Monday, April 22, 2019

Japanese Invasion of Pearl Harbor

Here’s another ‘what if’ version of history:  what if the Japanese had immediately invaded Hawaii after attacking Pearl Harbor?  How would the war have progressed from that point?  Let’s see.

Note:  Credit for this idea goes to blog reader ‘Purple Calico’ who suggested the topic during the recent open post discussion. (3)

The initial premise is that the attack on Pearl Harbor and all the related events happened exactly as history records except that the Japanese fleet contained an invasion force and the Japanese continued on to Pearl Harbor rather than turning away.

To review, the Japanese strike fleet consisted of 6 aircraft carriers (Akagi, Kaga, Sōryū, Hiryū, Shōkaku, and Zuikaku) with well over 400 aircraft, protected by 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, and 9 destroyers (all actual).  Accompanying the strike were 8 tankers (actual) which would prove crucial in our alter-history by sustaining the fleets while the island was being secured.

In addition, 23 fleet submarines (actual, 4) were assigned to provide containment around Pearl Harbor to prevent any surviving US ships from escaping to open waters (1) and screening for the strike and invasion fleets.  A third were assigned to screen the fleet to the east of Oahu, another third capped the Pearl Harbor channel to the south, and the remaining third patrolled the waters to the west of Oahu.

The alter-historical addition to the Japanese strike fleet is an invasion force consisted of an armored division with 10,000 men and 270 tanks plus dozens of artillery and anti-tank guns plus an infantry division of almost 25,000 men supported by several dozen artillery guns, all loaded on dozens of transport vessels. 

The attack on Pearl Harbor came from the north with the 1st wave launching around 220 miles north of Pearl Harbor.  The strike fleet continued to sail east and launched the 2nd wave from the northeast. 

The first two attack waves succeeded in sinking or damaging nearly all the battleships and cruisers and eliminated effective aerial resistance.  Of the 402 American aircraft in Hawaii, 188 were destroyed and 159 damaged, 155 of them on the ground (actual).

Note:  An outstanding map of Pearl Harbor ships and facilities at the moment of attack can be found on the National Geographic website. (2)

What follows is a descriptive alter-historical summary of events beginning immediately after the 2nd assault wave of Japanese aircraft.

A 3rd wave was launched from east of Oahu and focused on the ten or so destroyers which had been largely untouched in the first two strikes and any remaining aircraft on the ground.  By the time the 3rd wave was finished, there were very few undamaged ships in Pearl Harbor. 

The strike fleet continued sailing in a clockwise circle around Oahu, escorting the transport vessels.  The land assault would be focused on the militarized island of Oahu which contained the Pearl Harbor naval base, Marine barracks, and multiple air fields.  The remaining Hawaiian islands did not need to be occupied.  This allowed the Japanese to concentrate their resources on a single small island only 20 miles or so across.

With no American air power to worry about, the two Japanese battleships raced ahead of the rest of the invasion and strike fleets and entered the Pearl Harbor channel at dusk.  Their mission was to destroy any remaining ships, bombard the facilities that the Japanese didn’t need to occupy and reuse, and to distract from the assault force that began their landings at the same time.  There was risk with attempting an evening landing rather than waiting for dawn but it was felt that the risk was worth it to maintain the shock and confusion that the reeling Americans were under.

As it turned out, the Japanese battleships were hugely successful with the Americans firing on their own ships as much as the Japanese did due to the darkness, confusion, and panic.  With reports of Japanese troop landings, and the evidence of Japanese ships in the harbor, American troops began firing on their own ground forces as they were totally untrained and unprepared for night combat and had not trained for friendly forces identification.  By morning, the Japanese ground forces were well established and by the end of the day on the 8th were in control of the Pearl Harbor facilities.

Japanese Forces Landing on Oahu

The USS Enterprise, returning from delivering Wildcats to Wake Island, was 215 miles west of Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacks began.  Several of Enterprise’s SBDs had flown ahead to Pearl and were shot down by friendly fire.  Enterprise spent the day of the 7th searching for the Japanese strike fleet but found nothing since the Japanese fleets were on the opposite side of Oahu.  As reports of Japanese invasion forces reached Enterprise, Admiral Halsey headed southeast and began to assemble an aerial strike force.  Unfortunately, that brought Enterprise into the teeth of the Japanese submarine screen and a Japanese submarine found her and put three torpedoes into the ship.  Over the next several hours, a second Japanese submarine was able to approach and hit Enterprise with two more torpedoes.  Her fate was sealed.  Enterprise was a blazing wreck and eventually sank during the night of the 8th.

Enterprise Torpedoed and Sinking

Meanwhile, Lexington, which had been on a mission to deliver planes to Midway, found herself caught halfway between Midway and Pearl Harbor and with her escorts low on fuel due to previous refueling difficulties (actual).  With Enterprise sunk, the Japanese dispatched four carriers to search for Lexington and, on the 12th, found her, thus setting the stage for the first carrier battle where the opposing ships never saw each other.  Both sides launched nearly simultaneous attacks.  Lexington, with only a single air group which included over a dozen older Brewster Buffalos, was unable to fight off the Japanese attack and suffered two bomb hits, two torpedoes, and a damaged Japanese plane that dove into the carrier.  Lexington’s strike, facing the defensive CAP of four carriers, managed to score two bomb hits on the Kaga which damaged the carrier enough to curtail flight operations but did not sink it.  Both sides recovered their strikes but the Japanese, with greater numbers, were able to launch a second, standby, strike before Lexington could effect repairs sufficient to assemble another strike.  The second strike finished off the Lexington. 

This left Saratoga, which was training her air group in San Diego, as the only US carrier in the Pacific.  Yorktown, Hornet, and Ranger and Wasp were training in Norfolk.  Ranger was considered unsuited for the Pacific and was destined for Atlantic and European operations.  It would be many weeks before Yorktown, Hornet, and Wasp could be moved to the Pacific and the Japanese used that time to secure Pearl Harbor and set it up as their forward base.  Japanese army aircraft fighters were ferried to the island along with long range patrol planes and bombers.

One of the major benefits for the Japanese in seizing Pearl Harbor was the presence of the drydocks which they had wisely and carefully avoided damaging in the initial attacks and which were captured largely intact and quickly returned to service.  Damaged Japanese ships which might otherwise have had to return to Japan for repair, were able to be serviced locally, at Pearl Harbor, and returned to combat much quicker.  This was significant as even the base at Truk lacked significant repair facilities.

Fall of Wake – On 11-Dec-1941, Wake defenders fought off the first Japanese landing attempt, sinking two Japanese destroyers with coastal defense guns and Wildcat aircraft.  A second assault initiated shortly after midnight on 23-Dec-1941 succeeded and the island fell later that same day.

Seizure of Tulagi and Port Moresby (Coral Sea) – The Japanese planned to seize Tulagi and Port Moresby in operations that began in April 1942.  The Americans were able to intercept and decipher Japanese signals and knew the general location and timing of the operations.  Having lost Pearl Harbor, the threat to Australia as a forward base was considered strategically vital and an operation to intercept the Japanese in or around the Coral Sea was initiated.  The carrier Yorktown, recently arrived in the Pacific, was patrolling in the area to the west of Australia and Saratoga was dispatched from San Diego to join her and meet the Japanese invasion fleet.  The Japanese sent the Carriers Shokaku, Zuikaku, and Shoho to screen the invasion forces from the north and a surface force centered around the battleship Yamato approached from the northeast from Pearl Harbor.  Despite the efforts of their respective scout aircraft, the two sides stumbled across each other during the night of 6-May with the Yamato group sighting the Yorktown and Saratoga which had joined up the previous day.  The Japanese and American destroyer screens made contact and exchanged fire in a wild night battle which the Japanese cruisers and the Yamato quickly jumped into.  When word came that a Japanese battleship was part of the attack, the American carriers conducted an impromptu and untrained-for night launch and attack.  Despite the darkness and their lack of training, the untrained flyers succeeded in hitting Yamato with one torpedo and a cruiser was hit with two bombs.  Unfortunately, in the darkness, confusion, and co-mingling of the ships, the flyers also torpedoed and sank a US destroyer.  As dawn approached, and fearing further aerial attacks, the Japanese broke off the attack and steamed away.  

Yorktown and Saratoga Night Attack on Yamato 

However, with the US carrier force now located, the Japanese carriers launched a heavy dawn attack which caught the US carriers and their exhausted pilots unprepared.  Saratoga was heavily damaged by multiple torpedoes and bombs and Yorktown suffered two bomb hits.  When the attack ended, Yorktown, whose dawn scouting planes had located the Japanese carriers, was still able to conduct flight operations and launched a counterattack which caught the Japanese carriers refueling and rearming their aircraft.  Shoho was sunk and Shokaku was heavily damaged.

After recovering her aircraft, Yorktown broke off the engagement and retired to the southeast and back to San Diego for repairs.  Saratoga was taken under tow but the Yamato group, reversing course and returning to the area to mop up, fell upon the carrier and sank it with gunfire.

The Battle of the Coral Sea, as it came to be known, was a tactical draw but because the US was unable to stop the Japanese invasion fleet which still had sizable carrier and surface forces in the area to provide protection, the Japanese were able to complete the seizure of Port Moresby which was then used as a staging area to threaten Australia directly.

With the loss of Saratoga, only the Hornet, Wasp, and damaged Yorktown remained from the pre-war US carrier force.

The Japanese then seized Midway, costing the US the valuable PBY Catalina patrol and scouting base.  Despite having knowledge of the Japanese intentions via signals analysis, the US simply didn’t have the naval strength to contest the Japanese invasion.

The US was now forced to operate from Australia, the Aleutians, and San Diego.  None of these options was desirable although Australia was, at least, near the action due to the Japanese seizures.  US efforts for the next several months centered on reinforcing Australia and beefing up its defenses.  If Australia fell, the US would be effectively ejected from the Pacific theatre.

Taking a cue from the Germans, the Japanese began conducting aggressive Australian convoy interdiction using submarines based out of Pearl Harbor.  The Battle of the Pacific, mirroring the Battle of the Atlantic, became a logistic supply contest with the US attempting to reinforce Australia and the Japanese attempting to cut the supply line.

The Japanese, having essentially secured the Pacific now focused on a holding strategy in an attempt to force the US into a negotiated peace.  The Japanese believed that the US, already occupied with the war in Europe, would grow weary of fighting a difficult war in the Pacific and lacked the stomach for the casualties such an endeavor would entail.  

To that end, in late 1942 the Japanese dispatched a strike force of carriers and battleships to the west coast of the US to conduct bombardment raids which, it was hoped, would further discourage a demoralized populace and force the US to negotiate.  The strike force arrived off the coast of Washington and began moving south, bombarding cities and targets of opportunity as they went.  The intent was to inflict some casualties and instill fear in the populace rather than achieve any specific military success.  After 24 hours of nearly continuous bombardment, the group turned away and retired to avoid the inevitable surge of US naval forces to the area from San Francisco and San Diego.

Japanese Battleship Bombarding Washington Coast

While the operation was executed flawlessly the reaction of the American people was a surge of anger, defiance, and cries for revenge and retaliation.  As a result of the raid, US determination to defeat Japan was greater than ever, much to the disbelief of the Japanese strategists.

There was little doubt that the US needed to recapture Pearl Harbor to support the war with Japan.  However, by this time, Japan had had a year to fortify the base and seizing it by a direct assault with the closest support being the US west coast was not immediately feasible.  Instead, US military strategists opted to seize Midway atoll first and then use Midway to screen and support a subsequent assault against Pearl Harbor.  An invasion force consisting of Maj. Gen. Vandegrift’s 1st Marine Division and supported by the carriers Yorktown, Hornet, Wasp, and the newly arrived Essex along with RAdm. Willis ‘Ching’ Lee’s battleship group of North Carolina, Washington, Indiana, and South Dakota was assembled in the Aleutians at Dutch Harbor and sailed for Midway in May 1943. 

As the force approached Midway from the north, the carriers broke off and circled to the east to take a position to the southeast of Midway, somewhat between it and Pearl Harbor.  As expected, the battleships and troop transports were spotted by long range patrol planes from Midway.  The Japanese surged four carriers and their escorts, including the battleships Yamato, the newly arrived Musashi, and the older battleships Nagato, Mutsu, and Fuso from Pearl Harbor to intercept the American force. 

The US transport fleet hung back while the battleship group and its escorts took the lead.  As the US fleet approached Midway, the Japanese launched two aerial strikes of high level bombers from Midway.  The concentrated anti-aircraft fire of the US battleships and escorts, combined with the inherent inaccuracy of high level bombing resulted in only two hits:  one bomb hit the South Dakota resulting in only minor damage and a more serious hit on a cruiser which was forced to retire northward.

Having yet to spot any US carriers, the Japanese saw the chance to engage the US battleships in the long-desired battle line confrontation.  The Japanese battleships sprinted ahead to meet the US battleships.

Japanese Battle Line Steaming To Meet US Battleships

Shortly after, scout planes from the Japanese and US carrier forces located each other, roughly simultaneously and both sides launched strikes at the other’s carriers.  Each realized that the carriers were the priority targets and that their respective battleship forces would have to take care of themselves without the benefit of air cover.

The Japanese strike aircraft reached the American carriers first and managed to penetrate the carriers CAP and escort screen to put two torpedoes into Hornet and one into Wasp.  Essex and Wasp were each hit by two bombs.  The US strike failed to achieve any torpedo hits but put three bombs into Akagi, and two into Soryu.  At the end of the exchange, Wasp was left ablaze and drifting while Essex worked frantically to control internal fires and patch her flight deck.  Hornet was slowed due to flooding but otherwise operational.  On the Japanese side, Japanese damage control measures proved to be less effective than US efforts and Akagi was left a wreck and Soryu was badly damaged but working to regain operational ability. 

A brief pause ensued while both sides worked on damage control and refueled and rearmed for a follow up strike.

Meanwhile, to the northwest, the US battleships, using their SOC Seagull and OS2U Kingfisher scout planes, were aware of the approaching Japanese battleship group and moved to meet them. 

While the two forces sailed towards each other, the carriers launched their second strikes.  This time, the US carriers were able to turn their strike groups around a bit faster than the Japanese and struck first.  The pilots bypassed the blazing Akagi and concentrated on Kaga and Hiryu, managing to put a single torpedo into Kaga along with three bombs.  Hiryu suffered one bomb hit and two near misses.  The Japanese strike found Hornet and Essex and put three torpedoes into Hornet along with two bombs and Essex was hit by another bomb and a torpedo.  Both strikes returned to their carriers and both carrier groups broke off from the engagement, too damaged to continue. 

By this time, the approaching battleship groups were entering into range of each other.  This turned into the classic battle line engagement with the two groups turning to face each other.  Thanks to the Yamato and Musashi the Japanese battleships held an initial range advantage and opened fire at around 44,000 yds.  The American battleships, being outranged, continued to close thus presenting the Japanese with the opportunity to ‘cross the T’ at long range.  South Dakota, in the lead and seemingly a hard luck ship, was straddled several times and suffered one direct hit from an 18” shell which knocked out one of the forward turrets. 

As the US ships reached 35,000 yds, they turned onto a nearly parallel course, closing slowly.  At this point, all the battleships were engaged, each picking their targets at will.  The older Japanese battleships proved to be susceptible to the US 16” shells and suffered several direct hits causing extensive damage and slowly reducing their firepower as mounts were hit and disabled.  Yamato and Musashi proved quite resilient and several hits from 16” shells destroyed secondary guns and started fires but were unable to silence their main batteries.  The US battleships were hit multiple times, except for Washington, and were slowly being pounded down. 

At this point, the three older Japanese battleships fell behind and out of the battle as did the South Dakota.  That left the Yamato and Musashi engaged with Washington, North Carolina, and Indiana.  The US had a greater combined rate of fire while the Japanese had heavier firepower.  As the battle dragged on, all the ships suffered additional hits and were slowly being worn down but the greater volume of fire from the American ships began to tell.  The Japanese broke off the engagement and the battered Americans were quite willing to let them go. 

Mutso and Fuso eventually sank, as did the South Dakota.  The remaining ships on both sides would be out of the war for several months.

South Dakota Fighting Mutso and Fuso

In the aftermath, the battle was a tactical draw with the Japanese losing two carriers, Akagi and Kaga, plus two older battleships and the US also losing two carriers, Hornet and Wasp, plus the South Dakota.  However, strategically, the Japanese failed to stop the American invasion force and Midway was seized thus setting the stage for the eventual recapture of Pearl Harbor.  Historians view the Battle of Midway as the turning point of the war.

After Midway, the US war industry began to hit its stride and new Essex class carriers began arriving along with the new Iowa class battleships and replacement aircraft and pilots.  Japan was unable to match the industrial output and could not replace their losses as readily.  This trend would continue and worsen as the war progressed.  The end was inevitable although four more years of bitter fighting still lay ahead.


(1)Naval History and Heritage Command website,
“An Advance Expeditionary Force of large submarines, five of them carrying midget submarines, was sent to scout around Hawaii, dispatch the midgets into Pearl Harbor to attack ships there, and torpedo American warships that might escape to sea.”

(2)National Geographic website, Map of Pearl Harbor facilities:

(3)Navy Matters blog, “Open Post”, 27-Mar-2019, Purple Calico March 27, 2019 at 7:22 AM



  1. Very interesting.
    Two points:
    1 With the US sending more resources to the Pacific, the war in Europe may well have dragged on longer. If Germany had enough time they may have developed the atom bomb, and things could have ended very differently.
    2 Assuming 1 above didn't happen, as soon as the US had the nuclear option it was game over for Japan.

    1. Nothing in the story suggests a different allocation of resources between Europe and the Pacific than what actually happened. The ships were those that actually served in the Pacific and at the historically correct times.

      The war was over before it began. Japan had no hope, whatsoever, of achieving a combat victory over the US. The US industrial and population advantages were so overwhelming as to ensure Japan would lose. There were only two questions regarding the war:

      1. How long would it take.
      2. Would the US tire of the war and negotiate for peace? Pearl Harbor virtually assured that wouldn't happen plus, quitting was not in the US psychological makeup at that time. Japan failed to grasp that key fact, misjudged the US will, and paid the ultimate price for their misjudgment. Arguably, the US has lost some of that cultural determination today but that's another topic.

    2. This scenario also increases the probability that atomic weapons are first used in Europe, where bombers and escorts can more easily reach their targets.

  2. Had pearl harbour fallen, the US campaign would have been significantly harder.

    Maybe not impossible, but Hawaii, Fiji and the Aleutians are the only sizeable islands in the Pacific, and there's nothing between them and the US.

    If we discount the Aleutians as undeveloped Wasteland, and Fiji as too far south, that leaves Hawaii as the easiest to defend for Japan, and the hardest to attack for the US.

    It's 2000+ miles from the CONUS, and the US wouldn't be fighting isolated, cut of Japanese soldiers.
    It would be the US who was logistically challenged operating limited carrier air, Japan would have limitless supplues and air superiority, operating from vast air fields,

    It might have taken 5 years to retake Hawaii, never mind Japan

    1. Don't forget about Australia as a base of operations. While Australia is 3000 nm from Pearl Harbor, it's spitting distance from the Solomons, New Guinea, and many of the other objectives that the US had to take. While the order of assaults would have been different, the US would likely have used Australia as the jumping off point to expand back into the Pacific and retake the lost islands and Pearl Harbor.

      Consider that we took the entire Pacific back in just four years. I don't think it would have taken five years just to get Pearl. Remember, by 1942, the US industrial machine was beginning to hit its stride. We were turning out not only carriers, battleships, and warships but also, more importantly, all the oilers and replenishment ships that allowed us to operate thousands of miles from bases.

    2. The loss of pearl harbour could sever the link between Australia and the US.

      Hawaii is the only real road block in the Pacific, everything else is a speed bump, at best.

      A force based on Hawaii will have little problem overwhelming the smaller atoll,

      As you say, the US churned out oilers, but could it ever have churned out enough?

      Eventually, of course, with enough time, they could have beaten Germany and carried on eastwards to Australia and north

      Japan let at the war when it left Hawaii, it may have been able to draw if it seized it.

    3. "As you say, the US churned out oilers, but could it ever have churned out enough?"

      I don't have specific oiler numbers but the Navy in 1942 had 400 auxiliary ships which includes an unknown number of oilers and, by 1944, the auxiliary fleet had grown to 1000. So, yes, we could have, and did, build enough to support far flung operations.

      Remember, it's not like it takes thousands of oilers to support a fleet. It just requires one or two for each major task force and, typically, there are only a few to a handful of task forces operating at any given moment.

    4. The US could, of course, just sail round to Australia via the Indian Ocean using a whole chain of British supply bases. It could also team up with British Fleet units and hit the Japanese through India from land - the Japanese would have been massively outnumbered and materially outclassed on land. The Japanese also wouldn't have lasted long attacking the Western USA against land-based aviation.

    5. "The US could, of course, just sail round to Australia via the Indian Ocean using a whole chain of British supply bases."

      ???? You mean from the east coast of the US, down around the southern tip of Africa, and across to Australia? That seems like an incredibly long and difficult route.

      "The Japanese also wouldn't have lasted long attacking the Western USA against land-based aviation."

      For a one-time, surprise attack as postulated in the post, why not?

    6. It is a long route but with plenty of supplies available. Sure the Japanese could make one-off attacks but it wouldn't materially change the war. My real point is that the original post completely ignored allies and forgot about the entire rest of the world - not everything is solved by just charging straight at the enemy with as much force as you can muster!

    7. "My real point is that the original post completely ignored allies"

      Yes, it does! I max'ed out my space allotment with what I did write. Trying to include far flung allied actions would turn it into a book length writing! Most people don't realize that the challenge in blog posting is not what to write but what not to include. If I include every possible item then every post becomes a book. People, today, don't want books, they want sound bites so I have to keep the posts short - several paragraphs, typically. This post was longer than most even without world wide allied actions.

      If you think there are significant allied actions that would impact this 'what if', feel free to describe them in a comment. That would be quite interesting.

    8. Ok, your response is fair but I'll pull out a few points in response :

      - The British Empire was at least equal to the US at the time of Pearl Harbour and also benefited from world-wide bases. The US relied heavily on Australia for the pacific campaign, for example.
      - British Empire troops attrited a large amount of Japanese troops and forced the diversion of large numbers more in Burma etc which then could not engage the US.
      - The British Empire loaned the USA HMS Victorious in reality to help with the shortfall post-Pearl - if Pearl had been worse, there were more ships, especially Battleships, that could have been loaned.

      You also asked what lessons could be learned for the current situation :

      - The US can attack China from more than one direction
      - Allies can make up for USA weaknesses in quantity
      - Now is the time to strengthen alliances as the USA loses its advantage over China, rather than ignoring or deriding them. The situation with continental Europe is particularly bad with the French, in particular, being anti-American.
      - Trump is making the right moves by staying in the Middle East where 'Belt and Road' can be blocked and trying to persuade Americans to buy American and not Chinese. If the US gave preferential terms to Europe and bought more European goods, they might stop buying Chinese stuff too.
      - The US needs to get Indonesia on side to block access to Africa by sea.

      It's very difficult to do a long response with a window 4 lines wide to write in!

    9. " If the US gave preferential terms to Europe and bought more European goods, they might stop buying Chinese stuff too."

      Absolutely spot on!

    10. "It's very difficult to do a long response with a window 4 lines wide to write in!"

      I feel you! Feel free to break it up into small chunks, if that helps.

    11. ""a few points in response"

      All good observations regarding allies.

      "Allies can make up for USA weaknesses in quantity"

      To a limited extent, yes. In a China war, Japan's forces would be completely tied up in self-defense due to the proximity to China. The Royal Navy simply has too few ships to meaningfully impact numbers. The US has 280 some ships and the entire RN has one semi-carrier, 6 attack subs, and a total of 19 Type 23/45s. Even if the entire RN were loaned to the US Navy (a ridiculous scenario), it wouldn't appreciably alter the US Navy's strength. More reasonably, the RN might loan three or four ships? Every other country has less and is even less likely to loan anything. So, yes, allies could add to US Navy quantities but only to a limited extent.

      Take the Royal Navy as the most likely to loan ships. How many would you realistically see them loaning. I ask this not argumentatively but exploring the degree that the US could/should depend on allies, if at all. For example, the RN would insist on retaining enough ships to carry out basic home defense so how many ships, if any, does that leave available for loaning out, do you think?

    12. "The British Empire loaned the USA HMS Victorious"

      That's a good reminder. In the actuality, Victorious only served with the US for a few months but one could construct an entire 'what if' surrounding Victorious' role in stepping in for the decimated US carrier fleet.

      I have no idea but do you know what aircraft types the Victorious carried if she had operated without US aircraft? Fulmar, Albacore, Swordfish, maybe? How would Victorious' aircraft have fared against Japanese ships and planes compared to how US aircraft performed, do you think?

    13. Would Victorious' much smaller air group have been sufficient for extended Pacific operations?

    14. While the UK, Australia and others would probably help, I was thinking more specifically about India and attacking from the land. India has 3.5-4 times the US population and a very short supply chain for attacking China - add some US technology and see what happens. Also, not much is said about where Russia stands on this - a dominant China doesn't do them any favours and they have a lot of empty land and resources right next door and might become a target too. We're wasting a lot of time and effort on Russia as an adversary but I wonder if it's the wrong strategy - more McDonalds, more Starbucks, more wheat, more loans, more purchase of Russian oil and goods and just maybe we can get them to join NATO somewhere down the line.

    15. Victorious was historically equipped with US aircraft for both logistical and range reasons and it would be foolish to even think of changing that. Swordfish and Seafires might have been useful for fleet defence but the range was not sufficient for offensive Pacific operations. Even in other theatres the UK was using Wildcats but you have to wonder if the more reliable RN torpedoes had been used by the US whether that might have made a difference.

      Victorious' smaller air group would have been an issue but maybe she would have stayed in battle longer due to the armored deck and been topped up from damaged US carriers? Certainly the class held up well against Kamikazes later in the war. Unicorn might well have been available as Operation Torch would probably have been cancelled if the US was suffering badly in the Pacific.

    16. "I was thinking more specifically about India and attacking from the land."

      Ahh … Okay, I got it and I agree with you completely. Yes, you're correct that we need to devote much more effort to making India a willing and happy ally.

      You're also correct about Russia. They may never be our friends to the point of joining NATO but there is no reason why they have to be our enemy. I'm genuinely puzzled about what Russia wants and why they see us an enemy. Heck, we stood and watched while they annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine. How much less of a threat could we be and yet they still seem to have a paranoid fear of us. We need to try to ease that paranoia, understand what they want, and see if we can find some common ground.

      China, on the other hand, I see no common ground or room for compromise. War is inevitable.

      Very good comment.

    17. "Certainly the class held up well against Kamikazes later in the war."

      Armored decks have both advantages and disadvantage, as you undoubtedly well know. Your point about standing up kamikaze and/or bomb damage is valid, however, the price paid by that design is the smaller air group. If the only criteria is survival, that's a good choice (armor and smaller group). However, the reason for being for a carrier is offensive strikes - heavy ones, at that. That being the case, the US approach of unarmored flight decks and large air groups was the better approach. Also, US carriers stood up well enough, if less than immune to attack. The gain in strike capacity seems to have been worth the loss of armor.

      Of course, the best approach is an armored carrier with a large air group and that's just a matter of proper design and being willing to accept the increased cost in money and size that approach would entail. In fact, that's exactly what post-war carrier design went.

    18. “I have no idea but do you know what aircraft types the Victorious carried if she had operated without US aircraft? Fulmar, Albacore, Swordfish, maybe? How would Victorious' aircraft have fared against Japanese ships and planes compared to how US aircraft performed, do you think?”

      Per, in March 1945, Victorious carried 14 Avengers and 37 Corsairs. The British carriers Formidable, Illustrious, and Indomitable each carried a similar number of Avengers and Corsairs and Indefatigable’s air wing included 20 Avengers.

      Operating alone, I doubt any of these carriers could defend against a determined Kamikaze attack. Given the size of their air wings, their best option was operating as a group of 5 carriers.

    19. To be fair to the Brits, the carriers weren't designed for the Pacific. I wonder how US carriers would have fared in the Mediterranean on a re-supply run to Malta? (perhaps a future topic!) I certainly agree that multiple carriers is the way to go and I have a lot of sympathy with Comnavops idea of more, Midway-sized, carriers.

    20. In 1942, Victorious' classmates operated Wildcats, Hurricanes, Fulmars, Albacores and Swordfish principally. By 1945 in the Pacific they were armed with US aircraft for logistics and range reasons but Seafires were kept as they were better fighters at short range and Barracudas were included in some ships primarily as torpedo carriers because the Brits never used the Avenger as a torpedo carrier as they didn't rate the US torpedoes it was designed for. By this time, the ships could operate 54 aircraft each and the half-sisters Implacable and Indefatigable 81 each. The British Pacific Fleet with multiple carriers was a fairly good match for a US Task Group but of course the US had overtaken the Brits by this pint and had several groups.

    21. "their best option was operating as a group of 5 carriers."

      The US Navy found that the optimum carrier group was 4 due to air space requirements. Each carrier requires a certain clear air space volume to operate its aircraft. More than 4 was found to spread the group out so far that mutual support and escorts became problematic.

      I offer this not as a nitpick on your suggestion of 5-carrier groups but just as an interesting bit of related information. Your basic suggestion of needing to operate in groups is on the money.

    22. " I wonder how US carriers would have fared in the Mediterranean on a re-supply run to Malta? "

      Do you have some aspect of that use that you see as problematic for US carriers?

    23. British armored carriers took a lot of aircraft bomb damage and survived and were back in action relatively quickly - I don't feel that US carriers of the time would have fared so well. The extra aircraft would have helped but the US aircraft would still have been heavily outnumbered and land-based aircraft do have a number of advantages over their carrier-based cousins.

    24. On the other hand, US carrier operations were very efficient and effective. US CAP and defensive air power would have been far more effective than equivalent British efforts.

      Also, there are numerous instances of US carriers absorbing significant damage and continuing to operate and getting repaired fairly quickly. For longer repair periods, one of the reasons longer times occurred was because the US had sufficient numbers of carriers that they could afford to detach a carrier for more leisurely repairs combined with the opportunity to incorporate upgrades.

      When US carriers needed to get back into action quickly, they often did so. For example, the Yorktown, heavily damaged at Coral Sea, needed an estimated 90 days of repairs but was turned around in 3 days and sailed to Midway. Similarly, Enterprise was hit multiple times during the war but only the last hit knocked her out of action. And so on.

      Wiki has a nice discussion of the overall issue of armored versus unarmored carriers. Also, recall that "unarmored" only meant that the armor deck was not the flight deck. In US carriers after the Lexington/Sar, the hangar deck was armored, thus protecting the carrier's internals.

      Has anyone ever done a comparison of US Navy Hellcats to the land based aircraft in the Med?

    25. Hellcats weren't in service until after the Malta convoys so you would still be looking at Wildcats, which the Brits did use in the Mediterranean so there is actual combat history. USS Wasp was actually used on two convoys but for some reason primarily as a ferry carrier and only went far enough to launch her cargo of Spitfires (so not into the most dangerous area) although she did deploy about a dozen Wildcats as CAP.

    26. Good reminder about the timing of the Hellcat's appearance. The Wildcat's performance in the Med is an area I know little about and there seems to be little information on it. Do you know of any good sources?

    27. This seems fairly good :

      At the very bottom is also a comparison against the Me-109 which the Italians also flew, as well as German Squadrons in the Mediterranean. I've seen other sources compare the better Italian fighters to being on a level with the Hurricane.

    28. "The US Navy found that the optimum carrier group was 4 due to air space requirements. Each carrier requires a certain clear air space volume to operate its aircraft. More than 4 was found to spread the group out so far that mutual support and escorts became problematic."

      While that is true, the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) at that time consisted of 5 carriers, 5 cruisers, and 11 destroyers. Given the size of their air wings, about halfway between a CVL and a CV, and the limited number of destroyers and cruisers, the best option would be to operate as a single task force, which became Task Force 57.

      We also operated 4 carrier groups in part because we eventually had the numbers to do so. Earlier carrier task forces operated fewer carriers. At the same time, most of those later carrier groups consisted of 2 CVs and 2 CVLs.

    29. " comparison against the Me-109"

      Great link. Thanks!

  3. Outstanding. Excellent detail.

    The U.S. was engaged in bomber production, B-17 and B-24's, both would have received priority resources and would have been used to scout deep into the Pacific to avoid any further attacks on the U.S.

    Japan was not able to affect the military output of the U.S., assuring the final victory for the U.S. By 1942 the Japanese army was stretched pretty far afield, causing some supply issues. Occupying Hawaii would have exacerbated the problem. As you said, the Navy would have been able to counter-attack and seize Midway and very likely prevent an Australian invasion.

    1. "B-17 and B-24's, both would have received priority resources and would have been used to scout deep into the Pacific"

      Despite their great range, the Pacific is truly vast! Where would see them having been based that would put them in useful areas of operation relative to their range?

    2. B-17 and B-24s would have been based on the West coast, doing recon patrols to about 1000 miles outbound. Certainly Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego for points of origin.

  4. The US Army had 41,000 troops on Oahu in 1941, and the Navy and Marines had thousands who could carry arms. The Army had dozens of fortified coastal guns too. The Japanese could have landed, but would have got bogged down after a few weeks and run low on supplies having none forward staged

    1. Parshall discusses the potential idea of a Japanese invasion of Hawaii in two scenarios: Post-Midway (IJN victory), and immediately after Pearl Harbor.

      The summary is that a Hawaii invasion after Midway isn't going to work because even without the Navy, the US forces in Hawaii are too strong, and while theoretically if you had 3 Divisions drop on Hawaii in the immediate wake of the most devastating defeat the US has ever experienced, the Japanese are unlikely to go for that, lacking the amphibous lift, shipping, and the fact that they have only 11 Divisions for action in the Pacific: reassigning divisions for the Hawaii invasion and occupation means Japan has to sacrifice critical objectives in the Pacific, objectives which it cannot afford to sacrifice.

    2. "The US Army had 41,000 troops on Oahu in 1941"

      Perhaps on paper but not in actual trained troops. From the Army history website, (Oahu Army Stength)

      "About the same time that General Short decided to garrison the outer islands he asked the War Department to approve the reorganization of the Hawaiian Division by distributing its four infantry regiments between two new triangular divisions. The actual reorganization, into the 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions, did not become effective until 1 October 1941. The new divisions had an authorized strength of about 11,000 officers and men each, but their actual strength was considerably less at the outset, and the 24th Division had no control over the battalions of the 299th infantry scattered among the outer islands.

      In the year preceding the Pearl Harbor attack, the Army's officer and enlisted strength in the Hawaiian Department grew from 28,798 to 43,177, and Hawaii remained the largest of the overseas garrisons.57 Nearly half the increase represented increments, including a good many men of Japanese descent, drawn from the local population through the induction of the National Guard and the operation of the selective service system.58 Since most of the new men received from the mainland also needed more training, the Hawaiian Department of necessity became a training establishment on a large scale during 1941"

      It's clear that the effective Army strength was around 25,000 and some (small) portion of that was scattered on the outer islands. The rest of the purported troop strength was administrative, training, and support and much of the body count was ineffectives drawn from the local populace.

      With those actual numbers in mind and factoring in the stunned, shocked, confused, and demoralized state of the troops in the immediate aftermath of the initial aerial attacks, an effective defense would have been unlikely, just as was the case in the Philippines, Wake, and elsewhere.

      The Philippines, for example, had 31,000 US troops and 120,000 Philippine troops. The Japanese invasion force consisted of two divisions.

      "The Japanese could have landed, but would have got bogged down after a few weeks and run low on supplies having none forward staged"

      Is your name Douglas MacArthur?

      History would seem to disagree with your conclusion.

    3. "The summary is that a Hawaii invasion after Midway isn't going to work"

      From the reference you cite, we see the opposite conclusion under the circumstances of the post. The author says,

      "I will grant that had three Japanese divisions magically appeared on the shores of Hawaii on the morning of December 7th, hard on the heels of one of the most shattering military defeats in U.S. history, it is unlikely that the U.S. Army garrison there would have been able to put up a cohesive defense. So the Japanese could, conceivably, have taken the Hawaiian islands under these particular circumstances."

      So, having established, by your own reference, that an invasion could have been successful in our scenario, it remains only to provide the requisite Japanese troop strength.

      The Japanese Army had a max total of 5 million troops in 149 divisions. Allocating a few more divisions to a Pearl Harbor invasion or re-tasking a few divisions and rearranging various South Pacific invasion schedules would not have been hard. Had they known they were going to invade Pearl Harbor, they would have scheduled various Army deployments appropriately during 1940-41.

      To say that all their divisions in the South Pacific were tied up and unavailable is just a statement of what was, not what could have been if they had planned differently. It's argumentative to no good or valid purpose. We wanted to attack Japan early on so we tasked some aircraft to do it (Doolittle raid). If the Japanese had wanted to invade Pearl Harbor they would have tasked forces to do so.

      Read your own preferred reference a bit more carefully and stop being argumentative for its own sake and, instead, contribute something to the discussion.

    4. Now, that all being said, if one's writing a piece of alternate history fiction, eh, i suppose stranger things have happened. Siezing Pearl to act as the frontmost of island forts defending Japan can be plausible enough, with what we know of WW2 Imperial Japan's psychology. I'm of the opinion that it'd be more of a phyrric victory, a poisoned chalice. Japan's merchant shipping needs to operating at max efficiency, shipping supplies to occupied nations and sending raw materials back; in the case of the island forts, they're shipping supplies in and coming back empty. That's going to be exarcerbated with trying to supply the Hawaii garrison, since hawaii has no raw materials extraction and any agriculture is going to have to be purposed to keeping the islands fed.

      Now, this may lead to some butterfly effects. The sheer effort and inefficiency of supporting Hawaii might well persuade the General Staff that the island fortification plan isn't viable. Who knows? Perhaps Hawaii ends up being the only major amphibious landing, and the Japanese pull back their forces closer to Japan. The island-hopping campaign might be less of a thing, but fighting around the Japanese home islands might be fiercer, since they're keeping their ships closer to home, and aren't burning their DDs on the Tokyo Express. They might even get to have their decisive battle that they wanted...

    5. Further butterflies to consider: Japan has 51 divisions in 1941, with 27 in China and 13 in Mongolia. If one assumes that the Pacific objectives are critical and must be taken, this means that the IJA is going to have to weaken its forces in China and Mongolia to provide the manpower for invading Hawaii (to say nothing of the sealift to support the invasion). Weakening the Mongolian forces might tempt the Russians to attack, particularly once they learn of the Pearl Harbor invasion and realise that Japan is acting with more aggression than expected. It wouldn't necessarily be an invasion in the traditional sense: launch probing attacks accross the border, retreat and absorb the Japanese counterattacks, with the soviets aiming to defeat in detail the Japanese forces and do a repeat of Khalkin Gol...

    6. At the time of Pearl Harbor the German Army Group Center was 12 miles outside of Moscow. 18 divisions from the Soviet Far East had just arrived at the front to launch a major counteroffensive.

      There would be no Soviet attack on Manchukuo.

  5. Pearl harbour was about seizing oil in th dutch east indies. A prolonged invasion of Hawaii that consumed the naval forces may have affected the attack on singapore and java which was the real objective of the IJN. Due to the oil embargo Japan had very little oil left and undertook the attack to prevent the USN from intetfering in the attacks on south east asia.

  6. "A prolonged invasion of Hawaii that consumed the naval forces"

    Why would you assume that? It quite likely would have been a very short, conclusive invasion as was every other place that Japan initially invaded. After the second aerial attack, Pearl Harbor had essentially no naval or air forces left and just a very disorganized, demoralized ground force. Sounds like a recipe for a very short assault.

    With Pearl Harbor in Japanese hands, their oil supply could have been further secured at leisure and with significantly less US naval interference.

  7. General Yamamoto got it right Japan ran wild for 6 months after Pearl an invasion of Hawaii would only have postponed the inevitable the sub force pretty much by itself pretty much starved Japan after they got all their kinks worked along with tactics so the smart step would just never have done anything to begin with

    1. I take it you know where that sub force was based? The ramifications of the proffered alter-history are immense. So much of what actually happened could have gone much more in Japan's favor had they invaded Pearl Harbor. Of course, the eventual outcome would have been the same, regardless.

      Still, the fun (and education) of this type of post lies in thinking strategically and seeing what lessons can be learned. There is far too little (essentially, none) strategic thinking by today's military. Their focus is on technology rather than strategy. We've forgotten what strategy is and what role it plays in military planning and acquisition. Had we considered China strategically, we never would have designed and procured the F-35 because it simply doesn't fit any viable Pacific strategy.

      What lesson(s) do you take from this alter-history?

    2. Excellent points for sure the subs would have to come from the west coast most likely bit that is a lot shorter distance than the extra long resupply lines Japan would need and they probably could never have built or acquired enough supply ships or the escorts for that effort in the first place in the end it really would not have mattered the Japanese fate was sealed after the attack same as Germany when Hitler stupidly declared war on the US hey another What if Possibly what would have happened if Hotler had never declared war on the US love to hear that scenario For sure

    3. "what would have happened if Hotler had never declared war on the US"

      I think the US would have entered the war eventually, regardless. We were half way in, anyway. If you're asking how things would have played out if the war were fought between just Germany and England, that's one I can't really speculate on because I just don't know enough about England's industrial capacity and manpower situation. I would guess neither side could prevail and the result would be stalemate and armistice. Any thoughts of your own.

    4. The US may have entered the war later but maybe not Allied with Stalin anyway it's fun just thinking bout all the what ifs I guess the biggest what if is what if Japan never attacked Pearl in the first place

    5. "what if Japan never attacked Pearl in the first place"

      Now that's probably the most likely 'what if' speculation! Japan had already seized, or was in the act of seizing, much of what it wanted to support its raw material and oil needs and we hadn't stopped them or declared war. If they had confined their actions to what had occurred to that point and not give the US a reason to enter war by attacking Pearl Harbor, would we have unilaterally declared war on Japan? I doubt it. There was a strong isolationist feeling in America, at the time, and FDR was having a difficult time moving America towards war.

      Not attacking Pearl Harbor was the one strategy that might have had some hope of allowing Japan to achieve most of what it wanted in the Pacific.

    6. The Japanese government believed, incorrectly as it turned out, that the USA would've declared war in the event of a Japanese attack on the Netherlands East Indies.

      Given that the Philippines interdicted the sea lanes between Japan and the NEI, Japan felt it needed to attack America at the same time.

      Another interesting "what if" is "what if" Japan had ceased expanding after setting up Manchukuo? Most of China's reserves of coal, iron ore, and oil are in Manchuria. The oil had not yet been discovered--that didn't happen until the 1950s.

      All of the oil the Japanese needed was right under their feet!

  8. Retaking Hawaii would be no small feat especially given its distance from the West Coast. It’s likely after taking Hawaii that Japan would send replacements and reinforcements to Hawaii. Let's assume a 50,000 strong garrison on Oahu. Assuming 3 attackers per defender, the landing force would be 150,000 strong. That is twice the number of troops we landed on D-Day. Plus, there would be a second, and maybe a third, wave of troops, maybe another 50,000 troops or so. In addition, only carrier-based aircraft would be capable of providing air defense and close air support, thus requiring a larger than usual carrier force.

    It would take some time to build up such a landing force. In December 1942, the fleet included 19 battleships, 4 fleet carriers, and 12 escort carriers. The first Iowa’s were commissioned in early 1943. Such an assault might not have taken place until mid to late-1943. Offhand, I would think an assault to retake Hawaii would required 8-10 fleet carriers and another 6-8 escort carriers to provide enough aircraft for air support.

    I agree the US would have eventually prevailed, our industrial capacity was many times that of Japan's, but I think the war in the Pacific would have lasted until late-1947, maybe early-1948.

    1. Love the article ComNavOps. Two things to ponder thou... 1. With Hawaii secured, would it be feasible for the Japanese to launch a raid on the Panama canal locks?. 2. What do you think would happen to the damaged USN Pacific squadron after capture?

    2. I'm not the CNO and thanks for suggesting the topic. But, you raise a good question. In addition to the major cities on the West Cost, the Panama Canal would be another location to defend against an attack. If I was Japan, I definitely would attack the Panama Canal to further isolate the US from the Pacific. In addition, that would force the US to expend resources that could be used elsewhere to rebuild the Canal.

    3. Assuming you're referring to the sunken and damaged battleships, that never occurred to me. I would guess that with the more prolonged attacks and subsequent invasion that the ships would be further damaged and not worth salvaging?

      Likewise, I never thought about the Canal. Might be an interesting gambit although it wouldn't prevent movement of ships between the Atlantic and Pacific - just slow it down.

      Good thoughts.

    4. " I definitely would attack the Panama Canal to further isolate the US from the Pacific."

      Possibly. However, the Canal, while convenient, was not the only way to move between oceans. It just would have taken a little longer to make the moves. With everything else the Japanese had on their plate, it might have not been a high enough priority to act on.

      A more effective and easier move might have been to mine some major west coast ports and naval bases using submarines. That would have hindered naval movement and commercial traffic and maybe provided some cheap warship kills.

    5. Japan could also have mined routes to the Panama Canal using submarines. And, given that traffic slows down and ships have to wait before entering the Panama Canal, Japan could have launched repeated submarine raids forcing the US to deploy more ships and aircraft to the area.

  9. Anon has explained my point better than I did.
    Retaking Hawaii would be akin to Operation Overlord, except mounted at 100x the distance, with none of the support.

    This isnt like Midway or Iwo Jima where half a dozen shells could knock out the airstrip, Japan could have built 100 airfields and deployed 1000 aircraft, Japan could've deployed 100,000 - 250,000 men and conscripted more of the natives, tanks, artillery.
    It couldnt be bypassed like Raboul was, cut off from resupply and useless once the airfuel ran out.

    It'd be virtually impossible to blockade Hawaii from the mainland

    I honestly believe it would be easier to head east to Australia and then fight North, rather than invade Hawaii from the CONUS.

    1. It's a 'what if' so we can certainly suppose a million Japanese defenders and 10,000 aircraft or whatever we want. However, it's easy to get carried away. For example, the largest Pacific island defending force the Japanese put on any island was 76,000 or so on Okinawa. Yes, the total Philippines had much more but that was, on a relative basis, a country (albeit islands) rather than an isolated island. Luzon, alone is 42,000 sq.mi., for example, whereas Oahu is 600 sq.mi. with only portions of it being livable. So, yes, we could postulate any size defending force we want but, realistically, the small size of the island precludes insanely large forces. A reasonable guess, based on forces deployed on similar sized islands, would be 30,000-70,000.

      The story postulates seizing Midway and then attacking Pearl Harbor from the northwest but coming up from Australia might be feasible as well.

      The larger, and more interesting, issue is how a Japanese seizure of Pearl Harbor would have made US options much more difficult across the board.

  10. Japan committed all of their heavy carriers to the attack on Pearl Harbor. If they had included an amphibious assault as well as suggested in the story it might have worked. There was utter confusion during and after the attack with many friendly fire incidents over a two week period. I think the "invasion" would have worked and no prisoners would have been taken. My Dad was there on the Barb? and he and his friends said anyone could have come in and rolled them. I don't see how Japan could have threatened the Panama Canal as there were extensive sub nets and huge shore batteries unlike Naval Station Pearl. Did Hawaii have any shore batteries?

  11. They put out to sea without water, weapons and food. My dad said they did not have enough fuel to even make San Diego. The Captain said they would ram any targets... So the invasion scenario is not that far fetched.

  12. This is an interesting and well thought out counter-factual scenario.
    There has been much discussion in comments about the difficulties that the U.S. would have faced in re-taking Hawaii due to its distance from the mainland.
    But Japan would have also faced some pretty substantial difficulties in supplying their Hawaii outpost across the vast Pacific. Their greatest asset would have been that they were in possession of the islands and would only need to prevent being dislodged, but it would have been a monumental challenge for them as well.

    1. Japan could have played leapfrog with supplies, meaning that they could have relayed from island to island rather than direct from Japan to Pearl Harbor in one sailing. Whether that would have eased the overall logistics, I have no idea.

      You correctly note the logistic challenge as distance from the mainland (or main supply location, presumably the mainland) increases. Does this suggest a lesson for the US, today, as regards, say, Guam? Is Guam too far forward to reliably resupply during war? If so, why do we have it? If not, how will we accomplish it given our very small merchant fleet? How will the US resupply its bases in Japan, assuming they remain operational in a war? Is there such a thing as a base too far forward? If Guam is too far forward, where should the US 'forward' base be?

      Good comment.

    2. Guam I guess could get supplies by sir or surprise submarine today's subs especially the boomers could and do carry a great amount of supplies just for their own use just imagine how much they could deliver without their missile tubes Hmm is that interesting ComNavOps?

    3. "just imagine how much they could deliver without their missile tubes "

      Hmm … didn't the Japanese have a cargo version of a submarine? Or am I remembering that incorrectly?

      Subs are much smaller than dedicated cargo ships. I wonder what a dedicated sub could carry? Of course, there's also the issue of loading/unloading without a traditional large cargo hold opening to crane into and out of. Still, interesting idea.

    4. Remember the japs did supply some islands with subs during the war what I'm talking about is taking the boomers removing the missile tubes essentially making them in effect supply vessels they would not much more than self defense equipment and probably would be much more survivable than surface ships not saying its ideal just a idea

  13. We are rebuilding Manus Island and others to address the Guam issue
    and give us options. I still prefer the ROC "offer" on their island previously mentioned. I had hoped that was the focus of a future article. china has told us that any US presence on Taiwan
    would be an act of war. Therefore we must do it. Call them out now.

    1. " Therefore we must do it. "

      This would be an excellent opportunity to use some China-like strategy. We could send a couple of planes for a short term "visit". Do that a few times and let everyone get used to the idea. Then send a few planes for a longer period along with a few maintenance techs, just for short term support. Again, let everyone complain and get used to the idea. Then, send a few more planes and take a long time getting around to removing them. Add in a port visit by one ship for a brief time and then a longer visit and then … You can see where this is going. Eventually, in a bloodless fait accompli, we have a permanent military presence. Exactly how China would go about it!

  14. Japan did invade Guam immediately after the Pearl harbour attack, the island is roughly half the size of Ohau , although more equal if you discount Ohau mountainous spine. The defence force was very small and in a sense undefended but the japanese landed over 5000 men from the nearby Marianas-Saipan Tinian -which were Japans spoils from WW1. ( Spain had sold the remainder of the islands to Germany in 1899)
    covered in more detail here

    Hawaii is of course more than one island. The ideal method of capture of other islands after Ohau with the technology of the time would be paratroops , but they were only a small part of Imperial navy Marines but could have expanded.
    A side issue was the Japanese designated the island of Niihau as an emergency landing spot for planes too damaged to return to the carriers where they could be rescued. In the end only one plane crash landed there and overall looses were very light.
    Maybe this island (without communications then) could have been very easily taken by ground forces as a preliminary to an attack on the other islands, there being a small port and airfield on nearby Kauai.

    1. You'll note in the post that the other Hawaiian islands were ignored in terms of occupying them. They were not militarily significant to the Japanese objectives.

  15. Sorry for being late to the party. As usual, this an excellent post.

    As a couple commentors have pointed out, from a logistic standpoint, the Japanese would not have been able to launch an amphibious assault on Hawaii while blitzing the South Pacific. If the Japanese had invaded Oahu and merely delayed their South Pacific invasion, they'd have run out of fuel while the US/UK forces mobilized in the Phillipines/Singapore/India/Australia/etc.

    The combined fleet page ( looks at a Hawaiian invasion scenario and concludes it would have been impossible- there just weren't enough ships in the Japanese merchant marine to simultaneously supply the Army in China, invade and occupy the South Pacific for oil while simultaneously supporting operations 4000 miles away. Supplying the half-million people on the island was a massive undertaking for the United States, which had the advantage of having an economy and merchant marine massive enough to concurrently support military operations in two oceans. Japan's merchant marine was a fraction of the size of the US's, and would have had to support multiple concurrent invasions and garrisons in the southern Pacific.

    However, let's imagine that Japan spent the 1930's preparing for this by both drastically increasing the quantity and range of their merchant fleet as well as developing a good convoy doctrine alongside concurrent development of blue-water convoy escorts, essentially doing what the US did in WW2 with Liberty Ships, Destroyer Escorts/Sub Chasers, and Escort Carriers (I doubt the real-life Japanese economy could have supported it in addition to their regular naval buildup, but we're in fantasy-land here, so that doesn't matter. We're no longer in the Prime Universe.). In this new hypothetical, Japan is able to launch concurrent invasions of the Southern Pacific and Oahu.

    In that case, the Allies are screwed.

    Japan in 1941 would a military and logistical capability that no one in the world possessed at the time, and wouldn't exist until 1943 in our Prime Universe. A Japanese economy of the size needed to sustain the kinds of oeprations needed would have built more warships, carriers, and aircraft to counter the USN.

    The invasion force that took Hawaii leaves a garrison, returns to the home islands, loads another few divisions, and invades Australia and possibly New Zealand. Then they do it again somewhere in India. Or the West Coast of the United States. It's only ≈2000 miles from Oahu to California- roughly half the distance from Japan to Oahu. That's child's play for the new IJN.

    Anyways, a salient quote from the combinedfleet page:

    "In reality, Japan was presented with the equivalent of a zero sum strategic game in the Pacific. Its strategic goal had to be to maximize the fruits of eleven divisions' labors. The question arises, then, if Japan had made the decision to commit three divisions to an invasion of Hawaii on December 7th, what other objectives in the Pacific were they willing to give up? In my estimation, the inevitable answer has to be: none. After all, the overriding purpose of the war the Japanese had committed themselves to waging was securing the resources of the Southwest Pacific (i.e. oil) as quickly as possible. The luxury of time was distinctly not in Japan's favor. Her petroleum stockpiles were insufficient for large-scale, protracted hostilities, and her ability to increase domestic production was negligible compared to the needs of her military force structure (particularly the Navy). Thus, committing forces to an objective which did not directly further the securement of these natural resources was insupportable."

    1. " let's imagine that Japan spent the 1930's preparing for this"

      Outstanding, outstanding, outstanding! You're the first commenter to grasp this - that if the Japanese had made the capture of Pearl Harbor part of their overall strategy, the would have spent the preceding years building towards it and modifying their plans to make it so. Everyone else has approached this from the moment in time of Pearl Harbor and where all the various Japanese assets were AT THAT TIME. That's totally incorrect. The question is where the assets WOULD HAVE BEEN with years of planning. Just as the Pearl Harbor attack assets were planned, assembled, and trained for months and years prior, so to would the invasion force have been planned, assembled, and trained.

      Undoubtedly, some aspects of Japan's historical actions would have differed. For example, if they planned on seizing Pearl Harbor, they could have possibly left Midway, Wake, and even the Philippines alone, duplicating the island hopping and isolation strategy that the US actually used. Why invade those islands when, with Pearl Harbor seized, all resupply to them would be cut off and they could wither until the Japanese got around to taking them? This partially addresses your zero-sum quote, too.

      The timetable for the various other Indochina actions might also have been altered.

      And so on.

      I would also disagree with the quote from the combined fleet page in that few (no?) other objectives would have more directly supported the subsequent acquisition of oil than seizing Pearl Harbor. Seizing Pearl along the lines in the story would have bought the Japanese an extra 1-2 years of uncontested time to solidify and secure their oil sources.

      "securing the resources of the Southwest Pacific (i.e. oil) as quickly as possible."

      I have no idea what the Japanese leaders were actually thinking, strategically, but if they were focused on "quickly as possible" then they were incompetent. They should have been focused on "securely as possible" and that's where seizing Pearl Harbor comes in. Secure Pearl Harbor, eject the US Navy from the Pacific, and then you'll have SECURE oil resources and time to solidify your gains.

      Best comment, so far!!!

    2. "Seizing Pearl along the lines in the story would have bought the Japanese an extra 1-2 years of uncontested time to solidify and secure their oil sources."

      I don't see how. Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor was precipitated by the US's oil embargo which left Japan with mere months of supply left. They needed the oil immediately, and they needed to neutralize anyone that was in their way. Japan did not seriously plan an attack on Hawaii until 1941 after war looked increasingly likely.

      Stockpiling a couple years worth of wartime oil supplies was not feasible- by the time Japan started planning for Pearl Harbor, oil shipments from the Dutch and US were starting to be curtailed.

      Then the embargo hit and the Japanese had few options- acquiesce to the US's demands on China, watch their military grind to a halt, or seize the oil supplies in the Dutch East Indies.

      "I have no idea what the Japanese leaders were actually thinking, strategically, but if they were focused on "quickly as possible" then they were incompetent."

      That is precisely what they were thinking. They famously thought that a string of stinging defeats would break the US public's morale and cause the US to negotiate. This was part of a fundamental misunderstanding of the American culture by the Japanese leadership.

      The Japanese needed the Pacific Fleet sidelined so the IJN/IJA could take other US/UK/etc possessions in the Pacific that would threaten their sea lines of communication to the Dutch East Indies.

      And then there's the other part of the Japanese mindset: they knew of the US's Naval Acts of 1938 and 1940. They knew the USN was undergoing as massive building program and that they had no hope of matching those kinds of build rates.

      The Japanese knew that the Essex's, Iowas, Montanas, plus a couple hundred small ships and submarines were being constructed. The Japanese suspected they would face the new construction sometime around 1945-1947, so any war would need to be fought and won before the new US ships could turn the tide.

      If Japan had not invaded China and had instead developed more of their military industry and war fighting doctrines, had stockpiled supplies for a multi-year war, and had constructed a larger navy and amphibious force that could go toe-to-toe with the US, they very well may have successfully invaded Hawaii.

      But by doing so, they likely would have obviated several of the causes of going to war with the US in the first place.

    3. Japan had contemplated, to varying degrees, an attack on Pearl Harbor for years prior. From

      "As early as 1927, war games at the Japanese Navy War College included an examination of a carrier raid against Pearl Harbor. The following year, a certain Captain Yamamoto lectured on the same topic. By the time the United States moved the Pacific Fleet from the West Coast to Pearl Harbor in May 1940, Yamamoto was already exploring how to execute such a bold operation. According to the chief of staff of the Combined Fleet, Vice Admiral Fukudome Shigeru, Yamamoto first discussed an attack on Pearl Harbor in March or April 1940."

      Clearly, the Pearl Harbor attack was not a spur of the moment thought prompted by the oil embargo. The embargo may have been the event the finalized the detailed planning but it had clearly been a considered option for quite some time.

      The Dutch East Indies (DEI) produced 65M barrels of oil annually compared to Japan's need which was 35M barrels annually. Japan could have refrained from attacking China, focused on seizing the DEI, seized Pearl Harbor, and been in a position to secure their oil supply, unhindered, for a year or two to come, if not more. Without the attack on China, US motivation for an oil embargo would have been substantially less. In fact, reduced action by Japan in China was one of FDR's suggestions for ways to avoid war.

      The DEI was initially supportive of Japanese occupation by that support quickly deteriorated when the occupation turned oppressive. Had Japan simply occupied the DEI benevolently, they might well have been able to keep it with no great international outcry (and possibly no need to attack Pearl Harbor).

      Everything I read about Japan's geopolitical and strategic thinking indicates that they badly misjudged almost every aspect. They could have achieved their goals by acting in a calmer, more deliberate and patient fashion.

  16. This is obviously not related to Pearl Harbor, but ComNavOps wondered about poor Russo-American relations.

    He said:

    "Ahh … Okay, I got it and I agree with you completely. Yes, you're correct that we need to devote much more effort to making India a willing and happy ally.

    You're also correct about Russia. They may never be our friends to the point of joining NATO but there is no reason why they have to be our enemy. I'm genuinely puzzled about what Russia wants and why they see us an enemy. Heck, we stood and watched while they annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine. How much less of a threat could we be and yet they still seem to have a paranoid fear of us. We need to try to ease that paranoia, understand what they want, and see if we can find some common ground.

    China, on the other hand, I see no common ground or room for compromise. War is inevitable.

    Very good comment."

    The Russians are upset about the following:

    • NATO expansion
    • US withdrawal from the ABM treaty (and American missile interceptor bases in Eastern Europe--the Chinese are also mad about a THAAD base in South Korea)
    • US-assisted "color revolutions" in former Soviet republics
    • US withdrawal from the ABM treaty and installation of missile interceptor bases in Eastern Europe
    • US regime change operations in the greater Middle East
    • Georgia's attack on South Ossetia in 2008
    • US support for the 2014 Maidan revolution in the Ukraine
    • US efforts to derail the Nordstream 2 Project
    • US withdrawal from the JCPOA
    • US sanctions

    President Trump wanted to improve relations with Russia (so, actually, did President Obama in his first term), but "Russiagate" and other internal US political factors have made this impossible.

    Thus Russia has been driven into the waiting arms of the Chinese.

    Massive own goal.

    1. Your examples of motivating factors are all valid from the Russian point of view but we must note that many are the result of circular logic. For example, NATO seeks to expand (to the degree it does which isn't that much) in response to Russian aggression while Russia acts aggressively to counter NATO intentions. Circular actions.

      Russia has also carried out many of the same actions that you cite as being causes of paranoia about the West. For example, Russia also supports regime changes anywhere it can.

      And so on down the list.

      The point is not to argue or debate the individual points but to note that they are far from one-sided.

      Russian paranoia seems to magnify any action taken by the US or any Western nation. I would like to see Russia offer some substantial proposals for better relations. For example, I'd be willing (more than willing!) to pull the US out of NATO in exchange for some substantial Russian concessions (or peace demonstrations, if that's a more palatable term). What does Russia have to offer (I'm asking rhetorically)?

    2. I'm not stating that Russia is in the right on all of their grievances per se, just that this is their point of view. Just as any power as a point of view. Even Greece has a point of view and has used that point of view to single-handedly prevent Macedonia from joining NATO and the EU.

      For instance, if you were to discuss strategic grievances with a patriotic Chinese you'd probably hear some views on the South China Sea you don't agree with.

      Russia does have a paranoid strategic culture, which probably stems from the Soviet legacy (nothing more paranoid than a Communist government) and the trauma of what they call the "Great Patriotic War".

      I don't know that Russia supports regime change anywhere it's able to since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but this may simply reflect that they're a less powerful state which also has less "soft power" attraction for people. They've certainly destabilized the Ukraine (as did the European Union and Ambassador Nuland) and continue to provide aid to the rebels in the Donets Basin (which makes sense from their point of view, but is obviously a source of friction with the West).

      An American withdrawal from NATO would be extremely radical from our point of view and is a long-term Russian dream. It could be done in that the Europeans can obviously defend themselves.

      The big issue with this sort of move is that to the Russians it would look like we're trying to fight China down to the last Russian. The standard Russian point of view on WW2 is that they defeated Germany without much help from the Anglo-Americans. Not saying this is correct, it isn't, it's just how they feel.

      Another problem with securing Russia's alignment against China are Russo-Japanese relations. There's still no peace treaty between the two powers ending WW2. The Japanese maintain that the Russians are occupying Japanese territory in the Kuriles. These islands are now inhabited by Russians who overwhelmingly want to remain part of Russia.

      I'm not really sure what Russia could offer us. Our two countries are far apart, but there are a number of bases for strategic tension. We compete for exports in armaments and commodities. Russia sees our alliances as threats to their security. We see Russia as destabilizing our allies.

      In the event of a Russo-American understanding, Russia wouldn't be of much help in a naval war against China, though I suppose that would help with Japan. And obviously the Russian Army would complicate Chinese planning since Siberia is China's strategic rear.

      I'd say there's about zero chance of getting Russia to decouple from the Chinese economy and agree to shut down the Power of Siberia pipeline. Likewise they're going to try to displace us in exporting agricultural commodities to China (and Japan).

    3. "Russia wouldn't be of much help in a naval war against China,"

      Oh my, no. You misunderstand! I don't see Russia as a potential ally against China - that is extremely unlikely. What I'm suggesting is working to make Russia neutral. There's no inherent reason why we need to be in conflict with Russia. Simply not having to devote resources to Europe/Russia would free up enormous resources for us to deal with China.

      "I'm not really sure what Russia could offer us. "

      I also don't know what Russia could offer us that would be commensurate with us leaving NATO but this type of thing is probably out of my league. Access to rare earths (do they have any?) or vital raw materials? Cooperation in the Arctic? Dual citizenship/governance of Kurile? Honestly, Russia has little of value for us … which should lead a non-paranoid Russian to wonder why they need to fear us.

      There have to be 'things' that Russia wants that we could cooperate on but Russia seems far more interested in posturing and threatening than offering cooperative proposals.

      As I said, I'm out of my element on this but it seems like we're making an enemy where one doesn't need to be.

  17. Honestly, I think the Russians would be satisfied with a lot less than American withdrawal from NATO.

    A Russian wish list might look like:

    • US re-accession to the ABM Treaty and JCPOA
    • Dismantling of US missile interceptor bases in Eastern Europe
    • US commitment to the Minsk accords and permanent neutralization of the Ukraine
    • End of US sanctions regime
    • No more US efforts to block Russian arms exports (see S-400 fiasco with Turkey)
    • US non-interference with Nordstream 2 and other Russian pipeline projects
    • US withdrawal from Syria

    There are substantial reserves of rare earths in Russia's Kola Peninsula and Yakutia:

    We also have rare earths reserves in the Intermountain West. A more serious problem is the processing plants also moved to mainland China.

    Various Russian and Japanese politicians have floated proposals to settle their outstanding issues, but the issue seems to be intractable. Perhaps that would change with a different US attitude, but I'm skeptical. Public opinion in both countries is diametrically opposed.

    I am in agreement that we made an enemy out of Russia unnecessarily, and that isn't just my view. The President himself agrees, as does Henry Kissinger. The late George Kennan thought we were making disastrous errors in our relations with Russia in the 1990s.

    Unfortunately US domestic politics probably doesn't permit an improvement in relations with Russia anymore.

    Russia also has some commercial value for us even if most of their trade is with Europe. They're now set to reenter the commercial airliner market. The new Irkut MC-21 will enter service soon in competition with the Boeing 737, and they have a joint wide-body airliner project with China to complete with the 777 and 787. John Deere is also very popular with Russian farmers.

    I doubt the Russians would agree, but it would be useful for them to provide us information on the military technology they've sold to the Chinese in the past 25 years. China is now freeing itself from dependence on Russian military technology, but currently most of their modern armaments have Russian DNA.

    1. "A Russian wish list might look like:"

      Okay, there's the Russian wish list. Now, what might you imagine the Russians could offer in return that would be appealing to us?

      By the way, my suggestion of offering US withdrawal from NATO is as much my desire to get us out of Europe as it is an enticement to Russia to negotiate.

    2. As a weaker power Russia has fewer cards to play.

      But a no-brainer would be Russia dropping support for Venezuela, which is in their interest anyway as they've lost billions. Unfortunately for Russian taxpayers Igor Sechin likely personally profits from this dubious business partnership.

      Many in Washington (especially the Israel lobby) would like to see Russia drop Assad.

      I don't know how much influence they really have, but whatever influence they do have could be brought to bear on North Korea in support of the denuclearization agenda.

      While I support getting out of Europe, one possible long-term issue of that is that it would lead to security competition with Europe (especially if they ever get their act together and federalize). In that event we'll need a major Atlantic fleet.

      One option could be keeping NATO but withdrawing US forces from Europe. Canada withdrew its European forces in the early 1990s but is still in NATO.

    3. I agree with you that Russia has fewer 'items' to offer that are of interest to the West but they could start by:

      1. Pulling out of Ukraine (not that I care about Ukraine) and pledging to stop invading neighboring countries.

      2. Stop supporting chemical weapons using, own citizen killing, Syrian dictators and withdraw from Syria.

      3. Stop developing nuclear weapons and destroy any nuclear torpedoes and the like.

      4. Stop massing troops on their border.

      5. Enter into favored nation trading status agreements with the US for various raw materials of interest.

      6. Agree to develop the Arctic peacefully and openly for mutual benefit.

      Not a great list but it's a starting point.

  18. The ship as sailed on number one now as Russia is now offering Russian passports to residents of the Luhansk and Donetsk Republics. Probably only a matter of time before the regions are economically integrated with Russia as well.

    The Syrian Civil War fortunately appears to be ending. I assume the Russians will maintain their naval base at Latakia. Here's the latest situation according to the folks at Southfront:

    Number three is of particular interest, including to the Europeans. As I recall a lot of the opposition in this country to New START was that it did nothing to deal with Russia's large stockpile of tactical warheads.

    The other stuff seems simple and desirable enough, although the last point might require Russia dropping their territorial claim to the...North Pole.

    1. " territorial claim to the...North Pole."

      Doesn't someone with a factory already have rights to the North Pole?

    2. Santa's emissaries have dismissed Russia's claim, and according to decrypted signals intercepts Santa has placed coal in Vladimir Putin's Christmas stocking (actually Christmas is not a huge holiday in Russia owing to the Soviet legacy--New Years is more important).

      Santa has his hands full, because Canada has also claimed the North Pole!

      Russia's claim was made more dramatically as they used a submersible to plant a Russian flag on the North Pole seabed.

      Canada and Denmark, NATO allies, also have some territorial disputes in the Arctic.

      There is an Arctic Council to deal with arctic issues. The important non-arctic European states, China, Japan, South Korea, and India are also observers.

      Perhaps ComNavOps will one day write about the US shortage of icebreakers.

    3. "Perhaps ComNavOps will one day write about the US shortage of icebreakers."

      I sense a change of topic occurring. My problem with the Arctic is that I don't see a lot of compelling interests for the US there. Admittedly, I'm way out of my realm of knowledge when it comes to Arctic benefits.

      There may well be raw materials there but the cost of extracting and transporting them would seem to make them prohibitively expensive.

      What other interests are there?

      I kind of see our interest in the Arctic as more of a knee-jerk reaction to Russia's interests.

      Do you see any compelling interests for the US in the Arctic? Feel free to enlighten me. I could stand to be educated on this.

    4. I'm afraid I'm no expert on the matter either. I simply come across on occasion claims that we're short of icebreakers, whereas the Russians (and other powers) have a lot. This may simply be lobbying by shipbuilders and the Coast Guard.

      There are raw materials in the Arctic including an estimated 600 billion barrels of oil, but as you say cost is a problem. Far offshore ultradeep oil has been mostly abandoned by the supermajors thanks to the fracking revolution. Mining in Greenland may one day be a major industry.

      Arctic shipping is growing in importance. Russia's northern coast is growing in popularity for trade between Europe and Asia. There is also a little-known territorial dispute between the US and Canada regarding the Northwest Passage. Canada claims these are internal waters, whereas the US claims it is an international sea lane and even conducted a FNOP through the passage once.

      Of interest to you as a naval historian might be the Kriegsmarine's 1942 Operation Wunderland, which sought to disrupt the Northern Sea Route by interdicting convoys and bombarding Arctic ports.

      The Kriegsmarine's failure to substantially disrupt Arctic shipping materially contributed to Germany's defeat in World War 2. Not only was a lot of Allied aid delivered to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, but some supplies delivered to the Soviet Pacific were then transshipped by sea using the Northern Sea Route rather than proceeding overland on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

      Thus the Eastern Front, normally thought of as history's premier land war, actually had a very important naval dimension which the failure of the Germans to appreciate contributed to overall Axis strategic failure.

      One could even make the counterfactual case that the Germans ought to have concentrated their much more limited naval resources (compared to the Anglo-Americans, not the USSR) in the Arctic in order to successfully disrupt this traffic in order to facilitate a Soviet industrial collapse. A little known aspect of Lend-Lease is that Soviet war industries were dependent on many imported American materials.

    5. I can certainly understand Russia's interest in the Arctic. I'm just at a loss to understand ours!

      If we had a bunch more icebreakers we could … um … ??? I got nothin'.

  19. My worry is that if USN has forgotten Pearl Harbor, China which is a serious student of history, will look at the mistakes of Japan and not repeat them.

    I don't want to talk politics or generalize (hopefully I'm wrong on US population courage) BUT let's face it, I can't really believe that EVEN AFTER losing Pearl Harbor to Japan (in CNO invasion scenario) that US govt, Generals, Admirals, FDR would have given up PTO just to focus on ETO BUT can one really say the same about a 2020/2030 US population? If I were China, I would look into not just wiping out Guam BUT also giving some kind of peace offering to a US govt to just give up... kind of a face saving way out that really wasn't possible for Japan. I've tried thinking what could have Japan done to offer some peace deal with USA and just don't see 1940 US population ever accepting any peace deal with Japan BUT a 2020/2030 US population? Would we still fight for it? Im not so sure....if the deal isn't too bad, I think USG takes it.

  20. Some things you seemed to have missed:
    1. FS by the Japanese would have cordoned off Australia from all resupply, reinforcement or trade and likely lead to capitulation by the Australian government.
    2. General Yamashita had been sent to Manchuria to lead the Kwantung Army after the British were defeated, and the Soviets had sent most of their far east forces west.
    3. Roosevelt would likely lose his supermajority in November, which he nearly did even without an entire year of defeat.

    Imo, with the Russians, Republicans, and Redcoats all pressuring the US admin to peace out in fear of Japan essentially having a free hand to invade India or Russia in 42, and as for the republicans being able to bring the war even closer to American shores, it's likely that the US would seek peace and focus on Europe.

    Interestingly, Roosevelt also initially planned to focus solely on Europe, and abandon the Philippines, Guam and Samoa, but Pearl Harbor forced him to fight the two wars at once.


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