1921–1941

H. P. Willmott Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION: WASHINGTON, LONDON, AND TWO VERY SEPARATE WARS, 1921–1941

ARMS RACES ARE NOT the cause of rivalries and wars but rather the reflection of conflicting ambition and intent, though inevitably they compound and add to these differences. The First World War was not the product of Anglo-German naval rivalry, though this was one of the major factors that determined Britain’s taking position in the ranks of Germany’s enemies, and most certainly it was a major factor in producing the growing sense of instability within Europe in the decade prior to 1914. But if the naval race was indeed one of the factors that made for war in 1914—although it should be noted that the most dangerous phase of this rivalry would seem to have passed by 1914—then there is the obvious problem of explaining the war in 1939–1941, in that the greater part of the inter-war period, between 1921 and 1936, was marked by a very deliberate policy of naval limitation on the part of the great powers. Admittedly the arrangements that were set in place in various treaties had lapsed by 1937, and a naval race had begun that most certainly was crucially important in terms of Japanese calculations in 1940 and 1941 and indeed was critical in the decision to initiate war in the Pacific. In summer 1941, as the Japanese naval command was obliged to consider the consequences of its own actions and the full implications of the U.S. Congress having passed the Two-Ocean Naval Expansion Act in July 1940, the Imperial Navy, the Kaigun, was caught in a go-now-or-never dilemma, and it, like its sister service, simply could not admit the futility and pointlessness of past endeavors and sacrifices. But, of course, not a few of these endeavors and sacrifices had been military and Asian and most definitely were not naval and Pacific.

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Four Japan and Its “Special Undeclared War”

H. P. Willmott Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER FOUR

JAPAN AND ITS “SPECIAL UNDECLARED WAR”

THE PERIOD BETWEEN the two world wars saw a series of conflicts, and the importance of naval power in some of these wars is seldom acknowledged. The Allied intervention in the Russian civil wars and involvement in the Greek-Turkish conflict were based on naval power, but, arguably, in the inter-war period in only one conflict did a navy play a major, indeed significant, role and possess more than en passant importance. The Sino-Japanese conflict, which began in July 1937, saw the major involvement of the Imperial Japanese Navy in two areas of operations with immediate and long-term relevance: a series of coastal operations and landings in southern China, most obviously the occupation of Canton in 1938 and Hainan Island in 1939, and involvement in air operations, and specifically in the strategic bombing campaigns staged in 1939 and 1940.1

The inter-war period was one that saw Japanese forces, and specifically the Imperial Japanese Army, the Nippon Teikoku Rikugun, involved in a series of conflicts that began with intervention in the Russian civil wars in which Rikugun forces reached as far west as Novosibirsk.2 The main focus of Japanese military attention, however, was China, with its interminable civil wars, power struggles, and secessionist problems, and specifically was directed to Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, and northern China after September 1931. In the course of a three-month campaign the local Japanese garrison force, the Kwantung Army, overran three of Manchuria’s four provinces and paved the way for a double development.

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Fourteen The Japanese Situation—and Another, and Final, Dimension

H. P. Willmott Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

THE JAPANESE SITUATION—AND ANOTHER, AND FINAL, DIMENSION

IN THE PRECEDING CHAPTERS the Japanese situation in terms of shipping, trade, and production has been subjected to examination, for one reason: for more than six decades the American public perception of the Pacific war has been focused primarily upon fleet and amphibious operations; what has been provided here is not a correction to such perspective but an addition, the presentation of matters seldom afforded much in the way of consideration but gathered here to provide balance and perspective. By definition, these short chapters cannot be comprehensive and must serve only as introduction to matters often given little historical consideration. This final chapter is concerned with battles and individuals, for the same reasons and with the same intent.

Excluding the attack by Japanese carrier aircraft on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and the attacks by Allied carrier aircraft on a variety of targets in Japanese waters in the war’s last month (though perhaps the irony should be noted that the last survivor of the Pearl Harbor operation, the heavy cruiser Tone, was sunk at its mooring off Kure by U.S. carrier aircraft on 24 July 1945), during the war in the Pacific there were no fewer than eighteen actions involving warship formations on both sides.1 Of course, there also were actions involving aircraft and warships from opposing sides, the best known of these actions being those in the Bismarck Sea in March 1943 and when the battleship Yamato was sunk southwest of Kyushu in April 1945. Of all these actions perhaps the one that possessed greatest historical symbolism was the action off Cape St. George, which was the last action between warship formations other than in the Surigao Strait in October 1944, but the greater part of historical attention over the lifetime that has elapsed since these actions were fought has been directed to the action fought off Midway Islands and Leyte Gulf. The other four major carrier actions—Coral Sea, Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz, and Philippine Sea—have generally been afforded en passant consideration: the Coral Sea was but the prelude to Midway, and the Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz were not battles on which Americans dwell because neither resulted in victory. The second-tier status of the battle of the Philippine Sea is perhaps surprising given the fact that in terms of fleet and light carriers of the two sides this was the largest carrier battle of the war, larger even than Leyte, though the latter had many more warships than Philippine Sea and with escort carriers added to the list is the larger of the two battles in terms of carrier numbers.

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Two Washington and London

H. P. Willmott Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER TWO

WASHINGTON AND LONDON

ALLIES ARE NOT NECESSARILY friends, and victory, or defeat, inevitably weakens the links that made for alliances and coalitions: the conflicting interests held in check by common need invariably reassert themselves, often with greater force than previously was the case. the First World War saw the passing of four empires, three of them multi-national empires, and the triumph of what in July 1919 were the five leading naval powers in the world, but those five powers’ wartime cooperation and common cause did not survive such episodes as the “Naval Battle of Paris” and the negotiations that produced the treaties that closed the First World War.

The period between the end of the war and the Washington conference and treaties, between November 1918 and February 1922, was a strange one in regard to naval power, and primarily for one reason. The war resulted in the elimination of three major navies, those of Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary, yet it ended with no fewer than three naval races, if not already ongoing then most certainly in the making: between Britain and the United States, between Japan and the United States, and, somewhat muted, between France and Italy. Leaving aside the latter, which never assumed importance or gained momentum in the twenties, the key development was the emergence of the United States as the greatest power in the world and its declared intention to secure for itself “a navy second to none.” To realize such an ambition the U.S. Congress authorized, in the act of 29 August 1916, the construction of no fewer than 162 warships, including 10 battleships, 6 battlecruisers, 10 cruisers, 50 destroyers, and 67 submarines. All of these warships were to be built between 1916 and 1919, and were in addition to a 1915 program that had made provision for 6 battleships, the general intention being that the United States would provide for itself no fewer than 60 battleships and battlecruisers by 1925. In framing its program the U.S. Navy, quite deliberately, had set aside the situation created by general war in Europe in favor of what it considered the “worst-case” possibility that might emerge after this war. What it planned for was the need to guard against either a German-Japanese or an Anglo-Japanese alliance that would be capable of threatening the United States in two oceans and preventing any expansion of American overseas trade. The total of 60 capital ships that were to be acquired by 1925 matched the total that Britain and Japan together might be able to deploy in a war against the United States. The least that could be said about such logic was that it grasped at the exceedingly unlikely in order to justify the manifestly unnecessary.

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Seven With Friends like These

H. P. Willmott Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER SEVEN

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE

ANGLO-AMERICAN HISTORIOGRAPHY of the Second World War and the war at sea invariably traces the course and outcome of the two conflicts that together made up the Second World War in terms of the defeat of the German submarine offensive against shipping and the American advance across the southwest and central Pacific to the Japanese home islands. In the European conflict the focus of most historical attention has been on the British Navy, and specifically its escort forces, and the German U-boat service, and in the Pacific upon American carrier and amphibious formations. In a very obvious sense it is right and proper that this should be the case: at sea the European war was largely synonymous with the “Battle of the Atlantic,” whatever that phrase might mean, and in the Pacific the war was decided by fleet actions that ran in tandem with landing operations; the Imperial Japanese Navy and even the American submarine offensive against Japanese shipping have never been afforded consideration and recognition commensurate with that afforded American carrier operations.

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Ten The War across the Pacific: Introduction and Conclusion

H. P. Willmott Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER TEN

THE WAR ACROSS THE PACIFIC: INTRODUCTION AND CONCLUSION

THE WAR AGAINST JAPAN is all but synonymous with an American naval war, and that war with American carrier formations. But the real basis of Japan’s defeat was the superior demographic, industrial, and financial resources of the United States, which allowed that country to wage war across an ocean in a manner that defied imagination even in 1941. At the time of the Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at its Pearl Harbor base, the United States possessed just seven fleet carriers—the Lexington and Saratoga, the Ranger, the Yorktown, Enterprise, and Hornet, and the Wasp—and the escort carrier Long Island. On 15 August 1945 the U.S. Navy had in service or in dockyards undergoing refit, repair, or overhaul a total of twenty fleet carriers, eight light carriers, and no fewer than seventy-one escort carriers, and in addition another four fleet and five escort carriers were to be commissioned before the end of the year. Such were the numbers employed by the United States to take the tide of war to the Japanese home islands, and thus it is all the more important to note that the carrier formations were but one dimension of this American effort; carrier operations goes alongside the submarine campaign against Japan shipping, the various amphibious operations that provided the paving stones in the journey across the western Pacific, and the land-based air offensive, which provided the final comment in this war.

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Fifteen Finis: The British Home Fleet, 15 August 1945

H. P. Willmott Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

FINIS: THE BRITISH HOME FLEET, 15 AUGUST 1945

ON 31 AUGUST 1939 THE British Navy was by some margin the greatest navy in the world, and by virtue of a history and tradition that reached back hundreds of years. In terms of size it had ceded equality of status to the U.S. Navy at the Washington conference, but throughout the inter-war period it remained, in terms of standing, prestige, and reputation, the leading navy in the world, and a mark of its standing was the fact that throughout this time British warships occupied pride of position on the Bund at Shanghai.

When British warships returned to Shanghai with the end of the Japanese war they found their position already occupied by American warships.

The Second World War saw the position of naval leadership taken by the U.S. Navy in what was a somewhat unusual process. Ownership of the Trident passed from predecessor to successor without their fighting one another for possession, and perhaps the only parallel, which may be deemed not exact, would be the British acquisition of naval primacy in an eighteenth century, which saw Dutch decline and French defeat (E&OE). But whatever historical examples are drawn for reasons of comparison, the point herein is that in August 1945 the British Navy had ceded pride of place to its American counterpart, yet it remained, by what seemed at that time a very real and comfortable margin, the second greatest navy in the world; with one exception, all the other major navies had been defeated and suffered major losses that had reduced them to the status of the “also-ran.” The exception was the Royal Italian Navy, but the end of war pointed in the direction of its incurring major reduction in terms of reparation, even though with the end of the European war and the return of many of its warships to home ports in August 1945 the Italian Navy probably remained the largest single navy in the Mediterranean. The German and Japanese navies in effect ceased to exist with the end of their respective wars, though for some years German and Japanese warships remained in service under Allied operational control with respect to reparation and minesweeping duties. The losses incurred by the French and Soviet navies had reduced both to little more than auxiliary status, in the case of the French relative to the U.S. and British and in the case of the Soviet to its military counterpart. And, too easily forgotten but mentioned previously, the third-largest navy in the world at this time was that of Canada.

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Three Ethiopia and Spain

H. P. Willmott Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER THREE

ETHIOPIA AND SPAIN

WHAT IS CALLED THE inter-war period actually had many wars and crises, the most obvious being the conflicts that were continuations of the First World War, namely the Russian Civil War, Intervention, the Soviet-Polish War (April 1920–March 1921), and the war that saw the emergence of a new, nationalist Turkey at the expense of Greek dreams of aggrandizement in Anatolia (June 1919–October 1922). To these should be added the series of Chinese civil wars that lasted throughout the twenties and the (very short and minor) wars between China and, first, Japan in Shantung (May 1927–May 1929) and, second, the Soviet Union in Manchuria (October 1929–January 1930). But in terms of popular perception the story of the inter-war period is told largely around the naval limitation treaties, the Ethiopian war, the Spanish Civil War, and the drift to war that is identified, correctly, with one man, Adolf Hitler (1889–1945). The Manchurian campaign (September 1931–March 1932), subsequent Japanese operations north of the Great Wall, and then Japan’s “special undeclared war” after July 1937 have been treated as little more than appendices to a text that remains largely dominated by European events.

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Nine The Lesser Allied Navies and Merchant Marines in the Second World War

H. P. Willmott Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER NINE

THE LESSER ALLIED NAVIES AND MERCHANT MARINES IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR

OVER THE YEARS British and American naval accounts of the Second World War have been very much ethnocentric and have paid very little attention the contribution of others, most notably that of the defeated Allied countries, navies, and merchant marines. While the importance of these countries, such as Poland, Denmark and Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and France, and Greece and Yugoslavia within Europe and such countries as Brazil and Cuba in the Americas, to the United Nations’ victory at sea was minor, on one count it was not without significance. As noted elsewhere, the acceding of the Dutch and Norwegian merchant navies to the Allied cause in 1940 provided Britain with a measure of insurance that it could never have provided for itself. In 1940 and 1941 Britain, Allied, and neutral losses amounted to some 8,300,000 tons of shipping; the Dutch and Norwegians most certainly could not cover such losses, but what they did bring to the British and Allied cause was a certain measure of security against loss. Expressed another way, given its aim of forcing Britain from proceedings by inflicting losses of 750,000 tons a month, the Germany Navy between May 1940 and December 1941 in effect lost probably nine or ten months in its conduct of the war at sea as a direct result of the driving of two major neutral merchant services into the ranks of the enemy. This does not explain the United Nations’ victory in 1945, but it goes some way to explain the British avoidance of defeat in 1940–1941; the fact remains, however, that the treatment afforded the losses and contribution of the lesser navies has bordered on the dismissive. To give but one example, Roskill’s The War at Sea, volume 2, page 57, notes that in April 1942 German and Italian air raids on Malta accounted for two (unnamed) submarines and the destroyers Gallant and Lance; volume 3, part 2, pages 441, 443, and 445, provides the names of the destroyers Lance and Kingston, the submarines P. 36 and Pandora, and the minesweeper Abingdon as sunk at Malta in this month. The Greek submarine Glavkos does not merit a mention in either volume.

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Eight Italy and the War in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations

H. P. Willmott Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER EIGHT

ITALY AND THE WAR IN THE MEDITERRANEAN THEATER OF OPERATIONS

THE MEDITERRANEAN THEATER has figured large in British accounts of the Second World War, but what can be termed the British representation of this theater, its events and importance, invites ridicule, incredulity, and scorn. Such a statement is not likely to be well-received by British readers, but one fact may be cited to set in place the dubious importance, perhaps more accurately the basic irrelevance, of this theater before November 1942. Between February 1941 and May 1943 the total German dead in North Africa numbered 12,810—less than a single division. On the basis of such a return, fourteen dead a day for twenty-seven months, to have inflicted upon Germany the total military dead of the Second World War would have taken the British Army 588 years. That may be an exaggeration—it might have only taken 587 years—but the fact is that the only army that Britain was able to put into the field between February 1941 and October 1942 was unable to defeat two German armored and associated Italian divisions. The British military performance in North Africa, for all the national self-acclaim, really was beneath contempt.

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Six Britain and the Defeat of the U-boat Guerre de Course

H. P. Willmott Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER SIX

BRITAIN AND THE DEFEAT OF THE U-BOAT GUERRE DE COURSE

STATES AND THEIR ARMED FORCES must fight wars as they must rather than as they would, but at a distance of some eight decades from events it is very difficult to discern what the inter-war British Navy intended, hoped, or anticipated would be the type of war it would be called upon to fight. What seems clear is that for most of the inter-war period the navy never expected to have to fight another U-boat guerre de course, and there are at least three obvious indications of this belief. First, for much of the inter-war period British destroyers were not equipped with depth-charges. The first destroyers built after the war with asdic (to Americans, sonar) were ordered in 1923–1924,1 and very few escorts were built in a period of difficult financial circumstances. Second, in the entire inter-war period something like one in fifty appointments to flag rank were officers versed in anti-submarine operations, and in 1935 just 11 of 1,029 lieutenants and 16 of 972 lieutenant-commanders in the British navy were anti-submarine specialists.2 Third, the one detailed study of convoy and the experience of the First World War, undertaken in 1917–1918 by Commander Rollo Appleyard, was classified, with the result that in the inter-war period his study was all but inaccessible to its intended readership, and in 1939 the Admiralty ordered that all copies of his report be destroyed.3

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Eleven The Japanese Situation—and a Japanese Dimension

H. P. Willmott Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER ELEVEN

THE JAPANESE SITUATION—AND A JAPANESE DIMENSION

“THE EMPIRE OF THE eight islands” in fact numbered some three thousand islands, totaling some 149,000 square miles, and extended over nearly thirty degrees of latitude. Alone of these just four islands, Kyushu, Shikoku, Honshu, and Hokkaido, formed the core of the Japanese heartland and possessed real political, demographic, and cultural significance. To the core area were three additions secured as a result of success in war. Formosa and the Pescadores, their 14,000 square miles lying across the sea routes to the southwest of the home islands, had been incorporated into the Empire in 1895. On Sakhalin the occupation of the southern 15,000 square miles of the island provided Japan with its only land border, though on the Asian mainland the 85,000 square miles of Korea had been brought within the Empire in 1910.

Such, formally, was an empire that was equivalent in size to Texas or, in European terms, to Britain, the Low Countries, and Germany combined, though to the Empire’s islands and territories must be added Japan’s other possessions. On the mainland Japan held the Liaotung peninsula, the Kwantung Leased Territories after 1905, and involvement in the First World War on the side of Germany’s enemies had brought it into possession of three island groups in the western Pacific—the Marianas, Carolines, and Marshalls—as mandated territories from the League of Nations. On the mainland Japan after 1931 acquired various Chinese territories which it had constituted under four puppet regimes. The first and most important of these was Manchoutikuo, literally the Empire of the Manchus, in the 460,000 square miles (with some 45 million people) of the four northeast provinces that together made up Manchuria. The second of these regimes was the Mongolian Federated Autonomous Government, which had been formed under Japanese auspices in eastern Inner Mongolia on 22 November 1937. In China itself the Japanese had installed the Central Government of the Republic of China at Nanking in April 1940, but the provinces of Hopei, Shantung, Shansi, and Kaifeng were placed under the nominal control of the North China Advisory Authority, formed as successor to the Provisional Government of the Chinese Republic, which the Rikugun had inaugurated on 14 December 1937.1

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Five Navies, Sea Power, and Two or More Wars

H. P. Willmott Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER FIVE

NAVIES, SEA POWER, AND TWO OR MORE WARS

OVER THE YEARS the story of the war at sea during the Second World War with reference to Germany and Italy has been told mainly in terms of the defeat of the U-boat campaign against shipping. Certainly two, perhaps three, themes have been at the basis of British accounts of the defeat of the German campaign against Allied and neutral shipping. The first has been the British claim for the credit of that defeat, and the second was the abysmally poor showing of the U.S. Navy in the first six months after the American entry into the war. A third point is the assertion of the singular importance of May 1943 in the German defeat.

Most certainly the very bad performance of the U.S. Navy in the first six months of 1942 cannot be gainsaid, not least because of the utter inadequacy of provisions despite the United States’ having had some seventeen months’ notice of the coming of war to the western North Atlantic. There is no disputing the significance of events in the course of May 1943, but the argument that this was the month of the U-boats’ defeat is entirely fatuous. The U-boats were defeated in April–May 1945. The victory that was won in May 1943 had to be secured repeatedly over the following two years, and while the events of May 1943 possess special significance, it is as part of a process of mounting losses that really began in February 1943. Moreover, the events of May 1943 must also be seen in association with those of July–August and October–November 1943, when the U-boats, reorganized, re-equipped and committed afresh to the campaign in the North Atlantic following their previous reverses, incurred defeats that were no less significant than that of May 1943. And while May 1943 was significant in terms of U-boat losses, which were more than double the worst previous month of the war and were the second-heaviest single-month losses in the entire war, August 1943 had special significance, and for a reason that seems to have eluded most historians: it was the first month in the war when the number of U-boats lost exceeded the number of merchantmen sunk by the U-boats.

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Twelve The Japanese Situation—and an American Dimension

H. P. Willmott Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER TWELVE

THE JAPANESE SITUATION—AND AN AMERICAN DIMENSION

IN 1940 CERTAIN individuals in the higher reaches of the Imperial Japanese Army, the Rikugun, reasoned that there was an overwhelming need to undertake a thorough study of the reality of total war. This was to be undertaken by an organization especially created in October 1940 for the task, the Soryokusen kenkyujo (Institute of Total War Studies). Thirty individuals, representing the nation’s “brightest and best,” and all aged between 31 and 37 years, were drawn from the army, navy, various government ministries and agencies, and prestigious business firms and the press. These people were allocated fictional posts in the government and the service high commands, and were constituted as a shadow cabinet. They were afforded the privilege of unlimited access to the latest information and national statistics, and in summer 1941 completed a massive and detailed report that made lavish use of confidential state papers, which was submitted to the cabinet.

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Thirteen The Japanese Situation—and a Second Japanese Dimension

H. P. Willmott Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

THE JAPANESE SITUATION—AND A SECOND JAPANESE DIMENSION

INVARIABLY THE STORY of the Japanese, the Kaigun, and convoy has been told in terms of the creation of the General Escort Command in November 1943 and the subsequent course of events, which saw the devastation of Japanese shipping even before the start of the mining of home waters that was afforded a code-name that really did symbolize intent. Yet this story has been afforded little real consideration, in large measure because the increasing effectiveness of the American campaign against shipping was quite obviously overshadowed by fleet and amphibious operations—Saipan and the Philippine Sea, Leyte Gulf and the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa—and by the manner in which the war was ended. But in terms of real cause and effect, five matters should be at the forefront of any consideration of Japanese defeat at sea, and this leaves aside the abiding paradox of the U.S. campaign against Japanese shipping: over the last six months of the war the American submarine service was very largely redundant, for the simple reason that the high seas had been scourged of Japanese shipping and there was very little left to sink.

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