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How Japan Will Be Defeated
January 1944 Popular Mechanics

May 1968 Popular Mechanics
May 1968 Popular Mechanics - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic over early technology. See articles from Popular Mechanics, published 1902 - 2021. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.


How Japan Will Be Defeated

U. S. Navy photos

A Navy dive bomber comes home safe from a Pacific raid. Below, a destroyer claims two Jap ships and five planes downed in combat

By Frederick L. Oliver

Captain, U. S. Navy (Retired)

Japan did not make the momentous decision to strike simultaneously against the world's two greatest naval powers in the belief that its outnumbered force of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers could prevail against the battle line its enemies could muster.

We now know the Japanese based their hope of quick victory on airpower projected from carriers and island air bases. They were so confident of success that, misled by early triumphs, they were foolish enough to visualize Hawaii, Alaska, and the west coast of the United States as ripe plums practically within their grasp, and even indulged in the bombastic prophecy of peace terms being dictated by them in the White House.

By astute dissemination of misleading information and rumors over a period of years, Japan had concealed the extent to which it had developed its airpower, and succeeded in creating the impression that great difficulty was experienced in obtaining well qualified pilots, in particular pilots who could successfully operate from carriers.

Bluejackets pass the ammunition to feed a 40-millimeter Bofors antiaircraft gun aboard an aircraft carrier

As a result of clever propaganda and the security of information afforded by racial characteristics and language difficulties, Japan was able to enter the war with a much greater carrier and air strength than had been considered possible. It does seem that we were remiss in not having reached a more considered estimate of what to expect from Japan's repeated attempts to bring about the outlawing of airplane carriers, the secrecy with which its naval building program was shrouded, and its spy complex.

PT boats sweep the seas with guns, torpedoes, depth charges

In launching the unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese gambled on delivering a blow that would practically immobilize the United States Navy, and they succeeded to an extent probably beyond the expectations of the most air-minded Japanese admiral. Fortunately they did not follow up the advantage with a thrust in force to seize the Hawaiian Islands. Why they passed up their golden opportunity will not be known until Tokyo's archives can be scrutinized.

Old Glory still flies above the Hornet after a Jap dive bomber has crashed into signal bridge during the battle of Santa Cruz Islands. Below, one of the fast-growing fleet of escort carriers

The prewar Pacific Ocean naval campaign plans of the United States should have and unquestionably did provide for all likely contingencies, but the possibility of incurring what amounted to an immobilization of our force of battleships without a corresponding or greater loss being inflicted on Japan probably was given little thought, and it is to the eternal credit of our Navy that it promptly put into effect plans which utilized its remaining strength to good advantage. Relief of the Philippines, Guam and Wake was out of the question, but a succession of spectacular effective raids on widely separated Japanese outposts not only resulted in sinking several enemy carriers, but left Japan to speculate where the next blow would fall, and prevented a total mobilization of its naval forces for the operations that struck at Midway and the Aleutians.

Japanese airpower successfully paced the campaigns which overran the Philippines, Singapore, Burma, and the Netherlands East Indies and portions of Melanesia. In these areas the Allies did not have sufficient air strength to counter the pent-up flood of planes so unexpectedly loosed by Japan, and making additional planes available was contingent on transportation facilities as well as the diversion of effort between the two main theaters of war in accordance with the overall strategy adopted. This strategy gave top priority in planes to the European area, and in the Pacific we had to operate against Japan with such resources as could be made available.

It was immediately apparent that Japanese designs on Australia must be frustrated at all costs, and that our long line of communication over which supplies flowed to the South Pacific must be made safe.

Gunner of Navy fighter plane gives his weapon a last swing before takeoff

Japan had lost no time in advancing the island bastions which form the outer defenses of its homeland. Strategic Rabaul in New Britain was an early conquest, and the project was afoot to overrun all of New Guinea to provide bases from which the invasion of Australia could be projected. In addition, an ambitious island by island advance through the Solomon Group was undertaken with the ultimate objective of gathering in the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, the Fiji group and probably Samoa, thereby placing the Japanese astride the long Allied supply line from Honolulu.

Pushing a Grumman "Wildcat" from carrier's elevator to takeoff position

These projects were nipped in the bud by the last ditch stand in Southeastern New Guinea which developed into a valiant Allied push that has all but eliminated the Japanese as a factor in New Guinea, and the now historic campaign that ejected the Nipponese from Guadalcanal.

At one of the South Pacific island stepping stones to Tokyo a crane helps a truck ashore from a supply barge

Our attack on Guadalcanal was exquisitely timed when the airfield under construction by the Japanese was within a few days of completion. Due to unforeseen difficulties, reinforcements and supplies were slow in arriving, but American grit prevailed over Japanese fanaticism, and the previously invincible Nipponese warrior had his ego deflated. How far the virus of defeat will percolate among the Japanese remains to be seen, but no nation can experience such a one-sided and devastating trouncing by land, sea, and air as the Japanese underwent in Guadalcanal and the subsequent actions in the Solomons without loss of morale.

In particular was demonstrated the weakness of Japanese aviation - the arm to which Japan had looked for reaping an early victory. Not only were Japanese planes tumbled out of the skies at a ratio at times of as high as 25 or more for every United States plane, but their loss of planes reached such a staggering total that Japanese air strategy must be in course of revision.

Japan is becoming more and more unable to cope with the growing United States sea and air power in the Western Pacific and the Aleutians. Its losses of planes and ships, both naval and commercial, have been in excess of replacements, whereas Allied strength in all categories increases daily.

The strategy open to us in the Pacific hinges to a certain extent on the progress of the war in Europe, but it is interesting to examine the various possibilities.

Japan is an island empire. It is as much dependent on sea-borne transportation as Great Britain, and its lines of communications must be afforded protection by its navy and air strength. How much remains of the Japanese Navy and air force we do not know, because there are no reliable statistics of Japan's pre-war strength, its losses, and replacements. However, there is good reason to believe that both of these arms are greatly reduced in strength, and in addition it is evident that the present crop of Japanese fliers is distinctly inferior in skill, training, and technique to the carefully trained aviators who manned the vast number of planes Japan has lost since Pearl Harbor. The Japanese fleet has become increasingly reluctant to offer battle, and well it may, because all that stands between Japan and defeat is the remains of a once formidable fleet. Consequently the primary strategy of the Allies in the Pacific is to destroy the Japanese fleet either piecemeal or in a major engagement.

From the Flight Control post on one of our newest carriers the Flight Operations Director watches a Douglas "Dauntless" dive bomber get away

Torpedomen watch from the turret above a destroyer's quadruple tubes. Below, flame and metal spew from 40.millimeter Bofors antiaircraft guns - rapidfire automatics that have an impressive record against Jap planes

Whatever strategy is adopted in the Western Pacific will have the ultimate objective of striking at the Japanese Islands, because there lies the core of Japanese resistance, and in or-der to dissipate the Japanese menace for all time it is necessary that the myth of their homeland being inviolate be dispelled.

The following courses of action in the Pacific are open to the Allies either singly or in various combinations:

1. Attack Japan via China.

2. Attack Japan from the Aleutians, possibly making use of Siberian bases.

3. Isolate and take strategically located Japanese bases in the Mandated Islands, and eventually retake the Philippines to provide bases from which Japan's vital lines of Communication can be severed.

4. Wage a war of attrition on Japanese naval and merchant vessels.

5. Make a direct attack on the Japanese Archipelago.

Bristling with 3-inch guns, 20-mm. Oerlikon antiaircraft guns and depth charges, destroyer escorts (right) are deadly against subs. Below, pilot and gunner were unhurt when this "Dauntless" nosed over on the carrier's deck

Flash-protected muzzles of twin .50-caliber guns on PT boats swing in wide arc against Jap planes

One of the Navy's "Fletcher Class" destroyers, built in 1940, knifes along the road to Tokyo

Examining these procedures in order, we find the route into China is long and tortuous except by sea, and there the Japanese Navy stands in the way. The project of reopening the Burma Road seems definitely set for the near future, but let there be no delusion about the capacity of this route. In good repair and under expert supervision it cannot handle sufficient supplies to support a major campaign. The most that can be expected from the Burma Road is transportation of enough gasoline to maintain an air force in China strong enough to prevent Japanese planes from operating in that area, fly nuisance bombers over Southern Japan, and provide sufficient supplies to keep China in the war.

The northern route via the Aleutians is a long haul, and the Japanese have only recently evacuated Kiska Island, putting us in full control of the area. The tentative bombing raids made on Paramushiro, Japan's most northern base in the Kurile chain of islands, may be preliminary to an attack in force. It would be possible to work down the Kuriles and eventually be in position to launch attacks on the main Japanese islands. This method would have the advantage of utilizing the shortest line of communication between the United States and any Japanese objective, but the Japanese Navy would have to be reckoned with. Too much confidence should not be placed in the use of Siberian bases. The matter of supplying them with gas, oil, bombs, and other material is difficult. Perhaps it was for a similar reason that the raid on the Ploesti oil fields was made from Egypt rather than a Russian base which would have cut some 700 miles from the 2,400 miles that had to be flown.

The difficulty of jumping from island to island has been demonstrated in the Guadalcanal and Munda campaigns. We were inexperienced in combat, and for a time had difficulty in putting supplies into Guadalcanal, but there was no such alibi for Munda where it required more than a month for a vastly superior force to knock out some 5,000 Japanese.

What can be expected when we tackle Rabaul or Truk where the Japanese have had ample time to develop strong defenses, and can be depended on to offer strenuous resistance? Such a campaign can be successfully waged, but the time and effort necessary can be put to better use. An out and out attack on the Philippines will result in a major campaign that will ravish the archipelago from end to end.

A war of attrition has been underway since the beginning of the war with beneficial results. Japan has lost more than 500 ships of various categories, over 200 being merchant vessels. Most of its carrier strength has been sunk or severely damaged. Several battleships, more than 40 cruisers, and destroyers by the dozen have gone down. In the Solomons since June 30 of this year 6 or 7 cruisers and 15 to 17 destroyers were accounted for. This toll is telling. In place of cargo ships the Japanese have now begun to use small barges where there is danger of attack.

Reports have been circulated that a dearth of rice in Japan has been caused by insufficient shipping to transport this staple from Burma and Indo-China. The war of attrition is working, but the Japanese still fight.

A direct attack on the Japanese homeland sounds chimerical, but perhaps it is the quickest way to win. However, it cannot be undertaken until the Japanese fleet is out of the way.

Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander-in-Chief of the United States Navy, was recently reported as having forecast powerful and crippling blows on strategic Japanese positions in the Pacific. He remarked that our operations in the Pacific have been more than holding efforts in that they were offensive in principle. He then went on to say that the plan is being followed to undertake further offensive operations designed to cramp the enemy's communications and inflict material damage.

Between the lines of this statement can be read the basic plan of campaign that probably will be followed. The first objective is the Japanese fleet and air force. Attacks on widely separated Japanese positions such as Rabaul, Paramushiro, and Burma can be developed into simultaneous campaigns. The defense of any of these areas will require all the support that can be afforded by the Japanese Navy and air force. In other words it is expected that these arms will be forced to give battle. Such was one of the unheralded objectives of the Guadalcanal campaign, and the resultant destruction of Japanese planes and naval units was in accordance with expectations.

It has been estimated that by the beginning of 1944, the Allies can muster in the Pacific a naval force of about seven times the strength of Japan's in most categories. This strength will permit every point taken under attack by the Allies to be served by a naval force strong enough to handle whatever disposition of forces Japan makes of its navy. If the Japanese decide to support with their entire navy anyone threatened area at the expense of the others, the result will be one big bag of Japanese ships for the Allies. If Japan disperses its fleet, the several forces will be dealt with separately. Should Japan desert its outposts by withdrawing its fleet to the security of home waters, then one or another of the several Allied campaigns can be pushed to conclusion. Japan will be virtually blockaded by disruption of its lines of communication, and supplies without limit can be poured into Chinese ports.

If the Japanese "save face" by sending their fleet out to destruction, it will be possible to effect Allied landings in Japan. We have learned how to handle such matters, and fighting across the cleared fields of Japan is to be preferred to the muck, insects, and heat of the tropics, and should incur no greater loss in personnel, perhaps less.

All we need to permit us to initiate a campaign that will end with a parade of triumphant Allies down Tokyo's Ginza is control of the sea and air in the vicinity of the Japanese Archipelago.

(The opinions contained in the above article are those of the writer and are not to be considered as reflecting the views of the Navy Department or of the naval service at large.)




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