Pacific War series

Picard

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This will be a series of posts about World War II in the Pacific, based in part on Boris Prikril's series Pakao Pacifica though obviously using other sources as well.

Pacific War 1 – Preliminary Moves – History and War (wordpress.com)

Road to the Pacific War

Beginning of the war in the Pacific came unexpectedly, at least for some people. Attention was on Europe, where war had been raging for two years. Poland had been invaded by Germany and USSR in September 1939., and USSR invaded Finland in November of the same year. After that, Germany conquered country after country – with Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, France, Albania, Yugoslavia and Greece all falling in short order. In Asia, the war between Japan and China was already old news.

The war continued on. Air campaign over Britain captured and kept attention of the public. Even more so did the war in the North Atlantic, employing significant resources on both sides, as both knew the naval campaign was a key to either maintaining or neutralizing Britain. Stakes were increased even further when Axis powers invaded the Soviet Union. Massive expansion of war saw millions more troops thrown into combat, and millions of people were displaced or saw their homes destroyed. Soon, Leningrad was surrounded and Moscow was expecting an attack.

It is thus not surprising that nobody had cared what was happening in Asia. Eastern Asia and Pacific Ocean seemed calm: Japan had taken some areas of China, but they soon stopped with no plans for new advances evident. All of this, however, was soon to change.
 

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Pacific War 2 – Attack on Pearl Harbor – History and War (wordpress.com)

While this was understood only by a few people, by 1941. Japan and the United States had been on a collision course for a whole decade. Slide towards the conflict started arguably in 1902., with the signing of the Anglo-Japanese alliance between the Great Britain and Japan. But that the two countries were on a collision course only became clear in 1931., when Japan conquered Manchuria. In 1937., Japan also invaded northern China, and two years later its attention turned southwards with the conquest of island of Hainan. After it, Japan turned its attention onto Malaya, Phillipines and the Dutch East Indies. United States, by contrast, were supporting the Japan-hostile government of Chang Kai Shek, and also European colonial efforts in Asia. This was happening right at the time when Japan was repeating the parole of “Asia to Asians”. Japanese kept talking about the great eastern sphere of common progress, while they were in fact searching for the natural resources their islands did not have.

Fall of France in June 1940. gave Japan a good excuse to send troops to French Indochina, and on 27th September it signed a Tripartite Pact with the Axis powers. As US sympathies were clearly with the Allies, President Roosevelt introduced an embargo on all key materials except for oil. Japanese called this confrontation of two powers Taihei-yono-go: “Cancer of the Pacific”. Attempting to find a diplomatic solution, Japanese government recalled a retired admiral Kichisaburo Nomura, assigning him as a Japanese ambassador to United States in January 1941. But plans were already being made for war, and the US sanctions only increased Japanese determination to fight. US ambassador to Japan, Joseph Grew, correctly predicted that Japan will “rather carry out a national harakiri than bow under foreign pressure”.
 

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Pacific War 3 – Preparations Before the Invasion of Malaya – History and War (wordpress.com)

Introduction – the Strategic Realities

Malaya had for long time been safe, but this had rapidly changed in the last decade. Japanese imperial ambitions had led them to sieze and annex Manchuria in 1931 – 1932. In 1934, Japane renounced the Washington agreements, and in 1937 invaded China. Meanwhile, tensions had been rising in Europe, with British being well aware that the policy of appeasement will only delay war, not prevent it – yet that was the time they desperately needed.

Singapore Naval Base was officially opened in February 1938., but it became clear that deploying a large fleet to it would be impossible. After the fall of France and Italian entrance to war, British had to suspend their plan to send a large fleet to Far East. Even so, decision was made to defend Singapore, which would be a British centre of gravity in the Far East. Japanese Army had been tied down in China, which meant that there would be time enough to deploy reinforcements. But the plans did not foresee direction of war in 1940. and 1941., with British suffering a defeat after defeat. As a result, no reinforcements were available when Japan attacked.

Japanese themselves exploited situation in Europe to full. After the fall of France, Japan was able to secure permission from the Vichy French government to occupy French Indochina. This greatly increased threat to Singapore, as now Japanese ground troops and air bases were in range of Singapore. At the same time, strong American reaction to Japanese expansionism meant that war was Japan’s only choice, as it could not give in to American demands.

When Germany attacked USSR in June 1941., Japan had a choice to attack either Russia or Great Britain. But several factors pushed towards the latter, most importantly the fact that Russian Far East did not have all the resources that Japan needed to support its economy. Thus, a decision was made to occupy Malaya and Dutch East Indies. Occupation of the French Indochina fulfilled a major strategic prerequisite, allowing Japan to directly threaten both Malaya and Singapore. But it also meant that Japan was locked on a war path: occupation of Indochina meant that United States, Britain and Netherlands all slapped embargo on Japan, and with no access to oil, Japan had to turn to conquest in order to secure oil supply.
 

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Pacific War 4 – Sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse – History and War (wordpress.com)

Introduction

According to the Japanese war plan, attack on Pearl Harbor was merely a side note – an attack whose main purpose was to enable the conquest of southeastern Asia. While the attack on Pearl Harbor was prepared in strict secrecy, preparations for the conquest of southeastern Asia were made out in the plain sight – both to help divert attention from preparations for attack on Pearl Harbor, but also because any possibility of serious resistence in the area was unlikely to the point of fantasy.

Yet these areas were extremely important due to raw resources they would provide to Japanese industry and war potential. Attack was to be executed in multiple areas and by multiple groups simultaneously, to deny enemy the time necessary for organizing resistence. Forces were thus split accordingly, and protection was provided by the Southern Fleet under command of vice admiral Nobutake Kondo. This fleet was divided into main group, group for Philippines, and group for Malaya. Independent of the fleet were small naval detachments meant for conquest of isolated US bases in the Western Pacific.

Main group of the southern fleet consisted of battleships Haruna and Kongo, aircraft carriers Ryujo and Sunyo (sic!; perhaps Junyo), heavy cruisers Atago and Chokai, as well as a destroyer flotilla. Philippines group consisted of seaplane carriers Noturo and Kumikawa Muru, heavy cruisers Ashigara, Haguro and Myoko, old cruisers Nagara and Kuma, and three destroyer flotillas. Malaya group consisted of four new heavy cruisers of Mogami class: Mogami, Mikuma, Suzuya, Kumano, a destroyer flotilla and three submarine flotillas. These forces were tasked with protecting extensive landing forces and auxilliaries. Groups also received extensive ground-based air support, with the Philippines group receiving 175 aircraft and Malaya group 550 aircraft. Navy also provided 300 aircraft for the Philippines group and 150 for the Malaya group. Navy also left 275 aircraft as a reserve in Japanese bases.

These large forces penetrated into Southeast Asia according to a very detailed plan, based around a series of simultaneous or quickly successive landings – just at Philippines, landings were made at nine different places. Normal pattern of Japanese amphibious landings was to choose a place within strike range of land-based air bases, so that carrier air wings could always be held in reserve for a potential naval battle. Invasion would open with massive air strikes against air bases, followed by naval and air bombardment of the landing area. Finally, landing would be undertaken, again with support of aircraft and ships. Ships used for shore bombardment were destroyers and light cruisers, with heavy cruisers being utilized only on occasion, and battleships never, so that the fleet was always ready for a potential naval battle. Each landing group had its own screening forces of cruisers and destroyers. In the rear was the majority of the southern fleet of admiral Kondo, consisting of fast carriers and fast battleships, in order to intercept any potential enemy fleet attacks against the landing area.
 

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Pacific War 5 – Conquest of Malaya and Singapore – History and War (wordpress.com)

The Action off Endau

The loss of Prince of Wales and Repulse brought an effective end to the naval portion of the campaign. Only British naval presence were light RN units, but these were focused on escorting convoys into the fortress and in any case could not contest control of the South China Sea with the Imperial Japanese Navy.

One exception to this reluctance came in the later part of the campaign as the British forces were retreating towards Singapore. Japanese conducted a logistics operation on the south-east coast of Malaya, which had been scaled down from the original plans for a full landing operations due to concerns for British air and naval intervention. And this intervention did happen. Percival believed assault on Endau to be capable of cutting off the British force retreating into the fortress, and thus the Royal Navy decided to attack the assault force with whatever was available.

The Japanese landing was carried out by two IJA transports carrying construction stores, ordnance and personnel to set up an airfield. These were escorted by 3rd Destroyer Squadron, consisting of a light cruiser, six Fubuki-class destroyers, and five large minesweepers. RAFs repeated attacks achieved nothing despite the loss of 15 aircraft, and the only naval units available were the 23 year old S-class destroyer Thanet and the 25 year old Australian V-class destroyer Vampire. Two destroyers carried 4-inch guns and a total of seven torpedoes.

HMAS Vampire
The small force departed Singapore on the afternoon of 26th of January, with the intention of carrying out a night attack. Destroyers sailed close to shore, sneaking past the Japanese destroyer patrols, but were spotted within anchorage by a minesweeper W-4. Vampire launched two torpedoes at the minesweeper at 2:42 but both missed. Failing to find the transports, two destroyers launched all their remaining torpedoes at a Japanese destroyer, and retreated at high speed to south-east. But their luck ran out, and within minutes Thanet was hit in the engine room by a 5 inch shell. Shell severed both main and auxiliary steam lines, leaving Thanet dead in the water. Of its crew, 65 were able to evade capture and return to Singapore, 12 were killed in action, and 32 were captured by the Japanese and later executed. Vampire escaped with the help of its smokescreen, and suffered no damage or casualties.
 

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Pacific War 6 – Battle of Hong Kong – History and War (wordpress.com)

Preparations for the attack on Hong Kong started on Saturday 6th December 1941., when a large number of Japanese civilians left the colony following instructions from Tokyo. Japanese were already on the move against the Pearl Harbor and the Philippines – latter of which they regarded as a “pistol aimed at Japan’s heart”. On 27th November the US Navy Department sent out a despatch, stating that “This despatch is to be considered a war warning … an aggressive move by Japan is expected within the next few days … the number and equipment of Japanese troops and the organization of naval task forces indicates an amphibious expedi#tion against either the Philippines, Thai or Kra Peninsula, or possibly Borneo.”.

US Ambassador in Tokyo, J C Grew, believed that the Japanese negotiations with the Americans in Washington were intended to conceal war preparations, and that the attack might come suddenly. His warning was confirmed by intercepted secret messages from Tokyo to Washington; they stressed the urgency of bringing the negotiations to a favourable conclusion by 29th November since “after that [date] things are automatically going to happen”. Roosevelt concluded that America was likely to be attacked within a week.
 

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Pacific War 7 – Invasion of Philippines – History and War (wordpress.com)

Background and Forces
US forces

Philippines, rich islands which United States owned ever since the US-Spanish war, were important to Japanese for many reasons. They were a rich source of raw materials, but more important was their strategic location. Located between Japan and Southeast Asia, Philippines would allow the US Navy to interdict any traffic in the area. Even just military presence in the Philippines could be used to deter Japanese aggression – and military presence there was significant. Conquest of Philippines would also make conquest of Indonesia much easier, as land-based aircraft could be based close to their targets. Nevertheless, some in Washington believed that the Philippines did not represent an object of great strategic value.

US command knew that Philippines could not be defended. Philippines were close to Japan and far from the US mainland, which meant that the Japanese would have advantage in logistics. Moreover, proximity of Japan and its naval bases meant that the Japanese Navy could interdict any attempts to supply or reinforce the islands. Archipelago itself consisted of over 7 000 islands, and the main naval base located in Subic Bay was difficult to defend. Nevertheless, Douglas MacArthur had strong force of 80 000 soldiers, of which 19 000 Americans. Most of the USAFFE consisted of infantrymen, but there was also a large contingent of coastal artillery units used to guard fortifications that protected Manilla and Subic bays. Ground forces in general were predominantly infantry, with some artillery and armored cars, but no tanks. MacArthur also had 277 aircraft, of which 107 modern fighters and 35 flying fortresses – a total of 142 aircraft capable of serious combat. Majority of commanders were American, and they had taken over command and training of most Philippino Army throughout the fight.


While Philippine Army troops were numerous, they lacked modern weapons, training, equipment and experienced commissioned and non-commissioned officers. While MacArthur had envisioned Philippine Army as being based on the Swiss model of a small professional army filled out with disciplined reservists, threat of Japan had forced him to start mobilizing the troops. Lack of time he had to carry out his plans meant that Filipino units had to be mobilized despite lacking training, equipment, uniforms, rations and other necessities. Estimated total strength of PA was 120 000 troops, but soldiers and officers alike lacked training. Diversity of dialects also caused communications issues, and many soldiers lacked basic educations. Lack of trained officers meant that American officers had to assume command of battalion and higher level units as the war progressed.

MacArthur thus, in addition to hastily training the troops, placed much faith in airplane as an equalizer. He hoped that advanced B-17 bombers and fighter aircraft could compensate for his lack of trained and equipped ground forces. Far Eastern Air Force was a small but growing component of the USAFFE. MacArthur had hoped to use the air power to stem the Japanese, and by December 8 the FEAF had a sizable force. Fighters consisted of modern Curtiss P-40 and obsolete Seversky P-35A fighters. In total, there were 277 aircraft, of which 107 P-40B/E, 52 P-35A and 35 B-17C/D. MacArthur also wanted PA to have its own air force. AAF officers and enlisted personnel thus had to train Filipino Air Corps personnel in required tasks, but this was a slow process. By August 1941., PAAC had 500 personnel organized in six squadrons. As new B-17s and P-40s arrived, obsolete aircraft such as B-10 and P-26A were transferred from USAAF to PAAC.

US Navy’s Asiatic Fleet also maintained forward presence in the region. Commanded by Admiral Hart, it had numerous submarines. Available surface units were limited: heavy cruiser USS Houston, light cruiser USS Marblehead, as well as a number of World War I era destroyers gunboats and support ships. Also present was Motor Torpedo Squadron 3 consisting of six patrol torpedo (PT) boats. The Asiatic Fleet also had Patrol Wing 10, consisting of 24 PBY Catalina aircraft and four seaplane tenders. On December 8, most of the destroyers and the USS Marblehead had deployed to Borneo. However, the lack of Navy transportation and escorts limited the ability to reinforce the islands even before the war. Majority of the effort had to be directed to an undeclared, but hot, war in the Atlantic. Main base was at Manilla, but there was also a major base in Olongapo in the Subic bay.

As the war started looking inevitable, United States looked to defense of their positions in the Philippines, Hawaii and elsewhere. On 16th of August, MacArthur received word that Washington would start shipping reinforcements no later than 5th September. These included several tank battalions, 200th Coastal Artillery Regiment for AA support, an ordnance battalion, and more self-propelled, 75mm M1897A4 gun Motor Carriage M3 halftracks capable of providing direct fire support and armor-piercing capability.

75 mm M3 GMC
The 192nd and 194th Tank Battalions came from Army National Guard units and formed the Provisional Tank Group. Group was armed with M3 Stuart light tanks, whose 37 mm guns were highly effective against lightly armored Japanese tanks. MacArthur could count on getting 108 M-3 Stuarts and some M3 75mm M3 halftracks.

MacArthur had also received SCR-270, 272, and 371 air radar-warning units, but only one set was operational at Iba. While 60th and 200th Coastal Artillery Regiments were present, they did not have enough weapons to protect the airfields, the fortified islands at Manila Bay’s mouth, Subic Bay, Manila, and other bases. Anti-aircraft defenses were limited to 24 machine guns at Clark Field and Manilla. FEAF aircraft would have to be protected by a combination of combat air patrols and dispersal of aircraft to secondary airfields.

Japanese forces
Japanese forces in the area were also significant. The Japanese Southern Expeditionary Army, with headquarters in Saigon in French Indochina, consisted of four numbered armies of which 14th was designated for the Philippines operation. Japanese forces had been mobilized and many were already bloodied in China, giving them much needed experience. However, both IJA and IJN had to spread their forces across multiple concurrent operations.

14th Army, which was a designated spearhead of the attack, consisted of 16th and 48th Divisions as well as a garrison unit, the 65th Independent Mixed Brigade. Two divisions and brigade were infantry units, with each division numbering 20 000 troops. Homma also had two tank regiments, two regiments and a battalion of medium artillery, three engineer regiments, five AAA battalions and other support units. The 16th Division had served in Manchuria and fought in Northern China from 1937 to 1939, but had a mixed combat record. It consisted of 9th, 20th and 33rd Infantry Regiments. The 48th Division had a Formosan mixed brigade consisting of 1st and 2nd Formosa Infantry Regiments and the veteral 47th Infantry Regiment which had combat experience from China. Each division also had organic cavalry for reconnaissance, transport, artillery and engineer regiments.

Masaharu Homma
The Imperial Japanese Army Air Force contributed the 5th Army Air Force Division to the Philippines campaign, commanded by Lieutenant General Hideyoshi Obata. This division had 4th Army Air Force Division at its disposal, composed of four sentais (groups). The brigade had various types of bombers, as well as Nakajima Ki-27 Nate fighters which had fixed landing gear and were overall not very good. In fact, they struggled to defeat even the obsolete Allied aircraft they faced early in the war, and limited range meant they could not reach central Luzon from Formosa. Obata could also use the 10th Independent Hikotai. This unit contained Mitsubishi Ki-15 reconnaissance, Mitsubishi Ki-36 air cooperation, and transport aircraft. But much like Ki-27, all IJAAF aircraft had limited range.

The IJN dedicated the 3rd fleet under vice-admiral Ibo Takahashi to support the IJA’s invasion of the Philippines. The fleet was to take the Philippines and later Borneo and the Celebes. Takahashi’s force was to destroy the US naval forces, cover and support the IJA landings, and after the conquest, protect IJA supply lines and reinforcements. Takahashi had light carrier Ryujo available to conduct operations beyond the range of Japanese land-based aircraft. Majority of the fleet consisted of surface combatants: 5 heavy cruisers, 5 light cruisers, 29 destroyers, two seaplane tenders and some torpedo boats and minesweepers. Most cruisers, destroyers and minesweepers were assigned to Surprise Attack Forces consisting of transports. Five attack forces were aimed, respectively, at Aparri, Vigan, Batan Island and Legaspi.

Japanese aircraft carrier Ryujo
IJNAF proved itself very valuable early in the campaign. IGHQ planners assigned the 11th Air Fleet to the campaign consisting of the 21st and 23rd Air Flotillas based in Formosa. The 21st Air Flotilla provided Mitsubishi G4M1 (Betty) and G3M2 (Nell) twin-engine long-range bombers, but more valuable was the 23rd Air Flotilla. This flotilla consisted of fighter forces, whose naval fighters had longer range than the IJAAF ones. IJNAF pilots did fly Mitsubishi A5M4 fixed landing gear fighters, but its most important contribution was the longer range, Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter, which outclassed any FEAF fighter in the Philippines. Out of 304-aircraft strong IJNAF force, 108 were Zero fighters. These could reach targets in central Luzon, including the main FEAF base at Clark Field and Manila.
 

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