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Changing Interpretations of Japan’s Pacific War Naval Demise

The following article originally appeared in the International Journal of Naval History under the title, “Strategy, Language, and the Culture of Defeat: Changing Interpretations of Japan’s Pacific War Naval Demise,” and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Hal M. Friedman
Henry Ford Community College

Military historians say that military history is written from the perspective of the victor. Japan’s naval defeat in the Pacific War, however, provides a highly arguable case. Much of the translated postwar literature on the Pacific War has been written from an Allied perspective which overemphasizes Japanese weaknesses, deemphasizes the strengths of the Japanese military, and places defeat in a cultural and even racial context. This viewpoint raises the question of whether or not the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) lost the Pacific War because of national characteristics supposedly “unsuited” to twentieth century naval warfare, if Japan was defeated by the Allies because of strategic, operational, and logistical factors over which it had little or no control, or if Japan lost because of the poor strategic decisions it made, especially the gap between planning and operations? 1 Race and culture versus strategy, operations, and logistics are the two opposing views expressed by Japanese naval officers who wrote about their nation’s defeat after the Pacific War. The following paper is a limited review of translated post-1945 Japanese naval accounts written by two groups of authors. The first group consisted of officers who served during the Pacific War, as well as one journalist, all of whom wrote about the war during the 1950s from a cultural perspective. The second group consisted of officers writing since 1960 who had either served during the war or in the postwar Self-Defense Forces, as well as one historian, all of whom viewed Japan’s defeat from a more conventional strategic and operational perspective.

Culture, Language, and Defeat

Though most of the literature which concentrated on cultural factors analyzed Japan’s defeat in a negative context, there was at least one exception. Rear Admiral Tanaka Raizo, Commander of Japan’s crack Destroyer Squadron 2 in the Solomon Islands battles, offered a balanced military analysis of Japan’s defeat, blaming it on the failure to develop radar, a disunited naval command structure, and interservice rivalry with the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). Yet even Tanaka explained Japan’s proficiency in night torpedo surface warfare partially in terms of cultural characteristics.2  Tanaka claimed, for example, that Japan excelled in night torpedo warfare until late 1942 because night surface engagements “. . . agreed with the character of Japanese sailors.”  This statement implies, of course, that other nations in the Pacific War failed at early night engagements because of a deficiency in “character” traits “suited” to nighttime naval warfare.  Tanaka’s statement similarly denotes that proficiency in warfare does not ultimately depend on doctrine, training, equipment, and tactics, but on “character” and “spirit”. The question to be asked, therefore, is whether or not Japanese naval officers thought that the IJN lost the war after 1942 because it ultimately lacked character and spirit? Tanaka does not address this issue, but the importance of cultural and national traits as an element of naval warfare is a theme which was highly prevalent in the literature from the 1950s.

The following Japanese literature overwhelmingly employed a cultural context to describe the IJN’s defeat in the Pacific War. It also largely perceived Japan’s national characteristics in negative cultural terms. Interestingly, this tendency to explain defeat in denigrating terminology was in complete contrast to most of Japan’s wartime propaganda, which emphasized Japanese strength, purity, and uniqueness in comparison to Western weaknesses.3

An example of this postwar literature can be seen in Oi Atsushi’s analysis of Japan’s antisubmarine warfare campaign against the United States. A former Captain in the IJN whose primary duties had been planning Japanese antisubmarine defenses against the United States submarine blockade, Oi forcefully asserted that Japan’s defeat in the submarine war in the Pacific was due to the cultural characteristics of the Japanese people. Oi claimed that Japan lost the submarine war because the Japanese were “racially intemperate” and “less tenacious” in a very “tedious” kind of warfare. Moreover, he argued that antisubmarine warfare was shunned by the “more impetuous” Japanese, who desired to focus on “colorful and offensive” fighting rather than “defensive” antisubmarine tactics.4

The vocabulary of Oi’s criticism is fascinating for at least two reasons. First, his use of words and phrases such as “racially intemperate,” “impetuous”, and “untenacious” immediately conjures up images of a nation of children who were ill-prepared for modern technological warfare. Second, this portrayal of non-whites as children coincides with a very strong element of nineteenth and twentieth century racist ideology which had been employed by the nations of Western Europe and by the United States to justify their claims to global hegemony. Oi’s vocabulary, in other words, implies a tacit acceptance of prewar Social Darwinist thought that non-white nations like Japan were inferior states. While Japan had certainly subscribed to its own strain of Social Darwinist thought during its grand days of empire, Oi seems to have completely turned the tables and accepted the Western idea that even Japan was inherently inferior because of its societal and cultural background.5

In a different vein, retired Vice Admiral Yokoi Toshiyuki, Chief of Staff of the Japanese Fifth Fleet when the war ended, more specifically blamed Japan’s defeat on the lack of a “well considered” strategy. He claimed that Japan’s defeat after 1943 was “inevitable” because of a “flawed” strategy which emphasized battleships over airpower. Completely ignoring the vast logistical disparities between Japan and the United States, especially after 1943, Yokoi argued that Japan was not only plagued by its own “flawed” strategy but also asserted that it was “outmatched” by an opponent ” . . . more skilled and powerful in strategy.”6  Since strategy is largely an intellectual exercise, at least in its initial formulation, Yokoi’s charge of a “flawed” or “weak” strategy subtly implies that Japan sported a flawed or weak intellectual foundation in its naval officer corps. On the one hand, Japan’s naval officer corps did demonstrate a weak strategic foundation with its fixation on battleships and the Decisive Battle Doctrine (see below).7

What Yokoi failed to point out is that the United States Navy experienced similar kinds of intraservice rivalry and lack of high-level strategic foresight during the 1920s and 1930s, a situation which resulted in a number of serious tactical reverses in 1941 and 1942. According to Yokoi, many of Japan’s naval leaders failed to grasp the potentialities and implications of their growing naval aviation capability because its early logistical and material superiority afforded it a comfort zone of mistakes. Yet at the same time, he fails to acknowledge the leaps and bounds Japan made in areas such as carrier aviation doctrine which were well ahead of other nations at the time.8

Strategic, operational, and logistical factors, however, seemed to matter very little in Yokoi’s argument. In fact, his article inferred that if Japanese naval strategy had been “strong”, the war might not have been lost or at least lost so badly. He concluded, however, that the strategy could not have been a “powerful” one because Japanese naval strategists were deficient. 9Similar to Oi’s subscription to Social Darwinist thought, Yokoi’s subtle allusions to Japanese intellectual inferiority seems to be another significant acceptance by Japanese naval officers of a central theme of Western racist ideology.

There is additional evidence of Japanese naval officers perceiving their officer corps and  nation in negative cultural terms. Former Commander Chihaya Masataka describes a very successful and stealthy Japanese withdrawal from Kiska in the Aleutians in 1943 and attributes the success of the operation to the talents of Rear Admiral Kimura Masatomi, the commander of the evacuation force. Chihaya’s analysis of the operation, however, denotes that Kimura’s talents were rare in the IJN officer corps in particular and in Japan as a whole. Chihaya described Admiral Kimura as very “calm” in a tense situation, “careful” in his planning and decision making, and “unimpetuous.” From Chihaya’s description, one receives the impression that almost the entire IJN officer corps was composed of hotheads and childlike personalities who reacted badly to complicated plans or combat situations. Chihaya’s generalizations again leave the reader with the impression that Japan was a nation of children which was defeated because of its own immaturity in military planning and decision making.10

Chihaya’s account, however, is not the strongest in its use of stereotyped Japanese character traits to explain defeat. In 1955, former Captain Fuchida Mitsuo, strike leader for the Japanese First Air Fleet and commander of the Pearl Harbor raid in 1941, and former Commander Okumiya Masatake, a carrier operations officer in the Pacific War, published Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan. Not necessarily a scholarly account, Midway was nevertheless an early Japanese primary source about one of the war’s most decisive battles.11 Fuchida and Okumiya briefly detailed the IJN’s exploits in the Pacific from December 1941 until the Battle of Midway in June 1942 and then devoted most of the book to analyzing the events and outcome of the battle. The most interesting aspect of this work, however, is the concluding analysis and the language used to describe Japan’s defeat. The authors employed a variety of cultural stereotypes to explain Japan’s defeat at Midway and in the Pacific War. Their perspective might have to do with a generational change in the Japanese military officer corps after 1905. Older officers who had matured during the Meiji Restoration had had to be much more familiar with and adept at diplomatic exchange with foreign officers, especially as the Japanese military was modernizing. After 1905, it has been argued that the military officer corps became more insular and parochial in its professional education and training as well as more extreme in its attitudes toward both domestic and international political compromise as Japanese officers had to interact internationally less and less. Perhaps in this vein, both Fuchida and Okumiya, for example, attributed the defeat to the “technological backwardness” of the Japanese people themselves. Largely disregarding Japanese advances in weaponry such as the Long Lance Torpedo, the Fubuki-class destroyer, and the Zero fighter, the authors stated that “. . . Japan started out the Pacific War in an inferior [technological and material] position and remained there.”12  To Fuchida and Okumiya, this technological and material “inferiority” was not simply a product of a resource poor nation fighting a total war. Both officers believed that Japan’s defeat in the war “. . . lies deep in the Japanese national character . . .” and asserted that the Japanese people as a society were “naturally” unsuited to mass production work and were doomed to defeat in a total, industrialized war.  Other terms used to describe the Japanese were equally revealing. Fuchida and Okumiya claimed the Japanese were “impulsive,” “irrational,” “haphazard,” and “contradictory.” In addition, Japanese were portrayed as “narrow-minded,” “indecisive”, and “vacillating.” Worse, the Japanese were allegedly prone to confuse reality and fantasy.13 Even though the body of their analysis followed a conventional military critique of strategy, operations, tactics, training, and doctrine, the tone of the conclusion denoted that racial, cultural, and national characteristics were, in the authors’ views, the root cause of the defeat in the battle and in the Pacific War in general. The defeat, in other words, had little to do with material differences, strategy, or even luck, and everything to do with intellectual and cultural deficiencies arising out of racial inferiority.14

There are, of course, significant problems with Fuchida’s and Okumiya’s work, especially their claims about Japanese weaknesses, which are counterfactual to the available evidence. For example, the Japanese allegedly lacked imagination and daring, yet they were able to carry out an operation like the Pearl Harbor raid. Moreover, Japanese were supposedly unable to sacrifice short-term desires for long-term goals, yet they had industrialized their nation in just one generation during the Meiji Era.15  Contradictory and racist statements such as these detract from what was considered at the time to be a very credible military analysis of the Midway battle. Their work, however, is hardly unusual among the postwar analyses written by former naval officers in the 1950s. What sets Fuchida and Okumiya apart is the particularly strong language they used to describe Japanese culture and society.

A kind of helpless victimization occurred in other works as well. Among some authors, there was a tendency to blame defeat on spiritual occurrences or suppositions. Bad luck, good fortune, and even religion are common in any military organization which trains its people for combat and death. Still, it is interesting to note that spiritual and supernatural forces were given credit for victories and defeats on numerous occasions in this literature. Journalist Ito Masanori, for instance, essentially blamed Japan’s defeat on the “genius” of American radar, which was, of course, a British invention. More importantly, Ito downgraded and demeaned Japan’s victories in 1942 by implying that the victories had less to do with skill and more to do with luck. Ito even called the victory streak a matter of “good fortune.”16 Similarly, defeat at Midway was a matter of an “avenging God” turning against Japan, while defeat in the Solomons was the result of the “superior zeal and fighting spirit” of the enemy.17 Defeat in the Pacific War in general was also attributed at various times to “bad omens” and “abandonment by the Gods of War.”18

Agawa Hiroyuki, a junior information officer in the IJN during the Pacific War and author of a major postwar biography on Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, placed the Midway defeat primarily in terms of “bad” or “fool’s luck.”  As elements in the defeat, Agawa cited and emphasized such things as the “bad luck” of Commander Fuchida’s last minute sickness and the “misfortune” of malfunctioning scout planes. Agawa essentially ignored the strategic, operational, and tactical mistakes of dividing the strike forces over a large geographic area, the failure to establish operational priorities, or Vice Admiral Nagumo Chuichi’s indecisiveness as the senior officer on the spot.19

How are historians to explain these protestations on the part of Japan’s Pacific War veterans? There are several possible explanations, though no very definitive answers. First, these works may have merely been the product of a clever marketing tactic, aimed at selling books to a 1950s American audience through the reinforcement of dearly held Western cultural stereotypes about “inferior” Asian peoples and their alleged inability to fight protracted, modern wars. This theory, however, seems too simplistic and crass for officers who had dedicated their previous lives to serving the Emperor and were now writing as social outcasts in postwar Japan.

Second, the books and articles may have simply been a way for the naval officers to vent their frustrations about mistakes made during the war or to project blame for the defeat away from the Imperial Navy and its officer corps. By singling out cultural or national characteristics as the cause of defeat, the authors suggest that any human action taken was meaningless because Japan was destined to be defeated. Thus, no matter what they or other officers had done during the war, defeat was inevitable and the officer corps should not be blamed for the consequences. Defeat, in other words, was not an outgrowth of flawed strategy, tactics, or doctrine but was inevitable because of the loss of a heavenly mandate, though this last reason is not a Japanese monopoly.20 The third possibility was provided by retired Maritime Self-Defense Force Rear Admiral Hirama Yoichi during a conversation with the author. Admiral Hirama asserted that the naval officers were not just writing in a context of defeat and were not just seeking to explain the reasons for Japan’s defeat. Instead, he argued that military officers in 1950s Japan were seen as criminals who had been entirely blamed for the defeat and occupation. If correct, Admiral Hirama’s conclusion would mean that these officers may have been attempting to bring an end to their outlaw status in postwar Japan by demonstrating to the nation that defeat was caused by deeply ingrained flaws in the national polity rather than by a criminal military officer corps which had run amuk.21

Fourth, fortune, luck, and heavenly favor are particularly interesting when placed in their historical and political contexts. Ito’s account provides a particularly useful vehicle for analyzing these motives. Published in 1956, the language about “abandonment” by the “Gods of War” could very well have been an admission of guilt to a largely American audience about Japan’s conduct in the war, especially the Pearl Harbor operation. The context of the time period may have been the key to this admission, since the United States and Japan signed the Mutual Security Treaty just a few years later, in 1960. At a time when Japan’s economic, political, and military health was increasingly dependent on its relationship with the United States, unofficial admission of war guilt may have been a step by the authors to mend the fences and begin relations anew with the US.

Finally, the naval officers writing in the 1950s may have simply been too close to the actual events to provide any kind of detached analysis of their own defeat. As the late Craig Cameron asserted in his study of the 1st Marine Division during the 1940s, veterans’ viewpoints about their role in the war became fixed and selective over time. This phenomenon among former Japanese naval officers may explain why one group from the 1950s blamed culture for their defeat and why a different group of officers writing after 1960 found culture to be a largely insignificant factor.22

Strategy, Logistics, and Defeat

A dramatic change in explaining Japan’s naval defeat occurred in the 1960s and 1970s. In these decades, some officers who had fought in the war, as well as a younger generation of officers serving in the Self-Defense Forces, began to explain Japan’s loss of the Pacific War in more conventional military terms. The authors reviewed in this section sought to explain Japan’s naval defeat in terms of military, rather than cultural, strengths and weaknesses. Essentially, they contended that the Imperial Navy was as proficient at various aspects of twentieth century naval warfare as foreign navies, but that Japan was defeated because of strategic, logistical, and technical deficiencies over which it had very little control, because of the negative results of fallible human decision making, and because of the bureaucratic inertia found in many modern military organizations.

Writing in 1961, Captain Hara Tameichi, one of Japan’s ablest destroyer leaders, saw very specific strategic and tactical reasons for Japan’s naval defeat in the Pacific War. Hara made clear his belief that the IJN, especially the surface forces, excelled in quality over the Allied navies because of its difficult and realistic peacetime training program. To Hara, defeat came about because of weaknesses in industrial, material, and logistical capability and the failure to fully exploit technologies like radar and airpower.23 Hara also saw major problems with the IJN’s training doctrine. He believed that most IJN officers were indecisive when it came to battle, not because of any inherent cultural or racial characteristic, but because of a rigid and even brutal training regimen at Eta Jima Naval Academy which produced “sheepish”, unaggressive, and bureaucratic officers who were unimaginative in their strategic and tactical thinking. Hara attributed senior officers’ continuing fixation with battleships during the interwar period to this bureaucratic inertia. He also attributed the battleship officers’ dominance of the Decisive Battle Doctrine–the Mahanian line-of-battle engagement in the Central and Western Pacific which IJN officers believed would decide victory or defeat in any war with the United States–to this bureaucratic inertia.24 As evidence for his assertion, Hara cited numerous instances when successful battle tactics were repeatedly used until they lacked an element of surprise for the United States Navy. These tactics then resulted in heavy casualties for the IJN, yet they continued to be used until long after their effectiveness had clearly dissipated. Hara argued that a more realistic and flexible training program at Eta Jima and Japan’s Naval War College could have produced a less bureaucratic and more proficient naval officer corps.25 To Hara, this stagnant leadership, combined with the Navy’s failure to avoid attrition battles after Guadalcanal, were the main reasons for Japan’s defeat.26 Cultural factors had little, if anything, to do with his analysis.

The idea that training was at the root of the problem was taken up by Asada Sadao in his very thorough and scholarly account of the IJN in the 1930s. The sole naval historian studied in this paper, Asada also saw a very stale, unimaginative, and bureaucratic officer corps coming out of Eta Jima and the Naval War College. Being taught to unquestioningly obey and subscribe to the validity of battleship superiority and the Decisive Battle Doctrine, the officer corps was highly resistant to innovation in terms of a reorientation toward naval airpower.27 Yet this fact alone does not fully explain Japan’s defeat. The same kind of bureaucratic inertia and resistance to innovation was evident at times in the United States Navy in the 1920s and 1930s, and it is still debated to what degree the American Navy had reoriented itself from surface to naval airpower by 1941. Only the defeat at Pearl Harbor forced the United States Navy to rely fully on its aircraft carriers in the following months. In fact, the IJN had a greater number of aircraft carriers in operation in 1941 and seemed to have a more serious commitment to naval aviation at the beginning of the war.28 Thus, numbers, as Hara stressed, seem to have become the determining factor by 1942-1943, as opposed to training policy, which Asada asserted more strongly. Still, Asada, like Hara, deemphasized culture as a debilitating factor and demonstrated with primary sources that the IJN suffered from bureaucratic problems similar to other military organizations in the early twentieth century.29

Numbers and numerical inferiority, especially in naval airpower and radar-equipped ships, were the main reasons which retired Air Self-Defense Forces General Genda Minoru cited for Japan’s defeat in the Pacific War. Genda was one of the IJN’s first fighter pilots and helped plan the Pearl Harbor and Midway operations as the Air Operations Officer for the First Air Fleet. Genda asserted that the IJN was superior to the United States Navy in terms of flying, navigation, night fighting, torpedo warfare, and bombing skills.30 According to Genda, the reason the war was lost was a tendency in the IJN to try to compensate for material shortages with “spirit.” This tendency was not, however, attributed to any national or cultural characteristic, but was simply a tactic used by a resource poor nation to redress inherent logistical deficiencies. Genda argued that Japan’s primary mistake was getting involved in a long war with the United States. The fact that Genda never recanted Japan’s role in the war itself suggests that he found nothing wrong with the war or its goals, in complete contrast to the officers writing in the 1950s. To Genda, the war was merely badly planned and poorly executed in terms of its objective timetables. Japan, in other words, flawed when it failed to quickly destroy the American carrier forces, secure a comprehensive Pacific Basin defense perimeter, and negotiate a peace. It did not flaw in launching the Pearl Harbor operation itself. 31

The most scholarly and well-researched work which was reviewed was Admiral Hirama’s article. Hirama, writing in 1991, was one of the few authors, in addition to Asada, to extensively use IJN planning documents as his sources. Hirama admits that the interwar worship of the battleship may have been too strong for the IJN’s own good, but he does not believe that the Navy’s concentration on surface power was as strong as previous scholars have alleged. Nor does he believe that the Decisive Battle Doctrine was as inflexible as previously asserted.32 In fact, Hirama demonstrates that the Decisive Battle Doctrine changed over time by illustrating that the doctrine was defensive and based on surface power only in the 1920s, before submarines and naval airpower became viable agents to implement a more offensive strategy.33  Hirama cites force strengths and planning documents to show that as submarines and naval airpower grew in numbers and capability,they also grew in importance for IJN operations.34

In addition, he claims that the IJN’s strategy evolved from an “interception” strategy, whereby the Navy would intercept the American Fleet as it moved close to Japan, to one of “interception-attrition,” whereby the Navy would use its bases in Micronesia, its longer-ranged submarines, and its carrier fleet built in the 1930s to intercept the American Fleet much closer to Hawaii than previously planned. Only more powerful submarines, more capable carrier airpower, and the integration of these forces into line-of-battle tactics allowed the Navy to revise the strategy in this way.35 To Hirama, the only reason the IJN continued to emphasize night torpedo warfare after the 1920s was that nighttime surface training was a useful support in battle vis-a-vis the air and subsurface arms, and because it was valued as a way to keep the IJN’s battle skills honed in peacetime. He also argued that Japan’s fatal mistake in the Pacific War was not an overemphasis on surface power, but an overemphasis on land-based naval airpower and an inability to counter highly mobile American carrier groups which outnumbered IJN forces after 1943.36

Another fascinating paper was that presented in the fall of 1991 at the United States Naval Academy’s Tenth Naval History Symposium in Annapolis, Maryland, by retired Maritime Self-Defense Force Captain Akihiko Yoshida. Akihiko presented research on the Pearl Harbor strike and contended that the air assault on Battleship Row could have been conducted in a more “organized” and “effective” manner! 37 Akihiko’s interpretation was that the air assault was generally successful, but that it could have been much more effective if veteran flyers had been used in the initial assault, neophyte flyers had flown the second wave, and radio communications had been used to coordinate strikes after the attack force arrived over Pearl Harbor. 38  Apparently, there was confusion about Commander Fuchida’s flare signals for the attack and the manner in which the aerial units were to coordinate their strikes.39  As reasons for the “confused” air assault, Akihiko found fault in the policy of mixing veteran and neophyte air groups which had not trained together for very long. He also found fault with the Navy air arm’s lack of training in high and very high frequency (HF/VHF) radio communications, and with its obsession with radio silence even after the strike force arrived over Pearl Harbor.40  Akihiko’s interpretation must have proved particularly interesting to his audience, considering that it was predominantly composed of American naval officers marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Pearl Harbor raid!

The works by Hara, Asada, Hirama, and Akihiko illustrate another side to the debate over Japan’s naval defeat. These authors consistently saw Japan’s defeat as the result of military-technical factors over which Japan had little control, or as a consequence of bureaucratic inertia that was fairly common in military organizations, or as the result of poor decisions made by fallible human beings under tremendous pressures. National or cultural characteristics as factors in military defeat had little, if any, place in their analyses.

Conclusion

A number of conclusions can be drawn from these most recent examples of post-1945 accounts. One, the historical analysis of Japan’s naval defeat became more sophisticated over time as naval historians and naval officers trained in historical research techniques took over strategic, operational, and tactical analysis from officers who actually fought in the war. A second conclusion is that as the war  receded into the past and professional historians with fewer political axes to grind  came to dominate the debates, explanations for Japan’s defeat  became more precise, more intellectually sound and debatable, and certainly less grounded in over-generalized, stereotyped, racist, and even self-flagellating terminology. Third, and most obvious, the explanations about Japan’s naval defeat have entailed more complex comparisons with other naval powers and the problems these powers encountered in projecting and employing their naval forces during wartime. This greater complexity can especially be seen with the thoughts of Vice Admiral Yoji Koda, retired Commander of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Fleet, who argued that while the Japanese Government and military began to exhibit “emotional” characteristics in its strategic formulations in the 1930s this phenomenon could happen to any nation because of human nature, bureaucratic inertia, and a gap between planning and operations.

References

  1. See Vice Admiral Koda Yoji, Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) (RET),”Doctrine And Strategy in IJN” (lecture, U.S. Naval War College, 20 January 2011). 
  2. Ibid.  According to John Dower, the idea that a nation could be classified by “character traits” was also the basis for much of the Allied wartime study of Japan.  In fact, these wartime studies were called “national character studies”; see John W. Dower, War Without Mercy:  Race & Power in the Pacific War (New York:  Pantheon Books, 1986), 9 and 120-123. 
  3. Dower believes that Japanese wartime propaganda had more to do with self-promotion and the negation of Western stereotypes rather than the denigration of Westerners themselves.  For an analysis of this wartime propaganda, see ibid, 203-233 and 262-290. 
  4. Captain Oi Atsushi, “Why Japan’s Antisubmarine Warfare Campaign Failed,” in David C. Evans, ed., Japanese Navy in World War IIIn the Words of Former Japanese Naval Officers(Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 1986), 387 and 414. 
  5. Again, the allusions to immaturity are analyzed by Dower.  The pre-1941 language and terminology used in the West to describe the Japanese significantly parallels the language used by Japanese naval officers during the 1950s to explain their own defeat; see Dower, War Without Mercy, 9, 122, 133, and 145. 
  6. According to Admiral Koda, the entire Japanese strategic planning apparatus demonstrated major and basic flaws, but not because of any racial or cultural mindset.  Admiral Koda demonstrated that it was Japan’s inexperience with modern total war, stemming from its lack of participation in the European phase of World War One that created the vast gulf between planning and operations that became so prevalent in the 1920s and especially the 1930s; see Koda, “Doctrine and Strategy of IJN,” 20 January 2011. 
  7. Vice Admiral Yokoi Toshiyuki, “Thoughts on Japan’s Naval Defeat,” in Evans, Japanese Navy in World War II, 515. 
  8. For the Decisive Battle doctrine, see footnote 24.  For aspects of American wartime strategy, see D. Clayton James, “American and Japanese Strategies in the Pacific War,” in Peter Paret, ed., Makers of Modern Strategy:  From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1986), 726-727.  For evidence that some senior American naval officers may not have appreciated or even understood the potentiality of carrier forces, see Clark G. Reynolds’ account of Admiral William Halsey’s conduct as Commander of the US Third Fleet during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in The Fast Carriers:  The Forging of an Air Navy  (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 1992), 253-300.  See also Vice Admiral John Towers’ frustration over American carrier forces being commanded by surface officers in 1942.  Towers, the United States Navy’s third naval aviator, one of its first “air admirals,” and Nimitz’ Commander of Pacific Fleet Air Forces (COMAIRPAC), specifically blamed heavy carrier losses in 1942 on the ships being commanded by surface officers who allegedly did not know how to employ these vessels; see Reynolds, Admiral John H. Towers:  The Struggle for Naval Air Supremacy (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 1991), 406-454.  For a highly cogent demonstration that some senior surface officers in the United States Navy did, in fact, know how to fight the carrier forces effectively, see John Lundstrom, Black Shoe Carrier Admiral:  Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway and Guadalcanal (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 2006).  In addition, it needs to be understood that numerous naval historians have significantly recast the interwar United States Navy and the senior officer corps.  Based on reexaminations of primary sources, post-Cold war historians have demonstrated that the interwar American naval officer corps experimented with naval aviation, submarine warfare, and amphibious assault doctrine to a much greater degree than the Japanese Navy did or than Cold War-era historians such as Reynolds were willing to admit.  For detailed accounts of interwar American naval doctrine, see Joel Davidson, The Unsinkable Fleet:  The Politics of U.S. Navy Expansion in World War II  (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 1996), 11, 12, 14, 15-16, 19-21, 23, 24, 32, 34, 60, 96, and 97; Thomas Wildenberg, Destined for Glory:  Dive Bombing, Midway, and the Evolution of Carrier Airpower (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 1998), 48-64, 83-98, 126-128, 141, 155, 157-160, 163-164, and 170-171; William McBride, Technological Change and the United States Navy, 1865-1945 (Baltimore, Maryland:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 111-212; Thomas Hone and Trent Hone, Battleline:  The United States Navy, 1919-1939 (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 2006), 110-125; Craig Felker, Testing American Sea Power:  U.S. Navy Strategic Exercises, 1923-1940 (College Station, Texas:  Texas A&M University Press, 2007), 61-75; John Kuehn, Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet that Defeated the Japanese Navy (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2008), 87-92, 173-175, and 205; Joel Holwitt, “Execute Against Japan”:  The U.S. Decision to Conduct Unrestricted Submarine Warfare (College Station, Texas:  Texas A&M University Press, 2009), 22, 62, and 63-83; and Albert Nofi, To Train the Fleet for War:  The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940 (Newport, Rhode Island:  Naval War College Press, 2010), 25, 51-56, 60, 62, 64, 65, 66, 74, 76-77, 80, 85-86, 93-94, 100-102, 104, 105, 110-117, 121-125, 129-136, 139-146, 151, 155, 156-159, 169,197-203, 207-216, 219-227, 229-237, 253-263, and 287-288.  For interwar Japanese carrier doctrine development, see Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully, Shattered Sword:  The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway (Washington, D.C.:  Potomac Books, 2005), 82-86, 158, 163, 167, 168, 171, 397, 414, and 442 
  9. See Dower, War Without Mercy, 103, for pre-1941 Western perceptions about “inflexible” Japanese strategies and tactics and ibid., 97-98, 122, 123, 145, and 153-154, for Western views on alleged Japanese intellectual inferiority which were highly similar to views expressed by Japanese naval officers such as Captain Oi. 
  10. Captain Fuchida Mitsuo and Commander Okumiya Masatake, Midway:  The Battle That Doomed Japan (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 1955). 
  11. Ibid., 243.  Similarly, former Lieutenant Commander Hashimoto Mochitsura, writing about the destruction of the IJN’s submarine force in the Pacific War, claimed that the IJN’s major fault was in failing to develop sophisticated radar before 1943.  Hashimoto asserted that the lack of this sophisticated technology was like going to war with a “bamboo lance.”  The phrase conjures up images of “primitive” weapons and “native” warriors fighting “civilized” Western Techno-soldiers.  In effect, the phrase implies that the Japanese military was somehow culturally inferior to the American military in World War Two and was thus defeated; see Hashimoto, Sunk: The Story of the Japanese Submarine Fleet, 1941-1945 (New York:  Henry Holt And Company, 1954), vi; see also Dower, War Without Mercy, 94-117 and 121-122.  Dowers offers a great deal of evidence from pre-1941 Western sources that the Japanese were perceived as “subhuman creatures” who were incapable of producing “modern” weaponry or conducting “modern” warfare.  After the Japanese victories of 1941-1942, however, much of this propaganda gave way to stereotypes painting the Japanese as quasi-supermen.  For the changes in Japanese military leaders attitudes after the Russo-Japanese War, see Yuki Tanaka, Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II(Boulder, Colorado:  Westview Press, 1996), 206-211. 
  12. See Fuchida and Okumiya, Midway, 243-244 and 247-248; see also Dower, War Without Mercy, 121-122. 
  13. Fuchida and Okumiya, Midway, 247-248. 
  14. Ibid., 232-248. 
  15. For this transformation from “sub-humans” to “supermen”, see Dower, War Without Mercy, 97-98 and 112-116. 
  16. Ito Masanori, The End of The Imperial Japanese Navy (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1956), 44-53.  Ito was the only author from the 1950s studied for this paper who was not a professional naval officer.  He was, in fact, a journalist, but his viewpoints about Japan’s defeat closely coincided with the naval officers writing in the 1950s. 
  17. Ibid., 69 and 83. 
  18. Ibid., 93 and 107.  The reader should note, however, that blaming military defeat on luck or metaphysics was not limited to the Japanese or even to the military personnel of a defeated power.  Craig Cameron has demonstrated that Richard Tregaskis, author of Guadalcanal Diary, described the men of the 1st Marine Division as “pawns in a battle of the gods” when the situation looked “in doubt” after the United States Navy withdrew its carrier forces from the Solomons area in August 1942; see Tregaskis, Guadalcanal Diary (New York:  Random House,1943), 62, as quoted by Cameron, American Samurai:  Myth, Imagination, And The Conduct Of Battle In The First Marine Division, 1941-1951 (Cambridge, England:  Cambridge University Press, 1994), 98. 
  19. Agawa Hiroyuki, The Reluctant Admiral:  Yamamoto and the Imperial Navy  (New York: Kodansha International, Ltd., 1979), 312 and 314-315.  For a balanced critique of battles such as Midway and the Japanese defeat because of a gap between planning and operations rather than race and culture, see Koda, “Doctrine and Strategy of IJN,” U.S. Naval War College lecture, 20 January 2011. 
  20. In May 1993, Dr. Raymond O’Connor, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Miami, told this author that Japanese naval officers using cultural arguments to explain their defeat was “endemic”.  O’Connor’s observations were based on numerous conversations he had had with his California neighbor, retired Rear Admiral Edwin Layton, who had been the Combat Intelligence Officer on the staff of the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT) immediately before and during most of the Pacific War.  Layton had been involved in interrogating Japanese naval officers after the September 1945 surrender, and he told O’Connor that this phenomenon had been a widespread occurrence; conversation between Dr. O’Connor and the author, 60th Annual Conference of the Society for Military History, Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, Ontario, May 21, 1993.  While General Robert E. Lee did employ similar types of fatalism to denote Confederate victories and defeats in the American Civil War, this author would suggest that perhaps Lee’s nineteenth century context should be taken into account in any analytical comparison to twentieth century military officers; see Thomas Buell, The Warrior Generals:  Combat Leadership in the Civil War (New York:  Three Rivers Press, 1997), 49, 80, 98, 131, 210, and 233. 
  21. Conversation between the author and Rear Admiral Hirama Yoichi, World War II in the Pacific Conference, U.S. Navy Museum, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., August 10, 1994. 
  22. See Cameron, American Samurai, 10, 34, and 249. 
  23. See Captain Hara Tameichi, Japanese Destroyer Captain (New York:  Ballantine Books, 1961), 1-25, 58, and 61. 
  24. The Decisive Battle Doctrine was a strategy which was based on the battleship strength of the IJN.  The role of battleships in the victories over China and Russia in 1894-1895 and 1904-1905, respectively, produced a nearly unshakeable confidence among many Japanese naval officers in the ability of battleships to destroy the American Pacific Fleet if it ever attempted to interfere in Japan’s sphere of influence on the East Asian mainland.  The strategy evolved, however, through a number of revisions, and Admiral Hirama argues that the centrality of the battleship gave way to an emphasis on carrier and submarine forces by the 1930s.  Nevertheless, battleship operations continued to remain a major focus until the Pacific War and the Doctrine continued to envision the US Pacific Fleet advancing from Hawaii, being reduced by air and submarine forces along the route to Japan, and then being decisively engaged near Micronesia by the main battleship fleet.  For the development of the Decisive Battle Doctrine, see Mark R. Peattie, “Akiyama Saneyuki and the Emergence of Modern Japanese Naval Doctrine,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 103 (January 1977):  60-69; Peattie and David C. Evans, “Sato Tetsutaro and Japanese Strategy,” Naval History 4 (Fall 1990):  34-39; and Carlos R. Rivera, “Akiyama Saneyuki and Sato Tetsutaro:  Preparing for Imperial Navy for the Hypothetical Enemy, 1906-1916,” paper presented at the 29th Annual Northern Great Plains History Conference, St. Paul, Minnesota, September 28-October 1, 1994.  For changes in the Decisive Battle Doctrine as new technology was introduced in the 1920s and 1930s, see Rear Admiral Hirama Yoichi, Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (Retired), “Japanese Naval Preparations for World War Two,” Naval War College Review 44 (Spring 1991):  63-81. For more recent work in this area, see David Evans and Mark Peattie, Kaigun:  Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1887-1941 (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 1997); Mark Peattie, Sunburst:  The Rise of Japanese Naval Air Power, 1909-1941 (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 2001); and Asada Sadao, From Mahan to Pearl Harbor:  The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 2006). 
  25. See Hara, Japanese Destroyer Captain, 11-17, 117, 118, 120-121, 134-157, and 157-176.  Western observers in the 1930s and 1940s believed that Japanese tactics were inflexible because of “national characteristics,” especially a predilection to “short tempers” in stressful combat situations.  Hara, however, sees a bureaucratic, rather than a cultural, reason for this phenomenon and believed this bureaucratic inertia could infect and negate the efficiency of any naval organization.  So does Admiral Koda; see Koda, “Doctrine and Strategy of IJN,” U.S. Naval War College, 20 January 2011.  For the Western literature, see Dower, War Without Mercy, passim. 
  26. See Hara, Japanese Destroyer Captain, 3. 
  27. Asada Sadao, “The Japanese Navy and the United States,” in Dorothy Borg and Okamoto Shumpei, eds., Pearl Harbor as History:  Japanese-American Relations, 1931-1941  (New York: Columbia University Press, 1973), 225-259; see also Asada, From Mahan to Pearl Harbor, 287-296, especially for the perspective that much of IJN strategic thought was a response to bureaucratic rivalry with the IJA, not really an orientation to fight the United States Navy. 
  28. See Hirama, “Japanese Naval Preparations,” 69-71; see also Parshall and Tully, Shattered Sword, 3-18 and 60-114. 
  29. See Asada, “The Japanese Navy and the United States,” passim. 
  30. General Genda Minoru, Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (Retired), “Tactical Planning In The Imperial Japanese Navy,” Naval War College Review 22 (October 1969):  45-50. 
  31. Ibid. 
  32. See Hirama, “Japanese Naval Preparations,” 63-81. 
  33. Ibid., 64-67. 
  34. These consisted of a series of “Replenishment Plans,” or programs designed to build up the submarine and air strength of the IJN in the late 1930s.  For example, larger submarines for ocean cruising were developed, as were submarine command and control vessels to ensure tactical control over large submarine flotillas operating at long distances in the central and eastern Pacific.  In addition, the famous Zero fighter and the Betty land-based torpedo bomber were developed at this time and the strength of the naval air force grew from 7.5 air groups and 120 aircraft in 1931 to over 3300 aircraft and ten aircraft carriers in 1941; see Hirama, “Japanese Naval Preparations,” 70. 
  35. Ibid., 67-71 and 73-74. 
  36. Ibid., 78-79. 
  37. Captain Akihiko Yoshida, Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (Retired), “The Disorderly Air Assault on Battleship Row,” paper delivered at the Tenth Annual Symposium on Naval History, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, September 13, 1991, 1-4.  For a more recent and even more critical, though probably overdone, critique of the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor, see Alan Zimm, Attack on Pearl Harbor:  Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:  Casemate Publishers, 2011). 
  38. Ibid. 
  39. Ibid., 3. 
  40. Ibid., 3-4. 

Featured Image: Imperial Japanese Navy’s aircraft carrier Amagi capsized after U.S. navy air raid, Kure, Japan, 1946.

Giant Dragons Puffing Smoke: Understanding Japan’s Pacific War Strategy

By Lieutenant Commander Daniel T. Murphy, USN

Introduction

“Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”1 – Bluto Blutarksy, Animal House, 1978.

Most Americans know that it was Japan, not Germany that treacherously attacked the U.S. Navy fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. A smaller percentage of people are aware of the fact that it was the United States, not Japan that fired the first shots of the war on that day. The destroyer USS WARD was patrolling near the entrance to Pearl Harbor when the minesweeper USS CONDOR reported a periscope at 0342. A PBY patrol plane placed a smoke marker on the location. WARD conducted a surface attack with guns, followed up with depth charges, and reported the sub sunk. The midget sub sunk by WARD was discovered by a University of Hawaii research submersible on August 28, 2002.2 

It is true that WARD’s attack was a minor component in the bigger context of the Pearl Harbor attack. And, it does not materially change the fact that Japan was the belligerent on that day. But for sixty years, WARD’s story was de-emphasized in the historical commentary. Was WARD’s attack de-emphasized because it didn’t enhance the commentary of Japanese treachery?  Or, was it because we did not have material evidence of the attack until the sub was located in 2002?  Either way, it’s a minor detail, right?   

Perhaps. The problem is that some of the “less-minor” strategic components of the story of the Pacific War have been de-emphasized as well. Because we (the United States) were the victors in the war, we have owned the historic narrative of the war. Our version of the Pacific War became the version of the Pacific War. “Vae Victis” (Woe to the vanquished).3

Our convenient and succinct story of the Pacific War was that Japan was hell-bent on conquest in the South Pacific. The United States only wanted peace. They raped Nanking. We initiated an oil embargo. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto crossed the Pacific with his carrier fleet and treacherously destroyed our battle fleet at Pearl Harbor. It is a convenient and succinct story, repeated by millions of soldiers, sailors, and citizens during the war and in the years after the war. But it is an incomplete narrative. Here are some less simple and less convenient ingredients in the story:

  1. Tokyo was executing a grand strategy that the United States had suggested to them. Japan was an aggressive state because, for quite a few years, we had encouraged them to be aggressive.
  2. For Japan, their naval war against the U.S. was a sideshow in a much bigger conflict on the Asian continent. In today’s U.S. military nomenclature, Japan’s Pacific operations would be called “ancillary” operations.
  3. If Tokyo had stayed true to its original Mahanian-based naval doctrine, Japan could possibly have defeated the United States in the Pacific War. Or, they could have at least achieved their political objectives.

Giant Dragons Puffing Smoke

Contrary to their representation in war-era and post-war-era film and media, Japan was not hell-bent on conquest simply because they were evil. Japan was seeking to build an empire in Asia because that is what the United States had encouraged and trained them to do.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, Japanese ports were closed to all but a few Dutch and Chinese traders. On July 8, 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay with a squadron of U.S. Navy vessels led by the USS POWHATAN. Perry’s “giant dragons puffing smoke” (steam ships) were intended to terrify. And in 1854, the United States and Japan signed a treaty agreeing that the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate would be opened to U.S. vessels to purchase coal and other supplies.4 For the U.S. it was a Mahanian play. The new coaling stations would enable our Navy to project seapower and protect our commercial sea lanes into the Asian continent. Japan would be America’s stepping stone to China, and the new ports would be especially useful for the American whaling fleet. In 1872, retired U.S. General Charles LeGendre traveled to Tokyo and first suggested to the Japanese that they should have their own Asian “Monroe Doctrine.” In the following years, LeGendre acted as a trusted advisor to Tokyo, encouraging the Japanese to take Taiwan and instigate the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. When Japan defeated Russia in the 1904-1905 war to extend Tokyo’s territories on the mainland, American magazine articles explained “Why We Favour Japan in the Present War” and “Russia stands for reaction and Japan for progress.”  U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt felt an excited tingle for the Japanese victory. He told his friend Japanese Baron Kentaro Kaneko, “This is the greatest phenomenon the world has ever seen . . . I grew so excited that I myself became almost like a Japanese, and I could not attend to official duties.”5 

When Japan invaded and took over Korea in 1910, U.S. foreign minister to Korea Horace Allen cabled to Washington that Tokyo had become Korea’s “rightful and natural overlord.”6 Roosevelt wrote to Secretary of State John Hay, “The Japs have played our game because they have played the game of civilized mankind . . . We may be of genuine service . . . in preventing interference to rob her of the fruits of her victory.”7 And in a letter to Vice President Taft he wrote, “I heartily agree with the Japanese terms of peace, insofar as they include Japan having control of Korea.”8

LeGendre’s Monroe Doctrine conversation with Tokyo continued thirty years later by Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft in 1905. Taft travelled to Tokyo to push the Monroe Doctrine idea with the Meiji emperor. Roosevelt pushed the idea with Japanese envoy Baron Kaneko Kentaro in Washington – “Japan is the only nation in Asia that understands the principles and methods of Western civilization . . . All the Asiatic nations are now faced with the urgent necessity of adjusting themselves to the present age. Japan should be their natural leader in that process, and their protector during the transition stage, much as the United States assumed the leadership of the American continent many years ago, and by means of the Monroe Doctrine, preserved the Latin American nations from European interference, while they were maturing their independence.”The American president had invited Tokyo to dominate her Asian neighbors. The U.S. had awakened a sleeping dragon to guard America’s open door to the Chinese continent. The dragon went on a fifteen-year fire-breathing shooting spree. And in 1940, Japanese Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka argued, “If the United States could rely upon the Monroe Doctrine to support its preeminent position in the Western Hemisphere in order to sustain American economic stability and prosperity, why could not Japan do the same with an Asian Monroe Doctrine?”10

Ancillary Lines

In the years leading up to 1941, while Japan certainly recognized the United States as a potential enemy, Tokyo’s number one foreign policy priority was China. An American military analyst named Hector Bywater wrote a fascinating book in 1925 about a fictional war between Japan and the United States touched off by a land dispute in China. Bywater said Japan’s “capitalists and merchants enjoyed a virtual monopoly in Southern Manchuria, besides holding a controlling interest in the mines, railways, and industries of Eastern Inner Mongolia…Even the coal and iron mines of the Yangtse Valley were exploited to a large extent by Japanese nationals…Without Chinese minerals her industrial machine could not be kept going; it required to be fed with a constant supply of the coal, iron, copper and tin from the mines of Shansi, Shantung and Manchuria.” Thus, for Japan, it was “essential that China should remain disunited and impotent.”11 

Commodore Perry had gone to Tokyo with the idea of creating a stepping-stone to China. The assumption was that China would remain an “open door” to all nations. However, by the 1920s it was becoming clear that America had awakened a sleeping dragon. As Japan expanded her presence in Manchuria through 1932 and Mongolia through 1937, the U.S. and European governments worried that Tokyo was taking control of the open door. Without permission from Tokyo, the Japanese Army leaders initiated the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, which would eventually require thirty-six Japanese Army divisions. Stories of atrocities circulated around the globe, including the massacre of a quarter million Chinese civilians and disarmed soldiers in Nanking in 1937. The U.S. and Europe were running out of patience with Tokyo.

In the fight against the Japanese Army, Chinese forces imported arms and fuel through French Indochina, via the Sino-Vietnamese Railway. To sever China’s supply line, Japan invaded French Indochina in September 1940. In response, in 1940, the U.S. stopped selling oil to Japan. Japan had been reliant on the United States for more than eighty percent of its oil. The embargo would force Tokyo to decide between withdrawing from Indochina (a U.S. pre-condition) and negotiating or finding oil elsewhere. Ultimately, Japan determined to take the Dutch East Indies by force for its oil and rubber. The Netherlands had been defeated by Nazi Germany in May 1940, and was powerless to react. Tokyo expected the U.S. to respond with force, and therefore prepared for war.

Thus, to continue to fight their primary war over minerals, foodstuffs, and other natural resources on the Asian mainland, Japan was forced to initiate a secondary war (A series of secondary operations that today’s U.S. planners would call “ancillary lines” 12) against the U.S. to secure the new energy resources in the Dutch East Indies and the rest of its Asian conquests. China remained the primary adversary. The U.S fleet would become the secondary adversary. Protecting those ancillary lines meant denying the U.S.’s ability to stage operations against those lines. Thus, Tokyo adopted its perimeter defense strategy which required the invasion and fortification of island chains from the Kurile Islands in the north through the Philippines and all the way south to New Guinea.13 In other words, the strategy was to protect the new resource areas by occupying the islands adjacent to those areas and in the sea lines between those areas and the home islands. In the geometry of war, Japan would have the advantage of short, more easily re-enforceable lines of operations (LOOs), and the U.S. would have the disadvantage of longer, vulnerable LOOs. Ultimately however, the U.S. was able to negate that advantage through fleet size and sea control that consistently crept west.        

Map demonstrating the extent of Japanese occupation and axis of American attack in 1943. (The National WWII Museum)    

Mahan With a Dash of Clausewitz

The Russo-Japanese War ended in 1905 with Tokyo feeling slighted. Japan had defeated Russia on land and at sea, and had helped secure the open door for itself and for the West to the “teeming Yangtze Valley.”14 But while Roosevelt and other European leaders said positive things about the Japanese victory, they pressured Tokyo to accept a negotiated settlement with Russia that did not include a war indemnity. Roosevelt’s honorary Aryans15 felt humiliated. Relations between the U.S. and Japan would grow worse. In 1906, struggling to deal with a wave of Japanese immigration into San Francisco, the San Francisco school board segregated Japanese students. Tokyo cried foul. American journalists wrote about a “yellow peril.” And in 1907, Roosevelt sent Admiral Dewey and the Great White Fleet around the world to wave the big stick. Japan viewed Dewey’s cruise as a direct threat. California then passed an alien land law in 1913 prohibiting “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning agricultural land that caused the U.S.-Japanese relationship to degrade further. By 1916, Japan’s naval operations chief stated, “The nation with who a clash of arms is most likely in the near future is the United States.”16     

As the U.S. Navy became probable adversary number one, Tokyo began thinking in terms of Mahanian doctrine. From 1904 through 1930, naval strategist Ogasawara Naganari taught Mahanian concepts at Japan’s Naval War College. Akiyama Saneyuki, the “father of modern Japanese naval strategy” visited Mahan twice in New York, and incorporated his principles into Japan’s Naval Battle Instructions of 1910. Akiyama created Japan’s strategy of “interceptive operations” which would consist of the Japanese fleet lying in wait for the American fleet to reach Japan’s home waters and then “engaging in a Mahanian encounter.”17 Kato Kanji served as president of the Naval War College in 1920, Second Fleet Commander (1923-1924), Combined Fleet Commander (1926-1928), Chief of the Naval General Staff (1930) and Supreme Military Councilor (1930-1935). He used Mahanian doctrine as the basis to justify the naval budget and the expansion of the fleet.18

Japan embraced a Mahanian doctrine to counter the U.S. because they had proven the doctrine against Russia. At the Battle of Tsushima, on the 27th and 28th of May 1905, the Japanese Navy annihilated the Russian Navy, sinking thirty-five of thirty-eight ships, killing 5,000 sailors and taking more than 7,000 prisoners. Japan lost only 110 sailors.19 Between 1908 and 1911, the Japanese Navy conducted studies and war games focusing specifically on a conflict with the U.S. fleet as the adversary. Japan would capture Luzon Island in the Philippines, defeat U.S. forces there, and occupy Manila. They would lie in wait for the American battle fleet to cross the Pacific. When the U.S. fleet approached home waters, they would be annihilated in a decisive battle west of the Bonins, as the Russians had been annihilated at Tsushima. Japan would have the strategic advantage with their short interior lines of operation to their home islands. This was the interceptive operational strategy that the Japanese Navy would maintain through 1941 and beyond.20

After Germany was defeated in the First World War, Japan occupied Germany’s possessions in the South Pacific – the Marshalls, the Carolines, and the Marianas. Accordingly, Tokyo’s new General Plan for Strategy in 1918 pushed the planned decisive engagement with the U.S. fleet eastward. The Tsushima replay would now occur somewhere west of the Marshalls.21 But the greater challenge for Tokyo was the buildup of the U.S. fleet in the Pacific. It was an arms race that the U.S. did not really want, and that Japan could not really afford. In 1922, Japan signed the Five Power Naval Treaty at the Washington Conference and agreed to a 6:10 capital ship ratio with the United States.

The extended island possessions plus the 6:10 capital ship constraint caused Tokyo to add an additional ingredient to their interception operations strategy. The 6:10 ratio meant that the Japanese fleet could not take on the U.S. fleet equally in a Mahanian battle without first cutting the U.S. fleet down to a fightable size. In Bywater’s fictional tale, Japan detonated an explosive-laden merchant ship to collapse the Panama Canal so that America’s Atlantic and Pacific fleets could not join forces.22 In the real world, to create parity, Japan again looked back at the Battle of Tsushima, and opted to inject a Clausewitzian ingredient into the Mahanian recipe.

In April 1904, Rear Admiral Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky took a considerable portion of Russia’s Baltic fleet on an 18,000-mile journey to fight the Japanese Navy in the Pacific. Rozhestvensky’s passage was filled with what Clausewitz would call frictional events.23 Things went bad early when an intelligence failure in the North Sea caused the Russian fleet to mistakenly open fire on a British fishing fleet. In response, British, French, and Portuguese ports were closed to the Russian fleet for the majority of their passage. They were forced to re-coal in the open ocean or in anchorages along the way. The lack of supplies, lack of shore leave, irregular mail delivery, and the heat of the tropics took a further toll on the equipment and crews – “Malaria, dysentery, tuberculosis, boils, mental derangement, prickly heat, fungoid infections of the ear, wrought havoc”24 in the fleet. Like how Napoleon’s and Hitler’s land forces suffered the effects of attrition (Clausewitz’s friction) in their marches to the east, Rozhestvensky’s fleet suffered similar effects of attrition in its passage to the east. Rozhestvensky’s degraded fleet was then wiped out in the great Mahanian battle on 27-28 May 1905.

To make up for the 6:10 capital ship disadvantage against the United States, Tokyo opted to create similar conditions of friction for the U.S. fleet. Japan’s new attrition doctrine would focus on submarines, cruisers, destroyers, torpedoes, and land-based and ship-based aircraft that would gradually degrade the U.S. fleet as it transited west across the Pacific. After the American fleet had been cut down to a more equitable size, the Japanese battle fleet would come forth to deliver the Mahanian coup de grace.25 

Thus, after the Washington Conference, the Japanese Navy began building large, high-speed fleet submarines. By the early 1930s, Tokyo was building 2,200-ton 23-knot submarines. Admiral Suetsugo said, “The decisive battle would entirely depend on our attrition [submarine] strategy.”26 In addition to the submarine enhancements, light cruisers and destroyers were re-organized into torpedo squadrons and trained for night attacks.27 New cruiser and destroyer designs (Yubari, Furutaka, Myoko, Takao, Mogami and Fubuki) were introduced in the 1920s and 1930s along with a new Type 93 oxygen torpedo that had a range of 40,000 meters and a speed of 36 knots.28 Japan constructed the 30,000-ton (Akagi) and 38,200-ton (Kaga) carriers in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the carrier-based Type 94 “Susie” bomber and the land-based Type 96 “Nell” bomber. By December 1941, Japan’s navy had ten carriers and 3,300 aircraft, all intended to be used in the interception-attrition strategy against the U.S. fleet.29 The Mahanian coupe de grace would now be delivered by the new 64,000-ton Yamato-class battleships, which would use the greater range of their 18-inch guns to destroy the U.S. battle fleet from afar.30 

Mismanaging the Trinity

A Mahanian strategy with a dash of Clausewitz could possibly have worked. Naval War College professor Brad Lee explained Japan’s interception-attrition strategy in terms of Clausewitz’s trinity. First, a naval victory against the U.S. fleet would degrade the U.S.’s ability to project military power in the Asia-Pacific region. Second, the defeat would affect public option in the United States, and “cripple America’s will to keep fighting.”31 The American people would settle on isolationism, or at least demand a Europe-first strategy. Third, the defeat would drive a wedge between the American president (Roosevelt) and the Congress, and degrade government consensus for a war in the Pacific. In the end, Tokyo hoped to be left alone to consolidate its gains in Asia.32

The Trinitarian strategy made sense. However, in 1941, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto added a final ingredient to the mix that changed the equation. Yamamoto did not want to allow the United States to trade space for time. He knew that invading the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, and Singapore would draw an American naval response. But what if the U.S. opted to delay their response for a year or two until their fleet was sufficiently augmented by its new shipbuilding programs? Like Napoleon and Hitler, Yamamoto wanted to fight the decisive battle earlier, rather than later, while he held numerical superiority in the Pacific. Thus, in 1941, he added the Pearl Harbor operation to the operational mix.

In the end, the Pearl Harbor attack did temporarily degrade America’s ability to project power in the Pacific (the military dimension of Clausewitz’s trinity). But the attack had the opposite of Yamamoto’s intended effects on the people and governmental dimensions. On December 8th, the American people demanded war. The U.S. president asked for a declaration of war and demanded unconditional surrender. The House of Representatives voted 388 to 1, and the Senate voted 82 to 0 in favor of war against Japan.

Conclusion

“Were we better than the Japanese, or just luckier?”33 – Henry Fonda as Admiral Nimitz in Midway.

The historical narrative of a war is written by the war’s victor. And that narrative is too often kept simple and convenient. This is something we must keep in our minds as we seek to learn from past conflicts. To learn from the Pacific War, we must beware the cursory narratives of that conflict: That Japan was hell-bent on conquest in Asia for no apparent reason, while we only wanted peace; That the Japanese were sneaky, but we were honorable; That they were wrong and we were right.

Dig a bit deeper into the historical detail, and we see that, while it is true that Japan was an aggressive state hell-bent on conquest, we helped them formulate their strategy and encouraged their imperial designs. If Yamamoto had not added the Pearl Harbor attack to his operational mix, would the American people and the U.S. Congress have opted to fight a major war on faraway shores?

Understanding the wartime strategies of our past adversaries can help us better understand the strategies of today’s adversaries. Again, the challenge is to push beyond cursory. Do we reflect on things we have done in previous decades that could have caused an ally to become an adversary?  Do we consider the fact that an adversary might consider us to be their Priority Two, rather than their Priority One? Do we give our adversaries sufficient credit for employing whole-of-government strategies? How often do we think about how an adversary (or a so-called ally) will seek to inject conditions of friction into our operations?

The Pacific War became inevitable when the United States assumed Japan would come to the negotiating table, rather than choosing war. Japan’s disastrous end became inevitable when they assumed that an attack on U.S. soil would not awaken a giant force, or at least degrade it sufficiently to render it militarily impotent. If the U.S. and Japan had both dug deeper into the strategic landscape, the conflict may have been avoided or de-escalated. Perhaps the U.S. would have realized that there was no chance that Tokyo would negotiate for oil. Perhaps Tokyo would have realized that America’s pivot from isolationism would be fast and terrible.

Daniel T. Murphy is a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, currently serving in the Office of Naval Intelligence. In his civilian career he is a full-time professor at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and an adjunct faculty member at Northeastern University. Lieutenant Commander Murphy earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, and master’s degrees from Georgetown University and from the National Intelligence University.  

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, or the U.S. Government.

References

[1] National Lampoon’s Animal House, directed by John Landis, Universal Pictures, 1978.

[2] “Researchers find 1941 Japanese midget sub off Pearl Harbor,” School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology website, http://www.soest.hawaii.edu/SOEST_News/PressReleases/Japanese%20mini%20sub.htm, (accessed April 11, 2012).

[3] Said by Brennus the Gaul when he sacked Rome in 390 B.C., Livy, in Ab Urbe Condita (Book 5 Sections 34–49).

[4] “Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan,” U.S. Navy Museum website, http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/teach/ends/opening.htm (accessed April 29, 2012).

[5] James Bradley, The Imperial Cruise:  A Secret History of Empire and War New York: Little Brown and Company, 2009), 236.

[6] Bradley, 227.

[7] Bradley, 226.

[8] Bradley, 223.

[9] Bradley, 217.

[10] Bradley, 319.

[11]  Hector Bywater, The Great Pacific War: A History of the American-Japanese Campaign of 1931-1933 (Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1925), 2.

[12] Milan Vego, Joint Operational Warfare: Theory and Practice (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College, 2009), IV-64 and 65.

[13] James B. Wood, Japanese Military Strategy in the Pacific War: Was Defeat Inevitable? (Lahnam, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, 24-27.

[14] Sadao Asada, From Mahan to Pearl Harbor: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2006), 15.

[15] Bradley 300-319.

[16] Asada, 52.

[17] Asada, 32.

[18] Asada, 52.

[19] Shannon R. Butler, “Voyage to Tsushima,” Naval History (Annapolis: United States Naval Institute), June 2012, 58.

[20] Asada, 50.

[21] Asada, 55.

[22] Bywater, 22.

[23] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. and eds. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967) 119.

[24] Butler, 63.

[25] Asada, 103.

[26] Asada, 180.

[27] Yoichi Hirama, “Japanese Naval Preparations for World War II,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 44, No. 2, Spring 1991, 66.

[28] Hirama, 68.

[29] Hirama, 69-70.

[30] Asada, 205.

[31] Asada, 182.

[32] Brad Lee Lecture.

[33] Midway, directed by Jack Smight, Columbia Pictures, 1976, Henry Fonda playing Admiral Chester Nimitz in the final scene.

Featured Image: (October 21, 1944) IJN battleship Nagato at anchor in Brunei. (colorized by Irootoko Jr.)

A2/AD and the Long Lance Torpedo

In this two-part series on contested access in the Solomon Islands campaign, Part One will explore one of the IJN’s most successful weapons of World War II, which made area denial a reality for the IJN, the Type 93 ‘Long Lance’ torpedo. Part Two will compare the similarities of the Long Lance development to that of the DF-21D and discuss how the U.S. ultimately dealt with the Long Lance. 

By Bob Poling

As I mentioned in my introductory post, the intent of this column is to explore the historical use of strategies, tactics, and technologies which fall under the broad definition of anti-access and area denial (A2/AD). One of the most common practices of a nation using A2/AD is the adoption of asymmetric tactics and associated weapons systems to mitigate an adversary’s advantages in numbers and technology.

However, it this column’s assertion that the U.S. Navy may lack an appreciation for these asymmetric threats.  This is not due to a wanton disregard for A2/AD strategies and tactics, nor an unhealthy reliance on its weapons systems and technology. Instead, this lack of appreciation can be attributed to two factors. First, the U.S. Navy has not been truly challenged at sea since the end of the World War II. As such the Navy has produced several generations of naval officers that have no high-end combat experience. The second factor is a byproduct of the first. Since there has been no combat at sea for over 70 years, the Navy lacks case studies for training its current batch of officers. Therefore, this column will tap into the Navy’s combat history and offer historical examples that are arguably useful for contemporary and future challenges. For instance, the Solomon Islands Campaign is littered with examples of what today can easily be categorized as A2/AD strategies and tactics.

Contesting Access in the Solomon Islands

During the Solomon Islands Campaign, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) employed a strategy based on anti-access, in which they aimed to keep out the U.S. and allied powers from the inner reaches of the Japanese Empire. To that end, Japan developed several platforms, weapons systems, and tactics which would facilitate this strategy. Moreover, in the years leading up to the start of WWII, the IJN faced a predicament like the one that drove the Chinese to develop the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, that is, the challenge of how to deny freedom of access and maneuver to and ultimately defeat the U.S. Navy.

Type 93
Type 93 torpedo, recovered from Point Cruz, Guadalcanal, on display outside U.S. Navy headquarters in Washington, D.C., during World War II.

One of the most sophisticated and deadly weapons of WWII was the Type 93 torpedo. This torpedo was the ship killer of that era. The asymmetric tactics developed for its use in combat were revolutionary. Much like the DF-21D, the Long Lance was in development for 20 years. Experimental work began in 1916, and by 1935, IJN weapons designers had produced a working 24-inch torpedo. “Long Lance was the most powerful weapon of its kind in the world as it was 29ft, 6.3 in long, weighed 5982 lbs, carried a warhead of 1080 lbs, and had a range of 21,900 yards at 48-50 knots, 35,000 yards at 40-42 knots or 43,700 yards at 36-38 knots.”1 Granted, launches beyond 20 miles were unlikely, but the Type 93 gave the IJN a standoff weapon that could be launched outside of visual detection range, especially at night.  Additionally, the Long Lance out-ranged the guns of all USN ships except battleships, making this a particularly effective long range anti-access weapon. Finally, the U.S. Navy had no effective countermeasures or defenses against this torpedo.

To optimize the capability and destructive power of the Long Lance, the IJN incorporated it into their night-fighting tactics. “The origin of the Japanese Navy’s tactic of stressing the night engagement was old; in both the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars this tactic was used.”2 It should have come as no surprise that the IJN continued to develop night-fighting tactics given their success in these two conflicts. However, the USN surface forces had an air of invincibility and arrogance about them and held the IJN in contempt. 

This contempt was based on beliefs that the USN was technologically superior and more experienced, especially when compared to the IJN, which was only 70 years old.3 While USN battle tactics were still dominated by the pursuit of daytime gunnery engagements, and some U.S. Navy ships had radar, the IJN developed tactics to counter this practice mainly by the use of torpedoes coupled with guns fired in nighttime engagements. “Standard Japanese night-fighting doctrine was to launch torpedoes first, use gunfire only when necessary and searchlights as little as possible.” As the Long Lance was wakeless, it was nearly impossible to detect at night. The IJN counted on the USN to be taken unawares by this tactic and thus to be unlikely to maneuver. To facilitate this tactic and remain undetected, the Japanese’ primary method of detecting surface ships was the use of superb night optics. In fact, the IJN was constantly refining night optics during the interwar period and was regularly producing world-class optics in the 1930s. “Particularly noteworthy were binoculars of powerful magnification and light-gathering capacity, featuring lenses as large as 21 centimeters.”To use these binoculars, the IJN selected men to be trained as Masters in Lookout, and these petty officers trained day and night to hone their skills.6 No other navy of the era had lookouts as highly trained as these. When combined with the night optics, these men were in fact a part of the Long Lance weapons system. 

The U.S. Navy’s first encounter with the Long Lance was in the early morning of August 8, 1942 in Savo Sound off Guadalcanal. On the previous morning, the U.S. Navy had landed Marines on Guadalcanal and Tulagi as part of Operation Watchtower. Upon hearing the news of the invasion, Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa, Commander 8th Fleet, pulled together a force of seven cruisers and one destroyer and sailed for Guadalcanal that afternoon.

Arrayed against Mikawa were six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and eight destroyers, which were divided into three groups. Of the eight U.S. destroyers, two were assigned radar picket duties patrolling both the western and eastern approaches to Savo Sound, but Mikawa’s striking force remained undetected. According to IJN accounts both radar pickets were detected visually at 10,000 meters by the IJN cruiser Chokai. However, neither Blue nor Ralph Talbot made radar contact even though Mikawa’s ships were only a little over five miles away.7 Once clear of the picket, Mikawa gave the order to attack.  The IJN achieved complete surprise, and its use of an A2 weapon coupled with asymmetric tactics had devastating results on the USN and RAN. As RADM Crutchley wrote,

“The result of the night actions fought during the night 8th-9th August proved costly. Four of our heavy cruisers – Vincennes, Quincy, Astoria and Canberra had been lost. Another heavy cruiser Chicago had been damaged and required dockyard repair. Two destroyers had been damaged, Ralph Talbot fairly heavily and Patterson not seriously.8

During the engagement, IJN cruisers Chokai, Aoba, Kako, Kinugasa and Furrutaka fired 45 Type 93 torpedoes.9 Of the four USN cruisers participating in the battle, Quincy and Vincennes were sunk due to damage caused by Long Lance torpedo hits and Chicago had her bow blown off by a Long Lance, which immediately took her out of the fight.10 The other two cruisers lost in the battle, Astoria and Canberra, both were sunk due to damage inflicted by naval gunfire from the IJN cruisers.11

The Japanese heavy cruiser Chokai, which led the IJN attack at Savo Island. The recessed torpedo tubes are clearly visible under the whaleboat and second stack.

Two things stand out here as noteworthy anti-access tactics. First, part of an area defense strategy will likely include forward-based forces that can rapidly respond to an incursion and immediately conduct active defensive operations. In this case, it was Mikawa’s eight ships which caught the U.S. Navy completely unawares even though this operation was being conducted inside the IJN’s defensive sphere. The second A2 tactic was the night attack using a long-range, undetectable weapon. Much of today’s angst regarding A2 systems assumes the very same thing. Once the defenders realized they were under attack, it was entirely too late to respond and because of the nature of the Long Lance, it remained undetectable. The element of surprise was made all the more decisive by the effective use of a powerful anti-access weapon. 

Conclusion

A2 tactics are nothing new, and today’s Navy is aware of what those tactics may entail and which potential adversaries embrace these tactics today. Back in the Solomons, the USN’s troubles with the Long Lance would continue well into 1943. Ultimately, the Navy learned to adapt its tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to mitigate the threat posed by the Long Lance. However, what is important in this example is that no active counter measure was developed. Instead there was a realization that the threat was not going away, and a significant amount of risk was going to be present while conducting operations in the waters of the Solomon Islands. Acceptance of significant risk is an important part of defeating an adversary that aligns its strategy and tactics with A2/AD. Part Two will explore this aspect as well and how the Navy ultimate dealt with the Long Lance threat.

Bob Poling is a retired Surface Warfare Officer who spent 24 years on active duty including tours in cruisers, destroyers and as commanding officer of Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron TWO and Mission Commander of Southern Partnership Station 2013. From May 2011 to May 2015, Bob served on the faculty of the Air War College teaching in the Departments of Strategy and Warfighting. He was the Naval History and Heritage Command 2014-2015 Samuel Eliot Morison scholar and is pursuing his Ph.D. with the Department of Defence Studies, King’s College London where he is researching Air-Sea Battle concepts used to combat A2/AD challenges encountered during the Solomon Islands Campaign.

References

1. John Bullen, “The Japanese Long Lance Torpedo and Its Place in Naval History,” Imperial War Museum Review 3 (1988): 69–79.

2. ‘Development of the Japanese Navy’s Operational Concept against America’, Jisaburo Ozawa in Dillon and Goldstein, The Pacific War Papers, (Washington D.C., Potomac Books Inc., 2005), 74.

3. David C. Evans and Mark R. Peattie, Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1887-1941, Reprint edition (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2012), 7.

4. Bullen, 69–79.

5. Evans and Peattie, 275.

6. Bruce Loxton and Chris Coulthard-Clark, The Shame of Savo: Anatomy of a Naval Disaster, 1st edition (Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press, 1994), 43.

7. Captain Toshikazu Ohmae, IJN Ret., “The Battle of Savo Island,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 83, no. 12 (December 1957): 1263–78.

8. RADM Victor Crutchley, “Solomons ‘Watchtower’ OPS. Guadalcanal – Tulagi. Admiral Crutchley Report T.G. 66.6 Screening Force,” August 13, 1942, National Archives of Australia: B6121, 105A.

9. Eric LaCroix, Linton Wells, and Linton Wells II, Japanese Cruisers of the Pacific War, 1St Edition,(Annapolis, Md: US Naval Institute Press, 1997), 306.

10. Bureau of Ships, “USS QUINCY (CA39), USS ASTORIS (CA34), USS VINCENNES (CA44) LOSS IN ACTION BATTLE OF SAVO ISLAND 9 AUGUST 1942,” War Damage Report (Navy Department, June 21, 1943), The Navy Department Library, http://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/w/war-damage-reports/uss-quincy-ca39-astoria-ca34-vincennes-ca44-war-damage-report-no29.html, 21; Office of Naval Intelligence, “Solomon Islands Campaign II The Battle of Savo Island 9 August 1942 The Battle of the Eastern Solomons 23-25 August 1942,” Combat Narratives (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Navy, October 1, 1943), The Navy Department Library, http://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/s/solomon-islands-campaign-ii-savoisland-III-easternsolomons.html., 10.

11. Bureau of Ships, “USS QUINCY (CA39), USS ASTORIA (CA34), USS VINCENNES (CA44) LOSS IN ACTION BATTLE OF SAVO ISLAND 9 AUGUST 1942”; RADM Victor Crutchley, “Report of Proceedings Operation – ‘Watchtower,’” August 18, 1942, National Archives of Australia: B6121, 105A.

Featured Image: IJN DD  Isokaze at Saeki Bay, October 20, 1941. Colorized by Lootoko Jr. 

Interwar-Period Gaming Today for Conflicts Tomorrow: Press ‘Start’ to Play, Pt. 2

By Major Jeff Wong, USMCR

Interwar-Period Case Studies – Germany, Japan, and the United States

By the beginning of the interwar years, wargaming had gained acceptance among military leaders in Germany, Japan, and the United States. For the German military, Helmuth von Moltke used wargames to train and educate officers at the Kriegsakademie during his tenure as chief of the Prussian and German General Staff from 1857-88. Generations of German Army officers accepted gaming as an essential part of training, educating, and developing leaders, and they continued the practice through the early years of the Second World War. In the late 19th century, German officers passed wargaming to their Japanese counterparts, who expanded the use of gaming for campaign planning and decision-making processes. Wargaming eventually became part of the regular curriculum at the Japanese Naval Staff College, and Japanese naval leaders attributed their success during the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War to insights generated by these games. Students and faculty used wargames to test new ideas about tactical maneuvers, night attacks, fleet formations, principles of engagement, and supporting forces. Unlike the Germans, Japanese interwar-period games gained a deterministic quality, with officers using game insights as evidence to support courses of action that leaders had already favored. In the United States, a Navy lieutenant named William McCarty Little introduced gaming to the Naval War College in Newport during a series of lectures in 1887. The faculty experimented with the new technique in the ensuing years and incorporated it as a regular educational tool in 1893.  During his interwar-period tenure as the president of the Naval War College, Admiral William Sims emphasized the need to test students’ decision-making abilities through the use of wargames: officers with otherwise strong reputations exposed their “lack of knowledge…of the proper tactics and strategy” in the war college game rooms in Newport.

This is the second of a three-part series examining interwar-period gaming. The first part defined wargaming, discussed its potential utility and pitfalls, and differentiated it from other military analytic tools.

Lessons from Germany: Kriegsakademie, Von Seeckt, and the Shared Mental Model

Wargaming realized its potential as a tool for learning in interwar Germany for several reasons. The PME system embraced gaming as a training and educational tool that encouraged introspection about decision-making and fostered subordinate initiative and adaptability. Senior benefactors valued wargames and the insights they generated. Wargames also contributed to a shared mental model about the strategic and operational dilemmas that the country faced upon the outbreak of war. The cultural indoctrination of wargaming expanded in German PME institutions, where officers played games to reinforce learning from lectures and seminars. Senior officers led students on staff rides that integrated elements of wargaming, forcing students to confront operational problems and formulate solutions. They conducted these staff rides and wargames in the regions of Central Europe that would become battlefields by 1939-40, including the areas adjacent to France and the Low Countries in the Second World War’s western theater and regions facing Poland and Czechoslovakia in the east. In order to graduate, every officer who attended the Kriegsakademie learned how to plan a wargame, execute the event, and apply insights toward future planning. After graduating and arriving at their parent units, officers found wargames to be an integral part of their continued maturation as military professionals. Every Wehrmacht unit from battalion or squadron upward conducted games as an intellectual substitute for live-force exercises, which had diminished in frequency due to funding shortages and troop-number restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the First World War.

Senior benefactors in the German Army reinforced the importance of gaming. The post-war restrictions forced the newly appointed chief of the Reichswehr, Hans von Seeckt, to find different ways of ensuring the army adapted after The Great War so hard-won lessons could help inform how they would fight the next great conflict – an inevitability in the eyes of many German officers. In addition to ordering a sweeping review of the German military’s performance during the First World War, the German military chief turned to wargaming to prepare the next generation of officers.

Von Seeckt, an adherent of maneuver warfare, believed that German officers needed to understand the theoretical aspects of warfare to be prepared for a dynamic future battlefield. Wargaming became an essential element of that understanding. He expanded the term “wargame” to include other activities that resemble the modern-day TEWT and TTX, planning exercises (akin to the theater campaign planning central to the capstone “Nine Innings” exercise at the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College), command-post exercises, and terrain discussions. By the end of von Seeckt’s tenure as chief of the general staff in 1926, Reichswehr officers examined Germany’s perpetual strategic dilemma – ensconced in Central Europe surrounded by potential adversaries – through wargames, with leaders at all levels immersing themselves in the details of existing plans, likely enemy reactions to German offensives, and the challenges of the physical terrain across Europe.

Other senior leaders who played wargames in this officer development system eventually used games to plan the opening stages of the Second World War. General Franz Halder, chief of the Army General Staff, commissioned dozens of wargames to examine different options for invading France and the Low Countries in 1940. General Ludwig Beck, chief of the German General Staff from 1935 through 1938, also employed games in his 1936 effort to prepare a new manual of modern operations for the entire army. After he and his advisers had decided on the principles they deemed most important in the new conditions of warfare of their time, they called on “seasoned officers” to test those principles using wargames. In the air, military aviation pioneer Helmuth Wilberg shaped future Luftwaffe operational employment through wargames during his rigorous critique of German air doctrine following the First World War. On the sea, German submarine force chief Karl Doenitz, a future grand admiral, utilized games to explore the employment of U-boats. Doenitz’s games generated new ideas such as wolfpack tactics and suggested that a three-hundred submarine fleet would be necessary to neutralize Allied merchant shipping in the Atlantic.

These wargames exposed strategic and operational dilemmas that fed a shared mental model for Wehrmacht leaders and their subordinate commanders. In this context, mental models comprise the collective tools, products, processes, and experiences that players use to make sense of the world. Games conducted prior to the invasion of France examined various iterations of Plan Yellow, the campaign to invade France and the Low Countries, and contributed to the German military’s shared mental model for how they would fight the next war. Among the numerous versions of Plan Yellow, the German Army General Staff settled on a daring version (some called it “reckless”) that feigned an attack on Belgium and the Netherlands. The feint would distract Allied Forces from the campaign’s main effort – an offensive through the Ardennes Forest that pushed German tank divisions across the Meuse River toward the English Channel, cutting off Allied lines of communication back to France. The wargames featured the services of Lieutenant Colonel Ulrich Liss, an expert on Western military doctrine who role-played as the commander of Allied Forces, French General Maurice Gamelin. Liss’ red cell accurately portrayed the likely Allied reaction – a slow response to a German main effort thrust through the Ardennes. “Liss had come to a view similar to that articulated by Hitler, namely that ‘to operate and to act quickly … does not come easily either to the systematic French or to the ponderous English,’” wrote Ernest May. Liss’ assessment during the games prompted Halder to eventually assign Schwerpunkt, or focus of effort, to Army Group A, which would push through the Ardennes. Colonel-General Gerd Von Rundstedt, commander of Group A, lamented that “the campaign could never be won.” However, the Germans did win, thanks partly to an insight generated by an accurate representation of the enemy as part of wargaming for the campaign. The Allied Forces failed to act quickly enough on the German deception until Group A’s divisions had crossed the Meuse on their way toward the English Channel.

Evolution of Plan Yellow. (Wikimedia Commons)

In the spirit of Auftragstaktik, gaming helped establish the environment that fostered initiative among Wehrmacht subordinate commanders. Officers constantly examined and questioned the assumptions behind their own decisions in wargames, which fostered an environment that encouraged initiative and field innovation. Some subordinate leaders became less afraid to deviate from their original tasks and adjust to evolving situations during combat in order to meet their commander’s intent. During the offensive against France and the Low Countries in May 1940, after General Heinz Guderian’s Panzer Corps crossed the Meuse River at Sedan, he chose to press the attack west with all available forces and drive toward the English Channel, rather than make the doctrinally sound decision of slowing down and strengthening his corps’ bridgehead to the south. In another instance during the campaign, General Erwin Rommel’s Seventh Panzer Division neared the far end of the “extended Maginot Line” at the French-Belgian border – far ahead of his adjacent units – and lost radio communications with his corps headquarters. Rommel’s superiors never issued guidance for this stage of the operation because they did not predict their advance would proceed as quickly and successfully as it did. Like Guderian, Rommel pressed ahead with the assault and pushed his panzers west until he ran short of ammunition and fuel at Le Cateau. “German generals, even German colonels and majors, certainly felt freer to try new approaches and tactics than did their counterparts in the French army or (British forces),” wrote May.

In the Wehrmacht, commanders used wargames to assess their subordinates’ strengths and weaknesses under stress. They also used games to foster trust and understanding between senior and junior officers through teaching moments in the context of the game scenario. These games became “the best way for commanders to make known to subordinates their views on various aspects of warfare,” writes Dr. Milan Vego, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College. “Wargames were an important means for the ‘spiritual’ preparation for war and for shaping unified tactical and strategic views.” Through gaming, leaders established a climate that allowed for mistakes to be studied and encouraged subordinate commanders to adapt their plans to changing realities in battle. The Germans also utilized wargaming to examine evolving principles within the institution about combined arms, armor and maneuver, and air doctrine in order to inform capabilities development and national resourcing decisions that influenced, for example, the manufacture of close-air support platforms over long-range strategic bombers. By the mid- to late 1930s, Germany diverted limited resources to interdiction and tactical support aircraft because of the risk to ground assault upon the outbreak of war in Europe.

In the years after the First World War, wargaming remained a valuable training tool. During games, commanders stressed the importance of a proper commander’s estimate of the situation using imperfect information, logical decision-making, orders writing, and coherent communication of those orders. A game director would conduct a thorough after-action review with participants to discuss what drove commanders’ decisions during the game and offer alternate solutions. After the group adjourned, the game director worked with senior wargame participants to draft reports that identified issues for subsequent exploration in follow-on experiments, live-force exercises, and other wargames.

To complement insights gained from gaming, senior officers also used “operational mission” (Operativ Aufgaben) games to examine future hypothetical war scenarios. Led by senior officers within the Troop Office (or Truppenamtreise, the Reichswehr-era “general staff” entity), up to 300 officers from group commands, divisions, and the schoolhouses collaborated on a potential solution that was written as a study and submitted to the Truppenamtreise for review. In 1931, one such exercise examined a war with France and Czechoslovakia. Two others in 1932 outlined a campaign against Poland.  

German interwar-years gaming enjoyed high-level support, cultural acceptance, and a shared mental model about the next Great War. Training and education that used wargames at the Kriegsakademie laid the foundation for officers to continue the practice at their units later in their careers. Believers such as Von Seeckt, Halder, and Beck integrated wargaming into strategic decision-making for the institution. In the supporting establishment, senior officers continued to wargame institutional issues such as doctrine, resourcing, and manufacturing of capabilities to fulfill projected future Wehrmacht requirements for the next war. German officers utilized wargames to first explore hypothetical strategic and operational dilemmas, then used lessons-learned to better understand campaign plans that served as the opening salvo of Germany’s Blitzkrieg in the European theater. Gaming fostered an environment that encouraged subordinate leaders to adapt, innovate, and develop creative solutions.

Lessons from Japan: Ugaki, Midway, and the Carriers That Wouldn’t Sink

The German example demonstrates wargaming’s promise as a learning and rehearsal tool, but lessons from the Japanese experience highlight potential pitfalls when the tool is misapplied, misinterpreted, or abused to support a predetermined outcome. The Japanese example highlights the benefits of integrating wargaming into the professional development of officers in the schoolhouse, but it also illustrates the potential dangers of unrealistic play and obfuscation of game outcomes.

Japanese planners examining the Pacific theater determined that a bold campaign that relied upon speed, surprise, and near-perfect synchronization would be necessary against American, British, and Dutch forces in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific to establish strategic conditions favorable to the Japanese at the onset of hostilities. Games played a crucial role in supporting Japanese assumptions about the Pacific campaign. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet, directed wargames to support planning for the pivotal campaigns at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and Midway Island in 1942. By the beginning of the interwar period, officers learned gaming at the Japanese War College and Naval War College, just as German military officers did at the Kriegsakademie. Japanese naval officers first wargamed an attack on Pearl Harbor in 1927, when carriers and carrier-aviation capabilities were in their infancy. During these games, two Japanese aircraft carriers (the only ones available in the fleet at the time) supported by an advance guard of submarines, destroyers, and cruisers inflicted only minimal damage on the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Observers criticized the Japanese naval force commander’s decision to attack Pearl Harbor for being rash. Japanese officers continued to wargame to support planning as the army expanded operations into Manchuria and China, and planners intensified the practice starting in 1937 when they started shaping a campaign to defeat British forces in the South China Sea.

Wargames played an integral part of Japanese war planning, with the Navy hosting a series of games prior to the opening campaigns in the Pacific theater. These games included a theater-level wargame that examined the Army and Navy’s opening campaigns in the Aleutian Islands, Pearl Harbor, and the Southwest Pacific, as well as operational- and tactical-level wargames that focused on specific parts of the operations. Fleet commanders and selected staffers participated in several secret games held in fall 1941 in preparation for the Pearl Harbor attack, as well as a series of games played in early 1942 before Japanese attacks across the Philippines, the Aleutian Islands, Guam, the Dutch East Indies, Singapore, and Hong Kong that ultimately stymied U.S. and other allied forces across the region.

Planners used wargames conducted in the fall of 1941 at the Japanese War College to analyze the effectiveness of a surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, as well as allow commanders and planners to rehearse the operation. For the Pearl Harbor wargames, Yamamoto handpicked his participants, which included fleet commanders and their staff. Yamamoto wanted the wargames to generate insights about three critical decisions as part of the attack. First, he wanted to determine the feasibility of the operation. Second, Yamamoto wanted to figure out if the fleet could achieve surprise in the attack. Third, he wanted to examine an optimal route for the approach of the carrier strike group toward Hawaii. Commander Minoru Genda, a trusted confidant of Yamamoto who served as an air officer of the carrier task force that would attack Pearl Harbor, said that the Pearl Harbor wargames “clarified our problem and gave us a new sense of direction and purpose. After they were over, all elements of the Japanese Navy went to work as never before, because time was running out.”

This picture released by the US Navy shows a Japanese mock-up used to plan the attack on Pearl Harbor. Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, Japanese naval attache in Washington, conceived the plan for the attack on Pearl Harbor in January 1941. The Japanese War College worked out the attack from this model, and in September 1941, Japanese carriers and their planes practiced bombing on an obscure island of Japan. Yamamoto had special fins placed on torpedos for the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor. (Official US Navy Photo)

Japanese wargames also had vocal critics. Genda’s direct superior and the commander of the Pearl Harbor strike force, Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, expressed skepticism about the games’ insights about likely Japanese success against the American Fleet. Yamamoto favored a bold attack against the U.S. Pacific Fleet and overruled Nagumo’s chief concern – that massing six aircraft carriers for the Pearl Harbor task force put a significant amount of overall Japanese naval combat power at risk. Vice Admiral Hansaku Yoshioka, among the participants of the Pearl Harbor games, decried the inflation of Japanese capabilities, underestimation of American forces, and umpire decisions that were slanted in favor of the Japanese. The games “epitomized the Japanese penchant for short-sighted, self-indulgent thinking,” Yoshioka told American interrogators following the war. World War II scholars believe this “self-indulgence” came back to haunt the Japanese during wargames before the Battle of Midway, when the Midway game series director, Admiral Matome Ugaki, overturned umpires’ rulings about the sinking of two Japanese carriers by American land-based bombers. Ugaki reduced the number of sinkings to one carrier and allowed the other to participate in the next part of the game – invasions of New Caledonia and Fiji Island.  

Wargaming professionals often cite Ugaki’s umpiring during the Midway wargame as a prime example of a good wargame undermined by leaders with a deterministic bias, but the reality is that wargaming has limitations. A wargame is a good tool to examine decision-making, establish principles, develop insights, and recommend areas for further study. It is not a good tool for predicting the future or generating hard data. In The Art of Wargaming, Dr. Peter Perla reasons that while the Japanese Midway games were “almost certainly biased,” the point that is often overlooked is that the game “raised the crucial issue of the possibility of an ambush from the north; the operators ignored the warning, a warning reiterated by the oft-maligned Ugaki.” This fact suggests that changing the umpires’ ruling of the effectiveness of land-based bomber attack was not necessarily willful ignorance, since B-17s had attacked the Japanese carrier task force on several occasions and failed to score a single hit. Perla writes, “Ignoring or changing the results of a few die rolls did not constitute the failure of Japanese wargaming in the case of Midway; ignoring the questions and issues raised by the play did.” In this case, the wargame generated an insight that key leaders of the actual Midway campaign overlooked. Other Japanese planners believed the principal failure of the game was the “uncharacteristic” play of Captain Chiaki Matsuda, the Japanese officer who role-played as the American commander. In post-war interviews, Genda suggested that Matsuda mirror-imaged Japanese behavior onto the American fleet when it did not sortie for a decisive battle. “His (non-American) conduct of the wargames might have given us the wrong impression of American thinking,” Genda told interrogators.

Much like their German counterparts, Japanese planners during the interwar period integrated wargames into campaign planning. However, the primary difference appeared to be how the game’s sponsors and stakeholders interpreted the game outputs. In the Midway games, biases, poor assumptions, and preconceived notions caused analysts to overlook critical insights and misinterpret gameplay. Like the German wargame from the 1940 France campaign, which was notable for its honest portrayal of the Allied commander, Japanese wargames also show the importance of accurate, balanced “Red” play:  the game must provide a correct picture of an adversary’s capabilities and limitations, then honestly portray how the enemy would fight in a given situation and environment.

Lessons from America: Newport, Carrier Aviation, and the Pacific Campaign

Nimitz understood the challenges of a war in the Pacific thanks to his experiences as a student in the game rooms of the Naval War College. So had Ernest King, William Halsey, and Raymond Spruance – future admirals who commanded task forces, groups, and numbered fleets in the Pacific against Japan. In the two decades between the world wars, U.S. Navy officers cycling between the Naval War College, the operating forces, and influential supporting-establishment institutions generated a shared mental model that focused on the challenges of an impending Pacific campaign against Japan. With the specter of another global conflict on the horizon, they participated in wargames, studies, and exercises in the 1920s and 1930s to explore the wide array of conceptual, operational, and tactical challenges that the bloody stalemate of First World War exposed.  

The Naval War College is the most well-known illustration for American military gaming between the First and Second World Wars. Newport fully embraced wargaming by integrating it into officer PME curricula as the Germans did at the Kriegsakademie. The Newport wargames helped bolster student and instructor understanding about the challenges of operating in the Pacific against the Japanese, and informed studies and exercises for emerging capabilities such as naval aviation, which proved pivotal during the Second World War.  

The Naval War College worked with the Navy’s General Board on future planning scenarios based on various competitors and capabilities. Officials assigned each scenario a color, including Plan Orange for a war with Japan, which formed the basis of many of the games played by students in Newport. Like other Naval War College students, Nimitz wargamed and studied these operational dilemmas during the 1922-23 academic year. In his thesis, Nimitz described the need for seizing advanced bases or developing an at-sea refueling and replenishment capability “to maintain even a limited degree of mobility” against the Japanese. “To bring such a war to a successful conclusion BLUE must either destroy ORANGE military and naval forces or effect a complete isolation of ORANGE country by cutting all communication with the outside world,” wrote Nimitz, referring to the color code-names for the United States and Japan, respectively. “It is quite possible that ORANGE resistance will cease when isolation is complete and before steps to reduce military strength on ORANGE soil are necessary. In either case the operations will require a series of bases westward of Oahu, and will require BLUE Fleet to advance westward with an enormous train, in order to be prepared to seize and establish bases enroute.” Thus, original conceptions of the Pacific campaign featuring the Pacific Fleet’s advance along extended sea lines of communication gave way to an island-hopping approach that allowed American forces to establish advance bases from which to launch air attacks against the Japanese home islands.

At the Naval War College, wargaming enjoyed a powerful benefactor in Admiral William Sims, who commanded U.S. Naval Forces in Europe during the First World War and began a second stint as president of the Naval War College in 1919. He possessed recent combat experience, knowledge of wargaming from his first term as the college’s president, and a sense of urgency to provide future leaders with more opportunities to test their combat decision-making skills and inform future naval innovation. Sims regularly highlighted gaming’s role in a naval officer’s professional development:

“The principles of wargames constitute the backbone of our profession. … In no other way can this training be had except by assembling about a game board a large body of experienced officers divided into two groups and ‘fighting’ two great modern fleets against each other – not once, or a few times, but continually until the application of the correct principles becomes as rapid and as automatic as the plays of an expert football team.”

The War Plans Division of the U.S. War Department gamed elements of American mobilization plans prior to the start of the Second World War, but the national PME institutions embraced gaming as an analytical tool, and none more enthusiastically as the Naval War College. Of more than 300 wargames conducted in Newport during the interwar period, about half focused on campaigns and tactics while the other half gamed theater-wide strategy. Among approximately 150 strategy games, all but 9 explored a possible war with Japan.

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas (standing) confers with (from left to right) General Douglas MacArthur, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Admiral William D. Leahy concerning future moves in the war against Japan, during the President’s visit to Hawaii, 26 July-10 August 1944. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph) 

During games, students prepared plans based on a given scenario. Using their plans as a guide, players manipulated miniature ships on large maps depicting oceans of the world. Participants and umpires consulted charts and tables to determine game-move outcomes based on desired operational and tactical actions. During some games, students playing “Blue” – the United States – prepared and executed plans against classmates who attempted to mimic the doctrine and capabilities of the adversary – eventually Japan. In some cases, game directors ordered the players to switch sides and execute the plans prepared by their opponents. Tactical games proved useful in understanding and testing doctrines for ship movements, particularly the employment of carriers and their supporting vessels.  

The college worked closely with planners at the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) to incorporate elements of Plan Orange into the wargames. College officials sent game insights to OPNAV, which integrated them into the design of the fleet problems. The fleet tested the ideas generated by the wargames during the exercises, the results of which planners sent back to Newport to inform subsequent wargames. “Thus, ideas developed or problems encountered on the game floor were often examined during the fleet problems and vice versa,” wrote Alfred Nofi. For example, during Fleet Problem VII in 1927, war college students played a scenario identical to one being used by naval, air, and ground forces exercising in Rhode Island Sound and adjacent coastal areas.

The relationship between Newport’s wargames and subsequent analyses and exercises proved particularly valuable for the maturation of carrier aviation. In the 1920s, carrier aviation concept development began at the war college, where students and faculty used games to study existing and possible doctrine for fleet employment. The fleet took inferences drawn from the games and operationalized them in maneuvers and mock battles during the fleet problems. Analysts provided an honest evaluation of the exercise results back to the technical bureaus (particularly the Bureau of Aeronautics) and the war college, and the college refined subsequent wargames to reflect insights generated by the exercises. This feedback loop contributed to the realism and creativity of game play at Newport and ultimately led to conclusions about the massing of aircraft for strikes and the need for a coherent air defense plan that integrated anti-air artillery and defensive interceptors during the Second World War.  

It is important to note that the wargames did not reveal the exact force structure, concepts, capabilities, tactics, techniques, and procedures that the U.S. Navy used to defeat Japan. Instead, the games gave American naval officers the analytic space to think and explore those issues. As the Pacific war proceeded, the U.S. Navy adjusted well to the changing realities of the conflict. John Kuehn wrote that the type of navy that America needed “had already been discussed and thought about extensively during the hearings of the General Board, in the classrooms at the Naval War College, at sea, and in the planning cells of OPNAV’s War Plans Division… Applying existing strategic, operational, and tactical solutions and then adjusting them to the realities of war came easier to Navy officers because of their focus over two decades on precisely the strategy and materiel requirements that a Pacific War without preexisting bases demanded.”

For the Americans, wargames allowed planners to explore evolving concepts and shape capabilities, as well as understand the operational challenges of the impending Pacific campaign. To develop new capabilities, wargames supported a cycle of research that informed analyses and live-force exercises in a continual feedback loop. This process reinforced realism in subsequent games and exercises, and a well-informed officer corps that tested and evaluated both types of evolutions. To develop a better understanding of Plan Orange, the Naval War College served as an incubator for creative ideas on how to overcome operational challenges in the Pacific. Through game play, officers learned how to fight against the Japanese, as well as how the Japanese fought. Students who cycled through the game floor at Newport developed a shared mental model that they carried with them to the fleet and eventually to war.

In part three, we will conclude this series by identifying best wargaming practices that can be applied to today’s U.S. defense establishment in order to prepare for future conflicts.

Major Jeff Wong, USMCR, is a Plans Officer at Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Plans, Policies and Operations Department.  This series is adapted from his USMC Command and Staff College thesis, which finished second place in the 2016 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategic Research Paper Competition.  The views expressed in this series are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.  

Endnotes

1. Milan Vego, “German War Gaming,” Naval War College Review 65 no. 4 (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College, Autumn 2012), 110.

2. Francis J. McHugh, Fundamentals of War Gaming (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College, 1961), 39.

3. David C. Evans and Mark R. Peattie, Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1887-1941 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2012), 73.

4. McHugh, Fundamentals of War Gaming, 57.

5. Eric J. Madonia, “Preparing Navy Officers for Leadership at the Operational Level of War,” paper for the Naval War College (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College, March 5, 2010), 8.

6. Vego, 110-111.

7. Rudolf Hofman, “German Army War Games,” Art of War Colloquium (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, 1983), 6.

8. Vego, 114.

9. Ibid.

10. U.S. Marine Corps University, “About Exercise Nine Innings,” (Quantico, VA: U.S. Marine Corps University), July 20, 2015 (accessed March 8, 2016): http://guides.grc.usmcu.edu/9innings2015.

11. Ernest R. May, Strange Victory: Hitler’s Conquest of France (New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 2000), 258.

12. Peter Perla, The Art of Wargaming (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990), 42.

13. Phillip S. Meilinger, The Paths of Heaven: The Evolution of Airpower Theory (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: School of Advanced Airpower Studies, 1997), 171.

14. Vego, 130-131.

15. May, Strange Victory, 465

16. Ibid, 258.

17. Ibid, 465.

18. Ibid, 263.

19. Auftragstaktik is an approach to command in which a commander issues to a subordinate an intent for a given mission, and the subordinate is given the freedom to independently plan and execute the mission. This mindset gave subordinates flexibility in deciding how to accomplish an  assigned mission within the framework of the intent. Michael D. Krause, “Moltke and the Origins of the Operational Level of War,” Historical Perspectives of the Operational Art, Michael D. Krause and Cody R. Phillips, eds. (Washington, DC: Center for Military History, 2005), 141. 

20. Karl-Heinz Frieser, “Panzer Group Kleist and the Breakthrough in France,” Historical Perspectives of the Operational Art, Michael D. Krause and Cody R. Phillips, eds. (Washington, DC: Center for Military History, 2005), 173.

21. Ibid, 175-176.

22. Ibid, 176.

23. May, Strange Victory, 459.

24. Vego, 115.

25. Jonathan M. House, Toward Combined Arms Warfare: A Survey of 20th-Century Tactics, Doctrine, and Organization (Fort Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1984), 52.

26. Meilinger, The Paths of Heaven, 173.

27. Vego, 115.

28. Ibid, 129.

29. Ibid, 117.

30. Evans and Peattie, Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1887-1941, 469-470.

31. Martin Van Creveld, Wargames: From Gladiators to Gigabytes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 168.

32. Ibid, 167.

33.  Ibid.

34. Gordon W. Prange, At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1991), 225.

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid, 234.

37. Thomas B. Allen, “The Evolution of Wargaming: From Chessboard to the Marine Doom,” in War and Games, ed. Timothy J. Cornell and Thomas B. Allen (San Francisco, San Marino: Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Social Stress, 2002), 234.

38. Prange, At Dawn We Slept, 234.

39. Ibid.

40. McHugh, Fundamentals of War Gaming, 40.

41. Ibid.

42. Perla, The Art of Wargaming, 47.

43. Ibid.

44. Ibid.

45.  Gordon W. Prange, Donald M. Goldstein, and Katherine V. Dillon, Miracle at Midway (New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 1982), 35-36.

46. Ibid.

47. Allen, “The Evolution of Wargaming,” 233-234.

48. Edward S. Miller, War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1991), 2.

49. Williamson Murray, “Red-Teaming: Its Contribution to Past Military Effectiveness,” DART Working Paper 02-2 (McLean, VA: Hicks and Associates, September 2002), 42.

50. Chester Nimitz, “Thesis on Tactics,” written for his master’s thesis at the Naval War College (Newport, RI: Naval War College, 1923), 35.

51. Admiral Sims is also the only active-duty U.S. naval officer to receive the Pulitzer Prize.  During his second tour as the Naval War College president, he wrote Victory at Sea and won for history writing.

52. McHugh, Fundamentals of War Gaming, 64.

53. Students at the Army War College, Army Command and General Staff College, and Marine Corps Command and Staff College also participated in wargames during the interwar period.  McHugh, Fundamentals of War Gaming, 53.

54. Van Creveld, Wargames, 166.

55. McHugh, Fundamentals of War Gaming, 53.

56. Van Creveld, 166.

57. John T. Kuehn, Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet That Defeated the Japanese Navy (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2008), 12-13.

58. Alfred A. Nofi, To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940 (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College Press, 2010), 20.

59. Ibid.

60. Williamson Murray, “Innovation: Past and Future,” in Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, eds. Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 316.

61. Kuehn, Agents of Innovation, 13.

62. Thomas C. Hone, Norman Friedman, and Mark D. Mandeles, “Innovation in Carrier Aviation,” Naval War College Newport Papers 37 (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College Press, August 2011), 157-158.

63. Murray, “Innovation: Past and Future,” 316-317.

64. Kuehn, Agents of Innovation, 178.

Featured Image:  NEWPORT, R.I. (May 10, 2016)
Peter Pellegrino, U.S. Naval War College’s (NWC) senior military analyst for wargaming, briefs participants of a wargame reenactment of the Battle of Jutland at NWC in Newport, Rhode Island. During the wargame reenactment, Rear Adm. P. Gardner Howe III, NWC president, commanded the German High Seas Fleet and retired Rear Adm. Samuel J. Cox, director, Naval History and Heritage Command, commanded the British Grand Fleet.
(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist James E. Foehl/Released)