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Midway SubmergedAN ANALYSIS OF AMERICAN AND JAPANESE SUBMARINE OPERATIONS AT THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY, JUNE 1942
By Mark W. Allen
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Mark W. Allen
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMIDWAY SUBMERGED: INTRODUCTION
Midway was the decisive battle.—John A. Adams
The battle of Midway is one of the most analyzed battles of the Pacific Theater during World War II. Most historians focus on the carrier battle between Japanese and American forces, a battle ultimately decided by naval air power. The operational objectives for the Japanese at Midway were clear. The first phase of the operation would focus on the invasion and capture of the island itself. The second Japanese objective was to draw out the U.S. Pacific Fleet to engage and destroy it in a decisive battle. Once the 3,500-troop strong Japanese invasion force secured Midway, Japanese forces would reposition themselves around Midway to intercept and destroy the U.S. fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto anticipated would sail in defense of Midway. In total, Japanese forces included eleven battleships and four carriers, as well as assorted cruisers and destroyer squadrons, troopships and supply ships.
Opposing the Japanese armada were three U.S. carriers and a mixed bag of planes stationed at Midway. Many historians have described the battle both from the Japanese perspective and from the American viewpoint of how, in a matter of minutes, American dive-bombers destroyed three Japanese carriers and sank a fourth later that same day. In comparison, American forces lost only one carrier. Some claim Midway was an intelligence victory; the United States capitalized on it while the Japanese ignored it. Others state luck played a big part. Regardless of what historians say, they all agree that naval air power won the battle.
What historians have not focused on at any great length or in detail are Japanese and U.S. submarine operations before, during and after the battle. Most historians criticize Admiral Chester Nimitz, claiming he should have placed his submarines farther away from Midway to strike at the Japanese carriers before they could launch air strikes against the island. However, Nimitz assigned U.S. submarines to defensive roles to act as a strike force against a Japanese amphibious assault on Midway and left U.S. carrier aircraft to strike at the Japanese carriers. It was a matter of mobility and defense, and Nimitz correctly assigned his available assets to their proper role.
Discussions by historians that do address submarines at Midway seem to focus on their failure. Most historians and some Japanese military leaders claim the late arrival of one of the Japanese submarine scouting lines significantly contributed to the Japanese defeat. For example, "Among the several factors that contributed to the Japanese disaster at Midway, the failure of Subron 5 took high place." or "This delay in stationing submarines is considered to be a major flaw in the Japanese plan."
From the American perspective, historians almost exclusively claim Nimitz and Admiral Robert English deployed U.S. submarines too close to Midway, which prevented their offensive deployment against the Japanese carrier Striking Force. Some examples include:
Whoever created the submarine plan, it was bad. Most of the submarines were disposed for a concentrated defense close in to Midway, instead of being offensively placed farther out where they may have had an opportunity to torpedo a Japanese carrier before the decisive battle.
U.S. submarines had been poorly deployed to intercept the Japanese fleet attacking Midway. They were too close to the island. They needed to be much farther away to spot, report and attack the Japanese carriers heading for Midway.
The placement of submarines at Midway and poor command and control by the CINC and ComSubPac precluded their massing to attack in concert with Midway based and carrier-based aircraft. better placement of the arcs further out would have reduced submarine transit time as well as allowed the submarines to attack and disrupt the force before the arrival of U.S. aircraft.
Normally, discussions concerning American and Japanese submarines center around these topics and only in generalities, claiming that both sides failed to use their submarines correctly and successfully.
To understand failure or success of Japanese and American submarine's at Midway, we must understand the following relationship:
Doctrine -< Strategy -< Tactics -< Deployment
In essence, this states that tactics define submarine deployment. Tactics are a by-product of strategy and strategy develops from naval doctrine. Leaders of the postwar maritime countries not only believed in battleship supremacy but also shared a philosophy about the role of sea power in national defense. They all subscribed to the tenets of Mahanian doctrine. In his 1941 book Armed Forces of the Pacific, W. D. Puleston, a captain in the U.S. Navy and head of the office of naval Intelligence, compared the military power of the United States and Japan, and arrived at certain conclusions based on doctrine and tactics of that time. Puleston concluded that operations of the two fleets would determine the outcome of a war between the two countries, operations that included submarines, naval aviation and all available army aviation. Both fleets would endeavor to gain and exercise control of the western Pacific to insure its use to friendly ships and deny it to hostile ones. Puleston suggested the quickest way to gain this control was to defeat the opposing fleet. Based on treaty limitations, the commander-in-chief of the American Fleet, which would be stronger, would attempt to bring the Japanese Fleet to action in the open sea. The commander-in-chief of the Japanese Fleet would try to reduce the American superiority by submarines, aviation and mine fields before accepting a daylight action in which he would risk defeat and possible annihilation. Japan would attempt a war of attrition as soon as hostilities commenced, and would take full advantage of Japan's geographical position to wage it.
Although Japan created the Japanese navy on a Western model, its operational methods remained essentially oriental. Japanese leaders were well aware of the Western doctrines of singularity of aim and concentration of force. They had failed to rid themselves, nonetheless, of ancient Asian notions of the value of complexity and diffusion. Yamamoto argued strongly to abandon the old naval strategy, of interception operations and systematic reduction of the enemy fleet as it reached out to the western Pacific. Yamamoto advocated more offensive operations, such as the invasion and occupation of the Hawaiian Islands.
Yamamoto designed his Midway plan to confuse the enemy. he divided his fleet into five separate bodies, each committed to a different geographical objective or operational aim. Japanese plans required their submarines to patrol individually or in groups along scouting lines, or cordons, in order to scout for and intercept American task forces. The Japanese use of submarines in support of fleet operations is typical of their use in the battle of Midway. Yamamoto was confident that the American fleet would not be in the area prior to the initial attack on Midway and did not emphasize reconnaissance in the early stages of the operation. He anticipated any major naval engagement with American forces would occur after Japanese invasion forces occupied Midway. Yamamoto's plan counted on the American fleet sailing from Pearl Harbor in response to Japan's "surprise" attack on Midway. On arrival of the American fleet, Japanese submarines and carriers would deliver the first attack. There was no contingency plan if American forces acted in a way Yamamoto did not expect.
As previously stated, historians place significant blame for Japan's defeat at Midway on the late arrival of one of the submarine scouting lines, Subron 5. Their blame is rooted in the submarines failure to spot the U.S. carriers, which prevented Admiral Nagumo's Striking Force from knowing that enemy carriers were in the area. This would have put the American carriers as top priority instead of continuing the attack on Midway. In reality, the U.S. carriers were already northeast of Midway by 1 June and would have escaped detection even if Subron 5 had been on time. Furthermore, the Japanese fleet was operating under the assumption that U.S. forces would not be in the vicinity of Midway until at least 7 June, sailing after the occupation of Midway. Based on Yamamoto's time frame, Japanese submarines even though two days late, were still on station in plenty of time to intercept and attack any American ships racing to Midway in response to the Japanese invasion.
The American model of naval warfare was similar to Japans. Submarines were auxiliaries to the battle fleet. However, the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor changed this role. With the battle fleet destroyed or damaged, submarines and aircraft carriers became the offensive striking force of the American Pacific fleet. Submarines adopted the role of commerce raiders and targeted the supply line of Japan, mimicking the role Germany successfully used against Great Britain. However, when U.S. naval intelligence discovered the Japanese plan to invade Midway, Nimitz needed all his fleet assets to defend the island. He therefore temporarily removed U.S. submarines from their role as commerce raiders and placed them back into the fleet support role, not in defense of the fleet itself, but in defense of Midway against an anticipated Japanese amphibious assault.
Many historians make statements like "Twenty-six submarines were deployed by Nimitz although in the course of the battle of Midway, they proved largely ineffective." or "The American submarines as a whole had performed poorly." Generic statements like these underscore the role U.S. submarines played during the conflict and downgrade their accomplishments. Researchers should look at the previously mentioned statements and ask, "Why did submarines fail at Midway?" or "Why did submarines perform poorly at Midway?" "Is it true that submarines from both the U.S. and Japan had little effect in the battle?" The researcher will find answers to questions surrounding submarine failure, performance and deployment in the answer to one additional question: "What role did U.S. and Japanese submarines perform at Midway?"
When analyzing Japanese and U.S. submarine actions at the battle of Midway, historians should consider three things. First, U.S. submarines are lost in the glory of the aircraft carrier. Second, there does not appear to be enough research into Admiral Ernest King's operational orders to Admiral Nimitz. Third, there is a timing misconception in regards to when Japanese submarines were to be on station versus when the U.S. carriers were to sail in defense of Midway.
The first statement is not a criticism of carrier naval aviation. It is a known fact that naval aviation won the battle. The problem in regards to the submarine is that with the voluminous amount of research written about the battle, submarine actions for the most part are just footnotes in the overall history. Most texts briefly mention submarine actions and in doing so, continue with the line of reasoning that submarines failed at Midway.
As for the second statement, it appears most historians direct criticism of submarine deployment squarely at Nimitz and indirectly at English. In hindsight, these historians feel submarines should have been used offensively, as Admiral English preferred. Nimitz overruled English and placed the submarines in defensive arcs west of Midway. Why did he do that? researching that question should reduce much of the criticism. complicating the issue, it seems that recent historians quote past historians and accept their research as accurate. That type of reasoning contributes to the continued criticism directed at Nimitz and to the confusion surrounding submarine actions at Midway.
As previously stated, most historians and Japanese naval leaders suggest the late arrival of Suborn 5 was a significant reason for the defeat at Midway. The scouting line arrived on 3 June, two days late. However, whether Suborn 5 submarines were on time or two days late did not make a difference in the battle's outcome, as it was Yamamoto's plan that failed, not the tardiness of the submarines arriving to their station. This study examines the roles and assigned missions of Japanese and American submarines at the battle of Midway in light of doctrine and strategy. In doing so, analysis shows that Japanese and U.S. submarines did not fail in their assigned roles.
Chapter TwoJAPANESE NAVAL DOCTRINE
Having for many years been preoccupied with fleet drills centering on the battleship, I could not make a mental switch, and even after the great success of the task force in the Pearl Harbor attack, I believed that the task force should be assigned auxiliary operations and that the main prop of the decisive fleet encounter was the "big battleships and big guns." —Rear Admiral Shigeru Fukudome
Japanese sea power doctrine in World War II was overwhelmingly a product of its naval leaders closely studying Alfred Thayer Mahan. The Japanese had translated Mahan's works well before the turn of the century and as far as Mahan knew, more of his works, which were required reading at Japan's military schools and colleges, were translated into Japanese than into any other language. on no point was Mahan more emphatic: the primary mission of a battle fleet is to engage the enemy's fleet. "The one particular result which is the object of all naval action is the destruction of the enemy's organized force, and the establishment of one's own control of the water." both strategically and tactically, navies should be employed offensively. This doctrinal focus explains all of the Japanese navy's energies, and much of their innovation.
In The influence of Sea Power on History, Mahan argued that great national wealth and power had in the past, always been synonymous with control of the seas. Sea power, in turn, rested on an oceangoing fleet prepared and strong enough to reengage and destroy any enemy fleet that challenged it in a decisive sea battle. Mahan ridiculed guerre de course, or commerce raiding, as the strategy of the weaker power, hopeless in the face of a navy able to exercise overbearing sea power. Instead, his followers sought titanic clashes between concentrated fleets of battleships. While Mahan's writings were appropriate to maritime nations with far-flung aspirations like Great Britain or the United States, they held only limited relevance for a fledgling power such as Japan, whose aspirations were confined to regional waters and coastal areas.
The exact nature of Mahan's influence on Japanese naval establishment is a matter of some dispute. one view draws a straight line between Mahanian precepts and prewar Japanese ideas about sea power. It is impossible to overstate Mahan's influence on the Japanese navy. besides the adoption of his texts in Japanese military colleges, the decisive-battle idea is evident in their armaments programs, their maneuvers, their staff work and their strategy. Japan desired superior quality in the decisive battle and this prompted the navy to train pilots in small numbers. Since Japan believed the war would be decided in one quick confrontation, quality rather than quantity of aviators would make the difference.
A different view suggests that Mahan was far from the only influence on Japanese doctrine. The Japanese Naval War college provided basic study of strategy and tactics in the Japanese navy. of all the instructors of the college, two figures stood out: Akiyama Saneyuki, commonly known as the "father of Japanese naval strategy" and Sato Tetsutaro, "Japan's Mahan." These two drew intellectual inspiration from many sources, ranging from studying abroad in the United States and Great Britain to the writings of Sun Tzu. Akiyama studied tactics and strategy in the United States from 1897 to 1900 and had private tutorship from Mahan. during almost the same period, Sato visited Britain to study how important the influence of sea power was in relation to the rise and fall of nations. After returning to Japan, the Japanese naval War college appointed both men as instructors, where Akiyama taught tactics while Sat taught strategy and naval history. The instruction provided by these two instructors was the basis of Japanese naval strategy and tactics.
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