Category Archives: Pacific

Siberian Learning Sonsorolese

From A Journey into Russia, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2015), Kindle Loc. 3438ff:

I met San Sanych’s friend Sergey, the most exotic inhabitant of Abaza. He was an instrument maker. His house was stuffed with self-made didgeridoos and shaman drums, which he sold at Siberian folklore festivals. The business was going well; Sergey had almost enough money saved to realise his life’s dream. He wanted to emigrate. Abaza was not remote enough for him. He was drawn to a tiny island named Sonsorol, located in the middle of the Pacific. It had 23 inhabitants; Sergey wanted to be the 24th. So far he had only seen the island on pictures, but through the Internet he was in contact with two residents who supported his relocation plans. ‘They both know the Governor of the island,’ Sergey said proudly. I wanted to argue that with 23 inhabitants, every second one was presumably related to the Governor, but I bit my tongue. Sergey meant business. He had already filled out the visa form for the Pacific Republic of Palau. Now he was teaching himself the local language. Fascinated, I leafed through his rudimentary Russian-Palauan dictionary:

Mere direi – Babushka [Grandmother]

Haparu ma hatawahi – Spasibo [Thank you]

Hoda buou – Do svidaniya [Goodbye]

According to the Sonsorol.com/language page, these are genuine words in Sonsorolese, a Chuukic language related to Woleaian and Ulithian in Yap State, which lies to the north of the Republic of Palau. The Palauan language is very different. One of my graduate school classmates did her dissertation on Pulo Anna, a dialect of Sonsorolese.

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Operation Magic Carpet, 1945-46

From When the Shooting Stopped: August 1945, by Barrett Tillman (Osprey, 2022), Kindle pp. 261-262:

With broad vision, two years before VJ Day, Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall anticipated the need to return millions of servicemen to their homes. He raised the subject as early as 1943, and after D-Day in June 1944 some planners thought that VE Day might dawn by year’s end. But whenever the timeframe, some essential factors forced themselves upon joint staffs.

First was the need for large-capacity staging areas and processing facilities, not only in Europe but in the much broader expanse of the Pacific. Internal concerns within the U.S. included receiving ports and railroads capable of absorbing huge numbers of personnel and delivering them to “separation centers” in every state.

Paramount was shipping, as the vast majority of returnees had to travel by sea. The U.S. Navy was only marginally available at the time, with millions of tons of vessels committed to the two-phase invasion of Japan in November 1945 and March 1946. Therefore, heavy reliance was placed upon Army and Merchant Marine ships with some augmentation by Coast Guard vessels.

Tasked with finding enough hulls to meet the demand, the War Shipping Administration (WSA) came through. Shortly after VE Day it identified nearly 550 vessels capable of carrying useful numbers of personnel.

In the actual event, absent Operation Downfall, the Navy suddenly afforded a huge bonus for Operation Magic Carpet. Ten aircraft carriers, six battleships, and 26 cruisers were hastily modified to accept cheek-by-jowl accommodations for troops who willingly endured long days and nights at sea, returning to “Uncle Sugar.”

Within two months of Emperor Hirohito’s surrender announcement, more than 700 ships of all types were available, notably Liberty and Victory cargo ships. Foreign vessels obtained for the project included origins as diverse as Panama and Italy.

The record for returning troops home belonged to the veteran aircraft carrier Saratoga (CV-3), which embarked some 29,000 grateful veterans, as fleet carriers were among the fastest ships afloat. But for maximum capacity, living space was likened to cramming 12 pounds into a ten-pound bag. The new carrier Lake Champlain (CV-39), only commissioned in June, was altered to accept 3,300 bunks. On her first Magic Carpet mission she set a transatlantic record of 32 knots, only surpassed by the liner United States in 1952.

The millions of personnel returned from war zones were not limited to American servicemen. The Army and WSA allocated 29 troop ships to transport nearly 500,000 European war brides. On the other side of the globe, it was estimated that 12,000 Australian women married American servicemen as well.

Magic Carpet was an immense success. At the time of VE Day in May 1945 more than 3 million soldiers were stationed in Europe alone. By year’s end, seven months later, the Army counted fewer than 700,000 troops.

The Navy also experienced a huge reduction: from 3.3 million personnel in 1945 to fewer than 500,000 at the end of 1946.

Overall, Magic Carpet spanned the year following the climax in Tokyo Bay. On average, between September 1945 and September 1946 the operation landed 22,000 men and women at a U.S. port every day for 13 months. As noted by the National WWII Museum, “The sum total of which provides the mathematical framework behind the staggering post-war baby boom nine months later.”

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Destroying Truk, February 1944

From Ultra in the Pacific: How Breaking Japanese Codes and Ciphers Affected Naval Operations Against Japan, 1941-45 (The Secret War), by John Winton (Sapere Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 225-227:

Known as the ‘Gibraltar of the Pacific’, Truk was in fact not nearly as strongly defended as legend had it, but it was the best fleet anchorage anywhere in the Japanese mandated islands and had been the regular base for the Combined Fleet since July, 1942.

Truk’s geographical layout, of scattered volcanic islands inside a triangular-shaped coral reef, made it virtually impregnable to surface attack from outside its perimeter. But it was open to the air. After the same FRUPAC analysis of air search patterns from Truk as from Kwajalein, a powerful task force including six fleet and four light carriers in three groups under Mitscher (who had relieved Pownall in January) made a fast and undetected run towards Truk in the night of 16/17 February, 1944, to carry out Operation HAILSTONE.

Spruance himself was present, flying his flag in the battleship New Jersey (the fleet commander had also been present during the Marshalls landings, ready to take over command if the Combined Fleet sallied out). But there was no chance of that. Truk was just within bombing range of Kwajalein and Bougainville, and its supply route from the Empire was constantly beset by US submarines. Thus, Truk was no longer the safe base it had once been.

Photo-reconnaissance of Truk on 4 February showed plenty of targets, but the same reconnaissance flight had given the game away to Admiral Koga, who sent most of his warships to Palau and went back to Japan himself in the giant battleship Musashi.

The last cruiser, Agano, left Truk on 16 February and was torpedoed and sunk by the submarine Skate the next day. But the fleet auxiliaries, the oilers, seaplane carriers, submarine tenders and many Marus of the support force were due to leave later and were still in Truk when the first fighter sweep, launched from a point 90 miles north of Truk before dawn on 17 February, caught the defenders by surprise.

Seventy-two fighters followed by eighteen Avengers with incendiaries found some fifty merchant ships in the harbour and 365 aircraft ranged on the airfields. The strike put all but a hundred of the aircraft out of action. The carriers then mounted more or less continuous strikes of fighters, bombers and torpedo-bombers to work over the airstrips and attack shipping. That evening the Japanese made their only reply, a torpedo attack by Kates who scored a hit on the carrier Intrepid (a somewhat unlucky ship, nicknamed ‘The Evil I’), putting her out of action for some months.

In the meantime Spruance in New Jersey with another battleship, Iowa, two heavy cruisers, four destroyers and the light carrier Cowpens to give air cover, made one anti-clockwise sweep round Truk to catch any would-be escapers. They sank the light cruiser and Sixth Fleet submarine flagship Katori and the destroyer Maikaze.

That night a strike of Avengers, specially equipped and trained for night bombing, attacked shipping in the lagoon. It was the first time in the war such a raid had been made and it was a signal success: one-third of the total tonnage destroyed at Truk was sunk by these Avengers.

Strikes resumed the next day, 18 February. Everything that moved or floated had now been sunk or strafed and the aircraft turned their attention to fixed fittings — hangars, fuel tanks, storage dumps, buildings and vehicles. When the carriers retired at noon their aircraft had flown 1,250 sorties, dropped 400 tons of bombs and torpedoes on shipping and 94 tons on airfields and shore installations. They had sunk the cruiser Naka, auxiliary cruisers Aikoku Maru and Kiyosumi Maru, destroyers Oite, Fumizuki and Tachikaze, the armed merchant cruiser Akagi Maru, two submarine tenders, an aircraft ferry, six tankers and seventeen other ships — a total of about 200,000 tons. This was a crushing blow to the Japanese Navy. The loss of so many fleet supply and support vessels was as grave an operational defeat as the loss of capital ships. Truk was never the same again.

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U.S. vs. Japanese Submarine Warfare

From Ultra in the Pacific: How Breaking Japanese Codes and Ciphers Affected Naval Operations Against Japan, 1941-45 (The Secret War), by John Winton (Sapere Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 190-193:

‘PRESS home all attacks,’ wrote Rear Admiral James Fife USN, Commander Submarines South-West Pacific, in his standing orders. ‘Pursue relentlessly, remembering that the mission is to destroy every possible enemy ship. Do not let cripples escape or leave them to sink — make sure that they do sink.’

The American submariners in the Far East, very ably assisted by the British and the Dutch, put Admiral Fife’s orders faithfully into effect and achieved devastating results. By VJ Day, 1945, Allied submarines in the Far East were actually running out of targets. By that time, although submarines still constituted only 2 per cent of the American war effort on the Pacific, American submarines had sunk two-thirds of the total Japanese merchant ship tonnage sunk during the war, and had also sunk one out of every three of the Japanese warships sunk.

The United States and the Imperial Japanese Navies were roughly equal in submarine strength in the Pacific at the outset of the war. Neither navy had had any operational experience of submarines in the First World War. Both had prepared for submarine warfare on a long-range scale, and primarily for use against enemy warships. The crucial difference in the Second World War lay in the US Navy’s technological advances, its readiness to profit by tactical experience, and its proper strategic deployment of its submarines. In all three areas the Americans were superior.

The one advantage the Japanese submarines had was the quality of their formidable 40-knot, oxygen-powered, longer ranged torpedoes, with twice the explosive charge of the American torpedoes. American torpedoes were frequently defective and, incredibly, it was nearly two years before the US Navy established the causes of the defects and remedied them. Under operational patrol conditions American torpedoes nearly always ran eight to ten feet below their proper depth, so that their magnetic detonators, designed to be activated by the target ship’s metal hull, failed to work properly. Similarly, the contact detonators only worked best after an oblique impact, thus, ironically, penalizing the very submarine captains who aimed best and hit their targets broadside on.

Design faults were compounded by bureaucratic obstruction: shorebound officers and bureaucrats continued to insist that the whole fault lay with incompetent submarine captains who could not aim properly, and refused to believe submarine captains who said they had heard their torpedoes hitting the target and failing to explode.

For the first months of the war Japanese submarines had considerable success in sinking Allied warships, especially in ‘Torpedo Junction’ in the summer of 1942. But the fatal Japanese tendency to indulge in non-profitable peripheral activities soon began to drain away their submarine patrol strength.

The Japanese diverted their submarines to carry midget submarines, to no tactical purpose, or to act as communication links, or to wait at rendezvous to refuel flying-boats, or to carry out unimportant surface bombardments, which had no more than pinprick nuisance value, of Midway, or Canton Island or Johnston Island, or (in 1942) the coasts of Vancouver and Oregon.

The largest Japanese submarines carried aircraft — requiring an hour after surfacing to assemble and launch — which they transported thousands of miles for valueless reconnaissance flights. One submarine, I-25, launched her aircraft loaded with incendiaries with the serious intention of setting light to the forests of North America. As the war progressed more and more Japanese submarines were taken off patrols and used to carry men, ammunition and food to beleaguered Japanese island garrisons bypassed and left to ‘wither on the vine’ by the Allied advance.

Unquestionably the best strategic use the Japanese could have made of their submarines would have been to make a determined effort to cut the supply lines from Pearl Harbor to Micronesia and Australia. They made no such effort. There was never any submarine war in the Pacific remotely comparable with the struggle against the Atlantic U-boat. The US Navy began by escorting their ships in convoys in the Pacific, but by the end of 1943 there was so little enemy submarine activity that single ships were steaming across the Pacific unescorted.

To misuse of submarines in exotic sideshows the Japanese Navy added an almost complete failure to safeguard their own surface ships against submarines. The Japanese were obsessed by the idea of an ‘offensive’ war. Like the British in the First World War, they regarded convoys as ‘defensive’ and therefore somehow demeaning and unworthy of a warrior nation. Convoy did not appeal to the Samurai spirit.

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Growth of U.S. Intelligence Staff, WW2

From Ultra in the Pacific: How Breaking Japanese Codes and Ciphers Affected Naval Operations Against Japan, 1941-45 (The Secret War), by John Winton (Sapere Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 182-183:

Radio intelligence had also improved (although ‘Joe’ Rochefort had left Pearl Harbor in October, 1942, the victim of Washington intrigues). The Allies had begun to realize the full potential of communications intelligence. ‘In my opinion, the value of Radio Intelligence has been demonstrated to the extent that we can never again afford to neglect it as we did before the war,’ said Commander (later Rear Admiral) Joseph N. Wenger, a member of OP-20-G, in a lecture on ‘Future Co-operation between Army and Navy’ on 1 June, 1943. ‘Furthermore, the difficulties of obtaining Intelligence have increased so greatly that we shall have to maintain an organization constantly at work on high-speed electronic equipment if we are to be prepared for any future wars. The equipment necessary to obtain Radio Intelligence is growing so complicated that we cannot wait until war comes to provide it. Certainly we cannot afford to risk another Pearl Harbor.’

By 1943 the Allies were also coming to realize the scale of resources needed for communications intelligence. For instance, the number of personnel involved, both US Navy and Army — 300 in 1939 — had risen to 37,000 by the end of the war in 1945. There was an enormous expansion, in the United States and in the United Kingdom, in courses to train large numbers of people, many of them university students, to speak or read Japanese; classicists and students in dead languages usually learned to read Japanese, while modern language students learned to speak it.

Techniques had improved in every respect of intelligence, from the interrogation of prisoners-of-war to the evaluation of aerial reconnaissance photographs (colour-blind men and women were recruited because their disability enabled them to ‘see through’ camouflage).

By 1943 the Allies began to sense they were really winning the radio intelligence war against the Japanese. As more codes were decrypted, over longer periods, the cryptanalysts believed they were at last beginning to feel their way into the Japanese mind. As the Japanese suffered defeats on land and retreated, there were more opportunities to capture documents, such as diaries, operational orders and, as from [beached submarine] I-1, actual code books.

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Sources of (Mis)information After Pearl Harbor

From Ultra in the Pacific: How Breaking Japanese Codes and Ciphers Affected Naval Operations Against Japan, 1941-45 (The Secret War), by John Winton (Sapere Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 11-14:

In the first forty-eight hours after Pearl Harbor the CIC [Commander in Chief] had a flood of misinformation which left them ever afterwards with a healthy mistrust of ‘eyewitness’ accounts, not only from excited civilians but also from experienced Service personnel, both Allied and enemy. Japanese parachute troops were reported to have landed and to be engaged in a fierce pitched battle with US Marines. The uniforms worn by these mythical Japanese were described in the most minute sartorial detail. Strange vessels were reported arriving offshore, a large enemy fleet had been seen south of the islands and at least one Direction/Finding bearing (later judged to be ambiguous and inconclusive) was obtained. One officer sighted a dirigible over Honolulu, two degrees to the right of the moon and three degrees below it. To make matters more confusing, there were seemingly improbable reports of submarines in Pearl Harbor — but Japanese submarines did indeed take part in the attack.

In the earliest, defensive, stages of the war in the Central Pacific, radio intelligence was not just the most important source of intelligence; it was, for all practical purposes, the only source. There were no photographs of enemy-held positions. There were very few captured enemy documents and even fewer enemy prisoners-of-war. Apart from the Solomons and New Britain, spies and coast-watchers supplied no important intelligence.

Radio Intelligence embraced the interception and exploitation of all enemy radio transmissions which might yield intelligence, including the decryption of coded enemy messages; direction finding (D/F); navigational beacons and aids; enemy radar and infra-red transmissions; traffic analysis, which was the study of communications networks and the procedures, signals, callsigns and plain language messages passing over them; the monitoring of enemy radio broadcasts to the civilian population; and such refinements as the study of the types and peculiarities of particular transmitters and of the idiosyncratic morse characteristics of individual operators.

Fortunately for the Allies, distances in the Pacific were vast — by 1942 the perimeter of the area Japan had conquered was between 3000 and 4000 miles from Tokyo and overland or undersea communications, such as cable, telephones and telex, were scarce or non-existent. Thus the Imperial Japanese Navy routinely generated a huge amount of radio traffic. Again because of the distances involved, much of it was transmitted by High Frequency which was detectable at long ranges by a ring of listening stations down the west coast of the United States, in the Aleutians and Australia and, before the war, at Cavite, Guam, Shanghai and Peking.

The most valuable radio intelligence was obtained from the interception and decryption of encoded or encyphered enemy messages. The Japanese themselves regarded their language as a sacred mystery, not to be vouchsafed to outsiders. Japanese hearing for the first time a Westerner speak their language were known to shake their heads dis-believingly. Such a thing was not possible; they must be dreaming.

Learning to speak or read Japanese was in itself a formidable challenge to western minds. To unravel Japanese in code would seem a virtually impossible mental obstacle. In fact, many Allied cryptanalysts found that decyphering Japanese was a matter of persistence, of ‘quantity and time rather than difficulty’. It was, if anything, tedious rather than difficult.

That is not to say that the task was easy. Whereas the Germans used versions of the Enigma machine for encyphering virtually all Kriegsmarine, Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe, SS, police and diplomatic signal traffic, the Japanese used many different crypto systems. An operational history of Japanese naval communications from December, 1941–August, 1945, compiled under Allied direction by former Japanese officers who had served during the war, lists three naval code books for strategic and administrative use; six naval code books, a joint Army-Navy code book and a Combined Fleet special code book, for tactical use; for intelligence, an overseas secret telegraph code book, two more naval code books, and five variations of a code distributed to naval officers appointed pre-war as intelligence agents stationed in Europe, the Americas and all over the Far East, and a ‘New Code Book’ for naval officers stationed on the west coast of the USA; five code books for communications with service branches outside the Japanese Navy, such as merchant ships over 1,000 tons and fishing vessels, and a standard code book used by the Navy, Army and Foreign Ministries, distributed to diplomatic officials stationed in East Asia and principal Navy and Army headquarters. There were also other publications such as books of abbreviations, address codes and call signs, and books of visual signals.

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CSS Shenandoah Finally Surrenders

From The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Praeger, 2009), Kindle Locs. 2369-2400:

After its adventure in Melbourne, the Shenandoah headed into the South Pacific, where Waddell encountered a string of bad luck. Forewarned of the Shenandoah’s presence by the American consul at Melbourne, U.S. shipping had fled the area so that no prizes were available, and a series of fierce storms battered the rebel raider as it struggled northward. Then on April Fool’s day, the Shenandoah found and captured three American brigs that were anchored off the idyllic island of Pohnpei in Micronesia. On that same day, nearly halfway around the world near Petersburg, Virginia, Federal troops broke through Lee’s lines at Five Forks, the event that prompted Lee’s decision to evacuate the Richmond-Petersburg lines and begin his retreat to Appomattox. By the time the Shenandoah left Micronesia and sailed north to begin its assault on the American whaling fleet in the Pacific, Lee had surrendered.

After a brief visit to the Sea of Okhotsk, where the ship and its crew battled ice storms and fog, the Shenandoah entered the Bering Sea in mid-June. There the pickings were plentiful, and the Shenandoah captured one whaling ship after another, burning most of them and using the others as cartels for the prisoners. Newspapers found on board one of the whaling ships reported that Charleston and Richmond had fallen to the Yankees. On another, the ship’s captain declared unequivocally that the war was over, that Lee had surrendered his army. Waddell demanded proof, but the whaling boat skipper could only reply that he had heard in San Francisco that the war was over. That was not good enough for Waddell or the members of his crew, one of whom wrote in his diary “There is no doubting the fact that the Confederacy has received in prestige a heavy blow, but further I do not believe.” Waddell was conflicted. If the war was indeed over, all his actions could be construed as piratical. But he had heard nothing officially, and it was always possible that the Yankees were publishing lies, something he believed them to be capable of. A few days later, Waddell captured another prize that had even more recent newspapers on board. These confirmed the fall of Richmond, but also stated that the rebel government had moved to Danville, Virginia, and that Jefferson Davis had resolved to fight on. The Shenandoah’s rampage continued. In four days (June 25-28), it took and burned 15 whaling ships and bonded three others.

Leaving the Bering Sea in early July, Waddell took the Shenandoah south along the North American coast with a plan to enter San Francisco Bay in the dark of night, steal up on the Union ironclad that was stationed there, board it in the dark, and take it. Then with both the Shenandoah and the Union ironclad under his command, he would place the city of San Francisco itself “under contribution,” that is, he would demand an indemnity from the city to avoid being shelled.

While en route there, however, the Shenandoah encountered the British bark Baracouta on August 2, and from it Waddell received chilling news. The war was indeed over. President Davis had been captured, southern armies had surrendered, and the people of the South had been “subjugated.” This time, there was no doubting the facts. As one officer wrote in his diary, “We now have no country, no flag, no home.” Describing this as “the bitterest blow,” Waddell pondered his next move. In his initial orders, written the previous October, Bulloch had suggested to Waddell that after he had completed his mission “the best disposition you could make of the Shenandoah would be to sell her, either somewhere on the west coast of South America or to adventurous speculators in the Eastern seas.” Uncertain whether that was still possible, and unwilling to surrender his command to the Yankees, Waddell resolved to take his ship to a European port. Waddell may have worried that the Yankees would consider him a pirate for having made most of his captures after the war had ended. In any case, he ordered the guns dismounted and struck below, pointed his ship southward, and began a 17,000-mile voyage back to the Shenandoah’s port of origin.

The Shenandoah passed Cape Horn in mid-September and turned north. Six members of the crew, fearful of being caught by a Federal steamer in the long run back to England and hanged as pirates, petitioned Waddell “to land us at the nearest and most convenient port,” and 10 others urged him to take the ship to Cape Town. Waddell’s officers supported him in his decision to return to Liverpool, and in a testimony to Waddell’s leadership, the rest of the crew, some 71 persons, signed another other petition expressing confidence in whatever decision he made. Discipline held, and so did Waddell’s luck. Though several ships were sighted en route to England, none pursued the disarmed Shenandoah, and on November 6, 1865, after a round-the-world the-world cruise of 58,000 miles, during which it had captured 38 prizes, the ship dropped anchor in the Mersey River near the British ship of the line HMS Donegal. Waddell distributed the prize money that had been taken before the end of the war to the members of the crew, and put the rest of it ($820.28) in a bag and gave it to the paymaster of the Donegal. After four more days in a kind of legal twilight, the officers and men of the Shenandoah were released unconditionally, and the Civil War at sea came to an end.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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