First-hand interviews, entries from personal diaries, and Action Reports create a unique history, perfectly complemented by historic illustrations and detailed maps. These are timeless tales of determination, sacrifice, and triumph of the human spirittales of US Amphibious Forces that for too long have gone forgotten and untold.
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U.S. Amphibious Operations in World War II
By Michael G. Walling
Osprey PublishingCopyright © 2017 Michael G. Walling
All rights reserved.
SOWING THE WIND
OCTOBER 1941-JULY 1942
Acting in alliance with the Entente powers during World War I, Japan seized German Central Pacific possessions in the Mariana (except the U.S. territory of Guam), Caroline, and Marshall island groups by October 1914. After the war Japan was granted a mandate to govern these islands in the Treaty of Versailles and at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, which was further ratified under a Class C mandate by the Covenant of the League of Nations. Although not a member of the League the U.S. signed a convention with Japan recognizing the League's mandate in February 1922. Part of the terms of the mandate was that the islands were not to be fortified. However, fortified or not, control of these islands shifted the strategic balance of power in the Pacific away from the U.S. to Japan.
Japan's potential threat to U.S. interests in the Pacific was recognized by Marine Corps Major Earl H. Ellis in 1913. Ellis understood the need to defend existing bases in Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines as well as acquiring bases on Japanese-held islands. On July 23, 1921 he submitted his ideas in Operations Plan 712 "Advance Base Operations in Micronesia" (FMFRP-12-46) which foretold the course of the war in the Pacific and that Japan would strike the first blow with a great deal of success. Ellis listed Japan's objectives which included the Philippines, Guam, Midway, Wake, and Hawaii. He also detailed the action plan necessary for Japan's defeat which involved seizing the Marshall and Caroline Islands and that the attack on Japan would be made from bases in the Bonin and Mariana Islands. He knew that the job of acquiring new bases would mean attacking the enemy-held territory by amphibious assault, and he went so far as to designate the size and type of units that would be necessary, the kind of landing craft they should use, the best time of day to effect the landing, and other details needed to ensure the success of the plan:
Japan is a World Power, and her army and navy will doubtless be up to date as to training and materiel. Considering our consistent policy of non-aggression, she will probably initiate the war; which will indicate that, in her own mind, she believes that, considering her natural defensive position, she has sufficient military strength to defeat our fleet.
To effect [an amphibious landing] in the face of enemy resistance requires careful training and preparation, to say the least; and this along Marine lines. It is not enough that the troops be skilled infantry men or artillery men of high morale; they must be skilled water men and jungle men who know it can be done — Marines with Marine training.
Between 1922 and 1925 four amphibious operations exercises were held: three exclusively Navy–Marine operations in 1922 — 24 and the last one in 1925 which was a joint Army and Navy exercise. All of the exercises suffered from the same problems: lack of order among the landing party; superficial naval bombardment; and poor judgment in the stowage of supplies and equipment aboard the transport used. However, the greatest handicap was the lack of adequate landing craft. The next amphibious exercise would not be until 1935.
The development of modern amphibious landing concepts began with the establishment of the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) on December 18, 1933 with Marines from the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. The purpose of the FMF was to prepare units for the execution of amphibious missions. The Marine Corps developed a progressive system beginning with basic individual training, followed by the training of units from the squad through to brigade, culminating in joint annual amphibious training in conjunction with the fleet. Since the FMF was organized as a component of the fleet, its training was a matter of direct concern to the Navy.
In July of 1934 the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet approved a plan of training for the Fleet Marine Force, which was to begin in the Caribbean in 1935. It called for annual fleet landing exercises, known as Fleet Exercises (FLEXs), to develop coordination and teamwork while simulating the conditions of war.
After a hiatus of ten years, major amphibious exercises began again in the winter of 1935. The genesis of these renewed exercises was the publication of the Tentative Manual for Landing Operations in January 1934. The title changed to Manual for Naval Operations on August 1, 1934, and with a few changes it became the bible for amphibious operations.
Although the Manual for Naval Operations laid out the theory for amphibious operations, the theory could only be proven through actual operation, hence the need for exercises. Problems that became apparent included issues with fire support, adequate numbers of suitable transport, close air support, the screening of the transports, antisubmarine tactics, ship-to-shore movement, and beach reconnaissance groups. Ship-to-shore movement alone presented two major problems: the need for the speedy debarkation of the assaulting troops and their equipment into the landing boats and the difficulty in controlling and guiding these craft to their assigned beaches. These problems were exacerbated by the lack of suitable landing craft.
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While the Navy and Marines refined amphibious operations, Germany was rearming and Japan began expanding its military operations. In 1933 Japan withdrew from the League of Nations and initiated harbor improvements, airfield construction, and the establishment of fuel dumps, bases, and fortifications in its territories including those mandated islands acquired at the end of World War I. According to the Japanese Decisive Battle Plan, the islands would serve as buffers for the homeland and were expendable.
The first overt provocation against the U.S. came on Sunday, December 12, 1937. In July Japan had launched an invasion of China from bases in Manchuria and by December had reached Nanking on the Yangtze River. The USS Panay and three Standard Oil tankers, Mei Ping, Mei An, and Mei Hsia were anchored near Hoshien, 27 miles north of Nanking. Panay displayed a large American flag horizontally across the upper deck awnings, and a 6' x 11' Stars and Stripes displayed from the gaff.
On board Panay, the crew, four U.S. Embassy staff members, four U.S. nationals, and four foreign nationals, including one of Universal News's premiere cameramen, Norman Alley, Eric Mayell of Fox Movietone, James Marshall of Colliers, photographer Norman Soong of the New York Times, United Press's Weldon James, G.M. McDonald of the London Times, and two Italian writers, Sandro Sandri and Luigi Barzini, Jr. were at their midday meal when the roar of high-powered aircraft engines, falling bombs, and ripping machine-gun fire shattered the day.
At about 1340, three Japanese B4Y1 Type 96 bi-plane bombers commenced an attack. At least one direct hit was observed, but most bombs missed. Two dive-bombers attacked next, strafing their targets to suppress flak.
Panay was hit by two bombs, which disabled her forward 3in gun and wounded Lieutenant Commander Hughes, the commanding officer. The crew fought back with their two .30-caliber Lewis machine guns, but, designed for use against shore and water targets, they could not elevate enough to deliver effective antiaircraft fire. Explosions ripped apart the decks, throwing men into the water. The planes then bombed the three Standard Oil tankers, which were soon engulfed in flames. On board Mei Ping members of Panay s crew who were visiting the tanker fought a losing a battle against the fires and had to abandon ship. Finally, nine Nakajima A4N Type 95 bi-plane fighters dropped 18 bombs on Panay and also machine-gunned the launches carrying the wounded on their way to shore at nearby Hanshan Island.
Norman Alley and Eric Mayell filmed part of the attack and, after reaching shore, the sinking of the ship in the middle of the river. Navy Coxswain Edgar C. Hulsebus, Storekeeper First Class Charles L. Ensminger, Standard Oil Tanker Captain Carl H. Carlson and Italian reporter Sandro Sandri were killed. Forty-three sailors and five civilians were wounded in the attack.
Two days later in Tokyo, the American Ambassador Joseph C. Grew lodged a formal protest about the USS Panay "Incident". Although the Japanese government accepted responsibility for the attack, they stated it had been unintentional. In Shanghai a court of inquiry was presented with incontrovertible evidence that senior Japanese officers had ordered the attack. Ambassador Grew, remembering the public's reaction when the USS Maine was blown up in Havana Harbor, expected a declaration of war against Japan. However, although there was outrage and a demand for retribution America was a paper tiger and could do nothing to avenge this outrage.
The Navy did take note of Japan's increasing aggression, which affected both the U.S. and Britain. Later in December Captain Royal E. Ingersoll, the Director of the Navy War Plans Division, was sent to London to informally discuss conditions of U.S.–British naval co-operation in the event both nations were involved in a war against Japan and Germany.
The Panay attack made it imperative that the Army and Navy reexamine plans for a U.S. two-ocean war against the Axis powers – Germany, Italy, and Japan. A joint board of Army and Navy planners worked for over a year and in April 1939 they issued a report concluding:
1. Germany and Italy would take overt action in the Western Hemisphere only if Great Britain and France remained neutral or were defeated.
2. Japan would continue to expand into China and Southeast Asia at the expense of Great Britain and the United States, by peaceful means if possible but by force if necessary.
3. The three Axis powers would act together whenever the international situation seemed favorable. If other countries, including the United States, reacted promptly and vigorously to such action then a general war might well follow.
The British Royal Navy was responsible for security in the Atlantic. No mention was made of the need for amphibious operations in Europe and the Mediterranean. North Africa was not a consideration at that time, even though Italy occupied part of Morocco and had conquered the Ethiopian Empire in 1936 which put the Axis power in a position to threaten maritime trade through the Red Sea.
The planners concluded that early in the war Japan would seize all U.S. possessions west of 180 degrees (i.e. the Philippines, Guam, and Wake). They also pointed out that the attacks might begin with an effort "to damage major fleet units without warning," or a surprise attempt "to block the fleet in Pearl Harbor." They stated that American forces would have to fight their way back across the Pacific using a series of amphibious operations using one of four routes:
2. Pearl Harbor–Midway–Luzon (Philippines);
3. Marshalls–Carolines–Marianas–Yap–Peleliu; or
4. Samoa–New Guinea–Mindanao.
The favored routes were Pearl Harbor–Midway–Luzon and the Marshalls–Carolines –Marianas–Yap–Peleliu with the understanding that a combination of the two would most probably have to be used. Forces in Hawaii, Alaska, and Panama were to be reinforced, but not those in the Philippines on the assumption that their loss was a certainty.
Japan's continued conquest of eastern China and Germany's more openly aggressive stance in Europe raised the question of U.S. policy in the event of concerted aggression by all three Axis powers. As options were being examined, events overtook the planners.
On September 1, 1939, the German Army (Heer) and Air Force (Luftwaffe) attacked Poland. Two days later France and Britain declared war on Germany, but other than a brief, inconclusive French incursion into Germany's Saar region, they were of no help in defending their ally. By September 6 German forces had occupied Warsaw and the Polish government had surrendered. Exacerbating the already tense situation was the Soviet Union's invasion of eastern Poland on September 17.
From October until May 1940, France and Britain built up forces along Germany's western border in anticipation of invasion. Nothing happened until April 9, 1940 when Germany attacked Denmark and Norway. Four weeks later, on May 10, German forces breached its borders with Belgium and the Netherlands. Within 96 hours German armor broke through French defenses in the Ardennes Forest and quickly overran the mixed British and French forces. By June 4, the last British troops had been evacuated from Dunkirk and France surrendered on June 17. Italy declared war on Britain and France on June 10, essentially after the major fighting in Europe was over.
By the end of June Germany occupied two thirds of France. The other third was under the leadership of Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain with its capital in Vichy in southern France. The Vichy French retained administrational control of France's overseas colonies, including Vietnam, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Senegal. Vichy French control of Morocco and Algeria, coupled with the Italian bases in Libya, effectively sealed off the Mediterranean Sea from Gibraltar to the Egyptian border.
In just ten months all U.S. war plans focusing primarily on operations in the Pacific with Britain controlling actions in the Atlantic became obsolete. U.S. Admiral Harold R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), recognized U.S. security largely depended on Britain's survival. He asserted: "if Britain wins decisively against Germany we could win everywhere; but that if she loses the problems confronting us would be very great; and while we might not lose everywhere, we might, possibly, not win anywhere."
Admiral Stark also questioned British assurances that Germany and Italy could be defeated by blockade and bombardment prior to landing troops in safe harbors, the same tactics used to defeat Napoleon 130 years earlier. He believed the way to certain victory was "by military success on shore," and for that, bases close to the European continent would be required. "I believe that the United States, in addition to sending naval assistance, would also need to send large air and land forces to Europe or Africa, or both, and to participate strongly in this land offensive."
A secret conference between American, British, and Canadian military staffs (ABC-1) was held in Washington from January 29 to March 27, 1941. Seven key offensive policies were agreed upon at this meeting:
1. To maintain an economic blockade of the Axis by sea, land, and air, and by commodity control through diplomatic and financial means.
2. To conduct a sustained air offensive to destroy Axis military power.
3. To effect "early elimination" of Italy as an Axis partner.
4. To conduct raids and minor offensives.
5. To support neutrals and underground groups in resisting the Axis.
6. To build up the necessary forces for the eventual offensive against Germany.
7. To capture positions from which to launch that offensive.
These policies laid out the "Europe First" strategy in all joint operations stating "the Atlantic and European area is considered to be the decisive theater" and that accordingly it would be where the chief American effort would be exerted, although the "great importance" of the Mediterranean and North African areas was noted.
If Japan launched operations in the Pacific the U.S. would "employ the United States Pacific Fleet offensively in the manner best calculated to weaken Japanese economic power ... by diverting Japanese strength away from Malaysia."
The "Europe First" strategy was further reinforced when Germany invaded Russia on June 22, 1941, and quickly overran a large part of western Russia, laying siege to Leningrad (modern-day St. Petersburg) and Stalingrad (modern-day Volgograd), and coming within sight of Moscow. This further complicated the already major problem of supplying arms and other materials to Britain. Some of these supplies were now diverted to Russia in an effort to prevent her collapse.
The only way to send large land forces into Europe, West Africa, and Italy was by amphibious assault. U.S. forces now faced having to secure bases on Japanese-occupied islands, as well as positions in North Africa, Italy, and German-occupied France.
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While strategic and geopolitical discussions were being held U.S. forces continued to undertake amphibious exercises. Shortages in landing equipment, and insufficient landing craft, competent boat crews, and transports hampered realistic training. Another sticking point was the lack of joint Army, Navy, and Marine amphibious training. To correct this situation, the 1st Joint Training Force was created in June 1941. It consisted of the 1st Marine Division and the Army 1st Division and subsequently developed into the Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet. On the west coast, similarly, the 2d Joint Training Force was created in September, consisting of the Army 3d Division and the 2d Marine Division; this later became the Amphibious Force, Pacific Fleet. Both Forces were under Marine command.
Excerpted from Bloodstained Sands by Michael G. Walling. Copyright © 2017 Michael G. Walling. Excerpted by permission of Osprey Publishing.
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