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PostPosted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 3:14 pm 
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Assessment of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is that while it succeeded in being a surprise and in causing severe damage to the Pacific fleet, it was a failure in leaving the oil storage and harbor facilities (dry docks, cranes, workshops) as well as the submarine force virtually untouched. In other words, salvage could take place, and ships could still be serviced at Pearl, rather than have to relocate back to the West Coast. Pearl Harbor could still function, just awaiting repair of those vessels deemed salvageable and the arrival of new ships off the ways. So this was a major oversight in the IJN plan.

But another one about which I have found little discussion concerns the location and destruction of the USN carriers that fortuitously were at sea at the time of the attack. One would think that as the IJN was itself launching a major surprise attack from aircraft carriers (thus acknowledging the shift in naval warfare away from surface actions to airborne attack), primacy would have been given to destroying the American carriers. The Japanese had rather good intelligence from a spy on American ship dispositions once in harbor, including the carriers. Updated information on these key targets would seemingly be of top priority, not only for their inherent worth, but also because not knowing where they were could pose a threat to the attacking force. Yet apparently the most recent location of the American carriers was not considered that important, or breaking radio silence to transmit that information was considered too much of a risk to the entire operation. The carriers lived to spearhead the war all the way back to Tokyo Bay.

So another shortcoming of the Japanese plan seems to come to the fore. With news sent back from the attacking waves that surprise was total and damage widespread, yet no carriers were seen, there evidently was no contingency to shift the plan to one of search and destroy, to make the victory total by getting the carriers. The Japanese enjoyed vastly superior forces at the time and had more than adequate search capability, at least through visual means, yet failed to employ them. An indication of what this was to portend could be seen on the evening of Dec. 7 itself-- Enterprise, unscathed, sailed into Pearl Harbor for resupply and rearmament, and departed early on Dec. 8 to pursue the Japanese, something she would do until the end of the Pacific War.

The more one looks at it, the more shortsighted the planning of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor appears. Without American carriers to worry about, without a working port for the USN in Hawaii, the IJN would have had unchallenged roam of the Pacific, extending perhaps even to the Panama Canal. Evidently, their thinking was limited to the belief that one sharp blow would convince the US to negotiate a peace, yet even the blow itself was limited, and signified the eventual defeat of Japan.


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 09, 2013 2:58 am 
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The question if the Japanese navy really understood the shift from battleships to carriers - or still considered battleships the main weapons system? And the carriers as equaliser weapon, similar to their plans to attack the battleships at night with cruisers and destroyers using torpedoes?

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 09, 2013 12:48 pm 
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Interesting point, did either side really understand the shift from battleships to carriers until the issue was forced upon them, us by the destruction of the battle fleet with consequent reliance on the carriers and the sub force, and them when Coral Sea, and more so Midway, stopped and then reversed their offensive capability?


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 09, 2013 1:32 pm 
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I would think there was a mix of people, some who did understand and some who didn't. Not sure which category Nagumo fits in. He had an amazing opportunity but took a cautious approach. In that sense he is a bit like Jellicoe. But in his shoes, would you risk your entire strike force to attack from submarines, land aircraft and a carrier group you don't know the location of when you already "technically" completed your mission (sunk or appeared to sink most of the battleships).

But ultimately, does it matter? The IJN would have owned the pacific for a few more years, but they would never have invaded mainland USA. Come 1945 the US would have had the A-bomb anyway and more CVs than Japan could manufacture in a decade.

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 10, 2013 10:21 am 
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Vlad wrote:
But ultimately, does it matter? The IJN would have owned the pacific for a few more years, but they would never have invaded mainland USA. Come 1945 the US would have had the A-bomb anyway and more CVs than Japan could manufacture in a decade.


I guess that speaks to Yamato's prescience: "I will give you victory for the first six months of the war, but after that I promise nothing." The American naval buildup was already taking place (orders for Essex class carriers beginning in early 1940). What the escape of the US carriers at Pearl Harbor and their subsequent victories at Coral Sea and Midway signifies is time bought for American industrial capacity to come fully on line for the advance across the Pacific. Lacking such capacity itself, Japan most likely would not have been able to extend itself to full naval control of the Pacific (principally meaning the US West Coast and the Panama Canal), regardless of how devastating the attack on Pearl Harbor was.

Nagumo's caution, while seen in hindsight as lost opportunity, is totally understandable both within the larger planning context, and the tactical results achieved.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 15, 2013 2:32 pm 
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It is clear that the Japanese navy did not really understand that a shift had taken place from battleships to naval air power. For most of the Pacific war they protected their battleships to such an extent that they saw very little of the fighting while their carriers were sacrificed. They still considered the battleships as the main punch and kept waiting for an oportunity to use them to deliver the knockout blow.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 15, 2013 6:26 pm 
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Admiral John Byng wrote:
It is clear that the Japanese navy did not really understand that a shift had taken place from battleships to naval air power. For most of the Pacific war they protected their battleships to such an extent that they saw very little of the fighting while their carriers were sacrificed. They still considered the battleships as the main punch and kept waiting for an oportunity to use them to deliver the knockout blow.

I'm not so sure about that. After Midway, the Ise class was modified to hybrids, while the Nagato and Fuso classes were relegated to training duties in Japan. Only the fast battleships (the Yamato and Kongo classes) deployed with the fleet. Is splitting up the battleship fleet in this manner the actions of a country trying to conserve (and concentrate) their battleships for a decisive battle, or are these the actions of a country that has decided that the battleships (the slow ones anyway) aren't even worth the fuel expenditure required to operate with the fleet? I could easily be wrong, but this sounds like a country that has realized that the war will be won or lost with carriers, so they are fighting with their carriers, not with their battleships.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 15, 2013 8:13 pm 
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Of the two major tactical failures at PH, the worst of them was the failure to destyroy the oil and other facilities---not the carriers.

Hard to run a fleet from the mainland, certainly one based on carriers and offensive strikes. I don't believe it would have taken more than six months to rebuild and resupply Pearl---but, as history proved, there were damn few oilers available and every effort would have been taken to convert ships for carrying oil, until proper tankers could be constructed.

Thus, I think no Midway, because even IF there was a Doolittle raid--which prompted the Japanese to attack it, in the first place--Pearl MIGHT not have yet been up to the task. Possibly no nosing around in the Coral Sea, either---thus leaving Japan with all six of her large carriers intact.

The US would no doubt have overcome, but as others have written many times before, things would have been delayed for awhile and the war would not have gone the way it did.


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 16, 2013 12:03 pm 
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Admiral John Byng wrote:
After Midway, the Ise class was modified to hybrids...


I seem to recall reading somewhere that after the carrier losses at Midway, the IJN was desperate to restore some airpower to the fleet, the most expedient course being modification of existing vessels or those under construction to the hybrid design, until new purpose-built carriers could be launched (of which I don't think any were). I don't think any of these had a chance of being remotely successful, other than in the reconnaissance role: the pontooned seaplanes were inherently aerodynamically inferior to deck-launched aircraft; their numbers were still but a fraction of what a USN fleet carrier or light carrier (or even a CVE) could put up; their recovery involved the tactically near-suicidal step of coming to a full stop in mid-ocean; and the hybrid design itself, especially of those vessels that were retrofitted, didn't exhibit particularly good oceangoing capabilities.

I think the one true opportunity where the IJN could have brought the power of its battleships to bear was in the Battle of the Leyte Gulf, I believe, when through clever ruse they distracted the American carrier force and then could have decimated the Philippines landings. Somewhat as with Pearl Harbor, the IJN commanders could not see their opportunity, and retreated, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 16, 2013 8:35 pm 
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The big mistake at Pearl Harbor was the attack itself. If the Japanese had simply invaded Hong Kong, Singapore and the Dutch East Indies, Roosevelt may have found it impossible to get public opinion to allow him to intervene, at least in the short run. Many had only vague notions about Pearl Harbor. vaguer notions about where the Philippines were and neither knew nor cared where Singapore etc. were, and certainly did not want to fight to preserve British and Dutch colonies. If they had stayed away from the American possessions they may well have avoided war with the US and been able to consolidate their gains without any real interference.
The US had tut-tutted about the war in China and about the take over of French-Indo China but had taken no real action and may have done the same if the Japanese had left the US alone and drove out the British and Dutch.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 22, 2013 2:58 am 
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Admiral John Byng wrote:
It is clear that the Japanese navy did not really understand that a shift had taken place from battleships to naval air power. For most of the Pacific war they protected their battleships to such an extent that they saw very little of the fighting while their carriers were sacrificed. They still considered the battleships as the main punch and kept waiting for an oportunity to use them to deliver the knockout blow.


Hi Roger,

The importance and use of carriers was in all Navies not really clear at least and the theory about their use between the wars is an interesting thing to read. In general core was still the battle fleet, but now backed by air power delivered with carriers. All Navies tried to bolster their battleships with more armour against air threat, but there was in all Navies an internal fight between modern and traditional thinking about future.
After Washington Treaty, the number of battleships were low and more important, there were no real "2nd class battleships" further existing which could be used in a more dangerous role, because lesser important if being lost. The battleships remained, as told in the role of the capital ship and core in all Navies, but the point was now, how to find a possibility to use them without higher risk of loss.
Japan found an answer maybe, by using their carriers as an offensive and long(er) range weapon to attack the enemy without putting their battleships in higher danger to do this job ... like a new sort of spear head of the fleet. Pearl Harbour is a good example for it. Far away from any threat of enemy gun fire, they started the air raid against the US battle fleet + enemy carriers as same important target. As all know, they only got battleships and only by chance not the carriers with it. Thinking was that a such weakened US fleet is in further fights an easy target to fight on sea with now superior combined force.
So in result of Pearl Harbour, US gun power was for a time mostly terminated but air power not. The US Navy made then a step more as Japan did, by using the left carriers as core and offensive weapon, backed by left battleships and cruisers.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 14, 2015 6:21 pm 
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So another shortcoming of the Japanese plan seems to come to the fore. With news sent back from the attacking waves that surprise was total and damage widespread, yet no carriers were seen, there evidently was no contingency to shift the plan to one of search and destroy, to make the victory total by getting the carriers.

I hate to revive a thread that is as old as this one (I guess that is what happens when I take the time to read old threads!), but I wanted to make a comment on this point. I think it's unfair to say the Japanese plan to attack Pearl Harbor was flawed because they didn't allow KIDO BUTAI to go into "search and destroy" mode in an effort to find USN carriers after the scheduled attack. There are two main reasons the Japanese didn't allow KIDO BUTAI to wander the waters of Hawaii looking for US carriers.

1. It is very important to understand KIDO BUTAI was a "raiding force" that lacked the ability to stand off a target for days on end. The Japanese (and every other navy at the time) didn't have the logistical support necessary to steam thousands of miles and then loiter in the battle area for an extended period of time. The oilers that accompanied KIDO BUTAI were need to provide the fuel necessary for KITO BUTAI to get back home, not provide fuel for an extended foray. They didn't have a fleet train with them to replace the bombs and torpedoes expended and the AvGas used. Even hanging around one extra day would have been a huge strain on KIDO BUTAI, and spending three or four was unrealistic. It wasn't until 1943-1944 that the USN developed the train of oilers and supply vessels that they could park carrier task forces off a target for extended periods of time. I think it is a bit unfair to penalize the Japanese for their failure to do so when it was realistically not possible.

2. As important as the attack on Pearl Harbor was to the Japanese, it was only part of a broad plan. KIDO BUTAI was needed for other tasks, so even if it were possible for them to stay in Hawaiian waters for a longer period of time, the Japanese probably wouldn't have permitted it because they had other work to do. They had a boatload of subs in the area that could stay behind, and with a bit of luck they could have sunk a carrier or two on their own.

If the Japanese failed to understand anything when they struck Pearl Harbor, it wasn't the importance of carriers over battleships, it was the importance that logistics would play in the upcoming war. Their goal in attacking Pearl Harbor was to limit USN interference in the SW Pacific and SE Asia to such an extent that they could win a limited war (with a negotiated ending). They decided to do this by destroying the ships that were based in Pearl Harbor, but they probably would have been better served knocking that base out and forcing the fleet back to San Diego. That failure, which was a failure at the highest levels of the Navy (Nagano and Yamamoto should be blamed for this, not Nagumo), was far more glaring a mistake.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 15, 2015 9:15 pm 
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ChrisH wrote:
I hate to revive a thread that is as old as this one (I guess that is what happens when I take the time to read old threads!), but I wanted to make a comment on this point. I think it's unfair to say the Japanese plan to attack Pearl Harbor was flawed because they didn't allow KIDO BUTAI to go into "search and destroy" mode in an effort to find USN carriers after the scheduled attack. There are two main reasons the Japanese didn't allow KIDO BUTAI to wander the waters of Hawaii looking for US carriers...

Chris- So far as I'm concerned, no problem in reviving an old thread with a noteworthy contribution. I think your points are, well, right on point. Logistics turned out to be as much a weapon in the Pacific naval war as any of the more conventional armaments, perhaps even more so. I think you're right, the IJN had neither the conceptual recognition nor capacity for a "search and destroy" contingency. I think you're also quite right in casting the failure of the attack on Pearl Harbor for focusing on the vessels, not the port facilities, which if destroyed would have severely circumscribed operations out of Pearl, if not compelled withdrawal to the West Coast. Conceivably that would have allowed the IJN much more freedom of action, both in terms of area and time, to consolidate their conquests.

Thanks again for your thoughts.


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 16, 2015 3:35 am 
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The same "fault" is repeated at Guadalcanal when the IJN cruisers retreated after defeating the US squadron but left the troop transports unharmed. The IJN had a fixation with destroying ships while overlooking the actual objective, resulting in a number of tactical victory but strategic failure situations (attack on Pearl included). Basically they seemed to excel at fighting battles (and were very eager to get into battle even when not the wisest choice) but had no clue how to plan for and wage a war. Those two are very different things.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 16, 2015 7:05 am 
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Vlad wrote:
The same "fault" is repeated at Guadalcanal when the IJN cruisers retreated after defeating the US squadron but left the troop transports unharmed. The IJN had a fixation with destroying ships while overlooking the actual objective, resulting in a number of tactical victory but strategic failure situations (attack on Pearl included). Basically they seemed to excel at fighting battles (and were very eager to get into battle even when not the wisest choice) but had no clue how to plan for and wage a war. Those two are very different things.


A few points to have in consideration regarding Mikawa's rushed retreat from Savo...:

- All the operation carried by the IJN and that ended in the Battle of Savo Island was already an immense risk taken by Mikawa and the attacking force. The whereabouts of Fletcher's supporting carriers were not entirely known to Mikawa and the journey itself down the Slot was quite risky already like it would have been proved a few weeks later as soon proper Allied air power was positioned in Guadalcanal. It could have been fairly easy to the USN carriers mount a massive air strike against Mikawa's force had this one been properly identified and reported in. All this had the carriers been present in the area...they were not...but Mikawa did not know that and still he risked the mission.

- The disposition of the Allied forces in Guadalcanal was not entirely known to Mikawa's Force. He dealt with each one at the time and accordingly to the information provided by the scout planes which was most likely a bit vague but enough to know what he had in front.

- Confined waters - The Iron Bottom Sound are confined and shallow waters for medium-large forces to sail around at 20-30 knots slugging it out with opposing forces. Careful navigation was needed...something that usually doesn't take place often in the heat of the battles. Further more, in the engagement with the US cruiser line, a lucky 8'' shell from one of the US cruisers made it through the bridge structure of Chokai destroying and killing almost everyone in the Map/Navigation room (maps and charts included). Apparently this was a key event that made Mikawa change his mind to stay around.

- Ammo expenditure - A considerable ammount of ordnance was expended in both main phases of the battle...specially torpedoes. Although equipped with reloads and with the powerful Long-Lance the IJN Force saw no limits in saving torpedoes for later use and plenty of the loads were used against the cruisers. Probably not many were left to deal with the cargo ships anchored. These last ones would had to been dealt with gunfire. Sinking ships with gunfire can be more time consuming then using the deadliest torpedo. To manouvre, position and attack both landing beaches and respective supporting ships would have taken Mikawa a few more hours in the area risking his ships (some already damaged) to further combat and possible air assault in the early morning hours.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 16, 2015 12:47 pm 
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MareNostrum wrote:
I think you're also quite right in casting the failure of the attack on Pearl Harbor for focusing on the vessels, not the port facilities, which if destroyed would have severely circumscribed operations out of Pearl, if not compelled withdrawal to the West Coast.


It would have completely changed the dynamic of the war, but I doubt in the way you think. If Japan had focused on the facilities and completely ignored the warships, I think the Navy would have forward deployed the battleships to Australia.

But that never would have happened, because war fighters always focus on the things that can hurt them the most immediately FIRST. That meant the fleet and forces around Pearl Harbor. They had to ensure they could get away, so therefore they HAD to take out the important ships first.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 16, 2015 10:28 pm 
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Tracy White wrote:
But that never would have happened, because war fighters always focus on the things that can hurt them the most immediately FIRST.

Tracy- Your point also well taken. I think we come back to Adm. Yamamoto. He had studied in and traveled the United States, and appreciated its industrial power. He was also opposed to the militarists in Japan. Yet when the decision was made to go to war, his reticence was trumped by his sense of duty. As a result of his knowledge of the United States, and as is probably very well known to followers of this thread, Yamamoto prophesied on the eve of the Pearl Harbor attack, "I will give you six months of victory. After that I promise nothing." Midway, the turning point in the Pacific War, was seven months after Pearl Harbor.


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 16, 2015 11:46 pm 
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battle of coral sea was may 4-8 42 so there was the 6 months.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 17, 2015 1:07 am 
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I think you both need to recheck your math. Dec 7 - 0, Jan 7 - 1 month, Feb 7 - 2 months, Mar 7 - 3 months, Apr 7 - 4 months, May 7 - 5 months, Jun 7 - 6 months. Coral Sea was 5 months after Pearl, and Midway was 6. :wave_1:


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 17, 2015 8:13 am 
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Dick J wrote:
I think you both need to recheck your math. Dec 7 - 0, Jan 7 - 1 month, Feb 7 - 2 months, Mar 7 - 3 months, Apr 7 - 4 months, May 7 - 5 months, Jun 7 - 6 months. Coral Sea was 5 months after Pearl, and Midway was 6. :wave_1:

Dick, you're right. Further confirmation I can't do math in my head anymore... :doh_1:


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