At the onset of WWII, the Navy found itself short of ships and saddled with a defensive mindset. Adm. Halsey and the USS Enterprise corrected the latter problem, at least, by conducting the
raid on Marshal Islands Kwajalein, Taroa, Wotje, and Roi. The following description comes from the
cv6.org website (1) and Steve Ewing’s book about the (2). Enterprise
Initially, in late December 1941, Admiral Ernest J. King,
Fleet directed Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet,
to protect US shipping between the Commander In Chief, US and United States . While
arguably prudent, this was a defensive posture.
Nimitz advocated strikes against the Gilbert and Marshal Australia Islands. However, there was strong
opposition to this plan due to fear that the carriers would be lost in addition
to the battleships that had just been lost at Pearl Harbor.
and Halsey arrived at Enterprise Pearl
Harbor. Halsey immediately demanded that the Navy
take the offensive and his opinion carried the day. would meet up with Enterprise Yorktown to escort reinforcements to Samoa, then proceed to raid Japanese bases in the Gilberts and Marshalls
while hit Lexington Wake Island. The Navy would conduct its first offensive
operation of the war.
- Northampton CA-26
- Salt Lake City CA-25
- Chester CA-27
- and six destroyers
This meager escort was not an operational choice but, rather, an operational necessity due to the lack of available ships. Escort groups later in the war would be much larger and more powerful.
By January 25, the escort mission was completed and
and Enterprise Yorktown moved to conduct their raids. On January 31, 1830 hr, the group began its run in to Enterprise Kwajalein and surrounding targets at 30 kts.
At 0430 hr, began launching aircraft for the planned coordinated
strikes at 0700 hr. It is interesting to
note that the cruisers were integrated into the strike plan with Enterprise and Northampton bombarding Wotje and Salt Lake City and several destroyers hitting Taroa. Chester
|USS Enterprise, CV-6|
Throughout the day, the group hit the various targets. Pilots flew several missions each. Airfield facilities were destroyed, the fields were bombed, aircraft were destroyed on the ground and in the air, a transport and two smaller ships were sunk, and several ships were damaged.
Around 1330 hr, five twin engined bombers attacked the
group but failed to hit their targets, causing only
minor damage from a near miss. One of
the bombers, intentionally or not, appeared to attempt to dive into the Enterprise but missed and struck the tail of an aircraft parked
on deck and caused no damage to the ship.
Throughout the rest of the day, a few straggling enemy aircraft appeared
but did no damage. Enterprise
Clearly, the attacks on the airfields had the desired effect of suppressing enemy aerial counterattacks.
By 1902 hr, the last of
’s aircraft were recovered and the group retired at
high speed, returning to Enterprise Pearl
Harbor on February 5. The raid cost the one Wildcat and five SBDs. Enterprise
|Wotje Atoll During the Kwajalein Raid|
Regarding the impact of the raid on the overall war effort, cv6.org website notes,
“The real significance of the raid was not found on the balance sheet of damage inflicted and suffered, but in the lessons learned. Halsey's action report repeatedly notes the poor performance of the ship's anti-aircraft batteries, stating:
‘The inability of the 5" AA battery to knock down the formation of enemy twin-engine bombers ... is a matter of grave concern. ... AA Gunnery Practices [should] be scheduled when opportunity offers, with ship steaming at not less than 25 knots. If adequate safeguards can be introduced, ship should be required to make radical changes of course.’
In their first encounter with their Japanese counterparts, the Air Group came away less than impressed, noting the Japanese fighters seemed easily discouraged when faced with two or three SBDs working together defensively. Both the Air Group and the ship's company gained valuable combat experience, making them much better prepared for the carrier-vs-carrier brawls that would mark the late spring and fall of 1942. And though hardly enough to stall the Japanese offensive, the raid served notice to both sides that the striking arm of the
not lying broken on U.S. Pearl Harbor's muddy
This raid offers lessons for us, today.
1. Offense wins wars, not defense. An offensive mindset is vital to an effective military. The US Navy, today, has completely lost that mindset. Our weapons and platforms are mostly defensive in nature. Our most powerful surface ship, the Burke class, is primarily defensive. Our air wings have shrunk and attack range and lethality has diminished. Our vaunted LCS has no offensive capability whatsoever. We must regain an offensive mindset.
2. Combat leaders must be bold and willing to take calculated risks. This goes hand in hand with the previous point about having an offensive mindset. Currently, our leaders are selected using criteria that have nothing to do with combat performance.
3. Carrier based aviation is a potent weapon when equipped and used properly. The mobility of the carrier allows the ability to mass localized and temporary superior force.
4. Risk must be accepted in order to accomplish anything. Carriers that are too expensive to risk are useless.
5. Large caliber naval gunfire is a powerful weapon. The cruisers in the raid were able to accomplish as much as a carrier when used properly. Today, we completely lack the ability to apply cheap, effective firepower from ships.
6. Losses in the air wing are a part of combat and must be accepted. This means that we should not be building aircraft that are too expensive to replace. F4F Wildcats and SBDs were highly effective and lethal and were easily and cheaply replaced. Losing trained aircrew is, of course, another issue. In WWII, we were able to produce hundreds of aircraft per day. Today, we would struggle to produce a hundred aircraft in one year.
7. As Halsey noted and recommended, extensive and realistic training is needed to ensure success in combat. The more realistic, the better. Today’s set piece, utterly unrealistic training borders on worthless. We need to establish highly stressful, realistic training even at the expense of a degree of risk to equipment and personnel.
8. Weapon systems must be tested extensively and realistically. As the raid revealed,
“The first occasion under fire was memorable for reasons other than just being a first. The event called attention to the inadequacy of both the antiaircraft guns in use at the time (eight 5-inch-.25 caliber, sixteen 1.1 inch “
and numerous .50 caliber Browning machine guns) and the marksmanship of the
gunners.” (2) Chicago
Despite having the means and opportunity to thoroughly test the antiaircraft weapons pre-war, the Navy failed to adequately do so and, thus, found itself insufficiently equipped to counter the aerial threat. Today, we are still failing to adequately and realistically test our weapon systems.
History “exists” to teach us about the present and future. Another way to express it is the old adage,
“Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
The Navy’s first raid of WWII offers plenty of lessons for us, today, if we will but heed them.
(1)http://cv6.org/1942/marshalls/marshalls_2.htm , retrieved
(2)USS Enterprise (CV-6), The Most Decorated Ship Of World War II, Steve Ewing, Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana, 1982, ISBN-0-933126-24-7