Appendices - Hirohito's War
OIL, RAW MATERIALS, AND LOGISTICS: ‘JUST START SWINGING’
Japan’s Oil and Tanker Logistics: If the US had been in the process of preparing for the oil logistics of the Pacific War, the Japanese government was completely unprepared. At the outbreak of war, Japan had just 49 tankers with an aggregate 587,000 tons. By contrast Britain had 425 tankers (3m tons) and the US had 389 tankers (2.8m tons). The problem for Japan was not one of capacity. In 1937 Japan had double the amount of the shipbuilding capacity of the United States.
However by 1941 the war with China and the build up of Japanese naval capability squeezed its commercial shipbuilding capacity. In 1936 Japan built 442,000 tons of merchant shipping and 55,000 tons of warships; four years later the tonnage of commercial ships built had fallen to 237,000 tons while the tonnage of naval vessels built had increased 400 percent to 225,000 tons. Moreover 33 percent of all Japanese imports and an even higher percentage of its oil imports were transported in foreign ships. Japan could never build enough tankers to keep up with its empire’s ability to produce oil. This should have been evident to Japan’s leaders long before Vice-Admiral Lockwood’s Submarine Force started to make huge inroads into Japan’s commercial fleet in mid-1943. Although the Ministry of Communication worked with the Navy to produce standardized designs, Japan did not have the ability to expand shipbuilding capacity to meet its commercial needs nor to match the United States, which was able to expand its shipbuilding capacity exponentially. ITL Class tankers and their successor 2TL Class, with a deadweight of 15,600 tons, 526ft length and 65ft beam, most closely resembled America’s T-2; just 14 were built in 1943. Although Japan managed to build 27 in 1944 and 18 in 1945 it was too little too late. In addition to the ITL and 2TL Classes, Japan also produced a smaller ocean tanker, the ITM Class with 10,435 tons deadweight, 416ft length and 24ft beam; six were produced in 1942 and the final run of 26 were produced in 1943.
During the course of the entire war Japan managed to produce just 1.2m tons (DWT) of new front line tanker capacity. By comparison the United States, already possessed of the world’s second largest tanker fleet to Britain’s first position, was able to build 0.5m tons (DWT) in 1942, 2.2m tons in 1943, 3.7m tons in 1944 and 2.5m tons in 1945.
The only Japanese tanker produced in quantities comparable to America was the 2TEd Class tanker which was a purely coastal vessel one-fifteenth the size of the ITL and 2TL Classes. Nine were produced in 1943, a further 112 in 1944 and 17 in 1945. Some 62 percent of Japan’s internal trade was carried by coastal vessels, a lot of it by 18,800 Kihansen (junks). The need for coast vessel capacity was inevitable given Japan’s limited railway network and mountainous geography. With 12,700 miles of line, Japan had about half the capacity of the UK though its population was 55 percent larger. Such was the shortage of Japanese rail capacity during the war that Japanese citizens had to apply for permits to make train journeys.
Having pinned its entire war strategy on the acquisition of oil wells in the Dutch East Indies and to a less extent in British Borneo and Burma, whose aggregate output could in theory have replaced oil imports from California, Japan never had enough oil tankers to sustain the required supply. As a result, within two years of the start of the Pacific War Japan needed to base the combined fleet in southern waters around Singapore, thereby obviating its greatest theoretical advantage over the United States, namely its shorter internal lines of communication and supply.
Furthermore domestic production fell far short of the projections of the Synthetic Oil Industry Law of 1937 that set down a plan to produce 18.2m barrels per annum by 1941. In reality production reached less than 8.3 percent of target. Domestic crude synthetic oil production never reached more than 15 percent of consumption. Remarkably Japan’s logistic planning was such that the country went to war with the United States in order to be able to sustain a supply of oil to continue to make war with China, but never even managed to achieve its primary objective of replacing its imports of oil from California. Thus by March 1945, Japan’s reserves of oil which had stood at 20m barrels in December 1941 had fallen to 200,000 barrels.