Category Archives: Japan

U.S. Submarine Success, 1944-45

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 591-594, 611:

The quality of life on American submarines was greatly improved by 1944. Occasional showers were now possible, and rations were dramatically better. The captain of one sub reported that “our freezer was filled with boned meats—including steaks, roasts, chops, and hamburgers. The baker was up at 0300 each day to prepare fresh breads, rolls, cakes, and cookies.” On most subs, there was an “open door policy” that allowed crewmen to help themselves to cold cuts and sandwiches as well as fresh coffee around the clock. A number of boats had self-service Coca-Cola machines, which one skipper called “a real morale booster.” Periodically, the crews might gather in the forward torpedo room to watch a movie. Such luxuries were unimaginable to the crews of Germany’s “iron coffins,” or, indeed, those of Japanese or British submarines.

The new American subs were also more efficient. The torpedo problems had been largely solved (though the loss of the Tang showed that some problems remained), and the number of Japanese ships sunk increased dramatically. Whereas in 1942, American submarines sank a total of 612,039 tons of shipping, in 1944 they destroyed 2,388,709 tons, nearly four times as much. If that was less than the tonnage claimed by Dönitz’s more numerous U-boats back in the “happy time” of 1942, as a percentage of Japanese shipping it was far greater. In 1941 the Japanese had nearly 6.4 million tons of merchant shipping. Despite adding 3.5 million more during the war—nearly half of it in 1944—by the end of that year there was less than 2.5 million tons left. The Japanese merchant marine was steadily disappearing because Japan could not do what the United States did: build ships as fast or faster than its enemy could sink them.

Another reason for American success was that Japanese anti-submarine warfare was not particularly effective. Japanese escorts had both sonar and depth charges, but their crews were less efficient in using them than the British in the Atlantic or the Americans in the Pacific. It was not uncommon for American subs to endure prolonged depth charge attacks with little or no damage…. Of course, having to lie quiet and endure a depth-charge attack, even an unsuccessful one, was psychologically draining. The repeated concussions often shattered lightbulbs and loosened the cork lining on the bulkheads; still, as long as the pressure hull held, the boat survived. Japanese inefficiency in depth-charge attacks is especially curious since they were extraordinarily efficient in most other areas of naval warfare. The explanation may be at least partly cultural. Valuing the offense over the defense, Japanese destroyermen worked harder at perfecting torpedo attacks than they did at the more pedantic job of escorting lumbering merchant ships or pinpointing the location of unseen American submarines.

In addition to the gradual depletion of the number of Japanese ships, those that survived became increasingly inefficient. One reason was a shortage of cargo handlers. By 1944, conscription had swept up most experienced longshoremen into the armed forces and Japan was compelled to rely on dock workers rounded up from the regions they had conquered—Filipinos, Koreans, and Chinese—as well as Japanese women and even American prisoners of war. Such workers were inexperienced, and many of them were less than enthusiastic in their labor, so efficiency suffered. Another problem was Japanese reluctance to embrace convoys. They did not put a convoy system in place until late in 1943, and convoys did not become routine until the spring of 1944. Even then, there were so few escorts that convoys were delayed, sometimes for weeks, for lack of an escort vessel. In such circumstances, it seemed wiser to send out ships individually, especially through what were assumed to be safe areas. The problem was that by 1944 there were no safe areas.

The firebombing of Japan’s major cities was apocalyptic. The postwar Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that “some 40 percent of the built up area of the 66 cities attacked was destroyed. Approximately 30 percent of the entire urban population of Japan lost their homes and many their possessions.” The impact that such devastation had on Japan’s wartime economy is less clear. At the time, the [Army Air Forces] insisted that destruction of the “housing units” of factory workers weakened Japanese industry. Yet most of the industries in the areas that were destroyed by firebombing had ceased to function long before the raids began because American submarines had halted the delivery of most raw materials. A factory without access to raw materials is just a building. Several of the air strikes directed at Japan’s petroleum resources, for example, hit refineries that were no longer functioning and tank farms that were empty. The historian Mark Parillo put it anatomically: “The submarine had stopped Japan’s industrial heart from beating by severing its arteries and it did so well before the bomber ruptured the organ.” Given that, the B-29 firebombing raids that began in March 1945 and continued almost without interruption for the rest of the war were less strategic bombing than terror bombing.

Leave a comment

Filed under China, industry, Japan, Korea, labor, military, Pacific, Philippines, U.S., war

Two D-Days: Saipan vs. Normandy

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 540-541:

The American buildup for the invasion of Saipan (code-named Operation Forager) occurred simultaneously with preparations for Overlord; measured by firepower, the Saipan invasion fleet was even larger than the one devoted to Normandy. Raymond Spruance commanded the overall invasion force that included Pete Mitscher’s powerful Task Force 58, which by now consisted of fifteen carriers, seven battleships, eleven cruisers, and eighty-six destroyers. It would provide cover for an invasion force that included fifty-six attack transports and eighty-four LSTs carrying 127,571 soldiers and Marines. The employment of eighty-four LSTs in the Pacific at a time when Eisenhower was scrambling for just one or two more for Normandy was powerful evidence that the Germany-first principle had been virtually abandoned.

The invasion of Saipan also required a much longer sealift than at Normandy. While the invasion forces for Neptune-Overlord had to leap fifty or a hundred miles across the English Channel, many of the transports and amphibious ships loaded up at Pearl Harbor, more than thirty-five hundred miles from the target beach. For Neptune-Overlord, the LSTs could, and did, shuttle reinforcements and supplies to the beaches in a near-constant rotation for weeks after the initial landings. For Saipan, by contrast, the men, the equipment, the supplies, and the ammunition all had to cross the broad Pacific in a single giant stride. Eisenhower had warned Marshall that a shortage of LSTs at Normandy could mean that his invasion force might be stranded on the beach for as long as three days without resupply. By design, the men who invaded Saipan would be stranded there for three months before significant reinforcements or supplies could reach them, though of course the Japanese, too, would have to fight the battle with what they had on hand, since Saipan would be virtually cut off from support.

Like the men who invaded Normandy, the would-be invaders of Saipan first had to load the landing ships and landing craft; it was hard work, and dangerous, too. On May 17, as work parties were off-loading 4.2-inch mortar ammunition from LST-353 in Pearl Harbor, one of the mortar rounds detonated. The explosion ignited nearby barrels of gasoline, and the entire ship went up in a thunderous fireball, setting off a number of explosions on nearby ships. A witness recalled that “whole jeeps, parts of ships, guns, equipment, shrapnel, fragments of metal, all rained down on the waters of West Loch.” Before it was over, 168 men were dead, and six LSTs and three LCTs had been completely destroyed. It was just nineteen days after the loss of three LSTs off Slapton Sands in the English Channel. To replace the lost vessels, eight LSTs were transferred from MacArthur’s command. No doubt Ike wished it had been that easy for him.

The Saipan invasion force departed Pearl Harbor during the last three days of May. While en route, the tedium was broken by a not altogether unexpected announcement: “Now hear this. The invasion of France has started. Supreme Headquarters announced that the landings to date have been successful. That is all.” The news provoked loud and sustained cheering, and no doubt boosted the morale of those who were about to conduct their own D-Day.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Micronesia, military, Pacific, U.S., war

Improvised Invasion Fleets, 1942

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 335-337:

The Allies’ material shortages, especially in shipping, compelled them to improvise. The British had three full-sized aircraft carriers and three smaller ones to cover their assigned targets, but the Americans had only the Ranger. To supplement her, they constructed flight decks atop four oilers and redesignated them as auxiliary carriers. Significantly smaller than regular carriers, and lacking a hangar deck, they could still embark thirty planes each, though all of them had to be carried on the flight deck.

Troop transports were another problem. What few landing ships the British possessed had been lost at Narvik and Dunkirk, and many of the American transports were half a world away, running supplies into Guadalcanal. It was a zero-sum game: ships needed for one undertaking necessarily had to come from someplace else. As the official British history of the campaign puts it, “The transports, store-ships, and auxiliaries of all sorts which had to be taken out of circulation seriously upset the Allied shipping programme throughout the world.” The Allies cobbled together what they could. To carry soldiers to North Africa, they relied heavily on prewar cruise ships; the British even commandeered ferryboats from the Glasgow-Belfast run. Similarly, American civilian cargo vessels metamorphosed into “attack transports.” In effect, the invasion fleets for Torch were jury-rigged (as the Americans put it); in the British idiom, they were “lash-ups.”

Of course, the packed troopships and laden cargo vessels required a substantial escort in order to cross the several thousand miles of hostile ocean to the invasion beaches, and that, too, meant withdrawing forces from other theaters. Britain could escort its contingent only by relying heavily on the Home Fleet, as it had for Pedestal, committing three battleships (Duke of York, Nelson, and Rodney), the battlecruiser Renown, five cruisers, and all five of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers plus thirty-one destroyers. To obtain them, the Royal Navy reduced the escorts for the transatlantic convoys and suspended convoys to Russia altogether. The escorts for the American troopships, which would sail directly to North Africa from the East Coast of the United States, included three battleships (Massachusetts, New York, and Texas), seven cruisers, and thirty-eight destroyers. More destroyers would have been desirable, but in the late summer of 1942, destroyers were in demand everywhere, including the Solomon Islands.

Once the troopships and cargo vessels arrived at the target beaches, there was the additional problem of getting the men, their equipment, and their vehicles from the transports to the beach. The Marines who had landed at Guadalcanal had benefited from years of practice landings during the 1930s, and their assault on Guadalcanal had been almost routine; they merely had to climb over the sides of their landing boats and wade ashore. The assault in North Africa, however, would involve soldiers, not Marines, and on a much larger scale. To get them from ship to shore, they would have to climb down rope or chain nets from the transports into small plywood boats that would carry them several miles to the beach.

The vessels needed to accomplish that were also in short supply. The British version of this type of small landing boat was called “landing craft, assault” (LCA), and the American version was called “landing craft, personnel” (LCP). Each was capable of carrying thirty-six soldiers at a time, and their navy crewmen were to shuttle back and forth between ship and shore until the landing force was established. Because the American LCPs had been designed and built by Andrew Jackson Higgins, nearly everyone called them Higgins boats (a practice that will be followed here). Later in the war, both the British and American versions would have armored drop-front bows that would enable the soldiers to run directly from the boat out onto the beach, but the early models were simply rectangular plywood boxes with a motor on the back, and when they ground up onto the sand, the men, each of them carrying between sixty and ninety pounds of gear plus their rifle, had to climb out over the sides into waist-deep water before making their way to the beach, as the Marines had done at Guadalcanal.

Getting armored vehicles ashore was a bigger problem. The campaigns in France and Flanders in 1940 had demonstrated that ground combat in the Second World War meant the use of armored vehicles, specifically tanks. Getting tanks from ship to shore was a far more difficult problem than carrying soldiers. The British had experimented with tank-carrying ships that were converted from shallow-draft oil tankers used on Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo. Like so many innovations, this one had originated in the fertile mind of the prime minister, and the vessels were dubbed “Winstons” (smaller versions were called “Winettes”). What made them distinctive was their massive bow doors, which opened like a giant cupboard. After running up as close to the beach as they could get, they opened their big bow doors and deployed a long ramp. In theory, tanks and trucks could then drive out from their commodious hold directly onto the beach. The concept was certainly valid, as later models of such ships demonstrated. The early versions, however, were cumbersome and difficult to unload, and they had proved disappointing, and nearly disastrous, during the ill-fated raid on Dieppe.

The Americans attacked the problem differently, appropriating a large cargo ship, the Seatrain New Jersey, that had been designed to carry railroad cars from New York to Cuba, and modifying it to carry tanks. She was not a true amphibious ship, however, since her deep V-shaped hull did not allow her to steam up onto a beach, and she could unload her cargo of tanks only if she had access to a working harbor.

Carriers, battleships, cruisers, troopships, cargo ships, destroyers, and landing craft: altogether, the British and Americans employed nearly six hundred ships, plus the small Higgins boats, to execute this first major strategic counteroffensive of the war. From the start, the commanders had to scramble to find the manpower, the equipment, and especially the shipping to make it happen. The nickname “Operation Shoestring” that had been used to describe the Guadalcanal landing might just as easily have been applied to Torch.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, industry, Japan, Mediterranean, military, Pacific, travel, U.S., war

December 1941 Turning Points

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 208-209:

None of the celebrating pilots aboard the six Japanese carriers could possibly have known that just the day before, on the other side of the world, Marshal Georgy Zhukov had directed a counterattack of half a million Russian soldiers against German forces outside Moscow. Before the winter was over, the Russians would push the Germans some two hundred miles to the west. Japan had joined the war at almost the precise moment that the German juggernaut was exposed as vulnerable after all.

However tactically successful, the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor stands alongside Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union as one of the most reckless and irresponsible decisions in the history of warfare, and along with the Russian counterattack outside Moscow marked a decisive turning point in the Second World War. It brought the United States and its vast industrial resources fully into the conflict and galvanized American public opinion in such a way as to ensure not only an eventual Allied triumph, but what Roosevelt in his December 8 speech to Congress called “absolute victory.”

In view of that, it is easy to overlook the fact that the raid on Pearl Harbor was only one element of Japan’s grand strategy. In fact, the Japanese began to seize the southern resource area—the actual target of all their planning—at virtually the same moment their aircraft were crippling the American battle fleet. On December 4 and 5, as Nagumo turned his carriers to the southeast (and Zhukov assembled his divisions outside Moscow), Japanese invasion flotillas left Hainan Island, in the South China Sea, and Cam Ranh Bay, in Indochina, to steam southward into the Gulf of Siam. Even as the first plane lifted off from Nagumo’s carriers, a Japanese invasion force of twenty-one transports, escorted by a light cruiser and four destroyers, began landing soldiers on the north coast of British Malaya at Kota Bharu, just below the border with Thailand (formerly Siam). Ninety minutes later (as Fuchida’s planes were lining up for their attack run on Battleship Row), a second invasion force of twenty-two transports, escorted by a battleship and five cruisers plus seven destroyers, began landing soldiers at Singora Beach inside Siam, 130 miles up the Kra Peninsula.

Leave a comment

Filed under democracy, Germany, industry, Japan, Malaysia, military, nationalism, Thailand, U.S., USSR, Vietnam, war

Rehabilitating Japanese War Veterans

From Faces Along the Way, by Ferdinand Micklautz (Miko Oriental Art and Publishing, 2010), pp. 243-244:

The war had ended in 1945, and this was 1948. Japan had surrendered and we were rebuilding it to be an anti-war, pacifist nation. (It was no accident that the American lady chosen to tutor Crown Prince Akihito was a Quaker.) The victors didn’t mind feeding women and children and the aged. But the idea of turning around and helping the very men they’d been trying to kill, and who had been trying to kill them, was utter anathema. It was so much so, that no one dared to make a public case for the Japanese war veterans.

The fact was, however, that of all Japanese in need of rehabilitation and assistance, the war veterans made up by far the largest group. There were multitudes of them, nationwide, from one end of Japan to the other, and … the luckier ones were buried in remote and inadequate hospitals. The rest of them were on the streets, begging and getting along as best they could.

I may have been the first person in Japan to address this issue publicly. In the course of setting up our rehabilitation program, I held several press conferences, and at one of them, a courageous Japanese reporter asked me if the services being developed nationally would also be available to the war wounded who had been in the military. The MacArthur/SCAP attitude towards Japan’s war veterans was too well known, and so the reporter didn’t dare use the term “veterans”; instead, he danced around it very carefully.

Not me. “Veterans,” I stated, and all over the room eyes went wide, “will be treated just the same as civilians or anybody in need. There will be no discrimination at all.” There was a ripple of surprise, mostly silent but I could see it in their faces. Then the shock of hearing the word “veterans” used in public passed, and in its place was relief and approval.

Back at [Public Health & Welfare] there was a bit of discussion about what I had said, but none of it was outright criticism and I wasn’t slapped down for having broken the unofficial ban and speaking as I had. The word traveled through Japan that veterans, too, would be eligible for rehabilitation, and that barrier came down.

Available by print-on-demand from Lulu.com. Newly available in Japanese translation.

Leave a comment

Filed under economics, Japan, labor, military, nationalism, U.S., war

Allowing Japan’s Blind Masseurs to Work Again

From Faces Along the Way, by Ferdinand Micklautz (Miko Oriental Art and Publishing, 2010), p. 252:

Helen Keller’s 1948 tour of Japan gave a real boost to that country’s blind and disabled when a boost of that sort was very badly needed.

One great thing that Helen Keller did for the blind of Japan wasn’t as well publicized as her speaking tour. She successfully petitioned President Truman to lift General MacArthur’s ban on traditional Japanese therapeutic practices, such as acupuncture, moxibustion and anma massage.

MacArthur had banned all these traditional therapies, pending scientific research into their worth, because Americans held in Japan prison camps had reported being burned and stuck with needles when they were sick. This, to MacArthur’s ears, was outright torture, and even if they weren’t actually torture he considered the traditional therapies to be worthless.

The problem was that General MacArthur’s ban had inadvertently put most of Japan’s working blind out of work. Nearly all practitioners of traditional therapies in Japan were blind, because blind people were considered to have a greater than usual sensitivity of touch, and as long as MacArthur’s ban held, an important and culturally acceptable avenue of employment was closed to Japan’s blind. But when Helen Keller asked him to, President Truman lifted the ban. The blind masseurs and acupuncturists stopped being a drain on their families and on the Japanese economy, and they went back to work.

Available by print-on-demand from Lulu.com. Newly available in Japanese translation.

Leave a comment

Filed under economics, Japan, labor, military, nationalism, U.S.

The Imperial Japanese Red Cross

From Faces Along the Way, by Ferdinand Micklautz (Miko Oriental Art and Publishing, 2010), pp. 187-189:

When I arrived in Tokyo in the fall of 1947, they gave me a billet over at the Dai-Ichi Hotel, in with field-grade officers, and an office at the Red Cross headquarters at Shiba Park. I dumped my bags at the billet and went straight over to the office, where I sat down and immediately got to work.

It was a real eye-opener for me to see how the Japan Red Cross was set up. It couldn’t have been more different from the Korean Red Cross. In Korea, the Red Cross was a fairly democratic organization (and we had taken pains to make sure of that); but in Japan, the Red Cross was a very stratified operation, beginning at an extremely high level.

The Japan Red Cross, from its inception in 1887, had been under the direct patronage of the Imperial family – as it still is. Traditionally, the Empress is honorary president of the Japan Red Cross, and other members of the Imperial family are honorary vice-presidents. This Imperial patronage, of course, gave the organization the ultimate in prestige, but that was only the start of it.

When I first began working with the Japan Red Cross, its president was Prince Tadatsugu Shimazu. He was from Kyushu, born into a powerful family that had ruled Satsuma prefecture for quite literally centuries and had many ties to the Imperial family through various marriages over the years. Another prominent patron of the Japan Red Cross was Prince Iemasa Tokugawa, whose father had been head of the Japan Red Cross before the war. Prince Tokugawa was a direct descendant of the Tokugawa shoguns who had ruled Japan from 1603 to 1868, and his wife was a Shimazu from Satsuma.

We didn’t call Iemasa Tokugawa “Prince,” because the postwar Constitution of Japan, written largely by General MacArthur’s people, had abolished titles of nobility for everyone except the immediate Imperial family. But with or without his title, Tokugawa had direct personal access to the Emperor, which was of tremendous use to us. When necessary, he also functioned as an unofficial diplomatic liaison between certain of the people at SCAP (that was General MacArthur’s title, “Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers,” which was extended to refer to the organization under him) and the Japan Red Cross, and this again was of great service.

I worked closely with Iemasa Tokugawa, and as a person I liked him very much. He wasn’t just a man born to wealth and position; he was a good man as well, highly educated and cosmopolitan, with a great deal of charm. We were fortunate to have him working with us.

There was a problem with all this lofty patronage, however. Though it underscored the importance of the Japan Red Cross, it also inhibited people from the lower ranks of Japanese society, who were as a rule the people most in need of help. It made them reluctant to avail themselves of the society’s services, no matter how badly they might need them. This was something that had to be overcome.

In addition, the Japan Red Cross’s high connections exacerbated one of the first and most serious problems I encountered when I began work in Japan. This was, that the Japan Red Cross was almost entirely government-controlled. It had no funds of its own to operate with; all funding for the Japan Red Cross came from the central government. Most of the councillors of the Japan Red Cross were ex-members of the Japanese Diet, and so were the board of directors.

The situation was the absolute antithesis of how a private service organization should operate. We wanted to put the Japan Red Cross back on its proper footing: that of a non-governmental agency, supported by public funds from voluntary donations.

Available by print-on-demand from Lulu.com. Newly available in Japanese translation.

Leave a comment

Filed under democracy, Japan, military, NGOs, U.S.

U.S. vs. Japanese Fighter Planes, 1942

From Japan Runs Wild, 1942–1943, by Peter Harmsen (War in the Far East, Book 2; Casemate, 2020), Kindle pp. 100-101:

American aviator Jim Morehead flew P-40s over Java and Darwin and was taken aback by the ability of the Japanese enemy, completely at odds with what he had been led to expect: “Before the war officers assured us that American pilots were flying some of the best planes in the world. Everyone underestimated the Japanese and the Zero was a real shock,” he told an interviewer later. “I remain bitter that our government, backed by the most advanced economy in the world, would send their men to war in aircraft that were inferior to that of the enemy.” Australians who had arrived from Europe tried “Battle of Britain” tactics against Japanese pilots and often paid with their lives when discovering the great maneuverability of the enemy’s aircraft. “We told them the basics,” an American pilot said later. “Don’t think that because you could turn inside a German fighter that you could do the same with a Zero.”

This changed with the battle of Midway. Although it was a myth that the elite of Japanese Naval aviation was wiped out in the fateful encounter in June, enough pilots were killed to make it impossible for Japan to ever again recover its greatness in the skies. At the same time, US pilots proved to be quick learners and began showing awe-inspiring ability. A case in point were the “Cactus” pilots on Guadalcanal dubbed after the island’s codename. “It is necessary to remember that the Japanese Zero at this stage of the war was regarded with some of the awe in which the atomic bomb came to be held later,” according to an early account. “The Cactus fighters made a great contribution to the war by exploding the theory that the Zero was invincible.”

US technology also showed its enormous potential. The twin-engine P-38 was not just a piece of state-of-the-art engineering but also entailed a peculiar psychological boost. Since it had two propellers, the pilot could afford to have one engine shot out or otherwise malfunction, and still be able to make it home over hundreds of miles of ocean. This was reassuring for pilots who otherwise would face the prospect of making a forced landing, in which case Japanese patrol boats might not even be the biggest horror. “You look down from the cockpit and you can see schools of sharks swimming around,” said George C. Kenney, commander of MacArthur’s air forces. “They never look healthy to a man flying over them.” All in all, it added up to one thing: towards the end of 1942, the Allies were close to achieving air superiority in key theaters of war in the Pacific. On December 3, a Japanese soldier on Papua wrote jealously in his diary: “They fly above our position as if they own the sky.” Even before the first anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, when Japanese planes had roamed at will over the vast expanses of Asia and the Pacific, the Allies were winning the war in the air.

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Britain, industry, Japan, military, Pacific, U.S., war

U.K. vs. U.S. Views of Alliance with China, 1941

From Japan Runs Wild, 1942–1943, by Peter Harmsen (War in the Far East, Book 2; Casemate, 2020), Kindle pp. 33-35:

China’s willingness to hurl millions of its own people into a long, bloody war was a major asset to its new American and British allies. “The stubborn resistance of the Chinese,” a US State Department memorandum declared, “destroys Japan’s claim that she comes to emancipate either China or Asia!”19 At the same time, a track record of having stood up to Japan for more than four years prior to Pearl Harbor gave China new confidence. This was in evidence shortly after the outbreak of the Pacific war when Archibald Wavell, the commander-in-chief of British forces in India, visited Chiang Kai-shek in Chongqing, carrying only news of endless defeats and setbacks. “You and your people have no idea how to fight the Japanese,” Chiang told his British guest in language that was only slightly mitigated by the nervous translator. “Resisting the Japanese is not like suppressing colonial rebellions… For this kind of job, you British are incompetent, and you should learn from the Chinese how to fight against the Japanese.”

China was a prominent issue dividing the United States and Britain from the outset. Churchill and Roosevelt did not see eye to eye. On his trip across the Atlantic for the Arcadia Conference, the first summit on British-American strategy after the US entry into the war, the British prime minister later said, “If I can epitomize in one word the lesson I learned in the United States, it was ‘China’.” Britain’s lukewarm attitude towards the Chinese friend was a mirror image of its denigration of the Japanese foe, partly borne out of more than a century as a colonial power in Asia, which had led to an ingrained feeling of cultural and even racial superiority. In conversations with Roosevelt in Washington DC, Churchill stretched as far as he thought he could on the issue, which was not much: “I said I would of course always be helpful and polite to the Chinese, whom I admired and liked as a race and pitied for their endless misgovernment, but that he must not expect me to adopt what I felt was a wholly unreal standard of values.”

The two leaders and their governments had entirely different views on the value of China as an alliance partner. United States envisaged a major role for China in the war in East Asia and expected it to become one of the predominant Allies setting the tone for the entire effort to defeat Japan. Britain, on the other hand, expected little from China and often treated it as something in between an annoyance and a strategic competitor. When China offered to send two armies to the British colony of Burma, which had up to then largely escaped Japanese aggression, Britain initially turned down the offer. This was based on the belief that Japan was too tied up elsewhere to attempt a major offensive onto Burmese territory. In this perspective, a Chinese presence on British-controlled soil was a price not worth paying considering expectation of only meager payoff.

In spite of the British reservations, Sino-American cooperation was beginning to materialize in a small way, even as Roosevelt, Churchill, and their aides were talking in the US capital. For Claire Chennault, the former Army aviator who had been hired to head a group of American volunteer pilots in China, the time had now come to put his men into action. One morning a few weeks after Pearl Harbor, staff at his airbase near the city of Kunming in southwest China received reports from a network of Chinese observers on the ground that ten unescorted Japanese bombers were heading in his direction. He ordered one squadron of P-40 planes in the air to intercept the approaching aircraft. “This was the decisive moment I had been awaiting for more than four years,” Chennault wrote in his memoirs. “American pilots in American fighting planes aided by Chinese ground warning net about to tackle a formation of the Imperial Japanese Air Force, which was then sweeping the Pacific skies victorious everywhere.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, China, Japan, military, nationalism, U.S.

Hirohito’s War Information Sources

From Japan Runs Wild, 1942–1943, by Peter Harmsen (War in the Far East, Book 2; Casemate, 2020), Kindle pp. 81-82, 108:

At home in Japan, the defeat at Midway only sank in slowly, partly because of reluctance to lose face, and partly because of continued problems with communication and cooperation among the different services. “I did not hear of the Midway defeat till more than a month after it occurred,” Prime Minister Tōjō said after the war. Hirohito, by contrast, was informed immediately about the disastrous defeat, including the loss of the four aircraft carriers. With access to more unbiased information than perhaps any other person in his empire, he was the only one to receive reports from the chiefs of staff of both the Army and the Navy, whereas the services were usually careful not to volunteer information to each other. This placed Hirohito in his own private tragedy: fully aware of how desperate the situation was becoming, but unable to do much about it.

On December 12, Emperor Hirohito went to the Grand Shrine at Ise, a city west of Tokyo. It was one of the holiest places for the official Shintō religion, and a suitable venue for the ruler to consider the position of the nation that saw him not just as a leader but a god, and had already sustained terrible sacrifices in his name. Performing rites going back many generations, he was now staring down into an abyss darker than any of his ancestors ever had to contemplate. The night before, he had spoken with complete candor to his military aide-de-camp, Colonel Ogata Kenichi. The emperor had recounted the numerous battles that had consumed Japan for more than a decade, beginning in Manchuria, then in the rest of China and now all of the Pacific. “It is easy to start a war but hard to end it,” the dejected ruler had said.

The fall months, filled with interminable and increasingly hopeless fighting in the deep south far from Japan’s own shores, had seen Hirohito subtly change his mind about the war. The setback on the Kokoda Trail had come as a particular shock. “From the time our line along the Stanley Mountain Range in New Guinea was penetrated, I was anxious for peace, but we had a treaty with Germany against concluding a separate peace, and we could not violate an international commitment. This was the dilemma that tormented me,” Hirohito told close collaborators after the war. Even small victories could not lighten his mood. After the Santa Cruz battle, in which his warriors had sunk the Hornet, he had congratulated them in a statement, which, however, also carried a cautionary note: “We believe the war situation is critical. Officers and men, exert yourselves to even greater efforts.”

The start of the year 1942 had seen the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy in triumphant mode. As the months passed, it had begun to take on the form of an annus horribilis. However, as his view of the war turned bleaker, Hirohito decided to up the ante. Gamblers come in two categories. There are those who decide to cut their losses when their fortunes fail them, and then there are others who raise the stakes. The Japanese ruler belonged to the latter type. On the last day of the year he met with his senior commanders and agreed that the Guadalcanal operation must be called off. Instead, greater emphasis would be placed on New Guinea. Hirohito was hoping for, if not actively seeking, a big all-or-nothing battle with the Americans that could shock them, and their casualty-averse public, into agreeing to a negotiated end of the war. The year 1943 would put that notion to the test.

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan, military, religion, U.S., war