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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 the proud.

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.

Pearl Harbor

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 war.

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 offensive.

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, in April.

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.

Submarine Campaign

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 of Japan.

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 had confidence.

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 commissioned.

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 1.

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 away.

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 a day.

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 days earlier.

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 the invasion.

Atomic Bombing and Surrender

Meanwhile, 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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