Monday, December 6, 2010

The British Pacific Fleet - Misinterpreting the past

I have just finished H. P. Willmott's PhD thesis, published as Grave of a Dozen Schemes. It is a comprehensive analysis of the background to the despatch of the British Pacific Fleet to the final months of the war against Japan.

It is highly researched, very detailed, excellently argued, and completely wrong in it's conclusions.

The interesting question is why is it wrong?

For those who don't know (such as most of the American official historians if you go by their writings), The Royal Navy and it's Commonwealth divisions made a huge contribution to the defeat of Japan despite Admiral King's desperate attempts to keep them out of his private war. The combined orders of battle of the British Eastern Fleet (just finished invading Burma and en-route to invading Malaya), and the British Pacific Fleet (assembling in Australia or fighting off the coast of Japan) at the time of the Japanese surrender was about 700 ships (with more en-route from Europe). This included 6 battleship, 35 aircraft carriers, 23 cruisers, 42 submarines, and over 200 destroyers and escorts. The only reason that it was this low was because the RN was still mostly responsible for major Allied activities in the Atlantic, Arctic Circle, Baltic, Mediterranean, and Indian Oceans. Far more vessels would have been available for the invasion of Japan.

Wilmott's description of the torturous process of getting all the British, Commonwealth and American players to agree on the assembly and dispatch of this force is overwhelmingly detailed. The problems of the repeated failure of the Germans to collapse, and then the suprisingly quick collapse of the Japanese thereafter, is also adequately covered. I have no problems with most of this. What I do have problems with is the conclusions he makes.

Wilmott's main argument is that Britain should not have bothered with this effort, or at least should not have tried to make both the Pacific and Indian Ocean efforts, because it was beyond British power to do so. The factor's he raises are economic exhaustion, lack of ships - particularly fleet train, lack of manpower, and lack of sensible reasons for bothering given that Empire was a thing of the past. He argues all of this with the assumptions of hindsight , and from the safety of a modern academic consensus.

How then is it possible that the Royal Navy had so many ships there at the end, with more on the way? How was it possible that the British successfully invaded Burma, and were preparing to invade Malaya, even while expanding the British fleet operating off the Japanese coast? How could they be doing everything he had assumed was impossible, and succeeding, if it had really been impossible? Why is he arguing so hard against conclusions that his own statistics make evident?

Could it be that he believes what he is saying so strongly, that he is just doing his best to argue around the evidence? Could it be that he is trying to cement his place in academic circles by arguing what is politically correct regardless of the evidence? Or could it be that he knows he is making bad arguments, but also knows he has to do so if he stands any chance of getting a high mark for his PhD from academics who have pre-conceived notions of what they want to hear?

Whatever the reason, the problem is one common to far too many modern academic works. (This was published in 1996 but came out of research originally done in the early 80's.) The author appears to have approached the work with a pre-conceived notion of how things ought to have been viewed, and then forced the facts into that prospective by hook or by crook. (Even if a few slipped out of control in the process.)

The fact is, that the real debate was between Churchill's geo-political preference for British efforts in the Far East to be concentrated on Malaya. the East Indies, Borneo, the China Sea and Hong Kong in the lead up to the invasion of Japan: and the Chief's of Staff Committee's strategic preference to just make a contribution to the naval actions in the Pacific as a cheaper and quicker alternative. (Both considered the efforts wasted on Burma pretty pointless considering that China was never of much value in the war, and both were amused that the eventual speed of Japanese collapse made the Chinese fantasy redundant.) This debate went on for several months.

Wilmott is justified in calling a lot of this debate hot air. He is less justified in claiming that hindsight makes it clear that Churchill's perspective was wrong. He is unconvincing in the argument that everyone should have known that Britain lacked interest in what would happen in Asia in the future. He was, by his own figures, simply wrong to state that Britain lacked the capacity to try.

The debate did take too long, but that might be because things kept changing. Eisenhower's failures in North West Europe, and Germany's surprise survival into a new year, meant that Allied forces could not begin redirection to the east in October 1944 as had been planned. On the other hand Japan's suicidal offensive against India in 1944 opened the opportunity for a faster and cheaper re-conquest of Burma than anyone would have imagined. Similarly Allied plans for offensives through Borneo to Formosa (Taiwan) were initially agreed, then dropped when MacArthur preferred the Philippines, and were then renewed with the Allies agreeing to a British-Australian offensive instead. Only to be dropped again when it became clear that Japan was unexpectedly on it's last legs.

Politically, there is no doubt that had the Allies, or just Britain and Australia, militarily ousted the Japanese from Malaya, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, and the Chinese coast: the decades of violence throughout Asia that followed would have been very different. Churchill's plans may not have been better than what we got, but they would certainly have been different.

Similarly there is no eason to accept that Britain was going to withdraw 'East of Suez' soon after the war at the time decisions were being made. In hindsight it is clear that the British voter was sick of the cost of being the world's policeman, and delighted that the Americans seemed dumb enough to want to take it up. But the Allied documents at the time make it clear that no such plans were in the allied 'mind'. Indeed, American plans to go home as soon as the war in Europe was over argued exactly the opposite.

Then there is the issue of 'power'. Britain, and most of her Dominions and colonies, were at the stage of exhaustion in 1944-5 that any state reaches after 6 years of intense war. (The US was lucky to get out in only 4 years, when the cracks in manpower for the army were only starting to rear their heads.) Nonetheless the way that Wilmott argues that Britain lacked the 'power' for such operations is also self-defeating. After dozens of paragraphs over hundreds of pages about the British lack of troop lift shipping available for the Far East, Wilmott notes in a small aside that such ships can't be spared because Britain is responsible for moving 70,000 US troops per month across the Atlantic. The fact that Britain lacked resources in one theatre because she is making up for American lack of resources in another theatre is studiously ignored.

The truth is of course that the Allies - all of them - lacked the resources to do everything they wanted to do at any time. Britain could have sent plenty of resources to the east had she not being transporting the Americans, supplying the Russians, and feeding the Dutch. Similarly Australia had plenty of resources, food and troops for supporting British Commonwealth operations, except they were deployed to feed, house and support American operations. Indeed according to the US Chiefs of Staff in 1943, America lacked the power to invade Japan without a British fleet, Australian troops, and a Russian Army intervening on the mainland in Asia. (The US COS had a brief hubris in late 1944 when they decided they could manage alone, but by mid 1945 they were busy requesting Britain get 50 aircraft carriers assembled to support 120 of theirs for the invasion... and an army corps please... don't forget landing ships... how about some bombers...)

The simple fact of the matter is that had Britain concentrated its Pacific Fleet resources in the Indian Ocean and Australia to follow the 'middle strategy', it would have been little more costly than the immense effort of projecting a fleet through the central Pacific to the Japanese islands. Malaya, the East Indies, Borneo, possibly Thailand, all might have been liberated before the Japanese surrender by the same shipping efforts that put British carriers at Okinawa and Japan.

Wilmott follows the British COS line that a political solution in Asia was less important than a prestige deployment of British units for the invasion of Japan. He quotes American documents suggesting that the lack of such a presence would have been 'unforgivable' to Americans. He claims that it was vital. Again, he is playing hindsight, and again, he is getting it wrong. How much did Admiral King want the RN sticking it's nose in to his private war? How often did the US COS, in their hubris period, say they didn't need help? How much credit do the history books give the British Pacific Fleet? How many American books fail to mention it?

By contrast how much stability might have been achieved had the British Commonwealth effort gone the other way? Would the Malayan Emergency have happened? Would Indonesia have invaded West Papua and East Timor later? How much stability if Japan had surrendered before Russia entered the war? Would China have gone Communist? Would there have been a Korean or Vietnam war? If you really want to go with hindsight, then Churchill's political forward thinking looks considerably more impressive than the limited strategic viewpoint of the British COS.

Hindsight is almost as fun a game as 'what if', but both are dangerous. People have to be judged on the information and realities of the time, not academic theories based on a misinterpretation of hindsight decades later. Books that twist the facts to come to the conclusions that seem most comfortable or acceptable to people with their own barrows to push are always dangerous.

They are also not history books. They are rationalisations.

43 comments:

  1. What are your credentials Nigel?

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  2. Read David Hobbs' "The British Pacific Fleet". It shows the rationale as to why the RN had to be there with the USN. It shows King was in a minority when it came to senior USN personnel's attitude to the RN presence. It shows the reason for the future development of NATO and US/RN relations for the next 50 years.
    Your critique of this person's paper seems spot on, whatever your credentials, Nigel. I am anonymous as I don't fit any other criteria at the moment, but my name is:
    Mike Day

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  3. What are my credentials? What an interesting question.
    I have always felt that the best credential to critique things is an enquiring mind and a willingness to do some research. As a result some of the best and most detailed historians have no academic qualifications (have a look at some of Charles Whiting's 250 odd books for instance).

    Perhaps anonymous wants to know how many degrees I have (3), how many universities I have studied at (4), or worked at (3), how many students I have taught ( thousands), or how many words I have had published in books or magazines articles (about 25,000 words last financial year - and by that I mean commissioned and paid for words, which do not really fit most academics pretensions do they?).

    Speaking as somebody who considers themselves lucky to have escaped from the university system, but who has spent the last 20 years developing multisensory in interactive teaching techniques and training hundreds of teachers to work with 10s of thousands of students, I would actually say that my main qualifications are scepticism about received wisdom, and an irresistible urge to challenge people's preconceptions.

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  4. Late in the war the US had upwards of 6000 ships of all sizes and classes. The fact that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor made it personal to Americans because of the way the Japanese attacked which was before any declaration of hostilities. The author fails to point out that had America not sent 50 Divisions to Europe, Britian would have been in a very bad way. The people of America wanted Japan's throat because of Pearl Harbor, but Churchill insisted on a "Germany" first strategy and the US had to fight a largely defensive war against Japan until Midway. If the US had not had the victory at Midway, the US was still going to be on the defensive, and that was something the American public did not want. When it comes down to it, US and British historians downplay each others role, its some kind competiton or something. Truth is after Germany kicked out the French and British at Dunkirk, Germany was not worried about either. England is dam lucky that they were separated by the English Channel or German tanks would have rolled thru London as it did Paris...

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    2. But your facts are wrong. Nigel points out that the Americans sent only 8 weak divisions to Europe until 1945 when the British had already beaten the good German divisions; the Americans and Russians entered the fighting after the Germans would have already surrendered if President Roosevelt hadn't foolishly demanded unconditional surrender. The Germans were good people except for a few rude and unruly SS who practiced genocide on Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and others they didn't care for. They even killed a few Canadian POWs at Ardenne Abbey and a few American POWs at Malmady. I don't believe the SS hurt any Australian troops because any Aussie was worth 25 Germans. (Remember one Turk is worth 200 Aussies as you learned at Gallipoli.)

      Unconditional surrender and war crimes trials does seem a bit harsh on the poor Nazis but then the same was done to the Japanese who were kind and generous to the Commonwealth troops.

      Churchill didn't want the American to enter the war and kept pleading with Roosevelt not to send the British any more of the awful destroyers, tanks, planes, weapons, and food. American Spam almost forced the British to switch sides. Only Vegemite from Australia saved them. Churchill called America the Arsonic of Democracy and ask if you don't have a King and a House of Lords how can you pretend to be a democracy?

      In conclusion Nigel is right. If the Americans listened to Joseph P. Kennedy and Charles Lindbergh and had stayed out of WWII it would have been over much sooner (1942 - 1943) and the Nazis could have surrendered to the Australian Commonwealth but kept all of Europe except for the soft underbelly and the Channel Islands. They had already been kicked out of Africa by the Aussies at Tobruk.

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    3. Wilfred, what on earth have you been smoking?

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  5. @Wilford Burchett...

    "The war would have been over much sooner"....are you serious? Just by you saying that, you have lost all credibility here. The US sent 45 divisions of infantry, 20 armored and 16 of artillery, plus supplied nearly all the supplies used by the allied armies in europe. In the Pacific, the US Navy fought the Japanese virtually alone. Where was the British in the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Marshall Islands, the Gilberts, Guam, Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa? You commonwealth people do your best to downplay the American effort anytime you can, but people that know their history know better. After Anzio, there was NO question of American superiority over the Germans in Europe, and after Midway no question who was the finer military than the Japanese...if you doubt my knowledge, come to my WW2 History page.....same goes for you Nigel...I'm not a "professional historian" or formally educated at it, but have been at this over 30 years, doing my own research and have read hundreds of books and have interviewed many WW2 vets. I live near the retirement community called "Sun City" in Arizona that more than likely has the greatest concentration of vets in the world...so yes, I do know...

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    2. The Link to my WW2 History Page:

      https://www.facebook.com/pages/world-war-2/359212319381

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    3. Kurt the Brits and the Aussie's did not need America to defeat the Axis. Nigel keeps pointing out that the British Empire did most of the fighting, had better Generals, better ships, better tanks, planes, vegamite, etc. In WWI the British won the Battle of the Somme without American assistance. They would have won at Gallipoli if they had sent British troops; here all they had were a sorry lot of Nigels and they lost.

      Again if Nigel has one message it is that the British Empire did not need any help in WWII. The Germans also ridiculed America as the razor blade manufacturer. America was fortunate that the British Empire didn't attack America and attempt to force us back into their empire. We were suckers for playing in these foreign wars and thank god President Obama will not allow this to happen again.

      Look at the senseless loss of American lives at Bataan and Guadalcanal. When an American GI is sent over seas and killed it's a loss of treasure as well as a human life. We fought a Revolution to escape the wicked British Empire. America should have listened to George Washington and avoided foreign entanglements.

      Remember Helen Reddy who once said "Australia doesn't have an inferiority complex. It's just inferior." Australia should supply the cannon fodder for Britain and America should stay out.

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  6. And one other thing, the US's supply ship and forward repair facilities at Guam, Ulithi atoll, Leyte, Espirito Santos were the reason the US was able to operate at FULL STRENGTH and the BPF had no refueling at sea capability as the US had. The fact is that the BPF was totally dependent on US supply, a clear 3/4's of the aircraft on BPF carriers were Hellcats and Corsairs, with your beloved Spits and their short range relagated to CAP duties. The BPF shot down 112 Japanese aircraft, the US shooting down over 10,000. The Marines did the ground fighting from the Philippines all the way to Okinawa, with a not even a single British platoon on ANY of those central pacific islands. I believe the CBI theatre was more to preserve the Brit Empire than to win the war...so you see guys, I have the same thoughts as you but in the other direction of British efforts during the war.....and I would like to know why you deleted my other comments...

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  7. The Japanese were kind and generous? do you know about the fight against the Japs and what they did to the British troops after they surrendered? my god Wilford, the Japs were as brutal as any since the ancients.......where you get you "facts" from has gotten you nothing but a totally wrong idea of true events...and in my opinion the 920 Japs executed after the war should have had that number doubled or even tripled for the numbers of just the non-combatants they killed in the Philippines and China. Do you know of Unit 731?...the Japanese got EVERYTHING they deserved at the end...Wilford is woefully and inadequately "schooled" in this subject to bring anything of any use to this argument...Wilford, I'm sorry, but you really need to read up....read alot!!

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  8. I am still waiting for answer from anyone really about the US logistics and supply/repair facilities the US had out in the Pacific. That is/was a huge reason for US defeating Japan, the BPF couldn't even refuel while still underway. The US had a great fleet of oilers and ship repair ships of every description. The floating dry-docks that were towed all the way from the west coast of the US to Guam, Espirito Santos, the Philippines were so instrumental to the DECISIVE victory over the Japanese as any. I am even going to say that the US welcomed BPF assistance (well, the US had a personal grudge to settle), but as much as I have researched and read on the Pacific War, the more I think that the US could have done just fine without the British...the US had plenty of carriers and planes and pilots, even with the 32 picket duty ships sunk by kamikazes, the near 800 ships on station around Okinawa hardly made a dent. Face it, US intelligence was top notch in Europe, so was American artillery and I dont want to hear this that the US fought bad german divisions, the truth is after Anzio no matter who the US went up against, the US prevailed...as a longtime historian I know the US didnt win the war all by ourselves like you British "blokes" love to point out, at least the US didnt get thrown out of Europe like the BEF did at Dunkirk, the US got their rear-ends handed to them at Kasserine but learned from it and with all allies together kicked the Germans from North Africa and saved many millions of Arab lives and more importantly, kept Rommel away from the Middle East oil fields...are you even ever going to respond Nigel?...Wilford?....Hmm?...I wish either of you would because I enjoy saying how wrong you both are about certain points...

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  9. The trouble with throwing stones is that sometime you break your own windows.

    “at least the US didnt get thrown out of Europe like the BEF did at Dunkirk, “

    What like the Philippines, at least the BEF could blame the French, who do you blame?

    “kept Rommel away from the Middle East oil fields”

    By this time Rommel was no threat to the oil fields and this had very little to do with US combat operations.

    And by the way Kurt, Wilfred is taking the piss.

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    1. Obviously!! And, I suspect, "Wilfred Burchett" is very likely a nom de plume - in keeping with the rat-bag tendencies of the original Burchett. Come in spinner!

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    2. Tim The American army of 1940 would fared no better than the British and French armies did in France and that defeat had a mitigating circumstance. There is no question about that. Even after the USA had two years to absorb the lessons of modern war and another year after entering the war before meeting the Germans, who by that time was a spent force, the US got its ass handed to it at Kasserine. The American Navy in 1940 would also have fared no better against German aircraft and we already saw how badly German submarines mauled the USA when it finally entered the war when it should have learned the British lessons. By that time the RN had the submarine situation under control in the Atlantic. When comparisons are made they must be made in the context the same date. Throwing stones at who did what is stupid. It took the combined efforts of all allies to defeat the Axis none of us could do it alone everywhere at the same time. America was extremely fortunate in that war due to geography and it got filthy rich because it forced the allies to pay for everything in Gold as a result it came out of the war rich and everyone else was broke.

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  10. Tips my lid to Wilf. Best trollin' ever.

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  11. Which Japanese fleet carriers and battleships were sunk by the British Pacific Fleet?

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  12. Dear Anonymous,

    is that a rhetorical question? Like which German or Italian battleships and aircraft carriers did the Americans sink in either world war?

    (Yes both nations launched some carriers but never got them into action… just like a number of Japanese ones which are nonetheless claimed as 'kills' like Shinano.)

    To answer, I will just cut and paste the following from Wikipedia article on the BPF...

    "Battleships and aircraft from the fleet also attacked the Japanese home islands. The battleship King George V bombarded naval installations at Hamamatsu, near Tokyo; the last time a British battleship fired in action. Meanwhile, carrier strikes were carried out against land and harbour targets including, notably, the disabling of a Japanese escort carrier by British naval aircraft. Although, during the assaults on Japan, the British commanders had accepted that the BPF should become a component element of the US 3rd Fleet, the US fleet commander, William Halsey, excluded British forces from a raid on Kure naval base on political grounds.[17] Halsey later wrote, in his memoirs: "it was imperative that we forestall a possible postwar claim by Britain that she had delivered even a part of the final blow that demolished the Japanese fleet.... an exclusively American attack was therefore in American interests."
    The BPF would have played a major part in a proposed invasion of the Japanese home islands, known as Operation Downfall, which was cancelled after Japan surrendered. The last naval air action in World War II was on VJ-Day when British carrier aircraft shot down Japanese Zero fighters."

    But you do raise an interesting point. Halsey and MacArthur (and of course King) tried very hard to prevent anyone else getting even a mention in the press about doing anything against Japan.

    Another Wik quote

    "The conflicting British and American political objectives have been mentioned: Britain needed to "show the flag" in an effective way while the US wished to demonstrate, beyond question, its own pre-eminence in the Pacific. In practice, there were cordial relations between the fighting fleets and their sea commanders. Although Admiral King had stipulated that the BPF should be wholly self-sufficient, in practice, material assistance was freely given: American officers told Rear Admiral Douglas Fisher, commander of the British Fleet Train, that he could have anything and everything “that could be given without Admiral King's knowledge.”[18]"

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    1. Perhaps the best illustration of this is that the British East Indies fleet (another large force of battleships - including French ones - and escort carriers), was circling off the coast of Malaya waiting to invade for some days before the Japanese surrender.

      MacArthur held off on his previous agreement to hand over responsibility for that area to Mountbatten for just long enough to ensure that this operation did not get any press coverage, or credit, until after Japanese surrender. In this case, I suspect MacArthur's motive was actually less the short term jealousy and arrogance that he was justly famous for, and more the long term geo-political consideration about avoiding any of the European Empires recapturing territories by their own efforts before Japan's Surrender. (More territories I should say, because he had been unable to prevent the recapture of Burma despite a fierce campaign against operations there 'wasting resources' he could use much better.)

      Now to a better question, such as how much of Japan's merchant fleet was sunk by British or Dutch submarines? The answer is practically everything to the west of the Malayan peninsula (where they - and some USN subs based in Freemantle with them - were limited to operating by the same agreements). To be blunt that wasn't much. Dozens of wasted patrols were mounted with no Japanese ships sighted. Could they have operated further East? Yes. (Though the vessels designed for European waters were hardly easy to live in in the Far East.) Did the USN want them there? No. Why not? Guess.

      I will note that there was no front where the British did not welcome USN support - the Atlantic, Mediterranean, British Home Fleet, Arctic convoys, and Indian Ocean - all saw USN battleships and carriers used - and heavily quoted as being used in lots of PR releases. By contrast when the USN borrowed a British Carrier for the South Pacific in 1943, she was camouflaged as 'USS Robyn', and it is difficult to find much mention of her in USN references. By 1945, when they really did not need anyone else to finish off Japan, the policy of pretending no one else was there became far more rigid.

      The Soviets considered their sort of propaganda manipulation to be vital to its interests. So I suppose Halsey and MacArthur felt the same?

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  13. I think it's a stretch to say that the British Pacific Fleet made a "huge" contribution to the defeat of the Japanese navy when you can't point to a single fleet carrier or battleship sunk by the Pacific Fleet during the entire war. Moreover, I believe the only Japanese heavy cruiser sunk by the Pacific fleet was by a sub as part of a combined US/ British patrol.

    I think it would be more accurate to say that the Pacific Fleet did what it could in the Indian Ocean after retreating to East Africa in 1942, but it was not capable of the major long-range carrier operations that only the US could engage in against the Japanese navy in the Pacific. It then came to the Pacific after the war was all but decided and participated in some mopping up operations after the US had already decimated Japanese naval power.

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    1. I repeat the comment above.

      Did the USN contribute nothing during either the first or second world war to anything in the European theatre because they did not sink a single battleship?

      Let me be specific. The USN battleships that operated with the Home Fleet, and the USN carriers that supported the air resupply of Malta, and the battleships and carriers that contributed to invasions in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, D-Day, and Southern France, were pretty useful, even if they did not sink a single German or Italian battleship. The rest of the USN helped a bit too.

      Moving along to actual British Commonwealth contribution. The Japanese faced a two front naval war, and there were many occasions during the war when the USN asked the RN for diversions, or vice versa. As a result one of Japan's great problems was never being able to commit all its forces in a single direction without holding significant forces in reserve against a strike from the other direction. There was a reason the main Japanese fleet was eventually based in Singapore, not the Philippines or Formosa. (Hint, oil… see raids British Eastern Fleet raids on Netherlands East Indies - including participation by Saratoga.)

      Throughout the Pacific war, the RAN provided MacArthur with a cruiser sqn, and a significant force of destroyers, escorts, landing craft, etc. Check Wikipedia. Look under 'Coral Sea'. Or for air units 'Bismarck Sea'. Or just check the names of the Landing ships that made MacArthur's various invasions possible.

      At one point the RN just loaned the USN a carrier (see HMS Victorious, or 'USS Robin', at the time of New Georgia).

      Personally I think the British Pacific Fleet wasn't needed by the USN to finish off the Japanese Navy by mid 1945, and would have been better served reconquoring Malaya and The Dutch East Indies and cutting off the last of Japan's oil supplies. But it is interesting to note that the RN task force beat off a large number of Japanese attacks, and destroyed hundreds of Japanese aircraft on the ground (suffering - despite their superior air interception abilities - several hits on their carriers in the process - hits which would have incapacitated or sunk any American carrier). According to American sources, without BPF assistance, American losses - particularly in carriers - would have been much higher.

      Prior to the use of the bomb, as the reality of the invasion of Japan was being faced, the Commonwealth was being asked for dozens of aircraft carriers, a corps or two of troops, and vast additional resources. Again, I think they could have been better used elsewhere, but that is because I also believe that Japan would have surrendered a lot earlier if not for the stupidity of 'unconditional surrender'.

      You are pretty much correct to suggest that the Japanese were failing fast by the time the BPF finally arrived, and their presence was just guilding the lily, but that defines the US effort against the U-boats from the RN's perspective, or the US Army's efforts in Europe from the Soviet perspective. Their participation probably wasn't necessary, as long as you don't consider the extra time or casualties that would have been taken without such assistance.

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    2. Anonymous. You seem to forget something, or have chosen to ignore it. The USN was very much the Jr. partner in the Atlantic and Med. The RN took the brunt of those operations and the brunt of supporting warships during, D-day and all the other European naval operations. In addition almost all the Allied submarine operations in the Atlantic and Med were British, much more dangerous for Submarines then in the Pacific was for allied subs. This played its part in allowing the USN to concentrate more force in the Pacific. You are wrong about the sinking of Japanese heavy Cruisers by the RN The one you mentioned was Ashigara and she was sunk by HMS Trenchant. The RN also sank Haguro in a destroyer attack and the Takao was permanently disabled by British Midget sub attack in Singapore. There was also a light cruiser sunk by a RN submarine. Your suggestion that the RN waited until the war was almost over to show up is Rude and obnoxious. No one knew the war would end when it did had it gone on to 1946 as most believed it would, there would have been a lot more British warships in the Pacific and there would have been plenty to do by all. The entire war was a huge allied partnership and no country was capable of doing it all on their own.

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  14. I would recommend the two books written by Stuart Eadon - Lieutenant RNVR, Sakishima and back, & Kamikaze The Story of The BPF. Both convey the magnitude of fighting a war over a vast distance of ocean.
    My Father served on HMS Argonaut was shelling the Normandy Coast on D Day and was then sent as part of the BPF to the Pacific. If He were alive today I think He would strongly disagree that the part the British Fleet played in the war against Japan was a side show.

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    1. I suppose the question is not whether it was a 'side show' - after all the British Chiefs of Staff felt that they had to be present for the 'main game', and that reconquoring Burma and Malaya was less vital - as whether ti would have done more good to world history to have concentrated on clearing those two places before the surrender. Personally I believe Churchill was right here. War is ought for political reasons, and saving those two states earlier might have stopped many terrible things that have happened side… Maybe..

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    2. In practice the British Fleet played the main part against the Japanese fleet quiet a bit. Consider the list of IJN battles of WW2.
      Pearl Harbor (US)
      Prince of Wales Repulse (B)
      Makassar Straight (B/Dutch/US)
      Darwin (B/Aus)
      Badung
      Java Sea (ABDA)
      Indian Ocean Raid (B)
      Sydney Harbour (Aus)
      Madagascar (B) Coral Sea (B/Aus/US)
      Midway - first US battle since Pearl Harbour
      Savo (B/Aus?US)
      Eastern Solomons, Cape Esperance, Santat Cruz, Guadalcanal, Tassafaronga (Mainly US, but usually with Australian cruisers or even British Aircraft Carrier support)
      Bismarck Sea (as many RAAF aircraft as US aircraft involved)
      Komondorski, Kolombangara, Empress Augusta Bay, Phillipine Sea Leyte Gulf (Again, mainly US, but most with B/Aus ships in support)
      Okinawaw, TEn-Go, Tokyo (British Pacific Fleet played a significant part)
      Meanwhile the operations of the British Eastern Fleet in tehBay of Bengal, raids on Indonesia, Invasion of burma, prepared invasion of Malaya, and Australian fleet in the East INdies, with their own invasions late in the war, cannot be considered negligible.

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    3. Interesting take on history here yet again. Shouldn’t a historian be more interested in, oh, what’s the word? Factual! Yes, a more factual representation of the Pacific War?

      Clearly you aren't familiar with naval orders of battle - what fleet elements did the Brits put forward at Coral Sea? The US protected Australia from the IJN - the US had 2 CVs, 6 CAs, 11 subs, and assorted destroyers and support ships. The Australians had 2 CAs and 2 DDs. The British had - nothing. Not a single ship. The Australians protected their homeland with an air force comprised entirely of US planes given to them by lend/lease.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Coral_Sea_order_of_battle

      And you say that Midway was the first US battle since Pearl Harbor?

      After the Indian Ocean Raid, there was a 2 year period where the British launched nothing against the Japanese, and that was a period where the US defeated the Japanese fleet entirely. The British carriers were used as a diversion element for Leyte.

      The original battles that knocked the British out of the Pacific War until the last half of 1944 were all about taking British colonial possessions from them. That was the Japanese intention all along - they wanted the tin and rubber from Malaysia and the oil from the Dutch East Indies, which because of the loss of the Netherlands was a British protectorate at the time. The strike on Pearl Harbor was explicitly about allowing the Japanese the freedom to take those strategic resources, because the US had put in an embargo which threatened their ability to make war.

      The Battle of Madagascar played no role in the Pacific. It is the definitioin of a side show, Britain invading former allies because of concerns the base there might be used against them.

      There were no british ships at Eastern Solomons, Cape Esperance, Santa Cruz, Guadalcanal, or Tassafranoga.

      HMS Victorious was dispatched and reached Pearl in March of '43 and with the deployment of the first Intrepids left in Sept '43. During that time she was upgraded to a better air arm of US planes and had more AA fire. That took 2 months. She paired with the Saratoga and was in theatre for 4 months, and supported Operation Cartwheel. During those amphibious landings she provided CAP. Her tour was uneventful -there were no fleet actions during that time and the allies had air superiority in the region.

      In contrast the Wasp was detached from the Pacific Fleet tot the British Home fleet to help the convoys to Malta, and the Saratoga operated with Victorious in raids in the Java Sea in 1943.

      The British fleet had nothing to do with the battle of the Bismarck Sea. RAAF planes supplied by American industry is not the British Fleet.

      There were no British or Australian ships at the Battle of Komondorski Island, the Battle of Bougainville/Empress Augusta Bay, Phillipines Sea, or Leyte Gulf. Leyte Gulf was actually 4 large scale battles, Sibbuyan Sea, Surigao Strait, Cape Engano, and Samar.

      The battle of Kolombarga had 2 US CLs, 8 US DDs, and 1 New Zealand CL.

      By the time the Brits joined the US pacific fleet in operations against the Japanese home islands the IIJN had been completely destroyed as a fighting force, the submarine war had devastated Japanese shipping, and what few ships were left lacked the fuel to sortie.

      So when asked again, what capital ships did the Brits sink, the answer is one cruiser, the Haguro. Everything else was done by the USN. Yes, that matters, far more than the Burmese, Indian, or Chinese theatres, as it was the destruction of the IJN which lead the way to the attacks on the home islands that ended the war.

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    4. Dear Christian,

      I am afraid you are wrong on a lot of details as usual. I don't know if it is poor reading, or selective quoting.

      Task Force 44 (previously ANZAC Sqn) at Coral Sea (commanded by Sir John Crace RAN) was a 'British Commonwealth of Nations' (CCOS designation) formation, with US ships attached.

      By the way this Cruiser Sqn remained under RAN control throughout the war, and was the main strike force under MacArthurs control for most of the war, (when not off escorting the Wasp or other US task forces). It had a number of British, Australian, New Zealand, American, and Dutch, ships under command at any given time.

      The RN carrier HMS Victorious was part of the US fleet in the Pacific in 1943, when the USN was reduced to a single carrier - the Saratoga. Certainly didn't do much, but not sure 50% of all available carriers at a crucial point (when USN was effectively on the defensive) is 'no input'.

      Not sure the invasion of New Georgia is not on the list of US actions during the war either. Almost sure it is claimed as a 'battle' somewhere. 'Operation Cartwheel' was considered a pretty big effort for this stage of the war... I believe it was called a 'major military strategy' for the Allies for 1943... But clearly carrier cover was irrelevant?

      By the way, the USN loaned several battleships and carriers to the Home Fleet during 1942... just because there was not a major battle during these desperately vulnerable times DOES NOT mean that those loans were not vital to the war effort. The 'ALLIES' (you might want to look that word up), often moved ships around to get the best pressure where it was needed.

      Glad to hear the Bristol Beaufighter is a US designed and supplied aircraft. I will ring the Australian Air Force museum immediately to get them to change the signs. Actually there were many more Australian units involved than Wikipedia gives credit to, but then you have to read non American sources to find that out. Try this book:
      http://www.bookdepository.com/Battle-Bismarck-Sea-Lex-McAuley/9780312058203
      It makes it pretty clear that there was pretty considerable overkill available, and the EITHER the USAF, or the RAAF, could have done the job entirely on their own. (Again, see that word 'Allies'!)

      Glad to hear the 30 Australian sailers killed when a Jap plane hit HMAS Australia during the Leyte Bay operations were mistaken. Will inform their widows and children it didn't happen. Read about Task Force 44 in Wikipedia.

      Glad to hear that in a world war, the fact that the USN sank not a single German or Italian battleship (possibly because they were busy sinking Japanese ones), means that the USN made no contribution at all to the defeat of Germany and Japan. Again, I will note that the USN DID contribute, quite a lot actually, even if it didn't sink a capital ship!

      (PS: Despite specific attempts to prevent the RN for getting any credit by sinking any Jap warships during the operations off Japan, there was a slip up, and British aircraft 'disabled' a Jap carrier. Try the Wikipedia article on the British Pacific Fleet for Admiral Halsey's explanation of why he was trying to stop the Commonwealth forces from getting any credit at all.)

      You can be as selective as you like in what you choose to see, but you can't actually change the facts.

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    5. Dear Christian,
      I have finally worked out that you don't understand that when I conflate the Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy, New Zealand Division of the royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy, and Indian Division of the Royal Navy 9the respective titles in 1941), I am doing it for multiple reasons.
      1. Officers from each served in each, and accrued seniority in each.
      2. deployments of each were co-ordinated by the Admiralty in London.
      3. As a result of this, during the Washington Naval conference, the USN insisted that the ships of the various divisions of the Commonwealth must be described as belonging to a single navy.
      I am conflating them because that is the USN definition of them.

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    6. Christian is absolutely correct, Nigel. Your constant playing with numbers is becoming rather tiresome. I expect at some point you'll say the Brits invented and dropped the A-bomb.

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  15. You seem to keep conflating 'British' and 'Australian'. Yes, Task Force 44 had an Australian CA and CL. No, that doesn't mean the British were at Coral Sea. The British Royal Navy and the RAN were separate entities, if close allies. I stated that the Australians were involved in the Battle of Coral Sea. It wasn't B/AU/US. You keep adding the B in there were it doesn't belong.

    I admit I was incorrect on Leyte. There were 2 RAN Cruiser, and 3 destroyers in the Leyte invasion. The US had 34 carriers (8 fleet, 8 light, 18 escort), 12 battleships, 24 cruisers, and 141 destroyers and destroyer escorts. Of the 420 amphibious assault ships the RAN provided 3. Hardly conclusive evident of the British fleet playing the 'main part' against the Japanese. Again, Brits aren't Aussies, and the Aussies while brave fighters that everyone admired had a very small part in that conflict. They had to - they were a very small force force compared to the IJN and USN. Not criticism of their will to fight, or the courage of the men on HMAS Australia. But remove them, nothing changes at all, they were a ridiculous fraction of the firepower of that invasion force, which wasn't 'mostly US' as you put it, it was overwhelmingly US. You could have removed the 2 RAN capital ships and 3 destroyers and history wouldn't have noticed.

    As far as understanding the term 'allies', it is hilarious that you are lecturing on that, when you put up a post that explicitly stated that Americans not only weren't necessary to the war effort but actually made the war harder for the Brits and the Commonwealth.

    No one is saying that the British didn't contribute to the Pacific War. That being said, you are giving them far greater credit than they deserve. Your discussion about the US not sinking any German or Italian BBs serves as an example. What would your reaction be if someone stated that the Americans played the 'main part quite a bit' in the naval war against the Germans? Lunacy, yes? But amazingly no cocky Yanks asserted any such thing. Hell, I'd say the Canadians had far more impact in the battle of the Atlantic than the US did. But when virtually all of the IJN was sunk by the Americans, we should acknowledge that the British were often the 'main part' of the fight against the IJN?

    I find that just as incredulous if a Brit or American said that they were the main bit when it came to the land war in Europe. A Russian would rightfully scoff at that. Your assertion of the British fleet being a major factor in the Pacific War when its main elements weren't present for almost every major battle that decided the war is just as dubious. The Australians played a significant role in the land campaign, its aviators perhaps less so but still noteworthy, but its navy was pretty secondary to its war contribution.


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    1. I can understand why the bit about Halsey would antagonize proponnents of the British Pacific fleet, but you seem to have it a bit backwards. Halsey actually allowed independent action by the Brits and was thrilled to have them there. He ignored orders to ensure they didn't sink any ships. Hence they actually were involved in the raid at Kure.

      And of course at that point the IJN was incapable of action, not only having lost all cohesion as a fleet but lacking the oil to put out to sea.

      If the Victorious had encountered any fleet elements it might have been credited with the sinking of a ship but in direct opposition to what you were saying the US wasn't on the defensive at the time, it was finishing off the threat to Australia by engaging in the reduction of Rabaul. It was a completely offensive operation. There were just no IJN fleet elements left in the area to oppose it.

      As far as Australia's role, considering the fact after the New Guinea campaign it was relegated primarily to war industries and supply, I can understand the frustration in terms of perceived glory. It certainly makes your post on whether it would have been better for the Americans to stay out of the war highly ironic.

      From wiki:
      The Australian military's role in the South-West Pacific decreased during 1944. In the latter half of 1943 the Australian Government decided, with MacArthur's agreement, that the size of the military would be reduced to release manpower for war-related industries which were important to supplying Britain and the US forces in the Pacific. Australia's main role in the Allied war effort from this point forward was supplying the other Allied countries with food, materials and manufactured goods needed for the defeat of Japan.[141] As a result of this policy, the Army units available for offensive operations were set at six infantry divisions (the three AIF divisions and three CMF divisions) and two armoured brigades. The size of the RAAF was set at 53 squadrons and the RAN was limited to the ships which were in service or planned to be built at the time.[142] In early 1944 all but two of the Army's divisions were withdrawn to the Atherton Tableland in north Queensland for training and rehabilitation.[143] Several new battalions of Australian-led Papuan and New Guinea troops were formed during 1944 and organised into the Pacific Islands Regiment, however, and largely replaced the Australian Army battalions disbanded during the year. These troops had seen action alongside Australian units throughout the New Guinea campaign.[144]

      The general perception among Americans I've talked to is that the Australians were top line fighters and some of the most effective troops of the war. They are universally held in high regard for their efforts in North Africa, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, New Guinea, and their support of Guadalcanal and Rabaul. However, their navy wasn't much of a factor.

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  16. If one looks at what had been ordered or was being built in British Shipyards at the end of the war, the British commitment to the Pacific Fleet would seem obvious.
    Besides the 10 Colossus Class Light Fleets, none of which saw action in the Pacific, the first to deploy arrived too late, there were 6 Majestic Class Light Fleets on order, there were 4 Audacious Class Fleet Carriers the two that were built were Eagle and Ark Royal, orders had been placed for 4 Malta Class Fleet Carriers and 8 Centaur Class Light Fleet Carriers, 4 of which were built, the last one commissioned in 1959 as Hermes.
    That is a total of 24 Light Fleet Carriers and 8 Fleet Carriers under design or construction at the end of WW2, where besides as units of the British Pacific Fleet in support of operation Downfall, as part of Olympic or Coronet, where these to be used? Or was the suggestion that British resources were being wasted in the shipyards and training the crews for these carriers?
    The fleet requirements for the Pacific Fleet and the Eastern Fleet were very different, the Eastern Fleet was well served by older slow Battleships and escort carriers, there was far more opportunity for land based RAF aircraft to be involved in tactical air support in the Indian Ocean. The Pacific Fleet was in a far more dangerous area, being attacked by Japanese Home Island forces both by air and possibly sea, the British Armoured Deck carrier design showed its worth in these campaigns.
    Of course the USN at the end of the war had built or in build 26 Essex Class with another 6 authorised as well as 3 Midway that were under construction and the 3 more that were planned. So the USN would have a far larger fleet in the Pacific in support of the invasion of Japan. This is not to touch on the hundreds of jeep carriers of both navies, that were being produced in US shipyards.

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    1. Dear Anonymous,

      pretty accurate.

      Again I go back to... if the Americans had the ability to finish Japan on their own (and I think they did, despite their occasional panics and requests for 50 British carriers and 3 British Commonwealth Corps etc for the invasion), then wouldn't it have been better for the British to concentrate on clearing the Japs out of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand?

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    2. Nigel, Sorry not to have noticed your response, thanks for the pretty accurate. As I see it the Court of US public opinion would not have been too impressed if all the losses taking the Home Islands had been US ones, we fought to free them from Hitler etc, all they want to do now is get back their colonies, not join in with us in the hard graft of taking the Japanese homeland. Also if there was going to be an assault on the Home Islands, that hopefully would have resulted in an Allied win, timing of course is the problem, would it be months or years? It could be argued that starting lots of campaigns to gain control of Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam etc would be a wanton waste of resources as if the final surrender came quicker due to the Commonwealth input to the Home Islands that taking Indonesia would just be a Police Action not a full Military Assault.
      So being with the Americans in the invasion of the Home Islands was politically important and most likely the an efficient use of British resources, how many divisions would be needed to assault Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam etc.

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    3. That is certainly the argument of the British COS when they threatened to resign on mass ifChurchill went the other way.

      Not sure that the British, or Commonwealth, or indeed anyone else who contributed to fighting the Japs (particularly China) gets even a smidgeon of credit in any American popular histories though? So was it worth it? Or do you imagine that if Australian troops had landed in Japan in the second wave, that American histories would be more considerate?

      You have also just pointed out that MacArthurs operations in the Philippines were just 'get back their colonies' - certainly the attitude of the USN which wanted to bypass them and go to Taiwan?

      Personally I think liberating the Philippines was a good geo-political choice, even if a bad strategic one at the time.

      But I also think we can make a good argument for good geo-political choice for Churchill's 'Middle Way'.

      The same resources thrown into liberating Malaya, Thailand, East Indies and Vietnam might have saved decades of communist insurgencies, civil wars, genocides (Pol Pot), and allied deaths in Korea and Vietnam... but we will never know will we?

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  17. Not sure that I see your logic that invading Malaysia etc, with corresponding disruption to infrastructure and death of non combatants would help in stopping insurgencies.

    In my view, taking into account the shortages of British troops, the number of troops needed to retake Malaysia, Thailand etc would have been a great challenge.

    At least at the end of WW2 many of these countries had only been fought over once, so they were not as dangerous or full of arms as Korea and Vietnam became.

    With the benefit of hindsight etc, it is easy to say that the Japanese occupiers would actually surrender, when their command and control infrastructure was intact, not something that always happened at the end of hostilities in the Philippines.

    As for recognition of the role of non American forces, there was a RN presence at the surrender ceremony. If British / Commonwealth / Australian etc forces had fought in Japan, as they did in Korea, they surely would have been part of the popular history? If one takes MASH as typical American view of Korea, there are episodes with British and other troops, so they are not invisible.

    As you say we will never know as thankfully the invasion of Japan never happened, with the anticipated Million casualties and destruction of much of Japan.

    If all the old colonies, for want of a better word, had been invaded and Japan had been invaded, the damage that would have been done to the economies of these lands would in my view make the damage done to Europe by WW2 look like loose change.

    A Marshall plan for all of South East Asia would have been a big ask.

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  18. why germany first? both CHURCHILL & ROOSEVELT knew of the A BOMB and
    GERMANY WAS THE LEADING NATION IN ATOMIC KNOW HOW.

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  19. There was no need for the British Pacific Fleet, as the US Navy mauled the Japanese at Midway and ending it with Leyte Gulf. The British were just trying to reassert their influence in the post world war world. As for Australia, the Americans developed an inferior view of them after their panic after the fall of Singapore, and Australia's poor fighting in the New Guinea campaign. America would of smashed and occupieed Japan without any help from the British Empire.

    Cheers Brian Foley

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    2. @Anonymous
      The British Pacific Fleet was there at American request. Singapore would have been liberate only those ships were taken to support US forces. The BPF secured the southern shores of Okinawa and other tasks like Taiwan and shelling Tokyo.

      Australians developed an inferior view of Americans after their poor fighting in the New Guinea campaign. The Australians were reluctant to work with Americans and their massive egos. To say America would have smashed and occupied Japan without any help from the British Empire is fanciful.

      American forces in the Pacific and the Far East did not perform any differently to US forces in Europe, which in Europe being mediocre. Monty gave them an infantry role in Normandy as he knew massed German SS panzers would annihilate US armies. The British faced 90% of German armour and destroyed it.

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  20. @Philip Gadsby
    "taking into account the shortages of British troops"
    The British formed an army of 2.6 million that rolled into Burma. The US did not have a land army anywhere near that size. The Americans have a jaundiced view that if they were not in that war theatre it was a sideline, the German eastern front excepted.

    Churchill wanted and got Germany First. It was expected that the British would have more troops in Europe and the US more in the Far East. In fact the reverse occurred. Although the US pouring troops into Europe (diverted from being sent to the Far East), was because of their horrific casualties in The Lorraine, Hurtgen Forest and the Ardennes Offensive.

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