Tag Archives: Yorktown

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.”

Thriving Love


2013-05-25 11.08.19
Marge and I at Riverside National Cemetery, Memorial Day Weekend 2013

A LETTER…

[Please also see “Mr. Johnson, USMC” if you wish to learn the background of this couple from the Greatest Generation by clicking on the link.]

Dear Marge,

Well, Marge, you made it indeed…  To see your beloved husband Johnnie for Memorial Day.

A heroic US Marine who fought on-board the USS Enterprise in World War II.

Decorated.

And he was but 17 years old when he set sail for the Battle of Midway.

Seventeen.  You said he was still in high school when he signed up for the Marines.  Unbelievable.

We were met by thousands of American flags being planted by hundreds of Boy Scouts and volunteers.  You were so happy to see the red, white and blue saturating the cemetery, bit by bit.

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While the Boy Scouts hadn’t made it to your husband’s resting place yet, we had our own little flag… and your beautiful bouquet we were able to pick up along the way.  You were so pleased with them but we made it a promise the next bouquet will be the colors of the USMC – scarlett and gold.  You knew he would like that.  Yes you did.

It was only the Saturday before Memorial Day but you were so elated to see how many people were there already…and we arrived at 10:00 AM!  You were worried we wouldn’t be able to find a place to park when someone upstairs opened one up for us.

You were so anxious to visit him that you made it out of my car in record time and walked as quickly as you could!

While you used your stroller to get to the general area of his grave site, we had to leave the stroller and walk the last twenty yards on very saturated ground.  You were holding onto my arm so tightly as the muddy earth gave way as we walked.  Remember?  My shoe sunk into the soil and inch or more.

And when we got there, we couldn’t find any water decanters…  They were all being used by the hundreds of other mourners…but by some lucky grace, we ran into Vicky…  She had bought 1,000 beautiful flags on her own and her niece was placing them neatly all along the columbine.  She went out of her way to find one for you!

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Vicki and her niece holding another bunch of the 1,000 flags she had bought to place along the columbine.
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Some of the 1,000 flags purchased by Vicki and placed by her niece for our fallen.

Your bouquet was so beautiful, Marge.  You said quietly Johnnie – your husband of 66-1/2 years – would like them so much.  You miss him dearly, don’t you Marge?  I miss him…

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And like the last time, on Easter Sunday, you talked with him…

IMG_0753
She is talking to Johnnie… True love and devotion…

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You shared with me again of how he left your life…and you were there for him til the very end… and how alone you felt because you are the last one alive from amongst your friends.  There is no one else.  You said you still look for Johnnie at your assisted senior care center to ask him a question but he doesn’t answer…

Thriving love…

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We promised to go back in two months, yes?

I will be calling you because he means so much to you… and it means so much to me.

I wish people would understand your love and devotion.

Marge and Mr. Johnson on their wedding day in June 1945.
Marge and Mr. Johnson on their wedding day in June 1945.

With love and admiration,

Koji

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. 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.

b. The ordnance used by the attacking Japanese was inappropriate for sinking battleships.

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

d. Failed to destroy dry docks and fuel dumps (Hawaii is an island country and had to import all fuel…like Japan).

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

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

g. 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