Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Two views of the Pacific Theater in World War II

The inevitability of American victory:
In other words, even if it had lost catastrophically at the Battle of Midway, the United States Navy still would have broken even with Japan in carriers and naval air power by about September 1943. Nine months later, by the middle of 1944, the U.S. Navy would have enjoyed a nearly two-to-one superiority in carrier aircraft capacity! Not only that, but with her newer, better aircraft designs, the U.S. Navy would have enjoyed not only a substantial numeric, but also a critical qualitative advantage as well, starting in late 1943. All this is not to say that losing the Battle of Midway would not have been a serious blow to American fortunes! For instance, the war would almost certainly have been protracted if the U.S. had been unable to mount some sort of a credible counter-stroke in the Solomons during the latter half of 1942. Without carrier-based air power of some sort there would not have been much hope of doing so, meaning that we would most likely have lost the Solomons. However, the long-term implications are clear: the United States could afford to make good losses that the Japanese simply could not. Furthermore, this comparison does not reflect the fact that the United States actually slowed down its carrier building program in late 1944, as it became increasingly evident that there was less need for them. Had the U.S. lost at Midway, it seems likely that those additional carriers (3 Midway-class and 6 more Essex-Class CVs, plus the Saipan-class CVLs) would have been brought on line more quickly. In a macro-economic sense, then, the Battle of Midway was really a non-event. There was no need for the U.S. to seek a single, decisive battle which would 'Doom Japan' -- Japan was doomed by its very decision to make war.
There's tons of production data at that link, a lot of which I hadn't known.  For example, we built 11 Million tons of merchant shipping just in 1943.  We built nearly 100,000 aircraft just in 1944.  Ye gods.  (via)

Also, the Atomic Bomb didn't end the war.  The entry of the Soviet Union into the Pacific Theater did:
In the three weeks prior to Hiroshima, 26 cities were attacked by the U.S. Army Air Force. Of these, eight — or almost a third — were as completely or more completely destroyed than Hiroshima (in terms of the percentage of the city destroyed). The fact that Japan had 68 cities destroyed in the summer of 1945 poses a serious challenge for people who want to make the bombing of Hiroshima the cause of Japan’s surrender. The question is: If they surrendered because a city was destroyed, why didn’t they surrender when those other 66 cities were destroyed?


One way to gauge whether it was the bombing of Hiroshima or the invasion and declaration of war by the Soviet Union that caused Japan’s surrender is to compare the way in which these two events affected the strategic situation. After Hiroshima was bombed on August 8, both options were still alive. It would still have been possible to ask Stalin to mediate (and Takagi’s diary entries from August 8 show that at least some of Japan’s leaders were still thinking about the effort to get Stalin involved). It would also still have been possible to try to fight one last decisive battle and inflict heavy casualties. The destruction of Hiroshima had done nothing to reduce the preparedness of the troops dug in on the beaches of Japan’s home islands. There was now one fewer city behind them, but they were still dug in, they still had ammunition, and their military strength had not been diminished in any important way. Bombing Hiroshima did not foreclose either of Japan’s strategic options.

The impact of the Soviet declaration of war and invasion of Manchuria and Sakhalin Island was quite different, however. Once the Soviet Union had declared war, Stalin could no longer act as a mediator — he was now a belligerent. So the diplomatic option was wiped out by the Soviet move. The effect on the military situation was equally dramatic. Most of Japan’s best troops had been shifted to the southern part of the home islands. Japan’s military had correctly guessed that the likely first target of an American invasion would be the southernmost island of Kyushu. The once proud Kwangtung army in Manchuria, for example, was a shell of its former self because its best units had been shifted away to defend Japan itself. When the Russians invaded Manchuria, they sliced through what had once been an elite army and many Russian units only stopped when they ran out of gas.
What's particularly interesting is the conclusion (you'll have to click through to RTWT), but it's very Japanese.  Much face was saved, and not just in Japan.


Anonymous said...

As you point out, had Midway, and the Solomons, beginning specifically with Guadalcanal, not gone our way, armament production would have continued into 1945-1946 at probably close to the 1944 pace. That critical mass, the new technology and the expertise to use it, would have led to a U.S. victory over Japan eventually (I include atomic bombs in "new technology.")

Given that, and the forecast for extremely high casualties with an invasion of Japan, I wonder if air power, both fleet and land-based, and submarines would not have been brought to bear for a period to absolutely strangle Japan, destroy what cities and industry were left, and go after previously forbidden targets such as the emperor himself, prior to an invasion. I also wonder if the Soviet Union jumping on board didn't apply substantial pressure to modify the planning and timetable on the U.S. side, as well as the impression it seems to have had on the Japanese.

I recognize America was, by that point, quite tired of the war and may have been reluctant to support another year of it without sufficient justification. And, that in 1945 manpower was becoming a critical issue for the U.S. military. A certain attrition level would have continued with B-29 crews, and naval aviators, had they operated for another year, even with little or no Japanese resistance, and the economic drain of another year operating against what was nearly a beaten enemy.

Anonymous said...

Also remember that massive quantities of the ships, tanks, aircraft, etc. we were building were used to arm Russia, arm Britain, arm US forces fighting the Germans in Africa/Europe (not to mention the Battle of the Atlantic), or feed Russia and Britain--and to replace ships, tanks, aircraft, etc. lost to German action on land or sea. Thousands of Americans drowned when their ships were sunk by U boats, or their planes were shot down over Nazi held territory.

One of the big behind the scenes dramas of the war was in fact the tug of war between those who wanted the US to focus on Japan and those who wanted it to go deep on Germany as well--and more than once it came down to UK vs USA, since the UK was of course much more interested in the Germans.

Anonymous said...

I do find it odd that the Australian/USA advance through New Guinea and Borneo is neglected by American historians as is the contribution of Americans in Burma where Merrill's marauders made a massive sacrifice in the numbers killed or put out of action by disease. Probably worse than the Chindit's and they were bad enough.
The Chinese nationalist army under "Vinager Joe" Stillwell also gets poor mention. Lots of campaigns go unremembered because they are no longer historically "sexy" enough.

The Old Man said...

The Soviets were always willing to spill blood/spend lives for political gain. The theory of surrender due to Russian threat versus surrender due to wizardry-aka science is logical and appealing but no more persuasive to me than any other theory.
Eyewitness reports should torpedo revisionist theories 60 years after the fact, I would think. Each participant has one viewpoint which is not the same as all of the others.....

Goober said...

Off topic a bit, but to this day I feel a strong belief that the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan as a message to Russia as much as they were to hobble Japan.

TOTWTYTR said...

I think the author might be underestimating the implications of a loss at Midway.

Not only would the Solomon campaign have become impossible, but Pearl Harbor would likely have been neutralized as a forward base.

Australia might have been unavailable as well. If all operations had to be launched from the west coast of the US, it would have at the least been a much longer and bloodier war.