Manual Combat Carriers: USN Air and Sea Operations from 1941

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After Midway, and the exhausting attrition of the Solomon Islands campaign , Japan's shipbuilding and pilot training programs were unable to keep pace in replacing their losses while the U. Military historian John Keegan called the Battle of Midway "the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare. Guadalcanal, fought from August to February , was the first major Allied offensive of the war in the Pacific Theater. This campaign saw American air, naval and ground forces augmented by Australian and New Zealander forces in a six-month campaign slowly overwhelm determined Japanese resistance.

Guadalcanal was the key to controlling the Solomon Islands , which both sides saw as strategically essential. Both sides won some battles but both sides were overextended in terms of supply lines. The rival navies fought seven battles, with the two sides dividing the victories. Each of the sides pulled out its aircraft carriers, as they were too vulnerable to land-based aviation. In preparation of the recapture of the Philippines, the Allies started the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign to retake those islands from the Japanese in summer Enormous effort went into recruiting and training sailors and Marines, and building warships, warplanes and support ships in preparation for a thrust across the Pacific, and to support Army operations in the Southwest Pacific, as well as in Europe and North Africa.

The Navy continued its long movement west across the Pacific, seizing one island base after another. Not every Japanese stronghold had to be captured; some, like the big bases at Truk, Rabaul and Formosa were neutralized by air attack and then simply leapfrogged. The ultimate goal was to get close to Japan itself, then launch massive strategic air attacks and finally an invasion. Navy did not seek out the Japanese fleet for a decisive battle, as Mahanian doctrine would suggest; the enemy had to attack to stop the inexorable advance. The climax of the carrier war came at the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

Taking control of islands that could support airfields within B range of Tokyo was the objective. The previous week an even bigger landing force hit the beaches of Normandy—by the Allies had resources to spare. The Japanese launched an ill-coordinated attack on the larger American fleet; Japanese planes operated at extreme ranges and could not keep together, allowing them to be easily shot down in what Americans jokingly called the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. Japan had now lost all its offensive capabilities, and the U. It was entirely an air battle, in which Americans had all the technological advantages.

It was the largest naval battle in history to date, surpassed only by the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October The American 5th Fleet covering the landing comprised 15 big carriers and planes, plus 28 battleships and cruisers, and 69 destroyers. Tokyo sent Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa with nine-tenths of Japan's fighting fleet—it was about half the size of the American force, and included nine carriers with planes, 18 battleships and cruisers, and 28 destroyers.

Ozawa's pilots boasted of their fiery determination, but they had only a fourth as much training and experience as the Americans. They were outnumbered 2—1 and used inferior equipment.


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Ozawa had anti-aircraft guns but lacked proximity fuzes and good radar. Ozawa gambled on surprise, luck and a trick strategy, but his battle plan was so complex and so dependent on good communications that it quickly broke down. The Japanese ships would stay beyond American range, but their planes would have enough range to strike the American fleet. They would hit the carriers, land at Guam to refuel, then hit the Americans en route back to their carriers.

Ozawa counted heavily on the or so ground-based planes that had been flown ahead to Guam and other islands in the area. The invasion of Normandy, France, was the largest and most complex amphibious operation of all time. Casualties were remarkably light, with the Germans having hardly any airpower or seapower to combat it.

The navies used , British, 53, American, and men from other allies. In addition there were 25, sailors from the Allied merchant navies. Okinawa was the last great battle of the entire war. The goal was to make the island into a staging area for the invasion of Japan scheduled for fall Marines and soldiers landed on 1 April , to begin an day campaign which became the largest land-sea-air battle in history and was noted for the ferocity of the fighting and the high civilian casualties with over , Okinawans losing their lives.

Japanese kamikaze pilots exacted the largest loss of ships in U. Total U. The fierce combat and high American losses led the Navy to oppose an invasion of the main islands. The eventual bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki , along with the Soviet invasion of Manchukuo , led to the Japanese surrender in August Technology and industrial power proved decisive. Japan failed to exploit its early successes before the immense potential power of the Allies could be brought to bear.

In , the Japanese Zero fighter had a longer range and better performance than rival American warplanes, and the pilots had more experience in the air. High tech innovations arrived with dizzying rapidity. Entirely new weapons systems were invented—like the landing ships, such as the 3, ton LST "Landing Ship Tank" that carried 25 tanks thousands of miles and landed them right on the assault beaches. Furthermore, older weapons systems were constantly upgraded and improved. Obsolescent airplanes, for example, received more powerful engines and more sensitive radar sets.

One impediment to progress was that admirals who had grown up with great battleships and fast cruisers had a hard time adjusting their war-fighting doctrines to incorporate the capability and flexibility of the rapidly evolving new weapons systems.

The ships of the American and Japanese forces were closely matched at the beginning of the war. By the American qualitative edge was winning battles; by the American quantitative advantage made the Japanese position hopeless. The Kriegsmarine , distrusting its Japanese ally, ignored Hitler's orders to cooperate and failed to share its expertise in radar and radio. Thus the Imperial Navy was further handicapped in the technological race with the Allies who did cooperate with each other. The United States economic base was ten times larger than Japan's, and its technological capabilities also significantly greater, and it mobilized engineering skills much more effectively than Japan, so that technological advances came faster and were applied more effectively to weapons.

Above all, American admirals adjusted their doctrines of naval warfare to exploit the advantages. The quality and performance of the warships of Japan were initially comparable to that of the US. The Americans were supremely, and perhaps overly, confident in Pacific commander Admiral Chester W. Nimitz boasted he could beat a bigger fleet because of " The American battleships before Pearl Harbor could fire salvos of nine 2,pound armor-piercing shells every minute to a range of 35, yards 19 miles. Only another battleship had the thick armor that could withstand that kind of firepower.

When intelligence reported that Japan had secretly built even more powerful battleships, Washington responded with four Iowa -class battleships two of which were used a half-century later in the Gulf War.

The US Navy Aircraft Carriers

Their doctrine was utterly out of date. Konoye himself had been threatened with assassination if he made too many concessions, and there had been serious attempts to overthrow the emperor in favor of his brother or his son. Hirohito knew that his dynasty itself could be wiped out like the Romanovs or marginalized, as the Japanese themselves had done to the Korean royalty, if he bowed to demands that the Japanese saw as not merely insulting but insane. Yamamoto, who spoke fluent English, had studied at Harvard, and in happier times had hitchhiked across the United States, knew that Japan could not conquer, or even defeat, the United States.

The Japanese grand strategy, if war could not be avoided, was to inflict enough damage and seize enough territory that the Americans would guarantee Japanese sovereignty in return for an armistice and restoration of all or most of what Japan had taken outside Korea and perhaps Manchuria. Theoretical plans for a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had existed for decades.

General Billy Mitchell had warned as early as that the next war would be fought with aircraft carriers. The Navy judges ruled that it would have sustained substantial damage if the attack had been genuine, and the attackers won the war game. Yamamoto had delivered his updated contingency plan for an attack on Pearl Harbor on January 7, , less than a month after the British aerial torpedo attack on Taranto.

By the summer of , Korean patriots who kept an ear to the wall at the Japanese consulate in Honolulu through Korean servants and loyal Japanese-Americans were picking up rumors of intense Japanese interest in the depth of water in the harbor and the strengths and weaknesses of Army and Navy installations in Hawaii. War was now the only alternative to economic strangulation and political revolution. On December 1, , the emperor met with his privy council. The emperor—perhaps more gun-shy than the elder statesmen—asked for a vote. The cabinet voted unanimously for war.

Hirohito agreed. Kurusu and Nomura—who had been sincere in seeking peace until they received the Hull note—were told to stall for time. Tojo summed up the situation: Japan, the one Asian, African, or South American nation that had modernized instead of being colonized, could not accept the American demands without riots at home, revolt in Korea, and reversal in Manchuria. Japanese strategy in Pearl Harbor was based on relying on naval airpower over land-based planes.

This is a customary approach to war today, but in it was a radically new form of warfare that challenged conventional wisdom in the still-early days of aerial combat. The oceanic route to Pearl lay along a tangled path of diplomatic, military, and economic concerns. Japan, increasingly aggressive, began fighting China off-and-on in , going at it full time starting in President Franklin D.

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Roosevelt took action, ordering an oil embargo in July, and the next month Washington warned the Japanese of possible consequences if they attacked nations beyond China. Tokyo took little heed. Determined to avoid capitulation to what they considered foreign extortion, the cabinet of General Hideki Tojo opted for war. With less than two years of oil reserves, Tokyo had to act quickly and decisively.

He knew America well, having served there twice between the wars, and he realized that a pre-emptive strike was essential to the success of Japanese strategy—if success were possible at all. The Imperial Navy was well versed in all three, but the harbor presented a problem: the average depth was barely forty feet, and Japanese torpedoes needed twice as much to recover, rise to the desired depth, and run safely.

Ordnance engineers found an inspired solution. Once in the water the wooden fins were released and the Type 91 torpedoes sped on their way. Last-minute tests confirmed the theory. On the morning of Sunday, December 7, , the aircraft carrier was much like the proverbial musician who works twenty years to become an overnight sensation.


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  • When the Imperial Navy stunned the world with the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan and the United States had two decades of experience operating carriers, perfecting equipment and techniques; thus it was no surprise that Japanese strategy was so advanced. Both navies had commissioned their first flattops in , and they had experienced a parallel development. They embarked some bombers, torpedo planes, and fighters, while battleships and cruisers operated catapultlaunched floatplanes. The carriers were escorted by two battleships, three cruisers, nine destroyers, and nourished by seven tankers.

    The latter were more important than the fourteen escorts, as the striking force could not reach Hawaiian waters and return without replenishing at sea. Kido Butai sortied from the Kurile Islands on November Crossing the North Pacific under radio silence, the task force avoided detection during the ten-day transit. Meanwhile, submarines had already departed home waters and bases in the Marshall Islands. Japanese strategy in Pearl Harbor was well-planned but at the same time put together at the last minute. Emperor Hirohito had approved war against the Western powers barely a month before the attack, but he did not grant approval for the Hawaii operation until December 1.

    Pacific Fleet that might have been recalled in flight. Instead, it flew straight to its target. But the message from Tokyo took too long to decode, so the mission proceeded as a surprise. The attack precipitated boiling anger throughout America, fueling a surging rage that never abated until V-J Day.

    While the leading squadrons winged southward, Kido Butai continued as briefed.

    Battle of Midway

    At the second wave of planes lifted off its decks, comprising fifty-four level bombers, seventy-eight dive bombers, and thirty-six fighters. My bombers, meanwhile, made a circuit toward Barbers Point to keep pace with the attack schedule. Sold for scrapping May Scrapped 4 Feb Stricken from the Navy List 1 May Stricken from Navy List Sold 9 Sep , but contractor defaulted. Repossessed by the Navy and contract terminated 30 Jul Sunk off coast of Florida 17 May for use as articifical reef.

    Never completed nor commissioned. Stricken from the Navy List 1 Dec USS Franklin D. Roosevelt CVB Name changed to Arlington 8 Apr and served as an communications relay ship until decomm. Converted to and commissioned 11 May as a command ship.

    Battle of Midway

    Active -- see Fact File. USS Dwight D. Eisenhower CVN USS John C. Stennis CVN