I apologise in advance for re-raising a subject we’ve previously discussed at some length, but once again, I find myself fighting (and winning) the Pacific War in my mind. Hopefully at least fellow history student byronius will be receptive to my remarks.
It is easy of course, to analyse battles from the remove (and hindsight) of seventy-years and from the comfort (and safety!) of my living room, but I’ve come to the considered conclusion that the U.S. victory over Japan in World War II was never in any real doubt – once Japan took the decision to attack the United States – its imperial fate was sealed…
Certainly, there was luck involved – there always is in warfare – But the Americans (usually) took much better advantage of their breaks of good fortune than did the Japanese. Strategically, Japan was playing from a very weak position from day One…
The entire Pacific war can be condensed to just three actions IMHO.
I am aided in my arguments by some excellent recent documentaries.
► Pearl Harbor:
The Japanese had developed torpedoes with breakaway wooden stabilisers (fins) which allowed their use in shallow water… and the dive bomber pilots had practised the technique to a fare thee well. The American battleships were doomed. But by dumb luck, the American aircraft carriers were NOT in port on that fateful morning. The Japanese Imperial Navy was well aware of the coming primacy of the aircraft carrier… so WHY did they go ahead with the attack KNOWING that the U.S. carriers weren’t even THERE?? Meanwhile, America, despite having broken (some of) the Japanese JN-25 code, did NOT ‘connect the dots’ (which were pretty obvious in retrospect). Much as with 60 years later on ’9/11′, we suffered a ‘failure of imagination’… and were caught with our pants around our proverbial ankles.
The brilliant Japanese commander of the attack, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, recognised that he had NOT delivered the ‘knock out blow’ he had envisioned and probably knew that Japan’s goose was cooked. He promised six months of free Japanese rein in the Pacific… which is precisely what they got (see below). And in the bargain, the attack on Pearl had enraged the Americans as nothing else could have. Oh yes… after THIS, it was ON!
The Battle of Midway marked the end of Yamamoto’s ‘six months’, and as it turned out, the end of any hope for Japan to prevail in the Pacific Theater. The Japanese intent was to lure America’s aircraft carriers (which they’d failed to catch at Pearl Harbor) into a trap and destroy the rest of the American Pacific fleet for good and all.
But by June of 1942, the American Naval codebreakers had cracked practically all of the Japanese JN-25 code and were reading operational info faster than the Japanese were. A famous ruse about Midway being short of water tricked the Japanese into revealing target ‘AF’ as Midway Island. When the Japanese fleet got there – the Americans were lying in wait for them.
By sundown on 7 June, the Japanese defeat was complete. All four of the Japanese carriers were sunk: ‘Akagi’, ‘Kaga’, ‘Soryu’ and ‘Hiryu’. All had been involved in the Pearl Harbor attack six months earlier. The cruiser ‘Mikuma’ was also sunk. More than 3000 Japanese sailors, pilots and flight-crew personnel were killed. The Americans lost the carrier ‘Yorktown’, a destroyer and over 300 killed, notably nearly all of dive bomber squadron VT-8.
Japanese Admiral Nagumo was disgraced and relieved of duty. He later killed himself when captured by the Americans.
Most military analysts consider the Battle of Midway the ‘turning point’ in the Pacific war. I would go further and call it the ‘beginning of the end’ of the Japanese war effort. Japan simply could not recover from such a costly loss of men and materiel, especially as American war production was hitting its stride. Military historian John Keegan called it “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.”
By mid-1945, Nazi Germany had collapsed – and Japan was beaten, but the ‘Bushido’ fantasy of a last minute ‘miracle’ (‘kami kaze’ or ‘divine wind’) still gripped the psyche of much of the Japanese nation. And Japan’s government was ignoring Truman’s ‘Potsdam Declaration’ demanding Japan’s immediate unconditional surrender. Japan appeared bent on committing national hara-kiri rather than to endure the shame of surrender.
“If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.” — President Harry S. Truman following the announcement of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
Perhaps the most chilling moment in the entire film above comes at [39:09] :
“8:15. There will be a short intermission while we bomb the target.”
Following a second bomb on 9 August which destroyed Nagasaki, Japan at last capitulated.
The Second World War was over.