The War in the Central and Northern Pacific
A maritime war necessarily followed the breakdown in December 1941 of peaceful
relations between the United States and Japan. Poor in resources, Japan required the mineral wealth of the
Dutch and British possessions to the south if she were to achieve her national
aim, the domination of East Asia. To check Japan the United States had to
project her power 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. After initiating the
conflict, Japan moved so far so rapidly that she soon accomplished her goals
and threatened Australia. The axis of movement of United States forces during
the first two years of the Pacific war therefore had to be directed to the
southwest rather than to the west, as had been planned. Thrown on the defensive
by the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States Navy was barely able to protect
the vital line of sea communications to Australia. When the offensive phase
finally began for the United States, that nation found itself with the choice
of two campaigns, one across the Central Pacific and the other from the South
Pacific back along the route that the Japanese had taken. Whatever the choice,
all major movements would be made over water. Command of the sea was essential,
and the nation whose navy gained control of the waters of the Western Pacific
would be victorious.
The size of the two navies that would be the determinants
in the Pacific struggle had been set at the Washington Conference of 1921-1922.
For Japan a war in the Pacific would probably be fought against the United
States, with its aim being a negotiated peace that would leave Japan a free
hand in East Asia. This could be achieved by a strategic defense with a navy
two thirds as large as that of the United States. The size assigned to Japan
by the Washington Conference was 60 percent, which Japanese
officers claimed was not sufficient. They therefore built ships superior to
those of the United States in firepower and speed at the expense of livability
and radius of action. Japan's two largest battleships, the Yamato
and the Musashi, each mounted nine 18-inch guns; she possessed a
greater number of aircraft carriers than did the United States; aircraft,
torpedoes, and equipment for night fighting were superior; and ship's companies
were superbly trained. Tactical plans called for the enemy to be reduced by
attrition and then destroyed in a major fleet action.
The United States Navy entered the war weak in some elements
and strong in others. Ordnance was inferior, but its system of high-pressure
steam propulsion was the best in the world. Its Marine Corps had the potential
to seize the bases needed, and its train of auxiliaries, which for two decades
had supported the fleet while at anchor in the San Pedro-San Diego area of
California, became the nucleus for the mobile type of support that would characterize
sea, air, and ground operations in the Pacific.
Merchant shipping would be the major weakness of both nations.
The United States did not require a large merchant marine in peace and thus
had to build one in war. The Japanese possessed a sizable merchant fleet,
but it was forced to do a double job: bring in food and raw materials for
a war economy and support military operations overseas.
When the war started, the United States had 17 battleships,
6 aircraft carriers, and 32 cruisers, distributed about equally between the
Atlantic and the Pacific. The Japanese had 10 battleships, 9 aircraft carriers,
and 46 cruisers, all stationed in the Western Pacific. Numbers of other types
of warships were in approximately the same proportions.
The officers of the Japanese Navy were dedicated to their
profession, and they drove themselves and their men hard. Training was tough
and realistic, and loss of life was accepted as it would be in war. Although
admiring the United States and personally friendly toward its Navy, they thoroughly
studied this prospective enemy. English was their second tongue, and the most
promising officers were sent on attache duty to Washington. The officers
and men of the United States Navy reflected the merits and faults of their
countrymen. They were unique, however, in a way of life that combined devotion
to duty with a spartan ability to live continually in their warships. Their
major weakness in 1941, a grave one indeed, was a lack of appreciation of
the strength of their probable enemy. Because of this, many United States
sailors would die, and all would suffer a humiliation especially bitter to
In support of the national policy, Japanese naval planning
provided for a quick seizure of Dutch and British possessions in Southeast
Asia. The United States was to be held off by a chain of island defenses across
the Western Pacific. For this purpose the Kuril, Mariana, and Caroline islands
were already in Japanese hands, but the islands on the southern end of the
chain, mandated to Australia and New Zealand, would have to be seized.
United States war planning had to provide for the defense
or recapture of the Philippines with a step-by-step movement across the Pacific.
Naval officers realized the dangerously exposed position of the United States
in the Far East, and they rankled under the provision of the Washington Conference
that forbade the development of bases in American Far Eastern possessions.
United States war plans were sound in principle but weak in detail. They were
not supported by adequate intelligence, their timing schedule was too optimistic,
and logistics were neglected. The last-named deficiency was revealed when
the fleet was based at Pearl Harbor in 1940, and an overseas supply activity
had to be established at Oakland, Calif.
The oil of Borneo and
Sumatra 5,000 miles away, brought about the attack on Pearl Harbor. In July
1940, the United States placed an embargo on the export of oil and scrap metal
without a special license and of all aviation gasoline to Japan. When Japanese
forces moved into northern French Indochina in September, the United States
reacted with an embargo on scrap iron and steel, and when they also moved
into southern Indochina, in July 1941, all Japanese assets in the United States
were frozen. Similar action by Great Britain and the Netherlands affected
shipments of oil from the East Indies. This created such a critical situation
for Japan that its cabinet decided that, unless the United States made concessions,
the oilfields to the south would be seized by military operations.
The plan of the Japanese Navy's General Staff was to employ
the navy's entire air and surface strength in a direct thrust southward, quickly
secure its objectives, and then turn its attention to the Western Pacific,
where an advancing United States Fleet would be dealt with as the Russians
had been at Tsushima in 1905. Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, commanding the Japanese
Combined Fleet, had a different plan. He believed that the United States Pacific
Fleet would have to be destroyed in the first year of the war before it could
be strengthened by the building program then in progress. His plan called
for a carrier air attack on this fleet at its base in Pearl Harbor as the
opening act of the war, while the advance to the south would be supported
primarily by land-based aircraft. When a test of the plan on a game board
predicted heavy losses, the Navy General Staff opposed it, but the popular
Yamamoto forced its acquiescence by a threat of resignation.
A force composed of Japan's 6 largest carriers, 2 fast battleships,
2 cruisers, and a number of destroyers and tankers, commanded by Vice Adm.
Chuichi Nagumo, was assigned this task. The carriers' air groups received
special training. Aircraft torpedoes were equipped with ailerons to enable
them to be used in the shallow depth of Pearl Harbor, and fins were fitted
to armor-piercing shells to convert them to bombs.
The task force assembled in secrecy at Tankan (now Hitokappu)
Bay on Etorofu-to (now Iturup Island) in the Kurils and departed for its mission
on November 26 (Dates in all cases are those of the area in which events occurred.),
proceeding eastward in northern latitudes. It observed radio silence, and
no shipping was encountered. The passage was rough, and destroyers had to
be sent back, but carriers, battleships, and cruisers reached the launching
point about 200 miles north of the Hawaiian Islands at 6 am on December
7. Earlier a force of 16 fleet-type submarines had been deployed off Pearl
Harbor, where 5 of them launched midget submarines. Two of the midgets succeeded
in getting inside Pearl Harbor on December 7, but
were sunk. One grounded on the north coast of Oahu, and its two-man crew was
captured; the others did not return to the recovery area. This entire submarine
effort accomplished nothing.
The warships of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on the
morning of December 7 included 8 battleships, 9 cruisers, 29 destroyers, 5
submarines, and a number of auxiliaries. One fourth of their antiaircraft
batteries were manned. Fortunately for the United States, no carriers were
present. The Saratoga was still being overhauled on the west coast,
while the Lexington and the Enterprise with their task forces
were at sea ferrying aircraft to Wake and Midway Islands.
The first wave of attacking Japanese aircraft, launched
at 6 am, was composed of 183 dive bombers, level bombers, torpedo planes,
and fighters. This group encountered no search aircraft in its two-hour approach
and was barely sighted before the first bombs were dropped. It was detected
by a United States Army radar operator, but the officer whom he informed decided
that the aircraft were friendly. The attack began at 7:59 am with dive bombing
on the airfields. Torpedo planes then attacked the 7 battleships moored to
concrete quays on the northwest side of Fords Island in Pearl Harbor. Heavy
bombers followed. Only 4 United States aircraft got off the ground, and these
were soon shot down. Japanese fighters, having no opposition, strafed the
closely packed Army Air Forces (AAF) planes, which had been lined up for easier
protection against sabotage, the supposedly major threat. The second wave
of 180 aircraft struck at 8:40 am Its pattern of attack was similar to that
of the first wave, except that it launched no torpedoes. By this time the
ships' antiaircraft batteries were firing, and these brought down the only
Japanese aircraft lost by gunfire. The attack was over by 9:15 am, and before
1 pm all surviving Japanese aircraft had returned to their carriers. Only
29 planes, with their crews of 55 officers and men, were missing. Of the American
battleships, the Arizona was completely destroyed, the California
and West Virginia were sunk, the Oklahoma capsized,
the Nevada was heavily damaged, and the Pennsylvania, Tennessee,
and Maryland were damaged but able to proceed under their own
power to the west coast. In addition, 3 cruisers were damaged, 2 destroyers
burned and heavily damaged, and 2 auxiliaries sunk and 2 damaged. Personnel
casualties were heavy, 2,403 men losing their lives in the first hour of the
More words have been written about the Pearl Harbor disaster
than perhaps about any other single event in United States history. The official
investigations alone fill 39 volumes. Nevertheless, Americans continue to
ask "Why? An answer is found in Roberta Wohlstetter's Pearl Harbor:
Warning and Decision (Stanford, Calif., 1962). Contributing causes were
invalid assumptions, faulty appraisal and dissemination of intelligence, and
inadequate security measures. Behind these was a lack of war-mindedness at
this Pacific base halfway around the world from areas where momentous events
were happening. Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, the Pacific Fleet commander, admits
to it: "We did not know that in the Atlantic a state of undeclared war
existed (Admiral Kimmel's Story, p. 2, New York 1955). The War
and Navy departments also shared in responsibility for the disaster, not only
by withholding intelligence but by assigning low priorities to critical equipment
for ships and units in the Hawaiian area.
For Americans, Pearl Harbor was a disgraceful tragedy. For
Japan it was a brilliant tactical victory, a temporary strategic success,
a lost opportunity, and, in the end, a colossal political mistake. By sinking
the battleships but not the carriers, the Japanese Navy resolved a long-standing
argument among United States naval officers as to which type would comprise
their capital ships. The American people were
aroused as they would not have been had the plan of the Japanese Navy's General
Staff been adopted. The lost opportunity was Nagumo's failure to destroy with
a second strike the Pearl Harbor base facilities, especially the exposed and
fragile tanks that contained 4,500,000 barrels of precious oil. The destruction
of these tanks would have sent the Pacific Fleet back to the west coast, might
have starved Hawaii, and would certainly have broken the line of sea communications
to Australia. Instead a prostrate United States Navy was allowed to recover
at Pearl Harbor.
Battle of Midway
Within hours after
the Pearl Harbor attack the Japanese struck at the Philippines and Malaya,
and for the next five months success followed success. By splendid preparation
and planning the Japanese armed forces achieved their initial goals so quickly
that they soon were confronted with the problem of what to do next. The offensive
had to be retained, and the choice made was an advance toward Australia. Since
the Japanese Army, with an eye on a weakened Soviet Union, would not release
sufficient troops for an invasion of Australia itself, the plan was to occupy
New Guinea, New Caledonia, and Fiji. This South Pacific advance was getting
started when the Doolittle raid took place.
On April 18, 1942, 16 specially equipped B-25 AAF Bombers
under Lt. Col. (later Lt. Gen.) James H. Doolittle took off from the carrier
Hornet, 650 miles east of the Japanese islands, and made a raid on Tokyo.
Most of the planes reached safety in China. Results were meager, but the Japanese
believed that these aircraft had come from Midway. This atoll and the western
Aleutians remaining in United States hands thus constituted a threat to the
homeland, and the line of Japanese-held bases would have to be extended to
include them. Yamamoto had always favored a campaign to the east, and he hoped
by such a movement to bring out the remainder of the United States Pacific
Fleet to battle. After his success at Pearl Harbor, the Navy General Staff
could refuse him nothing, and despite the southern advance an order to capture
Midway and occupy the Aleutians was issued on May 5. A force of 5 carriers
and 11 battleships with 5,000 troops was to strike Midway on June 4, while
another force (which included 2 carriers) was to support the Aleutian occupation.
A submarine line was to form west of the Hawaiian group on June 1 to report
any approaching United States forces.
Yamamoto believed that 2 United States carriers instead
of 1 had been lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea on May 8, and he assumed
that the 2 others were still in the South Pacific. He did not know that Adm.
(later Admiral of the Fleet) Chester W. Nimitz, who had relieved Kimmel, was
reading his messages. The 3 United States carriers were recalled, the damaged
Yorktown was quickly repaired, and by June 1 all of them were at sea
beyond the Japanese submarine line. Rear Adm. (later Adm.) Raymond A. Spruance
commanded the Enterprise and Hornet group. Rear Adm. (later
Adm.) Frank J. Fletcher with the Yorktown group was in tactical command,
but Nimitz at Pearl Harbor retained overall control.
On June 3, the Japanese carriers with the Aleutian force
struck Dutch Harbor on Amaknak Island, and landings were made on Kiska and
Attu on June 6-7. A cruiser-destroyer-submarine force sent by Nimitz
to check this strike never made contact with the Japanese.
The Japanese Midway force remained undetected until June
3, and its carrier group, which included the large carriers Akagi, Kaga,
Soryu, and Hiryu and was still commanded by Nagumo, reached
the launching point 240 miles northeast of Midway, at 4:30 am on June 4.
The first wave, composed of 108 planes, was reported by a United States patrol
plane at 5:45 am At 6:30 am, it struck Midway. Damage was heavy, but the
group commander reported that another strike would be necessary. The second
wave had been readied for a carrier attack if any United States carriers were
discovered. Nagumo had sent out only a 7-plane search that morning. Hearing
nothing from it by 7:15 am, he ordered the planes of the second wave to
the hangar decks, where torpedoes would be exchanged for bombs while the first
wave was being recovered. At 7:23 am, a cruiser plane reported American
ships and, at 8:20 am, announced that one of them was a carrier. Nagumo
decided to recover his planes first and then launch a heavy strike against
the carrier at 10:30 am The carrier sighted was the Yorktown; the
faulty morning search left the Enterprise and the Hornet
undiscovered by the Japanese all day.
The American commanders had the reports of the patrol plane
and the attack on Midway. Since the Yorktown was still recovering
the planes of her morning search, Fletcher sent the other two carriers toward
the enemy. Spruance decided to close in for an hour to bring the enemy well
within his combat range and perhaps to catch him refueling. At 7:30 am,
Spruance launched his planes, and the Yorktown air group followed
at 8:30 am The Enterprise and Hornet
air groups had difficulty in locating the enemy, and Hornet dive
bombers missed the Japanese ships altogether. The remainder of the early launching
reached the enemy at about the same time as the Yorktown planes.
While the Japanese had no radar, from the number of planes
reported Nagumo knew that more than one enemy carrier was present. The United
States torpedo planes struck first, but they were slaughtered by enemy fighters
without any of their torpedoes hitting; only 6 of the 41 torpedo planes returned
to their carriers. Their martyrdom was not in vain, for the Japanese fighters
could not again gain altitude, and the carrier lookouts barely had time to
scream "Helldivers before the bombers struck and roared away. Between
10:20 and 10:25 am, three bombs hit Akagi, one exploding on the
hangar deck; four hit Kaga, two on the hangar deck; and three hit
Soryu, one on the hangar deck. Gasoline caught fire, bombs and torpedoes
exploded, and within 20 minutes these carriers were burning wrecks. All were
gone by the next morning. The rest was anticlimax. Dive bombers from the
Hiryu hit the Yorktown at 12:20 pm, and two torpedoes struck
her at 2:30 pm She was abandoned soon thereafter. The Hiryu herself
was eliminated at 5 pm by dive bombers from the Enterprise.
Yamamoto was still confident because he believed that the
disabled American carrier was the only one present. He recalled the Aleutian
carriers, and at 7:15 pm ordered his surface force to move in for the kill.
Two hours later, Nagumo enlightened him, and at 2:55 am on June 5 he reluctantly
ordered a general retreat. Shortly thereafter, the heavy cruisers Mogami
and Mikuma collided while avoiding a United States submarine.
Seriously damaged, they both fell behind. On the night of June 4, Spruance
headed eastward to avoid enemy surface contact, and the next day his planes
did not sight the enemy. On June 6, carrier planes finished off the Mikuma,
but the battered Mogami returned safely to Truk in the Carolines.
The last casualty was the abandoned Yorktown, still afloat with a
destroyer alongside. Both ships were sunk by a Japanese submarine.
The question may be asked how a fleet of such size could
be turned back by the meager force that the Americans were able to bring against
it. The reason was the overconfidence of the Japanese. Too many objectives
had been undertaken, and too many assumptions had been made in their own favor.
The submarine line was established too late, and the morning search on June
4 was inadequate. On the United States side, there were superior intelligence
and good luck as well as the dive bomber. This weapon, which the Americans
had developed and the Japanese copied, settled the issue in five fateful minutes.
Midway was a decisive battle, for the Japanese Navy never again gained the
Advance Through the Gilbert, Marshall, and Mariana Islands
The task of halting and reversing the Japanese advance
in the South Pacific and the need to build up United States forces caused
a lull in operations in the Central Pacific for more than a year after Midway.
The one exception was the recapture of Attu in the Aleutians. Since there
were insufficient forces available to take the easterly and more strongly
held Kiska, it was bypassed for Attu, where the poorly prepared 7th Infantry
Division was landed on May 11, 1943. This small island was secured in three
weeks, but only after 11,000 men had been landed and the Japanese garrison
wiped out. On August 15, a properly equipped and trained force of Americans
and Canadians landed on Kiska, but they found that the Japanese had already
evacuated the island.
By the autumn of 1943 the Americans were ready to begin
their strategic offensive. The geography of the Pacific offered them two directions
of advance, both of which were adopted. One led along the north coast of New
Guinea toward the Philippines; the other, directly across the Pacific from
Hawaii. Both advances would bypass the Caroline Islands, believed to be strongly
held by the Japanese. The Southwest Pacific campaign was to be conducted primarily
by army forces, which would advance in shore-to-shore amphibious movements.
The campaign in the Central Pacific would be primarily naval, supported by
ground forces consisting mostly of Marines. It would require long overseas
amphibious movements and heavy troop assaults on a few strongly held positions.
The major striking arm in the Central Pacific was a force
of 16 heavy and light carriers with accompanying fast battleships, cruisers,
and destroyers. Commanded by Rear Adm. (later Adm.) Marc A. Mitscher, it was
named Task Force 58. Even this strong force, it was at first believed, would
not be able to withstand attacks by land-based aircraft operating from the
numerous Japanese-held islands in the Pacific. Early in each operation the
carrier force would have to be relieved by its own land-based aircraft, and
this would necessitate a step-by-step advance, first through the Gilbert Islands,
then through the atolls of the Marshall Islands, and finally through the Marianas,
which included captured Guam.
The Central Pacific campaign opened on November 21 with
landings on Makin and Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands. At Tarawa the 2d Marine
Division encountered the coral beaches and suicide resistance that would characterize
Central Pacific assault operations. Casualties totaled 3,000, one third of
them killed, in three days of bitter fighting. This costly experience brought
about improved amphibious techniques. It also revealed that the threat of
enemy land-based aircraft was not as strong as had been supposed, and that
naval forces could remain in the area of their objectives for extended periods
without extreme risks.
Nimitz therefore decided to bypass the eastern Marshalls
and seize Kwajalein. This was accomplished on Feb. 1-8, 1944, without
committing the 10,000 troops of the reserve. These were used to take Eniwetok,
the largest of the western Marshalls, but before this was attempted, the Japanese
air bases in the Caroline and Marshall Islands were neutralized. Three carrier
groups of Task Force 58 struck Truk in the Carolines on February 17-18,
sinking 39 ships and putting 270 planes out of action. A strike against the
Marianas on February 22 netted 150 more planes and valuable photoreconnaissance.
Eniwetok, first scheduled for capture in May, was secured on February 18-23.
The assault on the Marianas was not scheduled to take place
until June, and assault and amphibious forces
returned to the Hawaiian Islands for training and staging. Task Force 58,
however, with its afloat logistical support now in the anchorage at Majuro
in the Marshalls, remained in the Western Pacific, supporting Gen. (later
General of the Army) Douglas MacArthur's invasion of Hollandia, New Guinea,
The Japanese mobile forces had not reacted to the Gilbert
and Marshall advances. They withdrew first from Truk to the Palau group and
then to Tawitawi in the Sulu Archipelago of the Philippines. The first Combined
Fleet commander, Yamamoto, had been shot down on a flight to the Solomons
a year before. His successor, cautious Adm. Mineichi Koga, was himself lost
in an airplane accident in March 1944. The new fleet commander, Adm. Soemu
Toyoda, took over with orders to seek action under favorable circumstances.
Believing that the Americans were committed to the single line of advance
through the Southwest Pacific, he stationed a surface force in the Moluccas
and concentrated his land-based aircraft and submarines to cover it. He hoped
to draw Task Force 58 into the area.
Instead the Central Pacific Fleet (now the Fifth Fleet)
under Spruance struck the Marianas. Amphibious forces under Vice Adm. (later
Adm.) Richmond K. Turner, numbering 555 ships, lifted 170,000 troops from
the Hawaiian and Solomon Islands. The first landings were made at Saipan on
June 15, 20,000 men being put ashore on that day. As at Tarawa, they met stiff
resistance. Saipan was the strong link in the defense chain of the Japanese,
and they were determined to hold it.
On learning of the Marianas attack, Toyoda ordered his surface
and rebuilt carrier force to concentrate at sea east of the Philippines. United
States submarines off Tawitawi and in the San Bernardino Strait reported this
approach, and Mitscher wanted to advance with Task Force 58 to meet the Japanese
and be within easy striking range at dawn of the day of contact. He knew that
the enemy's striking range was 300 miles, whereas his own was only 200 miles
because of the armor and self-sealing tanks in American aircraft. Spruance
refused to permit Mitscher to adopt this course, since such an advance might
uncover the ground and amphibious forces. The Japanese therefore had the offensive
and attacked in four raids throughout daylight of June 19. To meet them, Mitscher
put every available fighter in the air, and then launched his other planes
to keep the carrier decks clear for rearming and refueling. With excellent
fighter direction, the Japanese raids were met from 50 to 70 miles beyond
the task force. There then took place what has become
known in the United States Navy as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot. Of
the 326 Japanese planes attacking, 227 were lost, as compared with an American
loss of 26. Only 3 United States ships suffered minor damage. In the midst
of the Japanese flight operations, United States submarines hit 2 of their
3 largest carriers; both caught fire and sank that afternoon. The Japanese
retreated, followed by Task Force 58, but contact was not made until 4 pm
on June 20 at extreme range. Mitscher sent off one raid of 216 aircraft, which
sank the carrier Hiyo and damaged 4 other ships. This ended the battle,
and the Japanese carrier force was finished for the rest of the war.
On Saipan the 2d and 4th Marine divisions and the 27th Infantry
Division, numbering 59,000 men, secured the island by July 9 after hard fighting
in which they suffered 13,000 casualties, 3,000 of them killed. The Japanese
defense force, which comprised 30,000 army and naval landing troops, was virtually
wiped out. After heavy bombardment by army artillery and naval gunfire, nearby
Tinian was taken easily between July 24 and August 1. The landings for the
recapture of Guam, largest of the Marianas, had to be postponed on the approach
of the Japanese Fleet, but were finally made by the 3d Marine and 77th Infantry
divisions on July 21 after 11 days of intensive bombardment. The island was
secured by August 10.
The seizure of the Marianas, which cracked the Japanese
defense line, was the beginning of the end for Japan. The elimination of the
Japanese carrier-based air strength uncovered the Philippines for MacArthur's
forces, and the following November saw the first B-29 raids. A naval base
was established on Guam, and Nimitz transferred his headquarters there. Spruance
and his staff returned to Pearl Harbor to plan future operations, while Adm.
(later Admiral of the Fleet) William F. Halsey, former commander of the South
Pacific area, assumed command of the Third Fleet, which was to work with MacArthur
in the invasion of the Philippines. The Japanese and most Americans believed
that the Third Fleet was another naval force, but only the top commands had
changed. The ships with their splendid engineering plants were the same.
A submarine's ability
to submerge makes it a unique weapon in naval warfare. It employs stealth
and therefore cannot easily be integrated into naval tactical formations.
It must operate alone or with its own class, whether employed against combat
ships or against merchant shipping. The Japanese used their submarines almost
exclusively against combat ships, but the United States submarine effort was
directed primarily against merchant shipping and in effect constituted a blockade
The United States submarines employed in World War II were
mostly of the Gato class, the 1941 design displacing 1,525 tons on
the surface, 311 feet long, with a surface speed of 20 knots and a cruising
radius of 12,000 miles. They were armed with 24 torpedoes with six tubes forward
and four aft and a 3-inch gun and four machine guns, and they had good radar,
sonar, and optical equipment. Their complement was 8 officers and 80 men.
Submarines of this class were excellent ships, but their primary weapons,
torpedoes, were inferior to those of the Japanese, and many were found defective
as a result of faulty peacetime testing procedures. The faulty torpedoes had
been fitted with magnetic exploders that would not explode. It was eventually
discovered that the torpedoes were running too far below their depth settings
to activate magnetically, but when this was corrected the exploders began
firing prematurely in latitudes near the equator. When the magnetic feature
was deactivated, the mechanical exploders failed to work. Finally a resourceful
commander conducted his own field test on a tanker that he had disabled off
Truk. Of 15 torpedoes used, 9 failed to explode after careful checking and
under ideal firing conditions. He saved his last torpedo to take back to Pearl
Harbor for evidence. Exhaustive tests conducted there disclosed the defects
and in September 1943, 21 months after the commencement of the Pacific war,
the first fleet-type submarine went to sea with torpedoes in which her crew
Following the Pearl Harbor attack, the chief of naval operations
issued orders for unrestricted submarine warfare. This was a change in American
traditions and doctrine, which had required submarines to be used in accordance
with international law and primarily against combat ships. Whatever the reasons
for the change, it was a militarily sound decision, for Japan's vital arteries
were her sea lines of communications from her resources areas.
At the outbreak of hostilities, 28 submarines were attached
to the Asiatic Fleet. These accomplished little against the Japanese initial
advance into Southeast Asia, but in 1942 submarines based on Australia and
at Pearl Harbor began their relentless campaign against the Japanese supply
lines. At the beginning of the war, Japan had 6,100,000 tons of shipping,
and she acquired an additional 800,000 tons by captures. The total was constantly
reduced, slowly until December 1943 and then sharply,
until by 1945 it had been cut to 1,800,000 tons. Most of the ships that remained
were in the Sea of Japan, which was still closed by mines to United States
submarines. The attrition of Japanese shipping caused shortages in raw materials,
slowing industrial production. Shortages in aviation gasoline curtailed pilot
training, and a major portion of the fleet had to be based in Southeast Asia,
near the oilfields but at a distance from repair and training facilities.
(United States submarines had sunk 110 tankers.)
Japanese antisubmarine methods were inept. Merchant ships
sailed singly until 1942, and convoys remained small throughout the war. United
States submarine attack groups, called wolf packs, seldom had to exceed 4
ships. Commanders adopted hazardous tactics, attempting difficult shots and
often operating on the surface at night in order to make use of high speed
for continuing attacks. At first the submarines had little success against
combat ships. During the first two years they sank only 1 heavy cruiser, 1
light cruiser, 6 destroyers, and 3 submarines. The heavy cruiser Kako,
returning from victory at Savo Island in 1942, was sunk by the lowly
S-44, a World War I type using old-style torpedoes with simple contact
exploders. In the advance across the Pacific, Spruance skillfully employed
submarines by placing them in narrow waters through which the enemy would
have to pass. He left the actual direction of their operations to Vice Adm.
Charles A. Lockwood, commander of submarines in the Pacific, the man who had
solved the problem of the faulty torpedoes. Submarines now began to obtain
good shots and transmit accurate information on enemy movements. The submarine
contribution to success in the battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf
in 1944 was large. In November of that year, United States submarines sank
the battleship Kongo north of the Philippines and the giant carrier
Shinano in the Inland Sea, the latter only 10 days after she had been
Submarines also performed lifeguard service, recovering
504 aviators downed in carrier strikes or B-29 operations. Among other special
missions were mining, reconnaissance, and contact with coast watchers, guerrillas,
and other isolated groups. A total of 52 United States submarines were lost
during the war. Despite poor Japanese antisubmarine methods, more were sunk
by escorts than by patrols, mines, aircraft, and other means; 3 were sunk
by their own countrymen.
Throughout the war the Japanese used their submarines poorly.
A single exception occurred in 1942 in the early Solomons campaign, when they
sank the carrier Wasp and 4 other ships and damaged a battleship
and another carrier. For some reason they limited their submarine operations
primarily to combat ships, never learning, or refusing, to use them against
the long and vulnerable United States supply lines. Attempts to integrate
submarines into the Pearl Harbor and Midway operations proved fruitless, and
in the late days of the war, when submarines might have defended the homeland,
they had to be used to feed or evacuate garrisons isolated by the United States
leapfrog strategy. The Japanese Army built submarines of their own for this
purpose. Improved United States antisubmarine methods, the product of experience
in the tough battle of the Atlantic, caused heavy Japanese submarine losses
late in the war. Of 27 submarines sent out during the Marianas campaign, 17
were sunk. In May 1944, the destroyer escort England accounted for
7 in 10 days.
In numbers, Japanese submarines about equaled those of the
United States, and their torpedoes were far superior. Sound gear was poor,
they had no radar, and the morale of their crews did not match that in United
States submarines. Nevertheless, they could have constituted a dangerous threat
to United States victory if Japanese naval leaders had not been blind to the
realities of modern war.
Iwo Jima and Okinawa
Like the Japanese
in April 1942, the Americans in the Pacific in October 1944 were confounded
by their successes. The question was not what to do next but how to do it.
In the opinion of the AAF, bombing of the home islands would bring Japan to
her knees, but the Army considered that an invasion would be necessary. The
Navy's main job was virtually completed. Command of the sea had been won,
and sea lines of communication to the Western Pacific were secure. The submarine
blockade would continue, but other naval forces would be used to support ground
and air operations.
After the Marianas campaign, Spruance had recommended Okinawa
as the next step. He was overruled, since MacArthur wanted to return to the
Philippines and Adm. (later Admiral of the Fleet) Ernest J. King, chief of
naval operations, advocated the invasion of Taiwan (Formosa). The Army, however,
claimed that the latter would require 9 divisions more than would be available
in the Pacific before the fall of Germany. A plan proposed by Nimitz was finally
accepted: the occupation of Luzon, supported by Central Pacific forces, to
be followed by the occupation of Okinawa as a base for operations against
Japan. MacArthur's forces were at first scheduled to support the Okinawa campaign,
but they were subsequently diverted to mopping-up operations in the southern
Philippines and Borneo.
The need for the capture of Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands
between the Marianas and Japan soon became apparent. The early operations
of the B-29's had been disappointing. The round trip of 2,700 miles required
16 hours; without fighter protection, bombing had to be carried out at 28,000
feet; and disabled planes with their crews were often lost on the long return
flight. The only suitable island in the Volcano group was Iwo Jima. D-days
were set for Luzon, Jan. 9, 1945; Iwo Jima, February 19; and Okinawa, April
After losing the Marianas, the Japanese planned a new defense
line that included Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Taiwan, Shanghai, and southern Korea.
Ground forces in these areas were to hold out to the end without reinforcements.
Suicide aircraft, named Kamikaze for the "divine wind that had thwarted
the last attempted invasion of Japan in the 13th century, would be used against
the advancing enemy. The final battle would be fought in Japan itself. Bloody
attrition was expected to bring the Americans to terms.
The Japanese knew that their enemy would eventually come
to Iwo, and 21,000 troops were assigned to its defense. In October 1944, their
commander, Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, began to honeycomb the island with
interconnected underground defensive positions 35 feet deep for protection
against bombing and gunfire. Iwo, shaped like
a pork chop, is dominated by the 546-foot Mount Suribachi on its southwest
point, while the northeastern section is a broad plateau. The airfield that
the Americans wanted was in the center of the island, and the only suitable
landing beaches were in the south near Suribachi. Kuribayashi therefore built
his defenses on this mountain and in the north, although the entire island
could be covered by artillery and mortar fire.
Operations commenced on Feb. 16, 1945, with preliminary
bombardments. At 9 am on February 19, assault troops of the 4th and 5th
Marine divisions landed without much opposition and moved 300 yards inland.
Then the guns on Mount Suribachi opened up, and the Marines suffered heavily.
Nevertheless, they succeeded in crossing the southern end of the island by
6 pm, and sufficient supplies were landed to ensure that the beachhead would
be held. As enemy positions were disclosed, call-fires from the fleet were
employed, and on February 24 the 3d Marine Division was landed. Mount Suribachi
itself was taken on February 23, and the photograph of the raising of the
American flag there became one of the best-known pictures of the war. The
3 divisions swung to the north, and the bloody work of destroying the Japanese
defenders continued. American casualties totaled almost 25,000, including
6,800 killed. Only 216 Japanese surrendered. Organized resistance ended on
March 16, but a stricken B-29 had made the first emergency landing March 4.
To the Marines Iwo Jima meant ugly death; to the B-29 crews, a godsend.
Okinawa, the next island on the Central Pacific's schedule
of captures, is located 350 miles southwest of Kyushu, the southern main island
of Japan. About 60 miles long and from 2 to 18 miles wide, it has two harbors
and much flat terrain suitable for airfields. It was to be the base for the
army ground and air forces that would be available, following the surrender
of Germany, for the assault on Japan. Planning for Okinawa began with a study
by Nimitz' staff, headed by his planner, Rear Adm. (later Vice Adm.) Forrest
P. Sherman. Spruance was again to have overall command. The ground force would
be the Tenth Army under Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner, Jr., composed of the Army's
24th Corps of 4 divisions and the Marine 3d Amphibious Corps of 3 divisions
with a division in reserve. The combat troops to be landed numbered 172,000;
service troops, 115,000. Landings were to be made on the southwest coast near
the airfield, which was to be seized quickly and put into operation for the
land-based aircraft that would relieve the
carrier forces. The Kerama-retto, a group of islands west of Okinawa, would
be taken to provide anchorages for the auxiliaries servicing the naval combat
forces. A British carrier task group would participate in the operation, covering
the southern approaches to Okinawa.
Japanese forces on the island consisted of 77,000 well-trained
army troops and 20,000 Okinawan militia and labor troops, all commanded by
Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima. In accordance with the new Japanese policy, the
invading force would not be resisted on the beaches but at strong positions
inland, in this case in the southern part of the island. The army was to hold
fast until air and naval forces, primarily suicide types, had forced the Fifth
Fleet to withdraw, leaving the United States ground force unsupported. Between
2,000 and 3,000 Japanese planes would be available from 65 airfields in Taiwan
and 55 airfields in Kyushu. The closest Japanese airfield was only 150 miles
Operations began on March 18-19 with strikes by Task
Force 58 against Kyushu airfields and shipping in the Inland Sea. The results
were disappointing, and 116 planes were lost and 3 carriers damaged, the
Franklin seriously. The fight of the Franklin's crew to save
their vessel was one of the epics of the war. More productive were the B-29
operations, striking Kyushu airfields and mining Shimoneseki Strait between
the Inland Sea and the Sea of Japan. During the last days of March, 1,300
ships converged on Okinawa. Task Force 58 began preassault strikes on March
23, and the next day old battleships moved in to commence the naval bombardment.
On March 26-28, the Kerama-retto were occupied without resistance, and
a nest of 350 suicide boats was discovered. Service ships and patrol planes
moved in, and from March 28 to April 8 tankers fueled an average of 23 ships
On April 1, 4 divisions landed on Okinawa. They encountered
no opposition, and by 6 pm about 50,000 troops were ashore in a beachhead
8 miles long and 3 miles deep. The 6th Marine Division turned to the north,
and by April 27 had secured that weakly held portion of Okinawa as well as
Ie-jima, where an airstrip was made operational early in May. The 24th Corps,
which had turned to the south, was stopped when it reached the first Japanese
defense line on April 6. This line was not broken until April 24, and the
advance bogged down again four days later. A Japanese counterattack on May
4-5 was repulsed, and Buckner then launched his principal attacks on
both flanks. The Japanese line was finally broken on May 31, but organized
resistance did not cease until June 21. Buckner was killed in action three
During this long period the naval forces had to remain in
the area, supporting the land operations with air strikes and gunfire and
covering the reinforcing amphibious echelons. They were unable to use their
great asset, mobility, and were forced to stay and absorb 1,465 aircraft attacks,
most of them Kamikaze suicide raids. On April 6-7, the fleet was raided
by 350 aircraft, which sank or damaged 30 ships. Similar raids continued for
two and one-half months but gradually decreased in intensity, the last one
of 45 planes taking place on June 22. By then, 15 naval vessels had been sunk,
none larger than a destroyer, and 200 damaged.
On April 7, the Japanese Navy had its Gotterdammerung.
The giant Yamato, flagship of Yamamoto at Midway, plus a cruiser
and 8 destroyers with the last 2,500 tons of oil available left the Inland
Sea for a suicide attack on the naval forces off Okinawa. Two United States
submarines reported this force on the evening of April 6, and it was located
again at 8 am the next day and kept under surveillance. Beginning at noon,
carrier plane attacks sank the Yamato, the cruiser, and 4 of the
destroyers. American losses were 10 planes and 12 men. By June 10, decreased
Japanese resistance ashore and the buildup of land-based air strength permitted
the release of Task Force 58, which had been at sea for three months. The
strain on the high command of the Fifth Fleet had become almost unendurable,
and toward the end of May, Nimitz took the unprecedented step of relieving
Spruance, Mitscher, and Turner by their opposite numbers of the Third Fleet
before the end of the campaign.
Bombing of Japan
No final plans for
the defeat of Japan had been accepted by the United States Joint Chiefs of
Staff (JCS) by early 1944, but it was expected that the air offensive against
that country, like that against Germany, would be made in conjunction with
other operations. The AAF, however, believed that in the B-29 they had a weapon
capable of removing Japan from the war by mass bombing alone. This aircraft,
with a range of 1,600 miles, had only been developed in 1939, but with shortcuts
in testing and procurement it was coming off the production lines in such
quantities as to be ready for combat early in 1944. High AAF officers were
naturally anxious to get it into active operations as soon as possible.
It was anticipated that the Marianas, lying 1,350 miles
south of Honshu, would provide ideal bases for B-29 operations, but these
islands were not scheduled for capture until June, and several more months
would be needed to construct airfields. China was the only area then in Allied hands from which attacks could be made on the main
islands of Japan with the B-29. The planes would have to be based in India,
and gasoline and bombs ferried into China by air for staging from fields there.
Despite such logistic drawbacks, it was decided to proceed with this plan.
The long-range B-29 presented a command problem. The AAF
was always reluctant to place strategic bombers outside of its own chain of
command, fearing that the effects of concentration in mass bombing would be
lost if used to support other types of operations. It also considered that
the range of the B-29 transcended theater boundaries. Command difficulties
were already evident in the China-Burma-India theater, and similar trouble
might develop in the Pacific as the two advances in that area converged on
Japan. AAF historians credit Admiral King with proposing the command arrangement
that was finally approved. The Twentieth Air Force, the B-29 overall command,
would remain directly under JCS with the AAF member, Gen. (later General of
the Air Force) Henry H. Arnold, acting as its executive agent. Theater commanders
were authorized to use B-29's in their areas in the event of a strategic emergency,
and they could request assistance by them at other times.
The China B-29 operation began in June 1944 with a single
wing assigned to the 20th Bomber Command. The logistic burden proved immense,
and little was achieved in proportion to the effort expended. Combat aircraft
were forced to transport most of their own gasoline and bombs for staging;
sorties averaged only two monthly, and no more than 800 tons of bombs were
dropped on Japan, although some damage was done to steel plants in Manchuria.
The effort was abandoned in March 1945.
Following the capture of the Marianas, a gigantic B-29 base
program was initiated. Credit for the speed with which it progressed is due
Lt. Gen. Milliard F. Harmon, commander of the AAF in the Pacific, who had
to compete for priorities in a Navy theater. Naval construction battalions
and Army aviation engineer battalions built three airfields on Guam, two on
Tinian, and one on Saipan. The general depot was on Guam. The 21st Bomber
Command in the Marianas was placed under the command of Brig. Gen. Hayward
S. Hansell, Jr. Its first wing arrived in October 1944. The initial mass attack
of 111 aircraft was made on Japan on November 24. Only 88 aircraft reached
the bombing point, and these dropped their bombs at a high altitude through
bad weather. The results in subsequent raids
continued to be disappointing, with high operational losses, especially on
the long overwater return flight. In January 1945, Hansell, who continued
to maintain his faith in high-level precision bombing, was relieved by Maj.
Gen. (later Gen.) Curtis E. LeMay, an experimenter and a driving executive.
The capture of Iwo Jima eased the B-29 problem. Accompanying
fighters and air-sea rescue units could be based on the island, and emergency
landings could be made halfway home. Approximately 2,400 such landings were
made in the subsequent months of the war. The number of men saved could not
be determined, but the AAF accepted King's estimate that it exceeded the number
lost (6,800) in the capture of the island.
Incendiary bombing had proved effective in Germany and many
AAF officers believed that it would be even more effective against Japanese
cities, where wood construction predominated and housing areas surrounded
industrial plants. LeMay, who had already made the decision to bomb at low
altitudes, now decided to undertake a major fire effort. The first night incendiary
raid against Tokyo on March 9 burned out 15.8 square miles of the city, killed
83,000 persons, and injured 40,000. Within the next 10 days four of Japan's
other large cities received similar treatment. These raids finally brought
home to the people of Japan what the war really meant.
During March and April, B-29's supported the Okinawa operation
by raids on Kyushu and by aerial mining of Shimonoseki Strait. This last operation,
made at the request of the Navy, which had no planes suitable for the work,
proved so successful that it was extended to ports on the Inland Sea and virtually
ended traffic in that important body of water. By the end of July, B-29 aircraft
were raiding in numbers of over 500. A total of 64 cities had been bombed,
while losses in aircraft dropped to a negligible figure. Attacks became so
bold that leaflets were dropped warning cities of their impending doom. LeMay
kept driving his men at an exhausting pace, hoping to force a surrender before
Atomic Bombing and Surrender
preparations were being made for the invasion of the Japanese home islands,
with landings scheduled for Kyushu in November 1945. This assault, code named
Olympic, was to be made with Army and Marine units then in the Pacific. Landings
on Honshu, code named Coronet, were to be made in March 1946 aided by forces
deployed from Europe.
By this time a search for peace was under way in Japan.
Interrogations made after the war indicated that many Japanese leaders and
intellectuals were convinced after the fall of Saipan that their country could
not win, and the B-29 bombings stimulated efforts to bring about a surrender.
In July 1944, the militaristic cabinet of Premier Hideki Tojo fell. Its successor,
committed to continue the war, also fell after Okinawa was invaded. The new
cabinet was directed by Emperor Hirohito to seek appropriate means to end
hostilities even on terms unfavorable to Japan. Army members of this cabinet,
however, were still reluctant, since the Americans had not as yet met the
full force of the Japanese Army and 8,000 aircraft had been hoarded to repel
the invasion effort.
The Soviet Union ominously announced to Japan in April 1944
that the neutrality pact between the two countries would not be renewed. Peace
overtures were made through the USSR, but the Russians stalled. At the Potsdam
Conference (July 17-Aug. 2, 1945), Joseph Stalin did not mention these
overtures to President Harry S. Truman, who already knew of them through intelligence
sources. In the Potsdam Declaration of July 26, the Allied leaders did announce
that for Japan "unconditional surrender would apply to the armed forces
alone. This condition for negotiations was not acceptable to the Japanese
cabinet, because it made no mention of the future status of the emperor. Such
was the situation on August 6, when an atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima.
Six years before, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had received
a letter from Dr. Albert Einstein, in which the eminent scientist referred
to the possibility of a uranium bomb of tremendous power. This initiated a
large but secret project known as the Manhattan Engineer District, under Maj.
Gen. (later Lt. Gen.) Leslie R. Groves, for the development and construction
of such bombs. The first was exploded successfully
at Alamogordo, N.Mex., on July 16, 1945. This information was sent to President
Truman, who gave the authority to drop an atomic bomb on Japan after August
3. The fissionable material available was shipped to Saipan aboard the cruiser
Indianapolis and by air. A squadron of B-29's organized for the purpose
was already on the island, and one of its planes, piloted by Col. Paul W.
Tibbets, Jr., was assigned to make the first drop. Capt. (later Rear Adm.)
William S. Parsons, the weapon commander, made the final adjustments in flight.
The bomb was dropped over Hiroshima at 8:15 am on August 6, and exploded
at about 2,000 feet, destroying 4.7 square miles of the city. More than 71,000
persons were dead or missing.
The Russians declared war on Japan on August 8 (effective
August 9) and were soon invading Manchuria, Korea, and southern Sakhalin.
On August 9, the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The emperor then advised
acceptance of the Potsdam terms, to which the cabinet agreed provided the
imperial system be retained. United States Secretary of State James F. Byrnes
drafted a reply to the effect that the emperor must be subordinate to the
supreme commander for the Allied powers (SCAP), his final status to be determined
by free elections of the Japanese people. On August 14, on the emperor's advice,
these terms were accepted, and hostilities ceased.
The surrender took people in the Pacific generally by surprise.
Moreover, after the stubborn character of Japanese resistance experienced
during the war and the nature of the Japanese government, it could hardly
be assumed that the military would quietly acquiesce to a surrender decision
made by political leaders. Occupation forces therefore had to be ready to
meet resistance. General MacArthur was made supreme commander for the Allied
powers on August 14, and plans were immediately shifted from Olympic to the
occupation of the Japanese home islands by the Sixth Army from the Southwest
Pacific and of Korea below the 38th parallel by the 24th Corps from the Central
Pacific. The Russians were to occupy Korea above that line. The landing date
had to be postponed from August 28 to August 30 because of a typhoon. The
first landings were made simultaneously by the 11th Airborne Division at Atsugi
Airfield near Tokyo and by the 4th Regiment of the 6th Marine Division at
Yokosuka Naval Base. Formal surrender took place on September 2 aboard the
battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay. The surrender was followed by Operation
Magic Carpet, a rapid return of military personnel to the United States for
demobilization. The greatest military machine that the world had known was
allowed to pass out of existence before the fruits of victory had been secured.
Meanwhile, 2 Marine divisions were sent into Japanese-held
northern China until the Nationalist forces of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek
could occupy that area. A major error, as it later proved, was made in returning
to Japan the disarmed Kwantung Army and the Japanese civil administrators.
This and too early withdrawal of American forces helped to create a vacuum
that the Chinese Communists were to fill.
Victory in the Pacific was not just the result of interservice
cooperation; it was the summation of three arms and three strategic doctrines
employed to their highest capabilities. Without the seizure of bases by ground
forces, there would have been no command of the sea. And without command of
the sea, the B-29's would not have had the opportunity to bring Japan to her
knees before the invasion of her soil. The realization of these three military
capabilities was made possible by the rich resources and intelligent labor
force that gave the United States an almost unlimited economic potential for war. A heartland facing on two oceans, the
American nation could with one hand fight a continental war in Europe and
with the other a maritime war in the Pacific. In the latter its industrial
power permitted two advances through areas in which the strategies of its
land and sea forces could best be exploited. These advances supported each
other and kept the enemy off balance. The Americans were able to profit by
their mistakes, exploit opportunities, and, when necessary, see the big picture.
The Japanese could not, and therein lay the margin of victory.
John D. Hayes
Rear Admiral, United States Navy (Retired).
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