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Midway - the US Navy Rules the Waves
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There’s not a lot to be proud of in today’s America: the Punch and Judy show in Washington; brutal but inept colonial wars in the Mideast against poorly armed enemies; pollution of the climate, and culture of trash and violence.

To see America as it once was, go back to the three days from 4 to 7 June, 1942. During the six months after the devastating Japanese attack on the principal US Pacific base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, US and allies forces across the west Pacific were being mauled by the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Japan’s leading naval strategist, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, was planning a decisive action near Midway Island to lure America’s three aircraft carriers into battle and sink them.

The USS carriers Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown had been sent away from Pearl Harbor before the Japanese attack. Had they been in port, Japan would have won the Pacific War on 7 Dec 1941. But they were not, strongly suggesting foreknowledge by the pro-war Roosevelt administration of Japan’s plans.

In fact, US naval code-breakers had deciphered many of Japan’s naval and diplomatic codes that Tokyo believed were secure. The US also broke many of Germany’s codes. Almost eight decades later, the US National Security Agency continues this code-breaking tradition. Small wonder the US is so obsessed with communications security and ELINT, or electronic intelligence. They were key elements in America’s WWII victory.

Yamamoto had made a grave error during the Pearl Harbor attack. He should have sent his powerful battleships to direct attack the US base with naval gunfire. There was concern about US coastal 16 inch batteries on Oahu, but Yamamoto should still have bombarded US oil and repair facilities at Pearl Harbor. Destroying them would have given Japan control of the Pacific for at least a year. In the event, his battleships served little useful purpose during the war and were mostly sunk by later US airstrikes.

Widely dispersed Japanese naval forces, with four fast carriers, moved towards Midway, a tiny atoll 3,500 miles west of Hawaii, to draw the US Navy into battle.
What Yamamoto did not know was that US naval intelligence was reading all of his orders and tracing movement of his ships. Or that he was facing three of the finest admirals in US history: Chester Nimitz, Frank Fletcher and Raymond Spruance.

Meanwhile, Adm. Yamamoto had to dispatch a strong navel force to the remote US Aleutian Islands off Alaska to secure backing by the Imperial Japanese Army for the coming Midway battle. Throughout WWII, Japan’s army and navy operated at cross-purposes or as rivals. The army wanted to attack Soviet Siberia while the Navy was determined to capture oil sources in SE Asia. There was almost no coordination between the two and the Emperor failed to impose unity of command.

In a near-miraculous example of American can-do spirits, the carrier ‘Yorktown,’ badly damaged at the Battle of the Coral Sea, was rushed back into service to the astonishment of the Japanese.

The two fleets began searching for one another – a process in pre-radar days of blind luck, like a knife fight in a pitch-black room. Of course, the US knew where many of the Japanese ships were. But once Japan’s fleet moved, it was quickly lost again.

Carrier warfare is one of the consummate military arts, a process demanding absolute technical expertise, top command skills, steel nerves, and a lot of luck. Japan’s admirals, Yamamoto, Nagumo, and Kondo, were experienced and skilled but America’s commanders ranked with Britain’s admirals Nelson and Cochran.

The key to the upcoming battle, which was all beyond visual range, was searching. US land and carrier planes kept flying over search patterns seeking the Japanese carriers ‘Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu,’ all veterans of the Pearl Harbor attack. The Japanese searched even more intensely. Ironically, a Japanese floatplane that was to search a quadrant in which the US carriers were steaming was badly delayed by mechanical problems and failed to locate the US warships.

At 0430 on 4 June 1943, Adm. Nagumo launched air attacks on Midway, which was defended by US Marines. As the Japanese attack intensified, Pearl Harbor reportedly sent them a message, ‘what can we send you?’ Came the insolent reply (my father was a Marine in the 5th Division), ‘send us more Japs.’

Nagumo kept half his torpedo plans and dive bombers armed and in reserve in case US warships were sighted. At 0800, a Japanese search plane reported sighting US carriers while Nagumo still kept attacking Midway. Unbeknown to him, Adm. Fletcher had already ordered his torpedo planes and dive bombers to attack Nagumo’s fleet that had been spotted by a US PBY flying boat and the heroism of squadron commander C. Wade McClusky.

At 0920, US torpedo squadron 6 from Enterprise flying obsolescent `Devastator’ aircraft attacked the Japanese carriers. The squadron was massacred by Japanese Zero fighters flying top cover. At least six US Mark 13 torpedoes hit the Japanese carriers yet failed to explode. US torpedoes were notoriously unreliable as compared to the deadly Japanese long-lance torpedoes.

All 15 of torpedo squadron 6’s Devastators were shot down. At this dark moment, three squadrons of Douglas Dauntless dive bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown arrived while the Japanese were distracted by the torpedo attacks. Worse, the Japanese carriers were in the process of re-arming their aircraft for new strikes. The carrier decks were covered with bombs, torpedoes and fuel lines.

At 1022 the US Dauntless dive bombers struck. Within minutes, three Japanese carriers, Soryu, Kaga and Akagi were in flames. The surviving Hiryu managed to launch and fatally wound the Yorktown. US aircraft located then sank the Hiryu.

Four of Japan’s six carriers were sunk and many of her veteran pilots and mechanics were killed. Both sides broke off the battle to lick their wounds.


Midway marked the high point of Japan’s Pacific offensive. After the battle, Japan lost the military imitative and went on the defensive for the rest of the war. Japan could not replace the carriers or aircrews lost in battle. As the war continued, America’s mighty industrial base produced more than eight times more warships and transports than battered Japan.

There were many more naval battles after Midway, but no other nation on earth would dare challenge the US Navy. America’s sailors and airmen had won the Pacific War in a day that will reverberate in history.

All glory and honor to the United States Navy.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2017

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: History • Tags: American Military, World War II 
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  1. MBlanc46 says:

    Fortunately, Chicago named its airports before Neo-Stalinism became the ruling dogma. My wife and I fly once or twice a year from Midway or O’Hare. Unfortunately, with a rabid anti-American as mayor, these names are subject to change.

  2. Oldeguy says:

    While Mr. Margolis’ heart is very much in the right place ( yes, the Americans of that era were both very self-sacrificing and very, very brave ) , the U.S. victory owed more to luck ( or the Grace of God ) than to American skill. This column is misleading and contains factual errors ; see Walter Lords excellent ” Incredible Victory” for how a still very much a work-in-progress early WW2 U.S. Navy won that day.

  3. whoever says: • Website

    Thanks for remembering Midway. It’s been called our Thermopylae.
    A minor correction: The “Send us more Japs” line comes from the battle for Wake Island, which, it seems, no one at all remembers anymore.

    Carrier warfare is one of the consummate military arts, a process demanding absolute technical expertise, top command skills, steel nerves

    This is very true, and true from the admiral of the fleet down to the aviation ordnanceman. One is just as important as the other, though that is often forgotten.
    An eyewitness account of the Enterprise‘s dive bombers returning on that historic day by Alvin Kernan:
    “Shot up, some landing in the water, out of gas, some crashing on the deck with failing landing gear or no tailhooks and being pushed over the side instantly to make room for the others coming in. But the mood was triumphant. The dive-bomber crews could hardly contain themselves. They were shouting and laughing as they jumped out of the cockpits…. The ship became hysterically excited. The dive bombers had found the Japanese carriers and they had sunk them in classic style, out of the sun while they were trying to launch their own planes….”
    In the Fleet Problems of the 1920s and 1930s, when the Navy was developing its carrier-to-carrier battle tactics, that was called “getting bopped,” and plane-handling techniques were developed to minimize the possibility of it happening. The Japanese never considered it.
    Kernan continues: “We were exultant, not just for the revenge for Pearl Harbor, sweet as that was, but at our renewed sense of power and superiority over the Japanese fleet. No one doubted that it would be a long war, but to everyone on the ships at Midway it was clear that we would win.”

    • Replies: @Anonym
  4. “Had they [the U.S. aircraft carriers] been in port, Japan would have won the Pacific War on 7 Dec 1941. But they were not, strongly suggesting foreknowledge by the pro-war Roosevelt administration of Japan’s plans.”

    No evidence exists to support that notion. On 7 December 1941 the U.S. carriers were off on another mission under the orders not of FDR but of the CINCPAC Admiral Husband E. Kimmel.

    “US naval code-breakers had deciphered many of Japan’s naval and diplomatic codes that Tokyo believed were secure.”

    Not entirely true. The U.S. had broken the Japanese diplomatic code and assigned it the code name Purple, but, until the late war period from mid-1945, this code yielded little actionable intelligence because the Japanese Army and Navy distrusted Japan’s diplomatic corps and told it next to nothing about military and naval strategy, plans and operations. The U.S. and the British only partially and rarely broke Japan’s JN-25 naval code (whose cipher books the Japanese changed from time to time, particularly on 4 December 1941, thus blinding U.S. intelligence to all Japanese naval communications immediately prior to the strike on Pearl Harbor). Both British and U.S. codebreakers did later frequently read much of the Japanese merchant fleet’s JN-40 code, which contributed to the success of the U.S. submarine offensive against Japanese merchant shipping.

    “The US also broke many of Germany’s codes.”

    Most of Germany’s codes were broken by the British Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. After U.S. entry into the war the U.S. codebreaking units augmented British codebreaking, not least by producing and making operational a lot of early computers, far more of them than the British were able to produce.

    “Yamamoto had made a grave error during the Pearl Harbor attack. He should have sent his powerful battleships to direct attack the US base with naval gunfire.”

    Perhaps. More critically, Admiral Nagumo failed to heed his Pearl Harbor attack pilots’ urging for him to launch follow-up air strikes on Pearl Harbor and its installations. It was Nagumo’s retreat rather than Yammamoto’s decision not to deploy his battleships that spared the U.S. Navy’s Pearl Harbor oil tank farm and the vessels and airfields that had survived Nagumo’s first, tw0-wave attack. Most of all, on 7 December the Japanese support fleet of battleships was much farther west of Pearl Harbor than was Nagumo’s carrier force, and would have taken at least another day to have reached Pearl Harbor, by which time the U.S. carriers had returned to Pearl Harbor and would have been in place to have delivered strikes against a Japanese battleship force near Hawaii.

    “What Yamamoto did not know was that US naval intelligence was reading all of his orders and tracing movement of his ships.”

    U.S. naval intelligence did not read Yammamoto’s orders. Admiral Nimitz based his Midway strategy and carrier deployment on naval intelligence (Station HYPO, under Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Rochefort) having only partially broken the Japanese Navy’s JN-25 code enough to identify the Japanese use of its “AK” designator for Midway atoll. Nimitz thus deployed his carriers based on calculated guesswork, not on knowledge of Yammamoto’s orders, and not on tracing movement of Japan’s warships whose fleet makeup, courses, and location remained unknown to Nimitz and to Admirals Spruance and Fletcher until a Midway-based U.S. Navy PBY spotted but did not precisely report the makeup of the Japanese carrier force, which was only somewhat later spotted and identified when U.S. carrier planes sighted the Japanese carrier force on 4 June, the actual starting day of the Battle of Midway (in fact, on 4 June an entire U.S. carrier air group failed to locate the Japanese carrier force).

    “Meanwhile, Adm. Yamamoto had to dispatch a strong navel [sic] force to the remote US Aleutian Islands off Alaska to secure backing by the Imperial Japanese Army for the coming Midway battle.”

    That is only marginally true – and it certainly had nothing to do with Japanese Army’s desire to attack the USSR (the so-called “Northern Strategy” which got snuffed when the Red Army severely routed Japanese Army forces at Nomonhan in 1939, after which the Japanese Navy eventually got the nod to proceed with its “Southern Strategy”). The prime reason for Japan’s attack on the Aleutians was diversionary – to draw off U.S. Navy forces from defending against the main Japanese strike on Midway. The Aleutian attack failed to achieve its diversionary purpose.

    “In a near-miraculous example of American can-do spirits, the carrier ‘Yorktown,’ badly damaged at the Battle of the Coral Sea, was rushed back into service to the astonishment of the Japanese.”

    Which might not have been possible to accomplish had Admiral Nagumo ordered a second strike on Pearl Harbor to destroy the drydock in which USS Yorktown was repaired in time to sail with the Midway defensive fleet.

    “US torpedoes were notoriously unreliable as compared to the deadly Japanese long-lance torpedoes.”

    Japan’s Long Lance torpedo was carried only aboard Japanese surface ships. The Long Lance was much larger and heavier than and not the same as the Japanese aerial torpedo, although the Japanese aerial torpedo was quite effective in its own right. U.S. surface, submarine and aerial torpedoes were indeed notoriously unreliable until improved torpedoes had been developed and issued to the fleet in 1943.

    The U.S. victory at Midway did not completely halt Japan’s Pacific offensive, which continued with the Japanese taking of Guadalcanal in an attempt to sever the U.S.-Australia shipping line of communication and logistics. The Midway victory pounded a very large nail in Japanese Pacific offensive operations, yet it was the successful U.S. retaking and securing of Guadalcanal that hammered the final nail in the coffin of Japanese Pacific offensive operations.

    • Replies: @Quartermaster
  5. The U.S. Navy’s victory against the Japanese fleet at Midway was a glorious and hard-won victory against the odds. But it’s a pity it had to be against a nation that Calvin Coolidge described as “America’s natural friend,” and a nation that had been an ally in World War I. (Yes, I am fully aware of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the Phillipines. But couldn’t American diplomacy have done more to defuse the conflict that led to the attack? And how much did it really matter to the typical denizen of Yakima, Washington or Amarillo, Texas whether European colonialists or Japanese imperalists ruled portions of Southeast Asia and modern day Indonesia? Or whether China was ruled by Communists, corrupt Nationalists, or Japanese Imperalists?)

    • Agree: Dan Hayes
    • Replies: @Thirdeye
  6. whoever says: • Website

    Walter Lords excellent ” Incredible Victory”

    A good book for its era, but, having been published 50 years ago, it’s dated. Many better books, looking at the battle from various perspectives, have been published since.

    the U.S. victory owed more to luck ( or the Grace of God )

    That’s a common way to describe accident and contingency, coincidence and happenstance in wartime, especially when describing the American armed forces at war: if they lose, they deserved to because they are just no damned good, and if they win, it’s sheer luck or because their opponents were easy pushovers.
    But fortune favor the prepared as well as the brave, and the US Navy was better prepared than the Japanese Navy for carrier-to-carrier warfare, because it had been studying and practicing for it for years, while the Japanese, influenced by their long war with China and their relationship with the British Navy, which had a similar interest, focused on carrier actions against land targets.
    Also, sometimes authors, even very knowledgeable and careful ones, fall into error because they make unconsidered conclusions, or are just ignorant of something they hadn’t believed important.
    For example, it is commonly said that the Japanese carriers were caught while they were re-arming and refueling their planes, that they were “caught on deck.” However, photos of the Hiryu, Soryu and Akagi, taken during the actual dive-bombing attacks against them, show just a few fighter planes on their decks. This has led to all sorts of speculation and assertion over the years.
    But no one seems to have considered the fact that, while the US Navy had developed the deck-park system of speedily arming and refueling aircraft on the flight deck, Japanese doctrine called for aircraft to be armed and refueled on the hanger deck. So all the frenetic activity taking place on the Japanese carriers would not have been visible in photos. Two different navies, two different plane-handling techniques.
    There are lots of little — but important — details such as this that are missed in retellings of battles, often leading those who read them who were actually in the fight at various levels and locations to say, well, yes, sort of but not really….

    • Replies: @MarkinLA
  7. I believe it was the British and not the U.S. that broke the German codes.

    • Replies: @dearieme
  8. Thirdeye says:

    Definitely agree. Midway should be filed under the “better lucky than good” category. The ambush plan was well conceived but almost undone by operational hiccups that led to the unprotected, uncoordinated attacks by torpedo planes and dive bombers. The dive bombers were able to find the Imperial fleet only because of a chance event – a submarine alarm that drew screening destroyers off-station, one of which was detected returning to its fleet station by the dive bombers. Had the dive bombers spent much more time searching, they would have detected the carriers after they had launched their attack on the US fleet, if at all. But we were mainly lucky over Admiral Nagumo’s propensity for making chowderhead decisions in the heat of battle. His decision to launch a second strike at the Midway airfield left him unable to respond in a timely manner when the US fleet was detected. The Midway airbase was manifestly ineffective as a threat to the Imperial fleet. Its role in the Japanese plan was to bait the trap for the US fleet. Nagumo forgot his primary mission: detect and destroy the US fleet.

    Against all that, Admiral Spruance’s risk management decisions as the battle unfolded were first rate. He made an unpopular decision to retire the force at nightfall rather than launching a fleet pursuit during the night of June 4th-5th. The risk of encountering the vastly superior surface firepower of the Imperial fleet while the US advantage in air power was negated by night was unacceptable. Admiral Halsey, who was slated to lead the battle but pulled out because of illness, might not have conducted the battle with Spruance’s insight that assured survival of the US fleet. His impulsive battle decisions led to near disaster at Leyte Gulf. We were fortunate that he lacked the opportunity to display that propensity at Midway.

    • Replies: @Anon
  9. Thirdeye says:
    @Diversity Heretic

    Imperial Japan was like the lead character in a Greek tragedy, almost heroic, undone by hubris and one fatal character flaw. Had they stopped with their gains from the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 and handled relations with Korea and China better, they would have been great. They made themselves the most hated people across east Asia and they still seem clueless as to why.

  10. dearieme says:
    @Clyde Wilson

    Yes, and helped by the efforts of first the Poles and then the French.

  11. anon • Disclaimer says:

    War with Japan could have been easily avoided. Had America not foolishly acquired places like the Philippines and Guam etc., in the needless Spanish-American war, there would have been no reason for a struggle with Japan over the eastern Pacific. FDR also pursued a hostile policy towards Japan from day one and the Japanese were given the impression that the USA would fight them if they tried to seize the oil-rich Dutch East Indies. A great book to read is NO CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER.

    • Replies: @MarkinLA
  12. anon • Disclaimer says:

    My tactical two cents. What the Japanese should have done was brought all their battleships to Midway with the aircraft carrier group. These big guns could have bombarded Midway far more effectively then airplanes could have. Also the Japanese planes would only have needed to be armed with torpedoes when freed of the necessity to bombard Midway. All the time lost and terrible damage ensued by switching back and forth endlessly between bombs and torpedoes would have been eliminated.

    • Replies: @Diversity Heretic
  13. Was the Battle of Midway an important victory? Sure. But Midway was fought entirely by aircraft. It remained for the USN and IJN to “get it on” in ship-to-ship surface actions. When the curtain went up on the Guadalcanal campaign in August 1942, the USN got its decidedly unpleasant baptism of fire against the enemy.

    The Japanese Navy was rigorously trained in night fighting and torpedo tactics. The Type 93 “Long Lance” torpedo–1,000-pound warhead, 20 nautical mile-range at high speed, wakeless–made our torpedo look like the bargain basement crap it was. The Japanese lacked radar, sure, but they had the best night binoculars in the world, and only men with the best eyesight served as lookouts. In the ensuing actions–Savo Island, Battle of Cape Esperance, Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Tassafaronga, Kula Gulf et al.–the USN took some pastings.

    As the war went on, the IJN stopped getting better, while the USN never stopped getting better.

  14. Anon • Disclaimer says:

    The role of luck in military affairs in general is gravely underestimated.

  15. @Orville H. Larson

    Prior to the fighting off Guadalcanal, the Japanese Navy inflicted a humiliating defeat on a combined American-British-Australian-Dutch fleet in the Battle of the Java Sea.

  16. @anon

    The Japanese may have been nervous about exposing their battleships to land-based aerial attack, based on their own sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse earlier in the war. They would have had their own carrier-based air cover for the battleships, but perhaps they didn’t consider that adequate. Carriers can be sunk, islands can’t.

    • Replies: @anon
  17. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Orville H. Larson

    Let’s be fair – the Type 93 wasn’t just superior to the standard USN torpedoes of the day, but also those of pretty much everyone else in the world. It really was in a league of its own. The only WWII torpedoes that could even come close to its performance were USN’s own Mark 17 (introduced too late in the war to see any real combat service) and to a lesser extent the big British 24.5″ that inspired the Long Lance in the first place.

    Another thing that made the Type 93 so deadly was that for the first year and a half of the war or so, the USN was apparently totally unaware of its true capabilities, and must have assumed the IJN’s torpedoes were similar to their own! If they had known what the Long Lance could really do from the very beginning, perhaps their tactics around the Solomons would have been completely different…
    After all, some US destroyer captains did show that they could use smart tactics and their own advantage in radar to overcome their deficiencies in torpedoes against their IJN adversaries, at battles like Vella Gulf and Cape St. George.

    Nevertheless the Long Lance could sometimes be just as dangerous to its own crews as it was to the enemy, as the very thing that made it so potent (its oxygen-enriched propulsion) also made it tend to explode especially violently when hit by enemy bombs or gunfire… more than one IJN ship met a nasty end in this way. I believe this led to a later policy of jettisoning the Long Lances if it looked like the ship was about to come under air attack.

  18. Saying the USN was lucky at Midway is an insult to all the air crews who sacrificed their lives for America. But, it is essentially true. Midway encapsulates all the reasons why Japan should never have fought a war against the US, but chose to anyway.

    Yes, Japan could have won the war. Sinking the US carriers at either Pearl Harbor or Midway may have convinced Roosevelt to abandon the Pacific for a focus on Germany. Given 3-4 years to prepare a proper defense, Japan might have made too formidable an enemy for the US to want to crack. But the point is Japan had to get everything right. The US could afford a lot of mistakes, Japan, none. Mistakes are part of life, and certainly part of war. Hence, the reason Japan lost. After their against the odds win against the Russians, the were convinced Yamato Damashi could triumph against superior Western logistics. Midway was the day reality gave the Japanese a ride awakening.

    Not much of a historian, and off topic, but the only war I’m aware of where a seriously weaker opponent rolled 7 every time and beat a far superior opponent was the American Revolution. The fog at Brooklyn Heights, the sleet at Trenton, the overnight freeze at Princeton, the fact that they British Navy showed up at Yorktown just after the British surrendered, time after time the Americans had incredible luck…

    • Replies: @dearieme
    , @Thirdeye
  19. Anonym says:

    A minor correction: The “Send us more Japs” line comes from the battle for Wake Island, which, it seems, no one at all remembers anymore.

    Speak for yourself!

    • Replies: @whoever
  20. @Auntie Analogue

    “AF” was the Japanese designator for Midway.

    • Replies: @Auntie Analogue
  21. MarkinLA says:

    I think I read that one of the problems with Japanese aircraft carriers is that they were not originally built as aircraft carriers but were originally supposed to be other surface ships that were quickly retrofitted and were not in the same class as American carriers when it came to things like integral fire suppression systems.

    The idea that America losing it’s aircraft carriers at Pearl Harbor would have lost them the war is also far fetched. The Japanese had no way to attack the American mainland and the US had an enormous capacity to rearm. Japan would have had at most a year or two of it’s navy having it’s way in the Pacific until the US would have overwhelmed it with numbers. The US Essex class carriers – a true from the start carrier was in numbers enough alone to wipe the Japanese fleet from the sea from around 1944.

    • Replies: @Avery
    , @whoever
  22. MarkinLA says:

    We had good relations with the kingdom of Korea and likely China as well. We probably didn’t ever want to see Japan get too powerful so would likely have opposed them no matter what. The Japanese were also very abusive to the people in the lands they conquered.

    I believe the Japanese had also broken the treaty limiting their naval forces. Yes, it was unfair that their navy was smaller than the US or Britain’s but once they broke the treaty and aligned with Germany, the US would have to assume they were up to no good.

    • Replies: @anon
  23. @Quartermaster

    “‘AF’ was the Japanese designator for Midway.”

    Well, my dear Quartermaster, you got me on a typo (or I may have unconsciously typed today’s postal abbreviation for Alaska, because while composing my comment I also bore in mind the Japanese Aleutian diversion). My bad, and thanks for putting my erratum right.

  24. crh says:

    What never gets mentioned at all is that Japan started the war with a merchant navy that was completely inadequate to the task of supplying the homeland and military campaigns, and that was before sustaining any losses from enemy action. The numbers were bad from the start. They had the will, and the skill, but never the means.

  25. Avery says:

    {I think I read that one of the problems with Japanese aircraft carriers is that they were not originally built as aircraft carriers…}

    There is a guy on talk radio in LA area (AM640) named Brain Suits who seems to know military stuff (he served in Iraq). He was saying on one of his shows that Japanese-built aircraft carriers were considered unsinkable by them, that is why they did not provide e.g. fire suppression, whereas Americans fully expected carriers to be attacked and possibly sunk, so US carriers were built to survive attacks. Don’t remember exactly, but according to Brian, Japanese considered it some kind of an insult or dishonor to consider that their carriers could possibly be sunk……

    And I agree that the notion that US losing all its carriers at Pearl would have changed anything is nonsense. Americans would be even more thirsting for revenge having lost all US Navy carriers. US had and has everything on its invulnerable mainland to re-arm and rebuild a massive new fleet of carriers. Japan had nothing on its islands. All its sources of oil and raw materials came from hostile occupied territories.

    After a year of re-build and re-fit US would be able to cut off Japanese from their oil supplies and raw materials. Native populations of Japanese occupied territories would make life hell for the occupiers (…with outside help). Japanese would lose no matter what.

    Yamamoto, who lived in US for a while, argued vigorously against attacking US. He was overruled and followed orders, but reportedly said after Pearl “We have awakened a giant……”

    • Replies: @mobi
  26. whoever says: • Website

    When I was a kid, one of the World War II movies we watched a lot was Wake Island. Afterwards, my brothers and I would play Marines against Japs. I was always the designated Jap. No fair, you guys!

  27. Had the U.S. lost its carriers at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. would have been unable to oppose and defeat the Japanese move to take Port Moresby, New Guinea (accomplished at the Battle of the Coral Sea at the cost of the loss of USS Lexington), unable to support the assault landing on Guadalcanal, and unable to prevent the Japanese from severing the U.S.-Australia supply line, because Japanese aircraft based on Guadalcanal would have been well within range of the New Hebrides, and then within range of New Caledonia. Without the U.S. carriers to oppose Japan’s cutoff of the U.S.-Australia supply line, the Japanese would have also been able to take Fiji to accomplish the complete severance of that supply line.

    Further, loss of the U.S. carriers at Pearl Harbor would have denuded Midway of the means for its defense and made it low-hanging fruit for easy Japanese picking, and may thus also have left Hawaii itself vulnerable to Japanese conquest. A U.S. attempt to retake Hawaii from bases on the U.S. west coast would have to have been delayed until at least late 1943 when the Essex-class carriers began their introduction to fleet service; and even if the U.S. would have retaken Hawaii, it would then have taken at least two years for the U.S. to restore Pearl Harbor’s vital installations, which a defeated Japanese occupation force would have thoroughly destroyed.

    Loss of the U.S. carriers at Pearl Harbor would have extended the war against Japan out to at least 1947, perhaps even out to 1949, in large part because the U.S. Navy’s submarine interdiction of Japan’s trade (chiefly its supply of oil) depended crucially on the U.S. having its Hawaiian and Australian submarine bases, and on the U.S. ability to supply Australia, without which General MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific campaign could not have been mounted or launched.

    Atop all that, loss at Pearl Harbor of the U.S. carriers would have obviated the successful Doolittle Raid upon Japan. The raid inflicted scant damage upon Japan’s war effort, but it put a big dent in the Japanese notion of the invulnerability of their home islands and gave a tremendous boost to U.S. and Allied servicemen’s and home front morale.

    All of that underlines Admiral Nimitz’s order to Admirals Spruance and Fletcher before the Battle of Midway, in which Nimitz cautioned Spruance that his operations must be governed by calculated risk, entirely because Nimitz (and indeed also Admiral King) understood that loss of the U.S. carriers would have extended the war against Japan well beyond 1945, with a huge commensurate increase in U.S. effort and casualties to attain victory over Imperial Japan.

    Here’s the text of Nimitz’s pre-Midway order to Spruance and Fletcher:

    “In carrying out the task assigned in Operation Plan 29-42 you will be governed
    by the principle of calculated risk, which you shall interpret to mean the avoidance
    of exposure of your force to attack by superior enemy forces without good prospect
    of inflicting, as a result of such exposure, greater damage to the enemy. This applies
    to the landing phase as well as during preliminary air attacks.”

    That order shows Nimitz’s (and King’s) deep comprehension of the absolutely vital need to protect the American carriers, without which Japan would have severed the U.S.-Australia supply line, secured to the point of nigh-invulnerability Japanese merchant marine oil supply to Japan and the Imperial Japanese Navy, and given Japan free reign much farther into the middle and even into the eastern Pacific, and made the U.S. effort to win the war far lengthier and far more costly than it was, precisely because Nimitz prudently safeguarded his most precious assets – the U.S. carriers.

    Even beyond the victory at Midway, protecting the scarce U.S. carriers formed the prime concern for U.S. commanders, as evidenced by Admiral Fletcher’s rapid withdrawal of carrier support for the successfully landed Guadalcanal assault force, which left Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner’s amphibious support force no choice but to withdraw from Lunga Point, thus putting the entire landing force in peril of running out of ammunition, food, fuel, and supplies. That fairly shouts how vital the survival of the two or three U.S. carriers was to the entire Pacific war effort.

    • Replies: @MarkinLA
  28. whoever says: • Website

    Good points!
    The Japanese developed their carrier fleet and doctrine in close cooperation with the British navy. Immediately after the end of World War I, the British cut off cooperation with our Navy, while inviting Japanese to observe their operations and sending delegations to advise the Japanese. Apparently, perfidious Albion believed the next hegemon competitor to knock off after Napoleonic France and Kaiser Germany was us, and they wanted Japan as an ally. Our interwar diplomacy put the kibosh on that, but Japan was off and running anyway.
    Japanese carriers closely followed the British designs of the era, even including multiple flight decks — a really stupid idea. They had to scrap these and rebuild the carriers with single flight decks when they proved impractical.
    Fire suppression was very critical, as we learned with the loss of the beautiful Lexington, underway and steaming normally after successful damage control efforts, when a massive aviation gasoline explosion doomed her. We learned from her fate, and the Yorktown‘s, so, later in the war, such ships as the Franklin and Ticonderoga, both Essex-class carriers, withstood much worse damage, the Ticonderoga surviving a double kamikaze hit off Formosa and going on to become famous during the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, when then-Commander James Stockdale served aboard her.

    • Replies: @Thirdeye
  29. Thank you for mentioning the great English Admiral Lord Thomas Cochrane. One minor typo: his last name is spelled with an “e”.

    • Replies: @dearieme
  30. dearieme says:
    @NJ Transit Commuter

    To be fair, Yorktown was a French victory. Saratoga was a victory for the rebels though.

  31. MarkinLA says:
    @Auntie Analogue

    All of that may be true but Japan was never going to attack the US mainland and not likely even Australia. Eventually the combined US and British navies would have pushed the Japanese out of the southwest Pacific and slowly strangled the Japanese homelands.

    The problem for the US Navy was always a political one. If there was no ability to realistically counter the Japanese Navy then there would have been no effort to do anything but focus on Germany completely.

    Who knows, Japan’s defeat in 1947 may have been a better deal for the US. The war in Europe would have been long over and FDR would not have been compelled to ask Stalin for help. Of course, we still might have nuked them in 1946.

    • Replies: @whoever
  32. Thirdeye says:

    Britain renounced their treaty of co-operation with Japan in 1922. Their relations had been going south ever since the Treaty of Versailles. The Japanese had served their purpose for the Brits by taking Germany out of the far east and protecting Commonwealth shipping lanes from submarines. That was after the Japanese had entered the war largely to gain brownie points with the Brits under their treaty of co-operation. Perfidious Albion was perfidious to the Japanese. But then, so was Woody Wilson, who moved the US fleet to the Pacific before the war with Germany was finished. That was a mere ten years after the Japanese saw such great hope in Theodore Roosevelt’s approach to US-Japanese relations and donated the cherry trees to Washington DC.

    Britain had at one time considered the US a potential rival on the world stage, but the inescapable fact facing them was that US intervention in WWI, financially, in trade, and militarily, was what allowed them to keep their empire. They knew, presciently, that US power could come in handy again. The terms of the Washington Naval Treaty sent a pretty definite signal as to Britain’s vision of what the new World Order would be: Brittania rules the waves of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, while the US fleet is tasked with keeping the Yellow Peril off their backs in the far east.

  33. Thirdeye says:
    @NJ Transit Commuter

    The initiative of the aircrews was what saved the day after poor operational command messed up the air attack plan, sending an attack that by all doctrinal logic should have ended in disaster (and nearly did).

  34. anon • Disclaimer says:
    @Diversity Heretic

    And yet this was the tactic used by the Americans when they began their ‘island-hopping’ offensive. I don’t see how they Japanese could have done any worse then what actually happened.

    • Replies: @Diversity Heretic
  35. anon • Disclaimer says:

    I don’t believe the Japanese broke the treaty. They just declined to renew it.

    • Replies: @MarkinLA
  36. @anon

    Agreed. I was merely speculating (I am not an expert on either Midway or the Pacific War) as to why the Japanese might have been hestitant to expose their battleships to Midway-based aircraft. The ability of “straight and level” bombers to hit zig-zagging warships (essentially zero) was overrated. IIRC, MacArthur’s island hopping campaign relied on land-based aerial support; Nimitz’s Central Pacific campaing used exclusively carrier-based aircraft. I think that Japanese resources were so strained by 1943 that the planes based on the islands attacked by carrier task forces and Marines could be suppressed by the carrier based planes.

    A “shellack Midway with battleship guns” and use the carrier-based planes to cover the battleships and to hunt down and destroy the U.S. carriers, probably would have been a better strategy. No need to even arm the dive bombers with anything except armor-piercing bombs.

  37. dearieme says:

    “great English Admiral Lord Thomas Cochrane”: not English, Scottish.

  38. MarkinLA says:

    Wrong choice of words on my part. I really just meant that they built more ships over what was allowed on the treaty.

  39. mobi says:

    He was saying on one of his shows that Japanese-built aircraft carriers were considered unsinkable by them, that is why they did not provide e.g. fire suppression, whereas Americans fully expected carriers to be attacked and possibly sunk, so US carriers were built to survive attacks. Don’t remember exactly, but according to Brian, Japanese considered it some kind of an insult or dishonor to consider that their carriers could possibly be sunk……

    I thought it was the case, rather, that Japanese rejected any thought of ‘self-preservation’ in battle, as being cowardice, and a failure to focus on one’s highest duty – to fight, and die, for the emperor.

    Thus, they gave little time or effort to the survivability of their damaged ships, as such efforts were fundamentally defensive in nature, and thus shameful. Attack! Attack! Only attack, until victory or death.

    Consistent with the fact that the Japanese high command, later in the war, had to go to the trouble of strictly forbidding suicidal Banzai charges by troops in hopeless situations, because they were simply too expensive – implying that up till then, such attacks were regarded as the only acceptable option, no matter how harmful strategically.

    • Replies: @Avery
  40. whoever says: • Website

    Eventually the combined US and British navies would have pushed the Japanese out of the southwest Pacific

    We mostly wanted the British navy to keep out of our way in the Pacific, especially their air arm, which was singularly inept. Some examples from various theaters:
    • Operation Avalanche (Salerno), September, 1943, British navy carriers deployed 106 Seafires to support the landings. During three-and-a-half days of operations, the British claimed to have shot down two German fighters, losing none of their own aircraft to enemy action. However, during the first day of operations 42 Seafires were lost or damaged beyond repair in landing accidents, and by the end of operations only 39 Seafires were in flying conditions. Seas were calm during period, with winds not exceeding 18 knots.
    • Repeated attacks by British carrier aircraft in April, May and June, 1944, failed to sink the German battleship Tirpitz, so in August, a force of three fleet carriers and two escort carriers launched a concentrated assault on the ship. Some 242 bomb- and torpedo-sorties were flown against it over a three-day period. Results: no damage to the Tirpitz.
    • On January 29, 1945, the British Fleet Air Arm carried out its largest attack of the war, against the Soengei Gerong refinery complex in the Dutch East Indies. A fighter sweep of 20 F4Us led an attack by 48 TBFs and two Fireflies escorted by 50 F6Fs. Results: the British claimed heavy damage to the refinery complex, but the postwar Strategic Bombing Survey didn’t back that up. They also claimed to have shot down five Ki-45s, five Ki-43s, three Ki-44s and one Zero. British losses in combat were 17 TBFs, eight F4Us, one F6F and one Firefly. Another 14 aircraft were destroyed in deck-landing accidents.
    • The British Pacific fleet flew 5,335 sorties during Operation Iceberg (Okinawa), losing 33 aircraft to enemy action — but losing an addition 170 to carrier landing accidents.
    • On July 24, 1945, in the fleet air arm’s only attack on an enemy aircraft carrier, it launched 416 sorties against the Japanese escort carrier Kaiyo, securing three hits.
    • その他 …

    • Replies: @Dan Hayes
    , @LondonBob
  41. Dan Hayes says:


    Classical examples of British “muddling through”.

    How were they ever capable of ruling the world for so long, so ruthlessly and so successfully? That has always puzzled me.

  42. Avery says:

    {….Japanese rejected any thought of ‘self-preservation’ in battle, as being cowardice, and a failure to focus on one’s highest duty – to fight, and die, for the emperor.}

    That makes more sense, and is in line with Japanese psyche and Bushido ethos.

  43. @Dan Hayes

    Just a couple of observations. Perhaps the British were able to establish such a vast empire because the places in which they established it were fairly easy to colonize at that point in their relative histories.

    I was unaware of the actions described in whoever’s post, but I can’t say that I’m terriby surprised. The Seafire was an adapted land design that was hard to land on terra firma (a characteristic it shared with the Messerschmit 109 and the P-40), as a result of its narrow undercarriage–an arrested landing on a carrier must have been especially difficult. Therefore, I’m not suprised at the high losses from carrier landings. The Royal Navy was, as a rule, willing to tolerate higher accidental casualties than the U.S. Navy–the Royal Navy adopted the F4U Corsair for carrier duty much earlier than did the U.S. Navy, which mostly allocated the Corsair to land-based Marines until techniques for fairly safe landings were developed. British performance in general deteriorated post-Alamein. By the end of the war the British were mostly scraping the bottom of the barrel for quality personnel and the performance showed. By contrast, by the end of World War I, British troops had become quite skilled in attacking their German adversaries. They made a lasting impression on a certain corporal who later become German Reichsfuhrer.

    • Agree: Dan Hayes
  44. whoever says: • Website
    @Dan Hayes

    Dunno what happened to the Brits, but by mid-WWII they had assumed the role of Gabby Hayes to our Roy Rogers, and not much has changed since. Kind of sad.
    A toast to the English-speaking world’s optimism and illusions in the good old days, and to them that thought they would never end:

    • Agree: Dan Hayes
  45. I enjoyed this World War II naval battle story. As we all know today the U.S. military is simply overextended and badly run down from trying to be Israels’ mercenary in the Middle East and the trans-national corporation’s enforcer and the 0.1% globalist elite’s “policeman” on 7 continents and everywhere in between with nearly a thousand military bases in over a hundred countries! Unbelievable and unsustainable! However I digress. I have some old friends who are quite wealthy (by hard work I hasten to add— not cheating or exploiting others) and who now sail the world in a 120 foot sail boat with a large engine and 6 member crew as well. These friends like to visit and explore out of the way places such as remote islands and seashores around the globe. They are “smart cookies” and keep plenty of riles, grenades, light machine guns and two bazookas on board. This friend, I will call him ALB, his initials, is a U.S. navy veteran and says that while he realizes the American military in all branches must be sharply reduced to avert national bankruptcy, he also knows that when he and his family are lounging on some remote beach in South America or fishing at some uninhabited island in the South Seas, it is always a point of pride and reassurance to suddenly see a U.S. warship steam by with all flags flying, knowing they are keeping the sea lanes open and protecting innocent travelers. ALB said it is also gratifying to see much less frequently the British Union Jack or French or Italian Tri-Colors flying on a frigate sail by when they are gamboling on some “island paradise”. Even the Russian flag is reassuring, but it always makes them uneasy to see the banner of Red China, India or some Third World tyranny floating on the masthead of some military naval vessel hurrying to intimidate and threaten others or possibly even commit secret crimes on the high seas.

  46. LondonBob says:

    And yet Pearl Harbour was based on the highly successful RN attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto. The US wouldn’t have wanted us involved in the Pacific for their own geostrategic reasons that Enoch Powell could explain.

    Impressively all four Illustrious Class Carriers survived the entirety of WWII, for us the war lasted six years, despite extensive use. Great decision by someone to put heavy armour on the flight deck, the Japs made a fatal mistake not doing so.

  47. @Oldeguy

    God fights on the side with the best artillery.
    – Napoleon Bonaparte

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