Tag Archives: Midway

The Truly Reluctant Admiral Yamamoto – Part VII


Yamamoto’s Barriers to Becoming the Ultimate Admiral

I never served… I never donned on a uniform for this great country.

That in itself qualifies any opinion I may have to offer on World War II military leadership… but from my armchair civilian’s viewpoint, Admiral Yamamoto was one of the elite admirals of World War II.

I certainly feel he was likely the one with the most military foresight and highly likely the most well balanced.  Yes, he was the enemy and FDR approved his assassination in vengeance for the attack on Pearl Harbor… but I am looking at this broadly.

And I also feel he may have become one of the greatest admirals in history if the barriers obstructing him had not existed.  Regardless, his military achievements could have been much, much greater had he not been encumbered by conditions smothering him – and yes, he did have one prominent military weakness in my humble opinion.

Factually, he may have succeeded in bringing the US to the peace table if Pearl Harbor was an unqualified success.  No, not for “surrender” or to occupy America; that would have been impossible as he knew… but to get America to concede to Japanese expansion in Asia.

His Balls and Chains – Plural

The Uncontrollable Japanese Imperial Army

His first ball and chain was the misguided yet all domineering Japanese Army.  Since the Boshin War victory, their newly formed Imperial Army’s self-centered view of themselves had snowballed.  In other words, they were full of themselves and Yamamoto was handcuffed militarily and politically from a naval standpoint. They were second fiddle.

In American terminology, Yamamoto was a “dove” in a way, primarily because he realized Japan relied on imports of oil and steel from America.  The Army clearly wanted to invade neighboring Asian countries and take these resources by force.

Signing of Tripartite Pact in Berlin, Sept. 27, 1940. Kurusu is on left. Yamamoto vigorously argued against this pact with Nazi Germany and Italy to the point he became a target for assassination.

Yamamoto was also forced into planning the attack on Pearl Harbor because the hawks in the Imperial Army-controlled government signed the Tripartite Pact in September 1940.  He knew this would cause Japan to become a clear enemy and anger FDR.  As the nail in the coffin, FDR through the League of Nations instituted an embargo on oil and steel. The “hawks” went berserk.

“If I am told to fight regardless of the consequences, I shall run wild for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second or third year. The Tripartite Pact has been concluded and we cannot help it. Now that the situation has come to this pass, I hope you will endeavor to avoid a Japanese-American war.” – Admiral Yamamoto to Premier Konoye Fumimaro after Japan signed the Tripartite Pact.

Further, the “hotheads” in the Japanese military were so war focused that they lost sight of the fact their own natural resources – being an island country – was dismal.  “How could Japan wage a war,” Yamamoto knew; Japan’s natural resources were (1):

Copper                 75,000 tons yearly (less than 50% required militarily)

Iron Ore               12% of national requirements

Coking Coal         None

Petroleum          10% of needs

Rubber                 None

In another lesser known angle, the production of military aircraft in any great number was a pressing matter for Japan. In fact, the Imperial Army-controlled leadership simply allocated aircraft production right down the middle: one-half to the Army, one-half to the Navy.  Yamamoto was tasked with protecting the entire Japanese empire with his allocation of aircraft while the Army was only focused on land action.  This was more ironic in that Yamamoto championed the development of these Zeroes and the Betty bombers, both used by the army.

The “Overly Cautious” Vice-Admiral Nagumo

The second and likely Yamamoto’s heaviest ball and chain – if not the sinker at the end of a fishing line – was Admiral Chuichi Nagumo  (南雲忠一).  It is my belief that most importantly, the outcome of the attack on Pearl Harbor may have been truly been a death blow to the U.S. if Yamamoto himself had been in command of the attack fleet instead of Nagumo.

Admiral Chuichi Nagumo (南雲忠一)

Long story short, Nagumo was Commander in Chief, 1st Air Fleet.  He was in command of the world’s most deadliest carrier-based naval air strike force in history at that time, bound for Pearl Harbor.

However, he was raised a ship-based torpedo man and was well versed in surface maneuvering.   He had only had commands of destroyers, cruisers and a battleship before being appointed to this position of commanding the most powerful carrier based air strike force.  Even a fellow admiral (Tsukahara) opined that essentially Nagumo had zero experience in the capabilities and potential of offensive naval aviation let alone in battle.

Nagumo on left in Seattle, 1925. He spent two years in the U.S. to learn of naval equipment and strategies. My dad was also in Seattle at that time.

By the way, Nagumo and Yamamoto were like oil and vinegar.  In fact, while Yamamoto’s attack plan for Pearl was extremely well planned out, Nagumo had little faith in it and argued against it.

So how did he become in charge of Yamamoto’s six carrier Pearl Harbor attack force if he wasn’t qualified and did not support the attack plan orchestrated by Yamamoto?

It was because of… his seniority.  Simple as that.

You see, in those days and even today, Japan is entrenched in “etiquette” and social ladders.  Nagumo had the most seniority among admiral-rank officers and therefore was “rightfully” given the “honor” to command.  Not even Yamamoto could change that. (Accepting Nagumo would be fleet commander, Yamamoto ensured his two most highly regarded lieutenants were assigned to surround Nagumo during the Pearl Harbor attack –  Minoru Genda and Mitsuo Fuchida.)

Nagumo seated in the center of this 1943 family portrait. He himself would commit seppuku the next year at Saipan. Source unknown.

But most of all, Nagumo was overly cautious.  Timid may be another word to describe what I see forthwith:

  1. In spite of heeding Genda and Fuchida’s strong urging to send a third wave at Pearl Harbor, he assessed the situation conservatively.  He ordered the planes and ordnance below and turned the fleet around after only two waves.  His apparent reasoning was to not lose a carrier to air attack from the Americans while Yamamoto was prepared for two carriers lost.  Nagumo made this decision in spite of Fuchida circling above Pearl in the clouds for about two hours during the attack, professionally observing the damage at Pearl and providing a detailed accurate report in person to Nagumo. The purpose of the third wave to was destroy repair and fuel facilities.  By destroying such assets, the U.S. would NOT have as quickly re-floated/repaired the badly damaged ships.  However. to be fair, this is not to say that if Nagumo had sent the third wave that the mission would have been accomplished.
    While Japanese propaganda blatantly lied to the public that the American fleet had been completely destroyed by Nagumo, that was far from the truth.  While Yamamoto had heard smatterings of what really happened on board the Akagi (Nagumo’s flagship), Fuchida flew in ahead of the fleet and personally gave Yamamoto a detailed report of the situation and how Nagumo’s timidity resulted in an incomplete mission.  The whole PURPOSE of the secret attack was to totally cripple the U.S. fleet including fuel and repair docks.  Yamamoto concluded the Nagumo-led attack failed to complete its mission. Because the propaganda had made Nagumo into a national hero, Yamamoto could not do much. In typical Japanese fashion, i.e., a veiled insult, he didn’t congratulate Nagumo when they met.  Instead, he told Nagumo to ready himself for another battle.  Think about it.  In essence, if Nagumo had completed his mission, there would be no further battle.  Yamamoto was furious but did not show it.
  2. The next ultimate Nagumo failure was at the Battle of Midway.  Again, he was in command of a four carrier strike force which outnumbered the American fleet of three carriers.(2)  In support of Nagumo, however, the Americans had cracked the Japanese naval code, knew of the impending attack and had taken an immense gamble to set up an ambush at sea.  During the battle, Nagumo’s overly cautious nature resulted in delays in launching another strike against Midway.(3)  The carrier decks were loaded with bombs, torpedoes and fuel when attacked by dive bombers from the Enterprise (on which Mr. Johnson was again manning anti-aircraft guns).  Within minutes, two Japanese carriers were sunk. Nagumo would lose the last two in short order while the U.S. lost the Yorktown.
    Per his quote above, Admiral Yamamoto had forecast that his navy may rule the Pacific for six months to perhaps a year without a successful preemptive strike to eliminate the US naval fleet at the get-go.  He was right.  The Battle of Midway was six months after Pearl Harbor… and the preemptive strike had failed.
  3. Two months after Midway, August 1942, there was an intense sea battle, the Battle of the Eastern Solomon Islands near Guadalcanal.  The U.S. had only two carriers in the area (Enterprise and Saratoga under Admiral Fletcher) while Nagumo, who was again in command, had SIX.  Yamamoto’s orders to Nagumo were for his 3rd Fleet to seek out and destroy the American carrier force. In spite of the numerical superiority, Nagumo lost the carrier Ryujo but damaged the Enterprise severely.  (My neighbor, Mr. Johnson USMC, was a US Marine serving on board the Enterprise manning 20mm anti-aircraft guns and was wounded. See his story here.)  While both Nagumo and Fletcher didn’t have the bellies to engage the other and fight, Yamamoto was furious that Nagumo once again failed to successfully engage the two carriers and sink them due to indecisiveness and from being overly cautious.
USS Enterprise damage. At dry dock.

Yamamoto’s Major Flaw

From early in his career, Yamamoto’s vision for a future offensive carrier based navy showed tremendous insight and intelligence.  His rise up the ranks allowed him to achieve his goals in steps.  Train the best aviators, develop advanced specialized attack aircraft, cease building battleships and build world-class carriers and institute intensive training and safety regimens. He was also an excellent planner and a man faultlessly devoted to the Emperor and the Japanese empire.

But one aspect of naval warfare he was unable to get his arms around involved his submarines.  The subs were innovative and fired the tremendously effective and reliable Type 95 and Type 93 “Long Lance” torpedoes. One, the I-400, was the largest sub ever built.

I-15 fleet sub
I-400 aircraft carrying sub, the largest sub built for WWII.

However, Yamamoto did not veer from his belief that his submarines (of which there were not many) were primarily to be deployed against capital ships, i.e, destroyers, cruisers, battleships and hopefully carriers.  While the submarines did sink the USS Wasp and fired the final blow to finish off the Yorktown, their successes were not many, thankfully, due to defensive measures taken by the U.S. Navy.

But within this belief, he failed to deploy them effectively against merchant shipping and supply ships. In tabular form, the table below reports the number of merchant ship sinkings by submarines (rounded):

While Nagumo failed to complete the mission to completely destroy the naval assets and facilities at Pearl Harbor, Yamamoto himself contributed to allowing the US to rebuild its Pacific Fleet quickly through his short-sighted and defective deployment of his lethal submarines.  While many subs of various classes were deployed about the Hawaiian islands (4), they were generally recalled by January; they were only able to sink a couple of merchant ships and were plagued by mishaps and strong anti-submarine warfare tactics by the US Navy.

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The death of Admiral Yamamoto in Part VIII to follow.

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Footnotes:

(1) “Yamamoto” by Edwin P. Hoyt.

(2) The four Japanese carriers that were sunk, the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu, were four of the six  carrier fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor.  This sweetened the victory for the U.S.  Japan would NEVER recover from this loss.

(3) To the defense of Nagumo, true military historians cite that Nagumo may have been following Japanese naval doctrine in that it required launch of strike aircraft in full force rather than in piecemeal.  Further, that Spruance had already given orders to launch his aircraft so Nagumo’s cautious approach to delay launch would not have made much difference.

(4) Another tip-off to an imminent attack were the number of radio transmissions from Japanese submarine headquarters to it sub fleet off the shores of Hawaii.  Per “The Japanese Submarine Force and World War II” by Carl Boyd in 1995: “Part of the reason for the failure of the I-boats in Hawaiian waters concerned the manner of directing operations from afar. The commander of the Sixth Fleet, Vice Adm. Mitsumi Shimizu at Kwajalein, filled the air each night shortly before the air strike with radio messages to his submarines around the Hawaiian islands.  A U. S. Navy intelligence officer, then stationed at Pearl Harbor, wrote 25 years later that “port authorities in Hawaii were thus made conscious of the magnitude and to some extent the location of the Japanese submarine menace. They were consequently cautious in routing ships, and this had some bearing on the Japanese lack of success.”

What Did FDR Know? – Part 4


 

honolulu headline

As we saw in Part 3, Japan and America are now at war.

While not directly related to the question of “What did FDR know?”, it is deemed critical for readers to understand the damages suffered by the US military – and specifically its naval and air assets – on December 7, 1941.  It is also important to realize the huge advantage the Japanese Imperial Navy had over the U.S. Navy.  Lastly, it is important for readers to note the unbridled successes of the Japanese military at that time… and what unbelievably followed.

For the vast majority, Americans are under the belief that the US was caught flat-footed with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  Indeed, 21 ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were sunk or damaged.

Of those ships damaged, all but three of the ships at Pearl Harbor were refloated and repaired (Note: Pearl Harbor at its deepest is about 50′.):

  • The USS Arizona – too badly damaged to be salvaged,
  • The USS Oklahoma – raised but considered too obsolete to be worth repairing, and,
  • The USS Utah – also considered obsolete.

In addition, the US had 188 aircraft destroyed plus 159 were damaged; the majority were hit before they had a chance to take off.

uss calif

There were a total of 2,403 American casualties, including 68 civilians.  Most of the military killed were on the USS Arizona (1,177 killed).  Most of the civilians killed were from improperly fused anti-aircraft shells fired by US batteries hitting in Honolulu.  There were 1,178 wounded military personnel and civilians combined. (1)

crashed zero
A downed Zero in a Hawaiian neighborhood.

Japanese naval forces sailing for the raid included four heavy aircraft carriers, two battleships, two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, 35 submarines, and 11 destroyers.  Indeed, a powerful fleet projecting tremendous offensive firepower.  All survived unscathed; all but 29 Japanese aircraft returned to their carriers.

In the Pacific Theater, Japanese forces were rolling over Allied forces at will with victories in Thailand, Malaya, Wake Island, Guam Island, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, Burma, Dutch Indonesia and the invasion New Guinea.  The Imperial Japanese Navy dominated in the Pacific, attacking Allied bases in Australia and Ceylon; they even bombed or shelled coast of North America at will albeit with minimal effect.

But, the great sea battle of the Coral Sea and more specifically at Midway essentially put a halt to the wave of Japanese victories… barely five months after Pearl Harbor.

How could that possibly be?  Wasn’t our Pacific fleet crippled?

____________________________

So… how DID the US Navy stop the Japanese advance at these critical battles at Coral Sea and Midway?  After all, at the time of Pearl Harbor, the US Navy only had three aircraft carriers in the Pacific: the USS Enterprise, USS Lexington, and USS Saratoga.  (The USS Hornet was still on shakedown cruise and the USS Yorktown and USS Wasp were deployed in the Atlantic.)

Of course, the heroics of our sailors and Marines played a most dominant role but you may wish to ask yourself:

  • Were American aircraft and ships better than their Japanese counterparts?  No, production of new classes of ships and aircraft would not arrive in the Pacific until 1943.
  • Did American forces have more men, aircraft and ships? Again no, the tide of the American industrial strength would not be felt in the Pacific until 1943.
  • Was it better leadership?  No.  Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was arguably equally matched by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the overall commander of Japanese forces during the battles of Coral Sea and Midway.
  • Did our navy stumble upon the enemy out in the Pacific by sheer luck or happenstance?

If it wasn’t the above, how was the US Navy able to engage the Imperial Japanese Navy at Coral Sea and Midway then stop them?

It was MAGIC.

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Battle of Coral Sea, May 4 – 8, 1942

coral sea map
Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942.  Source: Pacific War Museum.

By March 13, 1942, OP-G-20 had completely broken JN-25.  Until then, about 10% to 15% of a JN-25 message that was intercepted could be read. (2)  However, enough could be deciphered to understand the Japanese were gearing up to attack Port Moresby in Papua, New Guinea on May 7, 1942.  By taking Port Moresby, Japan could extend its reach beyond northern Australia and further south.

Upon receiving the intelligence from the deciphered JN-25 messages, Admiral Chester Nimitz decided to move a fleet into position in between Port Moresby and Australia.  He issued such orders on April 17, 1942.  However, he had but two carriers available for action – the USS Lexington and the USS Yorktown.  This battle was definitely NOT a chance encounter; it was planned.

jn25 sampleIn fact, deciphered messages allowed the US Task Force 17 to be in position before the Japanese fleets arrived to attack.  But lacking sufficient capital ships and aircraft that were inferior to the Japanese Zero, the outcome was far from certain.  The sailors and Marines were largely untested as well.  (The USS Hornet and USS Enterprise were unavailable due to their critical roles in the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo; it took place two days later on April 18, 1942.)

With but two carriers and support ships, the US fleet was outgunned especially considering our aircraft was obsolete.  The Japanese fleet sailed with a Shoho (a carrier), several cruisers and destroyers, and a dozen transports filled with troops.  A smaller invasion force would move down the Solomons, which laid on New Guinea’s eastern flank, with the target being Tulagi. To protect these two invasion fleets, the Japanese carriers Zuikaku and Shokaku would spearhead yet a third fleet to provide air protection.

coral-lex01s
The USS Lexington explodes and sinks. (US Navy archival photo)

While the ensuing two-day Battle of Coral Sea was considered a draw, U.S. forces inflicted enough damage on the Japanese navy to force it to withdraw.  In addition, as the Japanese were unable to secure the port, their military was forced to fight in land warfare, which proved disastrous for the Japanese.  Of most importance, the fruit of the battle saw the Japanese carrier Shoho sunk, with both the Zuikaku and Shokaku damaged and forced to retire.  Therefore, they were made unavailable for the critical Battle of Midway, just about four weeks later.

However, we lost the USS Lexington, a major loss. And while the USS Yorktown suffered heavy damage as well, the Japanese believed her to have been sunk; instead, the USS Yorktown was made seaworthy through the extreme efforts of repair crews at Pearl Harbor.  While two weeks had been estimated for repairs, the repair crews had her back on the seas in just 48 hours.

This strategic victory was made entirely possible because of secret MAGIC intercepts.  The Japanese still did not believe their complex JN-25 had been broken.

Battle of Midway, June 4 – 7, 1942

rochefort
Captain Joseph Rochefort, USN, head of OIC, Pearl Harbor (Photo NSA)

Arguably, the paramount triumph from the breaking of JN-25 on March 13, 1942 was the Battle of Midway.  This is one battle that my neighbor, Mr. Johnson, fought on board the USS Enterprise as a very young US Marine.  From decrypting the Japanese naval messages, the U.S. naval commanders knew the general battle plans of Admiral Yamamoto – even the timetable.  Yamamoto’s strategy was to have aircraft carrier task forces launch both a diversionary raid off the Aleutian Islands then lure the U.S. Navy to Midway Island.  His goal was to decimate once and for all what remained of the American fleet after Pearl Harbor.

Yes, the deciphered intercepts did not state in the clear Midway was the target; the messages simply designated “AF.”  While CINCPAC felt strongly it was Midway, it was Captain Joseph Rochefort of OP-20-G who wily suggested how to establish for certain what “AF” stood for.

Rochefort was Officer in Charge (OIC) of Station Hypo in Pearl Harbor, the nerve station in Hawaii for deciphering JN-25 intercepts.  An expert Japanese linguist and during the most critical month of May 1942, Rochefort reviewed, analyzed, and reported on as many as 140 decrypted messages per day. These reports were directly piped to the highest-ranking fleet commanders.  He brilliantly strategized for American forces on Midway to send out a radio message saying that they were running short of fresh water.  Rochefort and his group waited anxiously to see if Japan would take the bait. Finally, OP-G-20 intercepted a Japanese message: AF was running short of fresh water.

Establishing Midway as the target, the U.S. Navy assembled what it could.  America was still short on capital ships and better aircraft.  After a 48 hour turnaround, the USS Yorktown joined the USS Enterprise and USS Hornet.

While remembering that by virtue of deciphering coded Japanese messages, the Japanese Imperial Navy had three less carriers to deploy after their losses at Coral Sea – a very critical fact.  After a fierce three-day battle at Midway, U.S. naval aviators sank all four Japanese aircraft carriers in Yamamoto’s task force – the Hiryu, Soryu, Akagi and Kaga.  All four participated in the assault on Pearl Harbor, effectively turning the tide in the Pacific.  Yes, luck was involved during the actual battle but certainly, the courage of our young men at sea and in the air was incredible.  They had proven themselves but at great cost in lives and materiel… including the USS Yorktown.

Unbelievably, the Chicago Tribune published a darned story revealing that the U.S. had known about Japanese battle plans in advance.  They had, in effect, revealed that JN–25 had been broken. Inexplicably, key Japanese leaders never found out about the article.  Darned media – even back then.

Assassination of Admiral Yamamoto

State funeral Yamamoto
State funeral procession for Admiral Yamamoto, 1943.

As school history books had once shown, the battle planner of the Pearl Harbor attack was Admiral Yamamoto.  He did know of the might of the U.S. having attended Harvard University – yes, Harvard – from 1919 to 1921, studying English.  He did, in fact, oppose taking on the U.S.  But Yamamoto had one trait which would lead directly to his death: his intense desire to be punctual.  The US counted on this.

Codebreakers intercepted then learned after deciphering messages that the admiral was scheduled to inspect a naval base on Bougainville in the Solomon Islands on April 18, 1943.  The detail even included his minute by minute itinerary.  Some top US officials were hesitant to use this information for fear that doing so would tip off the Japanese that their codes had been broken. Nevertheless, the decision was made to assassinate Yamamoto. That morning, eighteen P–38 fighters left their base at Guadalcanal at the other end of the Solomon chain and arrived at Bougainville precisely ten minutes before Yamamoto’s plane was making its approach. The admiral was killed in the attack, depriving Japan of its most experienced and accomplished admiral and sapping Japanese morale.

yamamoto flight
Flights paths: Yamamoto (red) and USAAF (black). Also notice “Green Island” north of Bouganville. This was “Old Man Jack’s” last battle station. USN Archives

To mislead the Japanese that the fighters had arrived purely by chance, the air force flew other risky patrols to the area, both before and after the attack.  It was not a “one shot in the dark” mission.  It was deeply thought over and planned out – because we were able to intercept and decipher coded Japanese messages.(3)  They also spread “rumors” that the information was from coast watchers.

The Japanese did not change JN–25, and for the remainder of the war, U.S. intelligence intercepted and read thousands of Japanese messages.  A portion of a secret OP-20-G report, circa 1943, is below listing the number of coded Japanese messages intercepted:

Japan’s Plan

Early in 1942, Japan decided to block the Allies from setting up bases in Australia. Operation MO would send a large invasion force to Port Moresby, the capital of New Guinea. From Port Moresby, the Japanese would be able to project air power beyond the northern tip of Australia and establish bases even further south (Hearn).

The Port Moresby landing force sailed with about a dozen transports filled with troops, several cruisers and destroyers, and a half-size carrier, Shoho (Bennett, Hearn). A smaller invasion force would move down the Solomons, which lay on New Guinea’s eastern flank. The specific target in the Solomons was Tulagi, which was the colonial capital. To protect these two invasion fleets, Zuikaku and Shokaku would lead a separate covering force to create a blanket of air protection (Bennett).

The U.S. Prepares

By March 1942, the United States had cracked part of the current Japanese Naval (JN) code, JN-25. However, U.S. intelligence could intercept only about 60 percent of all Japanese transmissions and had the resources to analyze only about 40 percent of the messages it did intercept (Parshall and Tully). Even then, code breakers typically could read only 10 to 15 percent of the code groups in a message (Parshall and Tully). U.S. intelligence primarily used direction-finding equipment to learn where many Japanese ships were and where they were heading (Parshall and Tully).

Beginning on April 16, U.S. intelligence began using this spotty information to piece together an understanding of a Japanese plan to move south with carriers (Parshall and Tully). On April 17, Nimitz ordered the carrier Lexington to join Yorktown in the Coral Sea (Bennett). If Halsey had been able to move Enterprise and Hornet there too, the U.S. might have been able to destroy the Japanese fleet. But Enterprise and Hornet needed refitting after the Doolittle raid of April 18, 1942, and could not get there in time for the fight (Parshall and Tully).

– See more at: http://www.pacificaviationmuseum.org/pearl-harbor-blog/battle-of-the-coral-sea#sthash.P5voInlO.dpuf

Japan’s Plan

Early in 1942, Japan decided to block the Allies from setting up bases in Australia. Operation MO would send a large invasion force to Port Moresby, the capital of New Guinea. From Port Moresby, the Japanese would be able to project air power beyond the northern tip of Australia and establish bases even further south (Hearn).

The Port Moresby landing force sailed with about a dozen transports filled with troops, several cruisers and destroyers, and a half-size carrier, Shoho (Bennett, Hearn). A smaller invasion force would move down the Solomons, which lay on New Guinea’s eastern flank. The specific target in the Solomons was Tulagi, which was the colonial capital. To protect these two invasion fleets, Zuikaku and Shokaku would lead a separate covering force to create a blanket of air protection (Bennett).

The U.S. Prepares

By March 1942, the United States had cracked part of the current Japanese Naval (JN) code, JN-25. However, U.S. intelligence could intercept only about 60 percent of all Japanese transmissions and had the resources to analyze only about 40 percent of the messages it did intercept (Parshall and Tully). Even then, code breakers typically could read only 10 to 15 percent of the code groups in a message (Parshall and Tully). U.S. intelligence primarily used direction-finding equipment to learn where many Japanese ships were and where they were heading (Parshall and Tully).

Beginning on April 16, U.S. intelligence began using this spotty information to piece together an understanding of a Japanese plan to move south with carriers (Parshall and Tully). On April 17, Nimitz ordered the carrier Lexington to join Yorktown in the Coral Sea (Bennett). If Halsey had been able to move Enterprise and Hornet there too, the U.S. might have been able to destroy the Japanese fleet. But Enterprise and Hornet needed refitting after the Doolittle raid of April 18, 1942, and could not get there in time for the fight (Parshall and Tully).

– See more at: http://www.pacificaviationmuseum.org/pearl-harbor-blog/battle-of-the-coral-sea#sthash.P5voInlO.dpuf

Crane Library, National Archives, College Park
National Archives

Purple and D-Day

The importance of MAGIC and the breaking of the “Purple” Japanese consulate code cannot be understated.  For non-historian readers, the reach and military value extends far beyond the waters of the Pacific.  It extends to Europe…specifically D-Day and the shores of Normandy.

As revealed in “What Did FDR Know? – Part 2” of this blog series, the US broke the code for this cipher before the attack at Pearl Harbor.  The US did their best to keep the wraps over this great intelligence triumph.  However, Nazi Germany’s own intelligence had good evidence that SIS had broken Purple and informed the Japanese.  Unbelievably, Japan refused to believe it.  (I believe this is part of the Japanese culture – to not place importance on “water cooler” talk.)   Only when Congressional hearings and investigations into who knew of the Pearl Harbor attack reveal this did the Japanese accept it.  Unfortunately, is was much after war’s end.(4)

oshima 1
Baron Hiroshi Oshima, 1939.

Per “What Did FDR Know? – Part 1”, Baron Hiroshi Oshima was the Japanese envoy to Berlin and used his Purple machine to communicate frequently with Tokyo.  Luckily for the US, Oshima was also an Imperial Army colonel at the time of appointment and loved war strategy and armaments.  He followed intimately the German conquests in Europe and their latest technologies. He sent very detailed reports to his superiors in Tokyo of what he had learned using the purple cipher machine, which the US was able to intercept and decipher immediately.

Oshima became a favorite and a confidant of Hitler.  Hitler – being so full of himself and pompous – shared with Oshima the most secret and sensitive of his war plans with him.  Hitler even gave Oshima a tour of the German defenses in Normandy!  As per his character and routine, Oshima transmitted very detailed reports of the Nazi defenses at Normandy.  This was obviously key in the preparations for D-Day, so much so the deciphered intel was immediately transmitted to General Eisenhower.  Not quite what we read in our textbooks…

And while the public is led to believe the U.S. did not know if the German commanders took the bait that the D-Day invasion would take place at Pas-de-Calais, Oshima secretly gave the US confidence that the Germans had taken the deception through his messages to Tokyo.  The Nazis were preparing for the landing at the wrong beaches.  (Note: this is not to lessen the somberness of those killed or missing in action at Normandy.  Further, this is not to lessen the importance of wartime security.)  Further, with their true belief that the invasion at Normandy was a diversion, the Panzer divisions were not immediately released to engage the Allied invading forces until too late.

In recognition of this value to Japan, he was promoted in a few short years from Colonel to Lt. General.  Oshima’s prolific reporting prompted US General George C. Marshall to say Oshima was, “…our main basis of information regarding Hitler’s intentions in Europe” in 1944. (5)

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Final Query for Part 4

Why did the U.S. decide to take intense preparatory military action for Coral Sea based only on partial deciphers of JN-25?  As stated, OP-20-G did not break JN-25 completely until March 1942.  However, OP-20-G was able to adequately decipher JN-25 messages – even one sent by Yamamoto himself – only until about one week before Pearl Harbor when a code key was changed.  What could the reasons be for the U.S. not taking similar defensive or offensive action at Pearl Harbor before the actual attack commenced?  Was it because of incomplete intel?  Were deciphered messages not of importance to FDR… or they not reach FDR at all?  Were diplomatic deciphers not important?  Did top brass feel their carriers would be sunk facing tremendous attacks and therefore, the Pacific War would be lost from the get-go?  Or…?

Of course, there can be as many reasons as there are people.

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NOTES:

(1) National Park Service

(2) “At the Interface” documentary based on interviews of Donald M. Showers, USN, ret.

(3) Public teaching in the past was true at the surface – that the US had intercepted a radio message “sent out in the open” by a brash young officer.  Now you know it was the work of cryptanalysts working under tremendous secrecy.

(4) National Cryptologic Museum

(5) “Hitler’s Japanese Confidant” by Carl Boyd

My “Top Ten” Reasons Why Japan Lost the Pacific War…so Quickly


USS Nevada

OK.  Relatively speaking.  “Quickly”.

But we’ve been “at war” against terrorism – both foreign and now domestic – since 2001.  More than 11 years.

But the war against Japan started officially for us on December 7, 1941.  We were caught flat-footed.

Yet it was over by August 15, 1945.

Incredible.  In 3 years, 8 months, 8 days.  How could that have happened so quickly (relatively speaking)?  Have you ever thought of this timeline?

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Well, I have removed my Kevlar flak vest for all you bloggers who love history – and who are immensely more versed and intelligent than I…or is it me?

Below herein is my “Top Ten” list of the reasons why Japan lost the Pacific War…so quickly.

I’d like to hear your opinions, corrections, or teachings.

Hunting season is open.  Rubber bullets are most suitable.

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Damage from overhead – Pearl Harbor aftermath

1. Long Range Failure of Pearl Harbor Attack

a. Admiral Nagumo – placed in charge of the attack force by the Japanese Imperial Navy and NOT by Admiral Yamamoto –  failed to fully execute the direct orders issued to him by Yamamoto.

b. Attack plans skewed towards sinking of carriers (which were not there). Genda wanted to insure carriers were sent to bottom and therefore be unsalvageable. Because our carriers were not there, pilots overly concentrated on battleships or other less tactically important ships.

c. The ordnance used by the attacking Japanese was inappropriate for sinking battleships.  Besides, Pearl Harbor is way to shallow to allow for “sinking to the bottom of the ocean,” so to speak.

d. The first wave of Japanese torpedo bombers – although a complete tactical surprise – was a dismal failure with very few hits.

e. Failed to destroy dry docks and fuel dumps (Hawaii is an island country and had to import all fuel…like Japan).  Although there is the fog of battle, Nagumo (overly cautious) did not heed the strong advice from Fuchida who urged a third wave just for such purpose.

f. In light of “e” above, Yamamoto himself had one weakness: he did not see his submarine force has an OFFENSIVE weapon.  He failed to deploy them between Pearl Harbor and the West Coast of the US to target supply ships – which would have been carrying fuel, materiel and supplies to rebuild Pearl Harbor.

g. Nearly all ships damaged by the attack were refloated.

h. Insufficient training by Japanese Navy in preparation for attack.

i. Lastly – and for some foolish reason – they attacked on a Sunday morning.

2. Breaking of the Japanese Naval Code and the failure of the Japanese to accept it was broken.

3. 24-hour Repair of USS Yorktown after Coral Sea in Preparation for Battle of Midway.

USS Yorktown afire
USS Yorktown afire

4. Innovation of US Navy to Use CO2 for Fire Suppression.

a. US Navy would flood fuel tanks on ships with carbon dioxide thereby displacing oxygen before battle.

b. Japanese ships had useless fire suppression systems with fuel right alongside ordnance.

5. Innovation of Rubber-lined Fuel Tanks and Armor Protection for Pilots on US Aircraft

An example of the advantage of self-sealing fuel tanks and armoring.
An example of  survivability with self-sealing fuel tanks and armoring.  F6F Hellcat.

a. “Self-sealing tanks” in wings.

b. Impressive armor shielding for the pilot (especially in the Grumman F6F Hellcat).

c. Japanese planes had neither, leading to insurmountable casualties and easy shoot-downs, i.e., Japanese aircraft would “flame” or disintegrate under withering fire from .50 caliber guns.

Japanese planes did not have self-sealing fuel tanks
Japanese planes did not have self-sealing fuel tanks

6. Battle of Midway

a. Huge tactical gamble by Nimitz in usage of Spruance as task force commander.

b. Tactical decision to launch torpedo planes early on by Spruance. While all but one pilot perished and no torpedoes hit, Mitsubishi Zeroes assigned to combat air patrol were at low altitudes since they shot down the torpedo planes.

c. Dauntless dive bombers (with US fighter cover) were able to dive relatively uncontested and caught Nagumo between launchings with ordnance scattered about.

d. Confusion by Japanese pilots that two US carriers were sunk. In actuality and while eventually sunk, the USS Yorktown had been hit in the first wave but the fires had been put out before the second wave attacked.

e. With the sinking of four Japanese carriers (see Fire Suppression above) and loss of valuable pilots, the Japanese Navy ceased to be an offensive force.

7. Production Might of the US

a. We had eight carriers at time of Pearl Harbor (in the Pacific and the Atlantic) but were down to two after the Battle of Midway.

b. We lost the Wasp, Hornet, Lexington and Yorktown by then.

c. The USS Enterprise was the last operational carrier. The “other” carrier, the USS Langley, was used only for training purposes and was out in the Atlantic.

d. By the time of the invasion of Okinawa in 1945, however, we had over 40 carriers as part of the assault fleet alone.

8. Semi-automatic M1 Garand rifle and the M-2 Flamethrower

a. Japanese military were burdened with reliable but bolt action Arisaka or failure-prone Nambu armaments.  (Bolt-action implies the shooter must lower his rifle to load the next round and then re-sight.)

b. The M-1 Garand took an eight-round clip.  The round had tremendous stopping power, was rugged and a rifle squad could lay down withering fire with the semi-automatic.  The shooter did not have to lower his rifle to load the next round and re-sight.

c. On Iwo Jima and other island battles, the Japanese were rarely seen. As such, the flamethrower was critical for success although accompanied by high mortality rates.

Marines carry the M1 Garand into battle at Tarawa Nov 1943
Marines carry the M1 Garand into battle at Tarawa Nov 1943
Marines Using Flame Thrower on Iwo Jima
US Marines using M-2 flamethrower against entrenched enemy on Iwo Jima

9. The Japanese-American (or “Nisei”) Soldiers in the Top Secret Military Intelligence Service (MIS)

Two of the Nisei secretly attached to Merrill's Marauders plan with General Stillwell.
Two of the Nisei secretly attached to Merrill’s Marauders plan with General Stillwell.

a. MIS secretly accompanied Marines and soldiers for every Pacific Theater amphibious assault or parachuted in with Airborne troops.

b. Nisei’s were the actual soldiers that listened in on Japanese Navy radio transmissions and NOT US Navy personnel. One transmission disclosed details on Admiral Yamamoto’s flight schedule which led to his shootdown.

c. Quickly translated captured major Japanese battle plans for Leyte Gulf (Z-Plan) and allowed for the lop-sided victory at the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”.

d. The invaluable intel provided by the MIS proved to the (generally unsupportive) top echelon that the Japanese military was near operational collapse in many combat areas.

10. The US Marine Corps

Marine catches up to comrades after covering fallen buddy with tarp and marking it with his M-1
Marine catches up to comrades after covering fallen buddy with tarp and marking it with his M-1

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OK.  So what about the B-29’s or the atomic bombs/fire bombings?  Aren’t they some of the reasons Japan lost the Pacific War?

No.  Not in my humble opinion.

Tinian
B-29 boneyard, Tinian

Historical facts will show that the B-29s were largely ineffective until the time LeMay unleashed the firebombing campaign on March 9, 1945.  The first B-29s were deployed out of India and China in the summer of 1944.  For the first missions, about 20% failed to reach their target due largely to mechanical trouble.  Of the approximately 80% that made it to target, only a couple of bombs actually hit target.  Therefore, ineffective results.

Their engines were also prone to overheating in flight.  Criminy.

As for the firebombings/atomic bombings, it is my opinion Japan had already lost the Pacific War due to the ten summarized reasons above.  Intelligence obtained by the US Army MIS Nisei’s like my dad’s predecessors support that conclusion.  When the Nisei interrogated Japanese prisoners at the front lines, it was clear they were nearly without food, water, medical supplies or ammunition.   Their morale was also devastated.  For instance, Japanese soldiers that surrendered would say, “We were terrified.  For every mortar round we would fire at the Marines, ten rounds would come back.”  The Japanese needed to make every round count; the Americans didn’t.

Japanese soldiers – dead, wounded or captured – would have uncensored letters from home on their person.  After the Nisei translated those letters on the battlefront, they disclosed that their families, too, were without much food or water…and that morale was extremely low.

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So some Greek dude said centuries ago that, “In war, truth is the first casualty.”

Pretty smart.  But that applies even today – and certainly during World War II.

We were raised with certain textbooks for our history classes.  We believed in them.  We had no reason not to.

But the truth is, there are many versions of history.  Factual versions.  Incorrect versions.  Factual versions “edited” by the victors.  Factual versions written by the losers.  And new versions.  And versions to further patriotism.

But there is one thing for sure…  Said by one of the most brilliant minds this world has known:

“I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

ALBERT EINSTEIN

Mr. Johnson, USMC – Part III


I figured if Mr. Johnson wanted to tell me more, he would have.

But as with Old Man Jack, I never asked for more.

I believe that’s how these combat vets want it.

They don’t want to be quizzed about what they said or asked to describe more.

They will tell you some things of what they experienced.  Probably to let the devils out that have been eating away at them for 70 years.

They have a built in limiter to keep more memories from popping back up…the things they saw or did that they try so hard to suppress to stay sane.  Every minute for the rest of their lives.

They deserve that respect.  Always.  And you feel honored they felt enough confidence in your character that you would accept what they were telling you as is.

I feel they appreciated that.

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I was alone with Old Man Jack during visitation. It was good as I was able to say good-bye in private… The mortuary didn’t invest in good quality Kleenex, though.

Mr. Johnson and I walked together into the little chapel where Old Man Jack’s funeral service was being held.  His flag-draped coffin was proudly presented up front.

It was mostly relatives as all his friends had passed away before him.  I felt distant as I don’t recall ever seeing them visiting with Old Man Jack.  But they were relatives.

Mr. Johnson and I were likely the only ones there outside of family besides a daughter of one of his fellow employees from the old Northrop plant.  We had met once when Old Man Jack was in ICU from a tremendously bad intestinal infection.

His only daughter Karen was busy going over things with the reverend.  You will have to excuse me if I used the wrong term for him; it was a Christian service and I am not.

Mr. Johnson and I sat next to each other in the back row.

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Here is Old Man Jack on our tiny patio deck, in his trademark blue plaid shirt losing another “chat” with his only child, Karen. I’m sure – in spite of his boasts – he lost to his lovely wife in a similar fashion through the years… Hence, “A man ain’t got a chance.

Karen finally approached us.  It was good to see her again.  I hadn’t seen her since she moved Old Man Jack up to their mountain home just five months earlier.

We greeted and it was already tough not to shed a tear.  She then said, “Koji, we have enough young relatives here to be pallbearers but I know you and dad were close.  I think he would like it very much if you would be one of his pallbearers.”

I looked at Mr. Johnson.  I guess I was unknowingly seeking his acceptance knowing they both fought a bitter war together.

Mr. Johnson smiled and nodded his head as if he knew I was asking him if it would be OK.

It was emotional.  My eye plumbing was already leaking a bit before but it broke loose.

After Old Man Jack fought on “those stinkin’ islands” and had nightmares for the remainder of his life, I was now going to help carry this great American on his last journey.

I kept the gloves in memory of Old Man Jack and the honor he allowed me.

It is a mark of the Greatest Generation.  Forgiveness.  Honor to the end.

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Just a short vid of the flag presentation to Jack’s daughter.  (I apologize for the video quality but they only sell the video cameras with the little swing out screen now.  It’s hard to get used to and hard to see the image in bright sun…and impossible to hold still…but towards the end, you can see Mr. Johnson sitting right behind her.)

I wondered what was going through Mr. Johnson’s mind after saying to me earlier “…funerals don’t do a damn thing for me anymore”.

He didn’t get teary-eyed once.  A true Marine, I thought.  I also briefly felt he had his mind on other pressing matters.

I was about to find out.

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After the ceremony, I helped Mr. Johnson back to my car.  He hadn’t said much at all nor showed ANY emotion.

I opened the car door for him; it would be a struggle for him to get back into my low-slung machine with his bad back and unsteady legs.

But he stopped short of getting in.  He towered over the roof of the car as he was standing on the curb next to other graves.  I remember clearly his right arm was on the roof of the car and his left was seeking support from the top of the passenger door glass.

Then he spoke.

“Koji, I’m sorry I was so curt with you in the car…when I said funerals don’t do a damn for me anymore.  I hope you’ll let me explain why.”

I didn’t know what was coming.  He continued but he had that look on his face.  The same glassed-over gaze Old Man Jack had when he was going to talk about something he was trying to forget.

“Koji, the Japs jumped us and they jumped us good.  Real good.  We were caught out in the open.  We had fighter cover but there was just a shit load of them.  Just too many.  They were coming down at us from every which way.”

He mimicked with his right hand that he had elevated towards the sky toy planes – just like we did when we were kids.  But these weren’t toys that day.  He was reliving a battle…but he didn’t say where or when.  Just like Old Man Jack.

“They just kept coming and coming.  We took a bad licking.  A real bad one.  We just kept reloading and firing at them.

We lost a lot of good men.”

He stopped for a moment.  He never once said he was on the Big E.

“I got put in charge of the Burial Detail.  There weren’t too many of us left that could get around.”  He was, I assume, talking about his fellow Marines.  He was a Private at that time and at the Battle of Santa Cruz; you will find out later how I discovered that.  But it’s not good when a young Marine private who was in boot camp just months earlier gets put in charge of a burial detail on board the greatest lady of the sea.

“I don’t know who the son-of-a-bitches were.  They were wrapped up in canvas and a shell would be put inside at their feet to weight them down.  Then we’d dump them over the side.  We’d salute.  Then we’d do it again…and again…and again.  I don’t remember how many times I saluted.  I didn’t keep count.  But that’s why funerals don’t do much for me anymore.  I had been in enough of them.”

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I was left humbled and voiceless.  Too late I realized Mr. Johnson WAS having sickening thoughts running through his mind – from the time when I asked him to help hold ME together.

And I was ignorant to even think he had his mind on other pressing matters during the funeral.

With that selfish request, I instead helped unleash some vile memories within him.

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Mr. Johnson himself would pass away shortly thereafter.

More to come in Part IV.  I hope you’ll stay tuned.

Mr. Johnson, USMC – Part I


“Koji, funerals don’t do a damn thing for me anymore.”

That was Mr. Johnson’s reply while I was driving us to Old Man Jack’s funeral.  I had asked him to help hold me together as I knew I would fall apart.

“Oh-oh,” I thought to myself when I heard that curt reply.  “I guess I hit a nerve…”

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Old man Jack on the left, Mr. Johnson on the right. Taken June 30, 2005.

Mr. Johnson was Old Man Jack’s next door neighbor.

Since 1953.

Nearly SIXTY years.  Hell, I ain’t that old yet.  Well, I’m close.

They got along real well for those 60 years… except Jack was a WWII sailor… and Mr. Johnson was a WWII Marine.  They reminded each other of it often.

Lovingly, of course.

Old Man Jack happily reminisced that “…us white caps would also tussle with them Marines ‘cuz they thought they were better than us”.  But Jack would have gotten the short end of the stick if he took on Mr. Johnson.  He towered over Jack and me…

And Mr. Johnson was a decorated WWII Marine.

Decorated twice…that I know of.

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Our cozy neighborhood called him “Johnnie”.  I always addressed him as Mr. Johnson…He used to say, “Damn it, Koji.  I wish you’d stop calling me that.”

I never did call him Johnnie. I just couldn’t.

But in the end, we found out his real name was Doreston.  Doreston Johnson.

Born August 1, 1923 in Basile, Louisiana.  A tiny town, he said, and everyone was dirt broke.

I wish I knew why he wanted to go by “Johnnie” but later, I discovered Doreston was his father’s name.

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After Jack passed away, I visited with him.  He opened up a bit.

The Depression made it tough on everybody but then war…

When war broke out, he was gung ho like many young boys at that time.

It was expected.  You were branded a coward if you didn’t enlist or eluded the draft.  You were at the bottom of the heap if you got classified 4F.

He said went to the Army recruiting station.  They said they met their quota, couldn’t take him right away and to try again next week.

He then went to the Navy recruiter.  They also said pretty much the same thing but that there was an outfit “over there that’ll take ya”.

It was the United States Marine Corps.

Notice the 1903 Springfield in this 1942 recruiting poster.

The Marines “took him”…right then and there, he said.

Mr. Johnson said, “I was a dumb, stupid kid at that time”  – slowly shaking his head…but with a boyish little grin.

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It was 1941…  When the United States Navy had their backs against the beaches…  MacArthur blundered after Pearl Harbor and thousands of soldiers were taken prisoner in the Philippines.

The country’s military was poorly equipped and poorly trained.  With outdated equipment like the 1903 Springfield and the Brewster Buffalo.  And most gravely, the US Navy was outgunned.

Mr. Johnson was in for it.

To be continued.  Mr. Johnson, USMC – Part II here