Tag Archives: amphibious warfare

Adjusting Strategy to Reality: The Pacific War- Why the Japanese Lost

Lead aircraft ready to take off of IJN Carrier Akagi to attack Pearl Harbor beginning a 6 month chain of Japanese victories in the Pacific

The outcome of the Pacific war was directly related to the ability of the Americans to adjust strategy to the realities of the Pacific war, a unity of effort directed by the National Command Authority and superior industrial, technological and logistical capabilities. The Japanese after initial success did little to adapt and were hamstrung by inter-service rivalries and inadequate industrial capacity and limited natural resources.

US Destroyer USS Pope being blasted out of the water by Japanese Cruisers at the Battle of Java Sea

The Japanese and the Americans each had war plans in place for the Pacific campaign.  The American plans, Plan Orange had been developed since the early part of the 20th Century after the Spanish-American War and Russo-Japanese War.  Predicated on holding the Philippines until relief could arrive Orange assumed that the US Pacific Fleet would sail across the Pacific and fight the Japanese Navy in a manner written about by Alfred Thayer Mahan; see Weigley in The American Way of War and Ronald Spector in “Eagle Against the Sun: The American War Against Japan.”

IJN Carrier Hiryu heavily damaged and abandoned at Midway. Hiryu, Akagi, Kaga and Soryu the creme of the Japanese carrier fleet were lost at Midway, the Japanese found it hard to replace them or their decimated air crews

The Japanese were conflicted.  The Navy desired a campaign that would destroy the American Navy and expand the Empire to the East and to Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. The Army was fixated on the China strategy having been embroiled on the Asian continent since the early 1930s. John Toland discusses this in good detail in his book “Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945” In addition other Japanese Army leaders had designs on Siberia and fought a brief campaign against the Soviets which ended in a defeat.

Japanese destroyer shown sinking after being torpedoed by a US submarine

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor as well as the Philippines and Southeast Asia defeating American and Allied forces in detail, crippling the American Navy and dooming the Philippines the Americans were able to adjust strategy to first a defensive one supplemented by raids against the Japanese perimeter by carrier forces and the beginnings of a nascent submarine campaign against Japanese merchant shipping.  The Americans were able to parry the Japanese thrust at the Coral Sea and inflict a major defeat on the Japanese Carrier Forces at Midway prior to launching the first limited offensive by the Navy and the Marines at Guadalcanal.

Aircraft like the F6F Hellcat drove Japanese aircraft such as the A6M2 Zero from the skies in the Pacific


The Japanese remained mired in their conflicting strategies with the Navy primarily fighting the Pacific campaign aided by limited Army and Army Air Forces on the islands Japan had occupied or fortified while the bulk of the Army was engaged in China, Southeast Asia or sitting on the Manchurian-Soviet border.

Heavily fortified Japanese islands were either bypassed or taken in bloody assaults, here a 8″ gun on Tarawa

Once the Americans shifted to the offensive a campaign of island hopping coordinated between the Southwest Pacific Area under General MacArthur and the Central Pacific Area under Admiral Nimitz focused on gaining control of islands which contained airbases and anchorages capable of sustaining the American advance while bypassing islands not necessary for this along with their Army garrisons. Both American advances in the South Pacific and Central Pacific focused on retaking the Philippines and cutting the Japanese lines of communication and supply with Southeast Asia. From late 1942 on the Japanese strategy was focused on individual areas of danger versus a overall coordinated defensive effort.

Japanese war industries were woefully ill equipped to match US war production. Here a factory producing Oscar fighter planes

The Japanese were hamstrung from the beginning of the war by limited natural resources, especially oil and oil refining capacities, limited industrial capacity, especially in the realm of the manufacture of steel and machining tools.  All of these were supplied in large part by their opponents and were cut off once the war began.

The Carrier Taiho was the equivalent of the Essex Class but the Japanese could only produce one unit

Michael Barnhart in his book Japan Prepares for Total War” has an excellent account of the limitations of Japanese economic, industrial and natural resource capacities, as well as the continual struggle by the Army and the Navy for priority in access to them and the inability of Japanese planners, both civilian and military to resolve this conflict. The Americans had a different situation; although American industrial capacity was enormous it had to be split between to Theaters of Operations and support the needs of American Allies, Britain, the Soviet Union, Canada and China.

An Armada of US Essex Class Carriers in 1944 the Japanese could not keep pace with US Naval production

Despite this the Americans in a relatively short time were able to amass forces equal to or great than the Japanese who were unable to replace losses in ships, aircraft or the highly trained personnel needed to man them.  At the beginning of the war Japanese Air and Naval forces in the Pacific outmatched everything the Allies could offer, however once they began to experience significant losses at Midway and during the Guadalcanal Campaign their air and naval capabilities diminished to the point that they had to conserve ships and aircraft hoping to be able to gain local advantage in critical defensive areas.

The US Amphibious warfare capacity was a key factor in the ability of the United States to take the war to Japan

New American ships and aircraft introduced during the war were superior to Japanese designs, many of which had reached their apex by 1942.  American advantages in radar, communications equipment added to American advantages throughout the war.  Japanese ground forces in the Pacific were dependant on the Navy and merchant marine for supply and reinforcements. As the American submarine campaign became better organized this became more difficult as the American submarines copying German Wolf pack tactics decimated the Japanese merchant Marine. I particularly like Samuel Elliott Morrison’s account of this in “The Two Ocean War” and “The History of US Navy Operations in World War II” which has a volume devoted to this subject.

US Navy Submarines cut off Japan from its vital natural resources in Southeast Asia. A Sub Squadron above and USS Barb below

Japanese forces would always fight determined battles but they often expended great amounts of manpower in senseless Banzai charges rather than make the Americans force them out of well prepared positions.  Where the Japanese maintained excellent defense such as at Tarawa and Iwo Jima they made the Americans pay greatly for their gains.  American Marines were apart from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were the best infantry in the US Military and their skill at amphibious operations and integrated air-ground and naval warfare increased as the war went on.  The Americans were well equipped with modern weapons while the Japanese operated antiquated tanks and often substandard artillery.

Japanese leadership at the strategic and political level was inept throughout the war. They failed to coordinate any strategy with the Germans and failed to enunciate any sort of Grand Strategy.  On the operational and tactical levels the Japanese forces, especially the surface navy performed well, however as the American numeric and technologic advantage increased the Navy became less effective.  After the death of Admiral Yamamoto in 1943 Japanese Naval Leadership became far less effective. The Americans as mentioned before were able to devise a Grand Strategy which not only dealt with Japan but also Germany and coordinated the efforts of forces, war production, planning and logistics to advance their war aims.  At the operational and tactical level American forces, especially the Navy and Marines and later the Army Air Forces and Army became more skilled and than their Japanese counterparts with the possible exception of General Simon Bolívar Buckner at Okinawa. See Spector and Thomas Costello “The Pacific War.” In the air the Americans continued to increase their combat capabilities at the tactical and strategic level and used massed fire bombing raids to devastate the Japanese homeland.  The Japanese in contrast due to inexperienced pilots and fewer competitive aircraft were forced into suicide or Kamikaze missions as the war neared Japan.

B-29 Super-fortresses leveled Japanese cities and even excellent fighters like the Mitsubishi J2M Raiden could not stop them


The outcome of the Pacific war was directly related to the ability of the Americans to adjust strategy to the realities of the Pacific war as well as the unity of effort which enabled the American superiority in industrial, technological and logistical capabilities to overwhelm the Japanese. The Japanese after initial success did little to adapt and were hamstrung by inter-service rivalries and inadequate industrial capacity and limited natural resources, fell behind in technology and were unable to replace losses among the ships, men and aircraft that they needed to fight an effective war.  Japanese leaders at many levels failed to adapt strategy, tactics or methods to match the reality of the war and the places that they did do so were done by local commanders and never instituted throughout the Japanese military.

2 Comments

Filed under History, Military, world war two in the pacific

The Impact of Technology on the Organization, Strategy and Tactics in the Second World War

Introduction

World War II saw some of most rapid technological advances impacting military forces in history. The advances in technology impacted the organization and tactics of major power military forces, especially those of the United States, Germany, the Soviet Union and Great Britain.  These advances combined to revolutionize the way wars were fought and military forces have been organized to the current day.

Heinz Guderian’s Theories of Mechanized and Combined Arms Warfare and His Organizational Genius Revolutionized  Land Warfare

The technical developments and their relationship to military organization and tactical applications began in the years following World War I as various writers began to analyze that war and formulate ways not to repeat the grist mill of trench warfare that dominated it.  The writers looked at tactical innovations, new technology and enunciated ways that technology and tactics could be combined with organizational changes to revolutionize the ways that wars were fought.  Chief among these writers were General Fuller and Captain B.H. Liddell Hart in Britain, Colonel Heinz Guderian and Erwin Rommel in Germany.  Airpower theories were dominated by the strategic bombing theories of Italy’s Guido Douhet and tactical air theories of American Marine General Roy Geiger as well as the pioneers of tactical air support in the Luftwaffe.   In the United States General George C. Marshall helped initiate doctrinal changes that would change the way that the U.S. Army would fight.

Among the common elements found in the works of these men was the necessity to apply technology to overcome the pitfalls that all of the armies which fought in the First World War found themselves.

The Mechanization of Ground Forces

Mass Speed and Firepower: The Germans Would Pioneer the New Style of Warfare

There were a number of major technological advances between the wars and during the war that helped change the nature of warfare.  One of the earliest was the mechanization of armies which began toward the end of the First World War and continued between the wars to varying degrees in each country.  All the major armies experimented with mechanized forces to one degree or another. In Britain these got the earliest start with some formations being 100% mechanized by the early 1930s.  France was more circumspect about mechanization only slowly converting forces as they were focused on a defensive strategy based on the Maginot Line.  Many in the German high command resisted Guderian and other innovators regarding the mechanization of the Wehrmacht as well as the development of the Panzerwaffe.

The Soviet Union Would Turn the Tables on the Germans using their own Tactics

The Soviet Union had a large number of mechanized and armored formations prior to the war though they were not proficient in their use and had not developed doctrine to match the forces that they controlled.  The Untied States also resisted efforts to mechanize its Army but seeing the results of the German Blitzkrieg quickly overcame years of resistance to become an Army that save for 2 Cavalry Divisions was 100% mechanized.  The development of Airborne formations added the possibility of vertical envelopment to ground operations. These developments impacted nearly every campaign in Europe and North Africa and to a much lesser degree the Pacific theater. German performance in the early Polish, French, North African and Balkan Campaigns as well as the initial foray into the Soviet Union were all successful due to the proficiency of their combined mechanized, Panzer and tactical air forces.  The Soviets would develop and become very effective at this type of warfare on a much large scale than the Germans could have imagined beginning with the Stalingrad counteroffensive and especially in the destruction  of the German Army Group Center in the summer of 1944.

Though Using Lighter Armored Forces the Americans Would become Proficient in the New Type of Warfare by the Summer of 1944

The Americans became proficient at mobile operations during the war, especially during the “dash across France” and the breakout in the Saar-Palatine campaign in 1945,  but many times uninventive commanders squandered the advantage and allowed themselves to be sucked into battles of attrition that their forces were not made for.

Communications

A key development that accompanied and accentuated the mechanization of ground forces were advances in tactical wireless communications which made it possible for commanders to keep up with fast moving formations and react in near real time to changing tactical situations.  The Germans were the first to become very proficient in this as they not only developed communications for ground forces but also for coordination between tactical air forces and ground forces.  This made the German Blitzkrieg the first example of modern air-ground combat cooperation.  The Americans, British and Soviets would follow suit but it was the German Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe that pioneered the communications revolution.  As the war went on communications capabilities increased and armies became more dependent on tactical and long range wireless communications.  The dependency of military forces on communications networks became a major factor in operational planning and the success of the Allies in breaking Japanese and German codes gave them an advantage in anticipating German or Japanese moves.

Armor, Firepower and Mobility: The Tank Comes into its Own

World War Two Saw Tanks become Deadly Instruments of Modern Warfare

Mechanization was a major factor in the war and the most decisive component of the mechanization of ground forces was the development of the tank as well as specialized formations which employed tanks in close cooperation with other arms, such as mechanized infantry and artillery.  The development of such forces really began with the British but the best example of this was the German Panzer Division.  The Panzer Division was a totally mechanized and integrated force of all arms which was employed in mass and capable like all German units to be task organized into Kampfgruppen to optimize tactical flexibility.  British Armored Divisions were tank heavy and infantry light which made them far less flexible organizations.  Soviet Armored forces were slow to develop but they became masters of large level operational maneuver using mechanized and tactical air forces to a deadly effect against the Wehrmacht.  The Americans delivered a light and flexible armored formation and became very proficient in combined arms warfare though the divisional structure often proved too light and not as resilient as German formations.  It was in this environment that the tank truly came into its own to dominate the battlefield in a way that many could not have imagined prior to the war. Firepower, protection and mobility advantages gained through technological advances increased the lethality and survivability of the tank and forced each side to develop better ways of neutralizing tanks through more powerful anti-tank guns, sabot rounds and shaped charges.

Tactical and Strategic Air developments

The Americans and the British Would Develop the Concept of Strategic Bombing against Germany

With the technical revolution came revolution in the skies both at the strategic and tactical levels.  Modern bombers with good navigational gear guided by radar and assisted by modern bombsites such as the Norden developed by the United States would wreak havoc on industrial and civilian centers. Advances in aircraft technology saw fast and more lethal aircraft being fielded by all powers as the war progressed and while Jet propulsion developed during the war would doom piston powered aircraft as first line assets.

The P-47 Thunderbolt Would Serve as both a Long Range Bomber Escort and as Seen Here as an Excellent Ground Attack Aircraft

Tactical air developments would be led by the Germans but as the war went on the Allies developed sophisticate tactical air forces that dominated battlefields when the weather permitted. The Germans pioneered the use of ballistic missiles as well as the cruise missile while the United States and Britain developed the Atomic Bomb.  Specialized types of tactics and organizations were developed for strategic, tactical and naval air forces. At the strategic level there were the dueling schools of precision versus area bombing while at the tactical level the developments were as much predicated on air-ground communications as they were the aircraft flown.  Specialized aircraft were developed or modified as tank-killers while fighter forces became more specialized to into interceptors, bomber escorts and night fighters.

The Obselecent Junkers JU-87 found New Life on the Eastern Front as a Tank Killer armed with 2 37mm FLAK cannon

The influence of air assets, especially at the tactical level would become more pronounced as the war went on.  Allied air superiority ensured that the landings in France and the breakout in Normandy succeeded and tactical air dominance by US Navy and Marine air forces in the Pacific aided ground operations as well as sea battles.

Amphibious Warfare developments

The US Navy and Marine Corps Would Perfect Amphibious Operations in the Pacific

Technology came to the fore in amphibious operations with the development of specialized landing craft, beach clearing equipment and naval gunfire support.  This effort was led by the United States with the most advanced force being the Marines.   The combined use of air, land, sea and naval air forces to include the use of Aircraft Carriers revolutionized how the campaign in the Pacific would be fought to a conclusion long before anyone thought that it could be.

General Naval Developments

At sea ship design advanced new and better classes of warships as technologic advances in radar, sonar, gunnery systems, torpedo and ant-aircraft technology made warships far more formidable than those built only years before the war.  This was nowhere more apparent than in submarine development especially that of Germany’s U-boat arm with the development of streamlined hulls and “schnorkel” technology.  The use of U-Boats and later American submarines in the Pacific into “Wolf Packs” increased the lethality of submarine forces to a near decisive state in the war.  Naval tactics were influenced by the use of air and surface search radar as well as sonar.

US Fast Carrier Task Forces Would Dominate the Pacific War and Naval Warfare to the Present Day

The development of the US Navy into the dominant Naval Power of the next 65 years was built upon the success of the Navy in the Second World War.  The largest and some of the bloodiest sea battles in history were fought in the Pacific with decisive results in that theater of operations.  Operationally the major Navies all were influenced to one degree or another by the theories of Alfred Thayer Mahan.

Summary and Conclusion

The course of World War Two was determined by the strategic and operational theories developed in the inter-war years. These were applied correctly by some powers and not by others.   The use technological advances and more effective organizational structure developed in the inter-war years and refined by the experience of war impacted the war on land, at sea and in the air in every theater of war.  The use of combined arms and joint operations revolutionized the manner in which wars would be fought.  If the technology, theory and force structure had not come together when it did the war might have been fought much as the First World War.  Instead warfare became faster and more lethal than ever and would lead to even more advances in the years to come.

3 Comments

Filed under History, Military, world war two in europe, world war two in the pacific