Appendices - Hirohito's War
APPENDIX G: COULD JAPAN HAVE WON THE PACIFIC WAR?
Weapons that could have won Japan the War: In the aftermath of the Washington Naval Conference , new weapons were developed by Japan to overcome what they saw as its unfair and strategically critical numerical disadvantage in capital ships. The Type 93 torpedo, which became known as the ‘long lance’ after the war, was developed to provide an attack range that would give the Japanese Navy an advantage in the anticipated decisive battle between battleships. By devising a fuel feed-in system that changed from compressed air on firing to pure oxygen, Japan’s torpedo designers were able to increase the range of their torpedoes by 500 per cent as well as the size of their warhead. [See Appendix A Submarines] For Japan’s destroyers and cruisers the torpedo became the primary weapon of attack. In surface engagements such as the Battle of Savo Island and the Battle of Tassafaronga, the ‘long lance’ proved a devastating weapon. For the Japanese navy the ‘long lance’ torpedo, rather than guns became the main weapon of attack. It was an advantage enhanced by Japan’s abilities in night fighting, which had been honed during the interwar period. It was potentially a war-winning weapon.
In tandem with the development of the Type 93 torpedo for aircraft, the Navy also developed the similar though slightly smaller Type 95 for submarines. Indeed in the interwar period the Japanese Navy put a high degree of emphasis on submarine development, which was not controlled by the limits of the Washington Conference. However while the Japanese Navy produced numerous innovative designs, particularly for cargo submarines and aircraft carrying submarines that dwarfed in size those produced by the United States, they suffered from relative structural weakness, which made them more susceptible to depth charges. Most importantly the Japanese Navy failed to come up with a design, which could be mass-produced. [See Appendix A Submarines]
Japan’s super-battleships, Musashi and Yamato (along with two others planned but never built) were also designed to be war-winning weapons when their keels were laid in 1934. Their size enabled them to carry larger guns that could project shells some five miles further than their US counterparts – a considerable advantage in a classic surface action. Unfortunately for Japan many of their own Admirals, including Yamamoto and Inoue, considered them ‘white elephants’ for a future they believed belonged to the aircraft carrier. That is not to say that aircraft carrier development was ignored. Indeed Japan’s carriers were a match for those of the United States – at least in attack. In defence it would later become apparent that there were defects in Japanese carrier design, notably their enclosed hangar decks, their fuel tanks, their failure to install self-sealing fuel lines and their relatively scant fire fighting drills.
However the development of the Mitsubishi Zero as a carrier fighter gave Japan a significant advantage at the start of the war. Furthermore the development of long-range aircraft, both bombers and torpedo planes would give their carriers first strike advantage in any carrier-on-carrier battle. Perhaps most importantly Japan had given consideration to operational techniques in terms of coordination of aircraft for mass attack, which were vastly superior to those of the US Navy. By Nimitz’s own admission his carriers were completely outmatched at the beginning of the Pacific War by the superiority of Japan’s flyers and their weaponry.
At the beginning of the war Japan had distinct advantages in key areas of naval weaponry, submarines, torpedoes, battleships, carrier aircraft as well as important operational advantages including flying ability, coordination of air attack, range advantage and night fighting. These advantages, combined with US technical deficiencies, particularly in night fighting, aircraft and torpedoes could have enabled Japan to achieve overwhelming naval victories at the start of the Pacific War – victories possibly decisive enough to force an advantageous peace treaty on the United States.
As I conclude in Appendix A: Submarines: Japan was ‘undone by the failure of the Japanese Navy to develop war-winning tactics for their underwater weapons. Stuck between defensive and offensive priorities, the Imperial Japanese Navy developed a conservative, preservation oriented command strategy that negated their submarines’ devastating offensive potential. The emphasis on the overly cautious pursuit of US warships, meant that Japan’s submarines never fully exploited their potential to disrupt the long supply routes from America through the Pacific Ocean. Poor strategic thinking also undermined a building program, which was too scattergun in its approach, producing technologically innovative designs without consideration of the advantages of mass production of a few types of submarine. One can only imagine how the Pacific War might have been different if Japan, instead of wasting vast resources on the outdated battleship behemoths, Musashi and Yamato, had concentrated resources instead on the mass production of long distance submarines designed to sink US commercial ships.’
Even these failures may not have mattered if Japan rather than the United States had achieved the first overwhelming naval victory of the war at the Battle of Midway. In large part Japan’s failure in this battle can be attributed to failures of strategy and to one important area of weaponry in which it failed completely – namely intelligence. Given Japan’s belief in the importance of surprise it is curious that they failed to develop either good offensive intelligence or good counter-offensive intelligence. For all their superiority in weaponry at the start of the Pacific War, Japan’s failure to adequately protect or change their communication codes doomed them to be the surprised rather than the ‘surprisers’ in almost every engagement after Pearl Harbor.