WW2 PACIFIC, The Early Years
Questions and Answers of Strategic Significance.
- The Wasp air group had received training in night operations and wanted to launch to the scene of the Battle of Savo Island. Yet you say this idea was foolish.
- Foolishly brave ; a combat man wants to ride to the sound of gunfire. However the
request was turned down by his admiral, Noyes, and not forwarded to the Task Force
commander, Fletcher. Night carrier operations were not authorized until later in the war when airborne radar could accompany the flights. The strategy in early August was to reserve the carriers to fight the Japanese Mobile Fleet (carriers) and not to risk them just to seek revenge against secondary ships. The expected carrier battle came two weeks later and Fletcher sank his sixth Japanese carrier ( 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 ! ) while driving off the invasion fleet double his size.
Imagine yourself taking off in a 1939 USN torpedo bomber. (A modern Cessna has superior performance and electronics). You takeoff is at night, you fly 140 miles and begin to look around. What do you see? You see lights from some ships and drop down to look them over. They shoot. If you shoot back you are attacking our rescue operations. In the hour it took you to get there, did the enemy penetrate the Sound to attack the transports? There is one ship burning brightly, but it had been hit by aircraft the previous day. After being shot at by several friendly ships - that you have caused to interrupt their unloading at the beachhead - you head out to the open sea. Gradually extending your search you find the iridescent wake of a ship - it is a US submarine. During the time you have been flying the Japanese have
retreated towards their regional naval and air base at Rabaul and beyond your range to find them.
* Running low on fuel you return to your ship -- which had to stay where you can find it, thereby hampering its mobility and ability to hide in a rain-squall. While cruising back, in dawn's early light, you spy another group of airplanes following you, they are torpedo bombers like you. Then another group of airplanes, these are the superior Japanese zeros coming to shoot you down. Your fighter protection of inferior Wildcats had to leave you several hours ago. You race towards our CAP, which go to interrupt the Japanese torpedo planes. They shoot down several but over half launch torpedoes and half of those hit. You, as the sole survivor of the US bombers, crash in the sea near a destroyer where they rescue you, but they are delayed in their efforts to save hundreds of sailors on your sinking carrier. That carrier is not available to drive off the Japanese invasion force now forming and two weeks later the Japanese annihilate our remaining fleet and the Marines on Guadalcanal.
That is why to launch would have been foolish ! And why it wasn't done.
Fletcher spent too much time refueling.
- At sea refueling allowed fleets to stay at sea for weeks rather than the typical
prewar, combat cruise of 2,000 miles in 10 ten days of the Atlantic Neutrality Patrol.
The US approach was to bring a tanker and warship on a parallel course, then fire
a line across, that was used to drag a cable across, and then a hose was strung between
the two ships. Obviously station keeping of speed and separation was critical. The Brits
used a technique of trailing a hose from a tanker; the hose was caught and manhandled
on the warship. The Japanese later developed at sea refueling which allowed their
arrival at the Eastern Solomons earlier than intelligence expected.
That Fletcher refueled too often is an idea initiated by Morison who misunderstood fuel consumption.
The thing Morison didn't recognize was that average fuel consumption increases during
air operations and at combat speeds. Ship fuel consumption is at a rate about the square of the increase in speed. To go from cruising at 15 knots to air operations at 30 knots increases fuel consumption four-times. Destroyers designed for convoy escort at 10 knots consumed fuel nine-fold when accompanying air operations at 30 knots. Later destroyers, Gearing class, had 14 feet added to increase bunkerage so as to allow them to keep up with carrier task forces, but they did not reach service until 1945.
Lets consider each of Morison's critiques.
Wake Island. Fletcher had steamed over 2,000 miles and was closer to
Tokyo than Pearl Harbor when he refueled his destroyers while waiting for Lexington to join up with him for the expected battle. Admiral Ply canceled the mission before the joining occurred, perhaps correctly because Fletcher was between two Japanese forces.
Coral Sea. Fletcher had refueled both of his task forces before the battle. His tanker was sunk and not available to refuel the fleet after the battle. We're glad he had topped off.
Midway. Everybody had topped off while waiting to ambush the Japanese fleet so that fuel was not a concern in the battle. He sank four Japanese carriers.
Savo Island. When Fletcher took his carriers off the battle line he
asked that a tanker be sent to refuel. He was expecting battle with the Japanese Mobile Fleet (carriers) which could not be fought with empty fuel bunkers. This is the worst of
Morison's mistakes. He calculated fuel remaining, not fuel required for the coming fight. And then he used average consumption rates, not those for combat.
Eastern Solomons. Fletcher refueled his three carriers in rotation so that two were ready to fight at all times. When the battle came, he sank his sixth Jap carrier and drove off an invasion fleet twice his size, saving Guadalcanal. True, the 3rd carrier was not able to engage, but would it have been better to have three carriers on station, all low on fuel and unable to fight, or all three carriers off refueling at the same time and none on station which would give the Japanese free use of the seas around Guadalcanal?
- Marines tell of the Great Navy Bugout, saying the carriers left 12 hours early.
Fletcher committed to use his strategic carriers to cover the landing at Guadalcanal for two days if things went as planned. The landing was virtually unopposed on the ground, but in the air,
the enemy sent torpedo carrying, land based, multiple engine bombers
to seek ships, sinking and damaging several. The carriers had
entered the zone overnight Thursday arriving to launch covering air flights all day Friday and Saturday, and deciding Sunday morning they did not need to be there, so left the zone at 0530 Sunday morning. The chance to shoot down a few more aircraft at the risk of losing carriers was against orders. (Two weeks later those carriers beat off a large Japanese fleet attempting to land reinforcements on Guadalcanal.) By not coming back Sunday, some Marines consider the Navy had left them undefended and cite as proof that carriers began flight operations Monday and ended flights at dusk on Tuesday, therefore they left 12 hours early, when in fact, well over two days were spent in the zone. I am writing a book,
"How to Lie with Numbers" and this example will be included.
- How Old is Old for a Warship in WW2 ?
- The oldest active warships in service today are the aircraft carriers:
Kitty Hawk CV-63 (1961 / 46 years) forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan .
Enterprise CVN-65 (1961-/ 46 years) out of Norfolk .
Recently retired is Kennedy CV-67 (1968-2007 / 39 years) .
Of interest to WW2 Pacific, the "old" carriers, these fine big ships were
Lexington CV-2 (1927 / 14 years) and Saratoga CV-3 (1927 / 14 years).
Unfortunately Lex was lost at Coral Sea. Sara survived the war but was put to specialized service towards the end.
The much maligned "old", 4-stack, flush deck, WWI destroyers had been authorized
for that war, but were completed in 1918-20, so in 1941 they were only about 22 years old ;
no wonder Churchill wanted them. The Spruance class of destroyer was retired in 2005, they were
commissioned in 1975 / 30 years. If we went to war today, the older USN carriers when compared to WW2 dates, would
be the equivalent of fighting the Pacific War with ships built in 1895.
The thing about war is that we may not have the several years of warning that is
required to design, build, and train for new state-of-the-art means; wars are fought with what you have when the shooting starts. We can be thankful that the very few US carriers in WW2 were fairly new. Keeping current is expensive and not always effective. Twelve new battleships were building or entering the fleet in 1941 to fight a previous war, none did the job intended and two were canceled. But what are the alternatives? The price of
security is not cheap.
Written in 2004, updated for 2007 to adjust the numbers.
- What errors did Marc Mitscher make with the Hornet?? -- Larry H
- To start with, his two squadrons of bombers missed contacting the enemy, allowed the fourth enemy carrier to survive and this caused loss of the Yorktown (one quarter of the Pacific fleet). His squadron of fighters had to ditch in the sea because the ship was not where she said she would be. A carrier is not very effective without combat aircraft on the target.
Now, in explanation. Mitscher and Hornet had never been in combat. Fresh from shakedown, she took Doolittle's bombers towards Japan, rushed towards the Coral Sea which took place before he could get there, and entered the Battle of Midway unbloodlied. He seems to have had a fine
deck crew, his planes were always ready to take off and launched is less time than the more experienced Enterprise crew. This is good and was needed, because the even newer-to-carriers Spruance seemed to be overwhelmed with the details of Enterprise that he seemed to forget about Hornet and on both attacks flashed a message at the last moment, in essence, we are taking off, want'a come along.
Mitscher did not give instructions to his squadron leaders of
where to find the enemy. Without a target, two squadrons of dive bombers (enough to sink two enemy carriers) where out for a pleasure flight.
He did not follow the path of Point Option. Point Option is the moving location of where the carrier will be during each flight, so that planes know where to get back to. Short-legged fighters went into the sea. Most of the bombers were running out fuel, several crashed, most landed on Midway instead.
Mitscher received a notice that the Japanese fleet had changed course, he could have told his planes then in the air, headed for nowhere, where to find the enemy. Instead he respected radio silence , This may have been at Spruance's order, but it almost lost the battle and prolong the war.
Mitscher launched his short range fighters first and the slow torpedo planes last. The first launched circled while others were launched. Whereas the more experienced Yorktown launched slow
torpedo planes first, dive bombers next, and sent the faster fighters to all catch up over the target.
On the second attack, trying to join with E and Y planes to get
the carrier H had not seen the first time out, Mitscher launched the
junior pilots, then decided to turn towards the enemy, away from the wind needed to launch the flight leaders, and then sent the airborne half of
the bomber group on without leadership or the latest intelligence.
The Task Force Commander's ship, Yorktown, provided scouting;
when she was knocked out of service, Enterprise and Hornet had to pick up that task -- and did not.
Mitscher was made Rear Admiral four days before the battle, but remained aboard Hornet as captain. Admirals are held to a higher level of exceptional decision making. Unfortunately, Mitscher showed he needed more time training and was sent ashore (to a job he was well qualified for and necessary) for a couple more years before coming back to command the carriers at the end of the war.
- Why were American submarines only active in the Pacific Theater?
- The Atlantic was too crowded. A fleet submarine was only attacked by aircraft on leaving the West Coast and in approaching and leaving Pearl Harbor, then could count on long stretchers of high speed travel on the expanses of the Pacific before getting to it combat zone. A squadron of fleet boats was based in Scotland where they were subjected to constant attack near the British Isles. Sent to participate in the North
African invasion, they were attacked by every nation. They were withdrawn in 1943 and sent to join the rest of the subs in the friendlier Pacific.
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Page created August 5, 2003. Last updated Aug 31, 2007.