US Army’s Early Mobile Anti-Tank Guns 1942-43

75mm Gun Motor Carriage M3(T12) and M3A1

The urgent need for a tank destroyer to be rushed quickly into service led to the adaptation of the M3 half-track in June 1941 to take a suitably modified M1897A 75mm gun on a pedestal mount firing forward. The M1897A was the American version of the famous French “75”, dating from World War I, of which surplus stocks were available. Designated T12 GMC, the gun had a limited traverse and was provided with a shield. Despite its extemporary nature, this equipment proved most successful on trials and the vehicle was standardised as the M3 GMC in October 1941. First vehicles built were sent instantly to the Philippines at the end of 1941 in time to see action against the Japanese. Aside from wide use in the Pacific, M3 GMCs were also used by US forces in the North African (Tunis) campaign and on replacement by full-track tank destroyers, these vehicles were handed over to the British who used them (in Italy) until the end of the war. In British service the M3 GMC was known as the “75mm SP, Autocar” (Autocar being the builder of this model), and the vehicles were used in HQ troops of armoured car and tank squadrons to give support fire. Due to shortage of the original 75mm gun mount, later vehicles were produced with a modified mount under the designation 75mm Gun Motor Carriage M3A1. They were externally similar to the M3 GMC.

Adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps during the Second World War was the M3 Gun Motor Carriage (GMC), originally developed by the Ordnance Department as a tank destroyer for the U.S. Army. It was armed with a 75mm gun, the American-built copy of the French 75 from the First World War. Within U.S. Marine Corps divisions, it was found in the regimental antitank platoons and division antitank companies.

Due to the small number of Japanese tanks encountered by the Marines in the Pacific, the M3 GMC was primarily employed as an assault gun to deal with enemy defensive works. The vehicle would last in service with the marines until early 1945.

M6 Stop-Gap Tank Destroyer

In early 1941, the US Army decided it needed a wheeled tank destroyer armed with a 37mm anti-tank gun as quickly as possible. The Chrysler Corporation responded by mounting an armoured-shield protected 37mm anti-tank gun in the rear cargo bay of an unarmoured 0.75-ton 4 × 4 truck. It was labelled the M6 Gun Motor Carriage (GMC). Hereafter, all GMCs will be referred to as ‘tank destroyers’.

Series production of the M6 tank destroyer began in April 1942, with Chrysler building 5,380 units of the vehicle by October 1942. It was intended strictly as an interim design, until a better thought out wheeled tank destroyer could be developed and fielded. Despite being a stop-gap design, the M6 would be deployed to North Africa beginning in November 1942, during Operation Torch.

An observer of the M6 in North Africa stated the following in a March 1943 US Army report: ‘The sending of such a patently inadequate [tank] destroyer into combat can be best termed a tragic mistake.’ In an After-Action Report (AAR) titled Operations of the 1st Armored in Tunisia, Major General E.N. Harmon stated: ‘The 37mm self-propelled gun, mounted on the 0.75-ton truck, is positively worthless and has never been used in this division.’

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United States Army interest in the half-track dated back to 1925 when the Ordnance Department purchased two Citroen-Kegresse semi-track vehicles from France. They bought another in 1931. US commercial firms undertook development work on half-tracks on behalf of the Ordnance Department and the first indigenous design, the T1 Halftrack, was built by Cunningham of Rochester, NY, in 1932. The development story of these vehicles in the thirties is beyond the scope of this book, but by 1939-40 Half-track Personnel Carrier T14 had been produced and became the prototype of all subsequent half-track types used by the US in World War II. In September 1940 the T14 was standardised as the Half-track M2 and, with modifications in order to transport personnel, it was standardised as the Half-track Personnel Carrier M3.

The M2 and M3 were similar in design and all major assemblies were interchangeable. The chassis and drive units were basically commercial components. The armoured hull was tin thick and included armoured shutters over the radiator, while armoured shields (tin thick) were provided for the cab windscreen and side windows. Vehicles were built with either an unditching roller mounted ahead of the front fender (though this was sometimes removed) or else with a winch. Late production vehicles also had stowage racks on the hull sides.

The M2 was basically a gun tower with the appropriate ammunition stowage facilities, and the M3 was a personnel carrier with slightly longer hull and rearranged seating. Contracts for production of these vehicles went to White and Autocar (M2) and Diamond T (M3) in September 1940.

In April 1943, work started on rationalising the half-track design to produce a “universal” vehicle with common body features suitable for either the gun tower/mortar carrier role or the personnel carrier role. This led to the M3A2 and M5A2 types from White/Autocar/Diamond T and International Harvester Co respectively. Standardisation of these revised designs took place in October 1943 but production was later cancelled. By this time, in fact, US Army interest in the half-track was beginning to wane and production of this type of vehicle tailed off completely in mid 1944, though half-tracks remained in wide service with the American forces until the war’s end. For artillery use the half-track was being displaced as a gun tower by the increasing availability of the high speed full-track tractor and in other service arms there was a growing preference for either full-track utility vehicles or trucks for personnel and supply work. In fact, half-tracks were never fully replaced in the period covered by this book though the process had started in 1944. Total US half-track production reached 41,169 units.

While the half-track was initially conceived as a fast reconnaissance vehicle, protected against small arms fire and with a good cross-country ability mainly for infantry and artillery use, it was also widely employed by other arms including the Armored Force as a “utility” vehicle. In this respect it was roughly equivalent in the US Army to the British Universal Carrier, but its larger size gave it more development potential as a weapons carriage. For the Armored Force, the Ordnance Department produced a number of expedient designs of gun motor carriage on the basis of the half-track and these performed useful “stopgap” service while superior full-track motor carriage designs were perfected. British armoured units also used a number of these half-track motor carriage types, supplied under Lend-Lease arrangements.

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THE SINO-JAPANESE WAR, 1894-1895

Several highly significant events occurred in 1894. Foreign Minister Mutsu Munemitsu’s negotiations with Britain to revise the unequal treaties began to make progress, finally reaching success with the signing of a more equitable commercial agreement that summer. This treaty became the basis for revision of the remaining unequal treaties Japan had had to agree to with other powers, hence excising a humiliation to the national honor.

Meanwhile, a more explosive sequence of events began when the pro Japanese Kim Ok-kyun was assassinated in Shanghai in April. Te Chinese government declined to release the body to Kim’s Japanese friends, instead returning it to Korea, certainly in full knowledge of what was likely to happen and how the Japanese government would react. The corpse was draped in a shroud inscribed “arch rebel and heretic.” On the same ship was the assassin, who received a hero’s welcome when the ship docked. The Korean king then mutilated Kim’s body in a particularly grisly manner, and punished his family members as well. While this treatment was considered appropriate for traitors, which from China’s and Korea’s point of view, Kim certainly was, the Japanese government perceived the manner in which it was carried out to have been designed to humiliate their country.

Japanese public opinion, fanned by angry articles in the nation’s news papers, was infuriated. The Japanese military, already resentful over the more conciliatory policies of the country’s statesmen, determined that it was necessary to intervene. Defeating Li Hongzhang’s well-regarded Beiyang army would free Korea defnitively from the Chinese sphere of influence as well as silence domestic critics who criticized their government’s unwillingness to take action. It might also serve to dissuade the Russian government from trying to establish a sphere of influence on the Korean peninsula, which Japan regarded as vital to its own security. Since the trans-Siberian railway would give Russia a direct conduit to the Pacific Ocean, Japanese statesmen were concerned that its completion would be tantamount to a Russian version of America’s Monroe Doctrine.

When the Tonghak (Eastern Learning) Rebellion broke out in Korea in 1894, the tinderbox of tensions was ignited. The Korean king, on the advice of Li Hongzhang’s representative in Korea, Yuan Shikai, requested that China send troops to help suppress it. In accordance with the Li-Ito Convention, China notified Japan that it was doing so. Ignoring the Korean king’s request that Japan not send troops, Japan immediately dispatched them nonetheless. Although the official explanation was that soldiers were needed to protect Japanese nationals and property, the large number of troops that were sent and their instantaneous dispatch indicated prior preparations. Japanese troops moved into Seoul and captured the king.

Tokyo announced that it would not withdraw the troops until the Korean government had implemented a program of thorough reform. Li Hongzhang, realizing that his troops would be unable to stand up to those of Japan, tried unsuccessfully to persuade foreign powers to mediate. There was considerable feeling among Western powers that the weak, corrupt Korean government was badly in need of reform; perhaps Japanese pressure was what was needed. At the end of July, the ship Kowshing, carrying more than a thousand Chinese troops, was intercepted by Japanese naval vessels and refused the commander’s orders to follow its ships to port. After several hours of negotiations, the commander, Togo Heihachiro, later to become the hero of the Russo-Japanese War, ordered the Kowshing sunk.

On August 1, 1894, each country declared war on the other. Japan’s declaration accused China of interfering in Korea’s domestic affairs, of refusing Japan’s offer to jointly sponsor reforms, and of opening fire on Japanese ships. China’s declaration repeatedly referred to the Japanese as dwarfs, woren, or dwarf pirates, wokou. Adding insult to insult in this face-conscious culture, the Chinese side had the declaration translated into English, accompanied by a note explaining that the word was used in an “opprobrious sense.” In her definitive study of the Sino-Japanese War, S. C. M. Paine characterizes such language as equivalent to repeatedly spitting in the emperor’s face. At frst, foreign observers assumed that Chinese forces would win. Tis was quickly proved wrong, as Japanese forces achieved victory after victory in what could only be considered a humiliating defeat of their larger neighbor. China’s regionally based armies had a tendency to avoid battle, feeling that they did not have a stake in the outcome. Battleships, including some modern vessels whose capabilities exceeded those of the Japanese, were hoarded rather than used. Corruption siphoned money meant for military modernization into luxury items for dishonest officials. A subordinate of China’s most outstanding admiral, Ding Ruchang, disobeyed Ding’s order to put the flagship in a position to fire on the Japanese fleet and instead fired the main guns at the bridge on which Ding was standing. The admiral escaped death, but his leg was crushed, seriously affecting his ability to direct the battle.

Incredibly, the Chinese managed to sustain the attitude of superiority even in the face of defeat. For example, in November 1894, an eminent scholar-official wrote:

The island barbarian Japanese have inscrutable temperaments and petty dispositions. Their hearts are like those of jackals and wolves, and they possess poison like the bees and the scorpions .. They dare to title their emperor as the son of heaven in the land of the rising sun. It look them 48,000 years before they made contact with China, while in 3,600 years they still have not accepted our celestial calendar. . [I]llegitimately assuming the reign title of Meiji [i. e., Enlightened Rule], they in reality abandon themselves all the more to debauchery and indolence. Falsely calling their new administration a reformation, they only defle themselves so much the more. . As for Korea, all the world knows it is a vassal of China. And yet Japan took military action there without reason. Is this not deliberately provocative? . How can we tolerate this willingness to act like the dog of the ancient tyrant Chieh barking at the sage-king Yao? Both the immortals and human kind are angry, the entire world takes offense.

This stoked the anger of Japanese, who were already passionate to become treated as equals if not superiors. The image of China among ordinary Japanese citizens also suffered. When soldiers whose educations had taught them that China was the land of the sages encountered the poverty and illiteracy of the Chinese countryside, and shared these observations through letters and conversations with relatives and acquaintances at home, the once revered land came to be regarded as far inferior to their own.

While some responded with their own disparaging characterizations of the Chinese, generally based on nativist views, others tended to be compassionate once victory had been secured. A case in point is the dialogue between Admiral Ito Yuku and his opposite number Admiral Ding Ruchang after the latter’s defeat at Weihaiwei. Tough fate had made them adversaries, the two had previously had cordial relations. Ito pointed out that the defeat had not been Ding’s fault, but that of a government which preferred to choose its officials on the basis of their literary accomplishments rather than their military expertise. He then invited Ding to come to Japan rather than return to Beijing to accept responsibility for the defeat. Ding responded by committing suicide, thereby earning the highest respect of the Japanese. As commented by a newspaper columnist of the time, enmity is temporary, respect endures forever. Admiral Ito ordered Ding’s body returned to China, with flags flying at half-mast and ships firing a salute as the vessel bearing his body lef port. Knowing that the war was essentially over at this point, Ito also returned Ding’s surviving officers. Ding’s own government did not react as well: his corpse was denied proper burial until 1912, and the emperor ordered his surviving officers beheaded.

A similar exchange of views occurred when Li Hongzhang again met Ito Hirobumi, this time to negotiate the terms of the peace treaty at Shimonoseki. Ito reminded Li that, at Tianjin a decade before, he had spoken with Li about reform, regretted that nothing had actually been reformed, and asked why. Li replied that “affairs in my country have been so confined by tradition that I could not accomplish what I desired.”

In a third example, also from the Shimonoseki negotiations, Premier Ito inquired of one of the Chinese translators, the brilliant Luo Fenglu, why China had not learned more from the West. Luo replied, “You see, in our younger days we knew each other as fellow students, and now you are prime minister in your country and I am an interpreter in mine.” As summarized by an astute observer, for years Japanese diplomats had offered the same advice to Chinese diplomats, only to see it ignored. From the Chinese point of view, “They would be damned before they would take advice from `dwarfs.’ And damned they were.”

Even in defeat, the Chinese government refused to treat the victors as equals. Te negotiations were stalled when the Japanese, confronted with a delegation of relatively low-ranking individuals who had arrived without power to make decisions, refused to deal with them. Meanwhile, a group of officials in China who clearly did not comprehend the difficult position that the devastation of their armies and ships had put them in, urged fighting on. A few days afer the envoys’ ship set sail, The Peking Gazette, the official organ of the Chinese government for the publication of memorials and edicts, referred to the Japanese by an even more demeaning term than dwarfs: “dwarf pirates”. After a member of the delegation asked the highly inappropriate question of when he could expect an audience with the emperor, the Japanese sent the delegation back.

Eventually, with the Japanese threatening to advance into Beijing- an action that was easily within their military’s capacity but that civilian statesmen preferred to avoid, fearing Western powers’ reaction-the Chinese dispatched an acceptable delegation. In the resultant Treaty of Shimonoseki, signed in 1895, China recognized the full and complete independence and autonomy of Korea, which was henceforth to refrain from paying tribute and performing ceremonies to China that were incompatible with this independence and autonomy. Taiwan, the Pescadores, and the Liaodong peninsula were ceded to Japan. China was to pay an indemnity of 200 million Kuping taels 35 (about 7.5 million kilograms of silver). Four new cities, Shashi, Chongqing, Hangzhou, and Suzhou, were to be opened to Japanese trade, and China granted most favored nation status to Japan.

The mood in Japan was ecstatic; the military had not only assuaged past slights but also brought much honor to the country. However, almost immediately a consortium of three European states-France, Germany, and Russia-intervened. Apprehensive for their own interests in the wake of the Japanese victory, the parties to the Triple Intervention advised Japan to retrocede the Liaodong peninsula. Aware that their military could not withstand the combined forces of the three, Japanese diplomats agreed. A concession that China would have to pay an additional 30 million Kuping, or 1.12 million kilograms, of silver for the retrocession of Liaodong, for a total indemnity of over 9 million kilograms of silver, was scant consolation. An imperial rescript urged the people to “bear the unbearable” and to refrain from rash acts of revenge. Although a number of ritual suicides were reported, citizens in general obeyed the emperor’s command. However, the intervention had other, very serious consequences.

Public opinion was outraged, charging that diplomats had surrendered a valuable prize that had been won through the sacrifices of thousands of valiant young men. The prestige of civilian government fell; that of the military rose. As did support for larger military budgets, so that Japan could never again be humiliated in this fashion, and the desire for revenge. Additionally, the Triple Intervention was interpreted as meaning that the Western powers had not yet accepted Japan as their equal, its impressive reforms not withstanding. In the Japanese view, this attitude extended beyond the three intervening powers: Tokyo had approached other Western powers for help against the consortium, but had been rebuffed. The conclusion was that Western powers understood only military force, and that Japan had best ready itself for such a confrontation. Japanese decision-makers were aware of the so-called Willy-Nicky letters, in which the German kaiser and his cousin, the Russian czar, discussed the dangers of the “yellow peril.”

SOVIET LIGHT AMPHIBIOUS SCOUT TANKS

Another area in which British designs had a strong influence on early Soviet tank types was the development of amphibious light armoured vehicles. The series of tank types bought from Vickers Armstrong/Carden Loyd in 1929 had included the innovative VCL Amphibian tank. A light 3.04 tonne (3 ton) vehicle with a machine gun, it could cross small waterways. The Amphibian inspired a generation of Soviet amphibious tank designs, until the demands of war terminated production.

In 1931 a design team at Zavod Nr 47 near Moscow simultaneously developed two prototype amphibious tanks which were based on the VCL design. The T-33 (originally designated the MT-33) had a crew of two and weighed 3.04 tonnes (3 tons). The T-41 was similar in design and armament, carrying a single, turret mounted DT 7.62mm (0.3in) machine gun, with the main difference being in the body, which was slightly larger for greater buoyancy when crossing a water way. Unsatisfactory performances during trials of the two vehicles, and especially problems with the T-41 ‘s waterproofing and the unsuitability of the VCL suspension, led to the development of a further alternative prototype.

The T-37 was a refinement of the earlier models rather than a radically new design. A modified Horstmann spring coil suspension was adopted with improved tracks and drive system for the single propeller. The hull was strengthened and sheet-metal track guards encasing balsa-wood floats were added for extra buoyancy. These modifications were dispensed with as the T-37 came to the end of its production run in 1936. Waterproofing problems persisted because of the hull’s river construction, but this was on the whole overcome in 1935 by welding together and riveting the tank’s armour plates.

The durability of the T-37 design was shown during rigorous trials in 1933 when over 11 days, 7 T-37s travelled 1126km (700 miles), over 965km (600miles) in water. Like most Soviet tank designs, dedicated command variants were constructed, which were termed T- 37TU. A production run of 1200 vehicles was completed between 1933 and 1936. They served in a reconnaissance role with tank, mechanized and cavalry units in all Red Army operations up to 1942.

THE T-38

Plans to modernize the T-37 in the mid-1930s led to such extensive changes by the Zavod Nr 37 team that it was decided to designate it T-38. Improved hull design gave a lower profile and a decrease in weight. Coupled with a new suspension, wider tracks and improved steering, the T-38 was easier to handle, more manoeuvreable, and altogether a better swimmer than the T-37 . Armament, however, remained the same as the T-37, although a 20mm (0.78in) gun fitted in a low turret with the driver was rejected because it restricted his ability to control the vehicle.

In addition to its reconnaissance role, the T-38 underwent several experimental combat roles. During the 1936 Kiev Military District manoeuvres, a number of T-38 and T-27 vehicles were air-landed deep behind enemy lines in a radical test of the potential of airborne forces. In 1940, several T-38s were adapted for radio control and fitted with explosives for use against enemy bunkers. An estimated 1300 vehicles were manufactured between 1937 and 1939.

THE T-40

Common to many pre-war Soviet tank designs, the T-37 and T-38 proved to be too vulnerable to heavy machine-gun fire and shell splinters. This problem had been foreseen as early as 1938, when a special research department at Zavod N r 37, led by chief engineer N. A. Astrov, was instructed to design two variants of a new light scout tank, of which one was to be amphibious. Several prototypes of the amphibious vehicle (initially designated T-30A) were in trials between July and August 1939. Once orders to rectify defects were complied with, the vehicle was accepted for production and service as the T-40 on 19 December 1939.

The vehicle had a torsion suspension and, in the water, was driven by a single propeller and steered by two rudders at the rear. A more powerful engine, hermetically sealed hatches and a better-shaped front with a special water deflector enabled the T-40 to cross wider rivers with strong currents, like the Dniepr and Dnestr (although as a precaution the crew were supplied with lifebelts). Despite ambitious plans, production was low, and in 1940 the addition of extra armour and the need to increase tank production led to the non amphibious T-30B prototype being given priority, also as the T-40.

At 6.09 tonnes (6 tons), both T-40 variants weighed twice the weight of the T-37 and T-38, but the cause of this increase – welded thicker 14mm (O. Sin) bulletproof armour – did not make it any less vulnerable in battle to light weapons than they were. The inability of its 12.7mm (O. Sin) DShK main gun, while firing armour-piercing rounds, to penetrate armour 16mm (0.62in) above 300m (984ft) also restricted its combat worthiness. Possibly if the T-40 had been used in its reconnaissance role, its armour and gun might just have proved sufficient, but the tendency of Soviet commanders to use them like regular tanks led to heavy losses in 1940 and 1941.

Aegospotami – Disaster at Sea

Arginusae was an unlucky victory for the Athenians as its aftermath made clear. Not only had they killed the generals who won the battle, but in savoring the victory they may again have rejected Spartan peace overtures. Opposition to peace came most notably from Cleophon, a prominent popular leader, who on this occasion spoke boldly and drunkenly (perhaps) against any deal with the Spartans. Some Athenians too were troubled by the freedom and citizenship granted to the fighting slaves of Arginusae, especially as so many free – born Athenian citizens had been exiled over the course of the war. Aristophanes voices this grievance in Frogs (ll. 33 – 4, 693 – 6) and the issue remained hot in 400 when Andocides defended himself against charges of impiety in his speech On the Mysteries (149). Battles not only took Athenian lives, but changed them in other ways too.

The executions required the election of new generals (probably in spring 405), and afterwards preparations began for a renewed offensive into the eastern Aegean. From their base in Samos the Athenian commanders, including Conon and some of the new generals, Cephisodotus, Menander, and Tydeus, raided Persian territories and those around Chios and Ephesus, all the while watching to see what response the Spartans would now make (Xen. Hell. 2.1.12, 16).

Arginusae may also have led the Spartans to reassess their old ways of doing things. A near revolt on Chios was just nipped in the bud by Eteoni cus, the Spartan governor. This event, and allied demands that Lysander be reinstated as commander of Spartan and allied forces, reenergized the Spartan war effort. Lysander had been popular among the allies and he got on well with Cyrus, and while there were rules and regulations to be fol lowed (i. e., the same man could not be admiral twice), they could be skirted. Spartan authorities returned Lysander to service, technically as the subordinate to a new commander, Aracus (in place of the fallen Callicra tidas). But as far as anyone could see, it was Lysander who commanded Spartan Aegean forces (Xen. Hell. 2.1.1 – 7).

Lysander quickly began the rebuilding of the Spartan war effort. From his base at Ephesus, he began to assemble his forces: summoning Eteonicus and the Chian garrison (and fleet), Lysander begged and borrowed ships and crews wherever he could. Manipulative and scheming as ever, Lysander met with Cyrus. Again he pressed the prince for more money. While Cyrus went over the books, pointing out all the funds that he and his father had already invested in the Spartans, he still came up with more cash with which Lysander paid his crews. Cyrus also urged him to be careful in fight ing the Athenians, to make sure that he held massive superiority before taking them on again – clearly Arginusae was on his mind (Xen. Hell. 2.1.10 – 15).

This new fleet needed a seasoning expedition and Lysander provided that with a punitive raid against Cedreiae, an Athenian ally in Caria, and then against shipping near Rhodes and the Ionian coast (Xen. Hell. 2.1.15 – 16). Lysander then moved north into the Hellespont which he had surely identified as the key to victory. Ostensibly aimed at the recovery of those cities lost to Alcibiades and the Athenians two years before, Lysander knew that moving there would draw the Athenian fleet to him, just like a moth to a flame.

Lampsacus, an Athenian ally midway up the Hellespont, fell to a Spartan attack by land and sea. The Athenians, trailing Lysander’s fleet some twenty or thirty miles south, learned of this and immediately moved north, taking on new stores at Sestus, finally coming to Aegospotami, a landing opposite Lampsacus. Over the next four days the two fleets played a game of cat and mouse – a game that suited Lysander perfectly. He once said when the lion’s skin was too small, it could be made bigger with the fox’s (Plut. Mor. 229B). The Athenians were about to get a lesson in Spartan stealth.

Each morning the Athenian fleet, 180 ships strong, would sail across the narrow strait and assume battle stations opposite the Spartan anchorage. Lysander ordered his men to prepare their ships for battle but to await an Athenian attack. But there was no attack and at midday the Athenians retired for lunch. Lysander sent out a fast ship to watch and then report back on what the Athenians did on reaching their camp. What his scouts saw was encouraging: the Athenians pulled their ships up on the beach, prepared lunch, or went off in search of it as their supplies were fast running out. The Spartan fleet, however, remained on station as Lysander received this same report each day.

The danger lurking on the horizon was obvious to just about everyone perhaps but the Athenian commanders. This included the exiled Alcibiades whose Thracian perch a short distance away gave him a bird’s eye view of the dangerous position taken up by the Athenian fleet. After watching for several days, Alcibiades visited the Athenian camp. He advised retiring to Sestus where there was food and a better anchorage which would enable them to attack wherever they desired. But the generals, especially Tydeus and Menander, rebuffed him harshly and told him to go away, that they were now in charge of things (Xen. Hell. 2.1.20 – 6).

On the fourth day the scene replayed, but this time Lysander told his scout ship that upon following the Athenians back and observing the same routine as before, they should return as fast as possible and signal with a shield once they were halfway back. Keeping their routine, the Athenians scattered for lunch and the scout ship returned and flashed the ordered sign. Lysander sent his ships standing at battle station into the attack catching the Athenians completely offguard. Only the still lucky Conon with eight other ships was able to get away before the Spartans were upon them all. In an hour, almost the entire Athenian force was captured, only a few men managing to get away on foot. The last Athenian fleet was now in Spartan hands.

Lysander brought his prizes – both the ships and their crews – to Lampsacus and word was sent off to Sparta of the great victory. An assembly was convened and the allies were asked for recommendations in dealing with the prisoners, some 3000 of them Athenian (Plut. Lys. 13.1). Historically, from ancient Greece to Vietnam and Iraq, prisoners of war have always been in harm ‘ s way as previous acts of violence and killing demand payback. Moreover, keeping and looking after prisoners is a nuisance – they have to be fed, they have to be guarded, and they delay whatever plans a victorious commander wants to make. As Lysander now looked over the mass of Athenians in his hands and evaluated the situation, he may have seen a solution to his problem in his allies. Rage against the Athenians was palpable. To all the past crimes, the destruction of so many cities, the Athenians had recently added further horrors: a decree that all prisoners taken in sea fights should have their right hands cut off; the deliberate drowning of two ships ‘ crews at the order of Philocles, one of the generals now in Lysander’s hands.

The response of the allies was loud and clear – kill them. Only the general Adeimantus was spared, ostensibly for his opposition to the ` right hand ‘ decree, though some thought he owed his survival to his betrayal of the fleet, bribed by Lysander (Xen. Hell. 2.1.32, Paus. 10.9.5). As for Philocles, Lysander asked him, ` What ‘ s a worthy punishment for acting like a criminal towards your fellow Greeks? ‘ Not intimidated, Philocles told Lysander not to play the part of the prosecutor where there was no judge, but rather that of the victor and do what would have been done to him had he lost. Then bathing and putting on his best clothes, he led his fellow Athenians to their deaths. How was such a mass execution carried out? A few rare scenes of the killing of prisoners from vase paintings suggests that the Athenians were bound and then were led off and executed, either drowned or killed by sword. However carried out, the deliberate killing of so many unarmed men must be seen not only as a gruesome act itself, but also as an indicator of the level of violence the war had now reached.

Mercenaries in Macedonian Service

A distinction between mercenaries and allied troops certainly existed within the Macedonian order of battle; we saw this with the Thessalian cavalry for example. The distinction drawn by Alexander was not sharp, however, and could lead to some confusion. We must first therefore clarify what these terms actually mean before we consider the individual contingents themselves.

The meaning of the term ‘mercenary’ would seem at first sight obvious: a soldier who fights for pay. But of course everyone in Alexander’s army was being paid, including the Macedonian and allied contingents. I believe that we can narrow the meaning down to ‘someone who fights without a political imperative’, that is a soldier who is not compelled to fight by his city-state, but does so purely for personal reasons. The distinction therefore becomes a little clearer, but the status of the Balkan troops in the army is still problematic. They are one of the contingents whose status changed whilst on campaign; the Balkan troops came from peoples who were more or less formally subject to the king of Macedonia, so that it is difficult to make the distinction between whether they were mercenaries or allies. It is perhaps best to avoid a splitting of hairs and to call them all mercenaries, because if they were allies in the first place they certainly became mercenaries later. I will here consider them amongst the allied contingent, as they were initially of that status, and Diodorus certainly does not include them amongst the mercenaries in his troop list of 334 BC.

By the time of the accession of Alexander in Macedonia, mercenary soldiers formed an integral part, not just of the Macedonian army, but also that of Persia and a number of the Greek city-states. The mercenary soldier himself, however, had undergone considerable change. In the fifth century, mercenaries were few in number and employment opportunities were limited. Their first large scale employment in Greece was during the Peloponnesian War, and was at first confined to the Spartan side, Athens having no access to the large recruiting grounds of Arcadia. It is also the case that Pericles’ defensive strategy had little need of mercenaries. Athens’ first recorded use of hoplite mercenaries was on the Sicilian expedition, and even here there were only 250 ‘Mantineans and other mercenary troops’. Persia tended not to employ Greek mercenaries in large numbers in the fifth century, the first large scale employment being Cyrus’

force of 10,000 so brilliantly described by Xenophon. Mercenaries in the fifth century tended to be grouped into one of the following classifications:

• Archers, often from Crete – Archery, throughout all periods of history, was a specialized field and required considerable training. It was very difficult for a citizen hoplite to acquire the necessary skills and so specialists were hired. Crete is often mentioned as a source of such troops throughout the fifth and fourth centuries, and it even furnished a contingent in Alexander’s army; although Alexander also employed a native Macedonian contingent of archers.

• Cavalry – Usually few in number, primarily because of the expense involved, and because the geography of Greece also generally did not lend itself well to cavalry engagements, with a few notable topographical exceptions.

• Hoplites – Troops armed and equipped in the same manner as a citizen soldier; a heavily armed infantryman wearing a breastplate and often greaves, and carrying a spear. Their main offensive weapon was weight of numbers, hoplite battles could perhaps be thought of as a giant rugby scrum. Heavily-armed hoplites were the main fighting force on either side in the fifth and into the fourth century.

• Peltasts – Light-armed troops carrying a small shield and little or no body armour. Their effectiveness was based almost entirely on their mobility. Most mercenaries in the fourth century fell into this group after the ‘reforms of Iphicrates’ early in that century.

Iphicrates’ Reforms

Iphicrates was born towards the end of the fifth century into a poor and rather obscure Athenian family. Despite his lowly background he rose to a position of command in Athens, fighting in a number of campaigns including the Corinthian War and the Social War, he also spent time in Persian service after the Peace of Antalcidas. Diodorus places his peltast reforms after 374, following his Persian sojourn, using his experiences prior to that date to develop this new type of soldier.93 The exact dating of the reforms is not relevant here, but their nature certainly is, as it was this type of soldier that constituted the bulk of Alexander’s mercenary forces. I have also tried to argue earlier that Alexander’s heavy infantry were essentially a version of Iphicratean peltasts, being equipped as they were with a small shield and very little body armour.

The primary sources of information that we have for the peltast reforms of Iphicrates are Diodorus and Nepos, both of whose accounts are very similar. According to them the most significant changes were as follows:

Iphicrates replaced the large (shield) of the Greeks by the light pelte, which had the advantage that it protected the body while allowing the wearer more freedom of movement; the soldiers who had formerly carried the [large hoplite shield] and who were called hoplites, were henceforth called peltastsafter the name of their new shields; their new spears were half as long again or even twice as long as the old ones, the new swords were also double in length, In addition Iphicrates introduced light and easily untied footwear, and the bronze harness was replaced by a linen covering, which although it was lighter, still protected the body.

Diodorus regards these changes as having been introduced into the existing hoplite troops and in the process discounts the possibility of already existing peltast-style light infantry. Diodorus’ failure to realize the existence of peltast troops before Iphicrates is indeed very striking. In this omission Diodorus shows his serious lack of understanding of the military situation of the day. Modern commentators have frequently been struck with the absurdity of this, and have taken up an opposite attitude. For them the change was a trivial one and consisted chiefly in the standardizing of the existing, but rather haphazard, peltast equipment. This argument, however, simply will not do. It assumes that the light-armed skirmishers of earlier narratives were equipped in the same manner that Diodorus describes. This simply cannot be the case; light-armed skirmishers would not have carried a sword and spear twice the length of those carried by hoplites. Earlier narratives also tell of peltasts actually throwing their spears. If Iphicrates was standardizing that which already existed then why did he not provide his troops with these throwing spears? We are surely not to believe that they carried these as well. Some other explanation must be sought.

Was Iphicrates actually inventing a new type of peltast, one with specific and specialized equipment? The other extreme view is that Iphicratean peltasts were in no way different from Thracian peltasts. On this interpretation, Iphicrates’ reforms were of little significance, as troops of exactly the same type existed already in Thrace. The truth probably lies somewhere between these two extreme positions. There was probably no uniformity of peltast equipment before Iphicrates, some using primarily throwing spears, some longer spears, still others using swords of various sizes. The size of the shield probably varied too. I suspect therefore that Iphicrates studied the light infantry of his day and based his reforms around choosing from the various groups the equipment that best suited the type of soldier that he was trying to create. We may see Iphicrates therefore not as creating something entirely new, or as standardizing that which already existed, but as refining the equipment and tactics of the peltasts of his day.

Mercenaries had not been a significant part of the military forces of the city-states in the fifth century. There was, on the one hand, very little fiscal means to support such troops, and, on the other, a generally held belief that it was a citizen’s duty to take up arms and defend his polis as need arose. Any Greek mercenaries that did exist were generally employed in Persia or Egypt. Mercenaries were also employed in Sicily in significant numbers from an early date. By 481 it seems possible that Gelon, tyrant of Syracuse, maintained an army that included as many as 15,000 mercenaries. They presumably constituted a significant part of the army that won the decisive victory over the Carthaginians at Himera. The most significant event that sparked a major increase in the employment of mercenary troops on mainland Greece was the Peloponnesian War. The Peloponnesian states were the first to employ mercenaries in great numbers. These mercenaries were initially not light-armed troops but hoplites from Arcadia. Athens was slow to hire such troops, largely because of the geographical difficulty in reaching them, but by the end of the war mercenaries of all kinds were finding employment on both sides. The reasons for this change lay in the nature of the war itself. The war was prolonged and almost continuous and there were few large-scale set piece battles fought; most engagements were on a small scale and fought by troops who were relatively lightly equipped and very mobile. Mercenaries were simply better at this kind of combat than heavily armoured hoplites. The hiring of mercenaries was made possible now, and less so earlier, by the relative prosperity of the warring states as compared to earlier in the fifth century.

The end of the Peloponnesian War did not see an ending of the employment of mercenaries in Greece. The peace itself led to a large number of men who had become accustomed to earning their living as hired soldiers suddenly becoming unemployed. This would generally have a destabilizing effect upon any society, but they would not have stayed unemployed for long. The political situation in Greece in the fourth century meant that there were always potential paymasters. Their other great sphere of employment, Persia, was also undergoing change. The central authority of the Persian Empire had begun to weaken. The local governors and satraps grew more independent and ambitious. Their position needed military support, and they found it most readily in Greek mercenaries. It had long been recognized that mercenaries formed a more secure power base for tyrants, rather than citizen soldiers whose loyalty was more open to question if a usurper came along. Greek mercenary infantry in Persian service continually proved themselves more capable than anything that the native Persians were able to achieve, so the great king himself was also forced to hire his own contingents to keep pace with his potentially disloyal satraps. We see this to be true during the reign of Alexander too: the only quality infantry that Darius had at his disposal were the Greek mercenaries. Initially 20,000 strong at the Granicus, they had been reduced to perhaps only 2,000 by the time of Gaugamela. This was because of successive losses at the Granicus and Issus, but probably due to desertion too as it became apparent that Alexander was a more attractive paymaster. The League of Corinth had specifically outlawed a Greek taking up arms against another Greek; this decree had meant little at the outset of the campaign when Persia looked like a good bet for victory. At the time of the battle of Gaugamela in 331, however, Darius found it almost impossible to hire more Greek hoplite mercenaries. This was partly because he was no longer an attractive employer, partly because of the distance from Greece, and partly because Alexander was hiring them in increasing numbers, thus reducing the available pool.

Oilfields of Borneo – 1942

“Pacific Offensive, 1942: • Sergeant-Major, Infantry; Borneo, January 1942 • Superior Private, Infantry; Java, DEI, March 1942 • Seaman 2nd Class paratrooper, 1st (Yokosuka) Special Landing Unit; Celebes, DEI, January 1942”, Stephen Andrew

As the oilfields of Borneo – and two weeks later, the oil fields of Sumatra – would fulfill a strategic objective on the Japanese Southern Road, other moves made on the Dutch East Indies chessboard were designed to address tactical concerns. As the Japanese closed in on Java and Sumatra, the Dutch, who had barely defended Borneo, were concentrating their resources, just as General Arthur Ernest Percival intended to do with his British Commonwealth assets in Singapore.

Just as IJA and IJN airpower was keeping pace with Tomoyuki Yamashita’s 25th Army on the Malay Peninsula, moving into abandoned RAF bases closer and closer to the front, the tactical plan for the ultimate battle in the Dutch East Indies required a network of airfields on other islands which were closer to Java and Sumatra. One such island was the major Dutch East Indies island of Celebes (now Sulawesi) to the east of Borneo and due south of the Philippines.

Offshore, the Celebes operation was supported by a naval force commanded by Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka which included the cruiser Jintsu, his flagship, ten destroyers, two seaplane tenders, and several minesweepers. An additional covering force under Rear Admiral Takeo Takagi included the cruisers Nachi, Haguro, and Myoko, and two destroyers. They were all part of the growing IJN presence in the nearly 3 million square miles of Dutch East Indies waters.

The IJN surface fleet in this area was divided generally into two operating groups. The Western Force under Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, commander of the Japanese Southern Expeditionary Fleet, was tasked with operations in the South China Sea, and had supported the campaign in Malaya and Singapore. The Eastern Force, commanded by Vice Admiral Ibo Takahashi, conducted operations from eastern Borneo, east through Celebes, Ambon, Timor, and eastward to New Guinea.

Operations ashore in Celebes were conducted entirely by the IJN Special Naval Landing Forces, and occurred simultaneously with the IJA and IJN landings on Tarakan. This ground action, which was a brief one that history treats almost as a footnote to the Borneo operations, is notable for including the first Japanese airborne operation in Southeast Asia. The latter was a precursor to tactics that were to be revisited a month later in Sumatra.

Under the command of Captain Kunizo Mori, 2,500 men of the 1st and 2nd Sasebo Special Naval Landing Forces conducted the initial amphibious landings near the northern Celebes cities of Manado (also spelled Menado) and Kema before dawn on January 11, overwhelming the outnumbered KNIL defenders.

Meanwhile, staging out of Davao, 28 transport variants of the Mitsubishi G3M medium bomber carried more than 300 paratroopers from the 1st Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force to a drop zone behind the invasion beaches. Landing at about 9:30 am on January 11, the paratroopers surprised the Dutch defenders, and began an assault on the airfield at Langoan and the seaplane base at Kakas.

The unexpected attack from above certainly reminded the Dutch troops of the use by the Germans of airborne troops in the conquest of their home country in May 1940. Indeed, Japanese tactical planners in both the IJA and IJN had made note of the successful use of German Fallschirmjäger, or paratroopers, as a spearhead during the Wehrmacht spring offensive of 1940, and had begun training their own airborne troops. Germany’s capture of the entire island of Crete, solely by airborne troops, in May 1941, must have been especially noteworthy as the Japanese planners pondered the island-studded map of the Southern Road. In retrospect, it is a wonder that the tactic was not employed on a wider scale.

A second airborne attack by the 1st Yokosuka on January 12 brought additional landing forces to Celebes, and assured the capture of the Langoan airfield. Though some of the Dutch troops managed to hide out in the mountains for about a month, northern Celebes was secured by the middle of the month.

With this, Captain Kunzio Mori’s 1st and 2nd Sasebo headed south. Just as Sakaguchi had leapfrogged down the Borneo coast from Tarakan to Balikpapan, Mori embarked from Manado and headed for Kendari, at the southeast corner of Celebes. His Special Naval Landing Forces, aboard six transports, were escorted by a task force commanded by Rear Admiral Kyuji Kubo, which included the cruiser Nagara, his flagship, eight destroyers, and support ships. As with the task force that had supported Mori at Manado, Kubo’s contingent was part of the IJN Eastern Force.

Mori went ashore under cover of darkness on the night of January 23–24, the same night that Sakaguchi had landed at Balikpapan. Within 24 hours, the defenders had been overcome, and the Japanese were in control of the strategically important airfield at Kendari.

Capturing airfields was a priority second only to the petroleum facilities in the Dutch East Indies, for they brought land-based Japanese fighters and bombers incrementally closer to future battlefields farther south on the Southern Road. The air base at Kendari was destined to be one of the most important. Centrally located within the Dutch East Indies, it would be an important refueling stop. It was also the base of operations for the devastating air attack on Darwin, Australia, which would terrify the land down under three weeks later.

Just as the airfields on Celebes were part of the Sumatra and Java strategy, other Dutch islands far to the east hosted airfields that would be useful in operations against Dutch- and Australian-administered New Guinea, which were scheduled for April. Centrally located between Celebes and New Guinea was 299-square-mile Ambon Island, part of the Molucca (now Maluku) Archipelago, 500 miles east of Celebes, 1,600 miles east of Palembang, and 250 miles west of New Guinea. The strategic importance of Ambon and the substantial, paved airfield at Laha on the island had been lost on neither the Dutch nor the Australians. They had agreed to jointly reinforce the island, but the first contingent of RAAF Hudson bombers had not touched down at Laha until December 7, 1941, less than 24 hours before the general outbreak of hostilities across Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The Australians also sent troops, but they had few to spare. As we have seen, three of the four infantry divisions which comprised the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) were in North Africa helping the British fight the German Afrika Korps. Most of the 8th Division, except the 23rd Brigade, was helping the British defend Malaya.

The one brigade held back was given the precarious and impossible task of the forward defense of Australia itself. It was divided into what were known as the “Bird Forces,” having been given what the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs historical factsheet colorfully describes as “ominously non-predatory names.” Forward defense of Australia meant outposts on islands north of that country and east of Malaya which were astride important sea lanes between Japanese-held territory and Australia. It was Gull Force that was dispatched to Ambon, while Sparrow Force went to Timor, and Lark Force went to New Britain, far to the east.

Each of the Bird Forces was essentially a single battalion, roughly a thousand or fewer infantrymen, reinforced with artillery and support troops. Deployed in 1941 before the full weight of the immense Japanese offensive had been experienced, each was sent to do a job that should have been done by a force a dozen times larger.

Deploying about ten days after Pearl Harbor, the 1,100-man Gull Force, centered on the 2/21st Battalion of the AIF, arrived on Ambon, joining a Dutch garrison on the island that consisted of the poorly trained 2,800-man KNIL Molucca Brigade, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Kapitz. Gull Force was initially commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Roach, but he was replaced on January 16 by Lieutenant Colonel John Scott, who was no stranger to amphibious operations, having participated in the Gallipoli campaign during World War I. Scott arrived to find his new command in pitiful condition, with malaria and other diseases rampant in the equatorial heat, which still swelters in January.

Both USN and Koninklijk Marine flying boats operated out of Ambon, flying patrol missions, as well as frequent evacuations of civilians, but they were pulled out in mid-January, against the backdrop of increasing Japanese air attacks. Air defense of Ambon consisted of a few Brewster Buffaloes, which rose to meet IJN seaplane bombers that began visiting Ambon early in January at the same time as the offensive against northern Borneo.

The Buffaloes held their own for a while, but they were no match for the carrier-based IJN Zeros that first appeared over the island on January 24, the same day as the invasions of Balikpapan and Kendari. For the Ambon operation, the IJN brought in the carriers Hiryu and Soryu, both of which had been part of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s Pearl Harbor strike force. At Ambon, they targeted Dutch and Australian aircraft, compelling Wavell to make the decision to pull out the last of the Allied aircraft to preserve them to fight another day. When the invasion fleet was sighted at dusk on January 30, the Allied ground troops knew they would have to face the enemy with no air cover.

The fact that the IJN had used seaplanes and carrier-based aircraft to conduct operations against Ambon is, in itself, an illustration of why the Japanese needed to have airfields at locations across the sprawling Indies.

The remainder of the naval escort for the ten transport ships of the invasion fleet to which the Hiryu and Soryu were attached was largely the same contingent that had supported operations against Manado on January 11. Commanded by Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka, this force was comprised of his flagship, the cruiser Jintsu, as well as eight destroyers and support vessels. The same covering force under Rear Admiral Takeo Takagi that had supported Tanaka at Kendari also accompanied him to Ambon.

As in Borneo, the ground operation at Ambon was to be a joint operation between the IJA and the IJN Special Naval Landing Forces. The latter contingent included 820 men from the 1st Kure Special Naval Landing Force, while the IJA contingent of approximately 4,500 men was centered on the 228th Infantry Regiment, one of three regiments in the 38th Division, which had taken part in the conquest of Hong Kong. This joint force was known as the Ito Detachment and commanded by Major General Takeo Ito, who had commanded the entire 38th Division at Hong Kong, and who operated at Ambon under the banner of the division’s headquarters.

The first wave of IJA Ito Detachment came ashore during the night of January 30–31, with the IJN landing forces in the north, and the 288th mainly in the south. Ambon is nearly bisected by Ambon Bay, which cuts into the island from the southeast. The southern part contains the major population centers, while Laha airfield was across the bay on the northern part. Most of the defenders were located in these areas, but the initial Japanese landings were on the lightly defended north, and the least-defended area on the south side, well away from coastal guns guarding the entrance to Ambon Bay. Of course, established beachheads can be expanded more easily than landing troops under fire.

During January 31, the Japanese moved rapidly, reaching Australian-defended Laha from the north, and capturing Ambon City in the south by around 4:00 pm.

As the Allies shifted troops to face the landings, they left holes in their lines, which were exploited by the Japanese. A second wave of Ito Detachment troops came ashore at Passo (also written in some accounts as Paso) at the neck of the Laitimor Peninsula, effectively cutting the island in two. At the same time, the Japanese also snipped the telephone line which was the only way that the Allied troops could communicate with one another. The absence of communications isolated the various units and created confusion.

Kapitz ordered his men to continue fighting, which they did. However, shortly after midnight, the Japanese captured Kapitz, who had moved his headquarters close to Passo. For most of February 1, the action involved an Allied withdrawal, away from Passo and Ambon City, toward the southeast tip of the Laitimor Peninsula. These troops, with Colonel Scott still in command, had their backs to the Banda Sea, and realized that their position was essentially hopeless.

As this was ongoing, Admiral Tanaka ordered his minesweepers into Ambon Bay to clear the mines laid by the Koninklijke Marine, before they withdrew from Ambon earlier in January. This was in preparation for landing additional troops inside the bay. However, much to the immense joy of the troops fighting for their lives on the peninsula, one of the minesweepers struck a mine, blew up, and sank. Another was damaged.

Nevertheless, the jubilation that the Allied troops enjoyed at this juncture was certainly qualified by the pounding that was being dished out to them in the form of offshore naval gunfire and air attacks from the air wings aboard the Hiryu and Soryu. Throughout February 1, the naval bombardment also fell on the Australian and Dutch troops that were still trying to defend the airfield across the bay at Laha. On the morning of February 2, having encircled Laha, the landing troops, under Commander Kunito Hatakeyama, launched a ferocious assault aimed at dislodging the defenders. At around 10:00 am, Major Mark Newbury, commanding the joint force at Laha, decided that any further resistance would waste lives in an impossible situation, and ordered his men to surrender. Scott surrendered the defenders of the Laitimor Peninsula on February 3. About 30 Australian Diggers managed to successfully escape Ambon by canoe.

Newbury’s hopes of saving lives by his surrender were darkened when, over the ensuing two weeks, Hatakeyama randomly murdered around 300 prisoners at Laha. Newbury himself was killed on February 6. Scott survived the war as a POW, although most of the troops who surrendered on Ambon died in captivity. In 1946, witnesses and makeshift graves were located, and Hatakeyama was tried, convicted, and executed as a war criminal.

The Saipan Mission – Plan for a “Special Attack of IJN Battleships”

The disastrous Philippine Sea battle left the Imperial Navy in the position of having important forces in a combat zone completely dominated by the Allies. Not only were more than 15,000 sailors caught in the trap, but also those endangered included skilled ship artificers and aircraft mechanics, Japanese communications intelligence experts, naval infantry, and the staffs and commanders of the Central Pacific Area Fleet, First Air Fleet, and Sixth Fleet.

For days, talk of rescue expeditions roiled across Tokyo. Navy staff officials promised salvation. Junior naval officers clamored for action, accusing the Japanese Army command of obstructing a rescue. Many others thought the whole idea ludicrous. The scheme might have had some chance while Ozawa’s Mobile Fleet monopolized Allied attention, but the day after Prime Minister Tojo approved the mission the Mobile Fleet went down in defeat at the Turkey Shoot.

Combined Fleet chief of staff Kusaka Ryunosuke, anxious to succor his old boss Nagumo, dreamed up the first scheme for the Saipan mission, revolving around two old battleships. Staffers thought Kusaka’s idea silly, but he was determined to go ahead. Captain Yamamoto Chikao (no relation to the great admiral), who led the operations section of the NGS, completed the plan on June 21.

The next day Admiral Ozawa’s vanquished Mobile Fleet anchored at Okinawa on its way home. As the fleet neared Japan, C-in-C Toyoda Soemu held the options open by ordering Ozawa to concentrate in the Inland Sea and prepare for an immediate mission. Under a revised rescue plan, the one available fleet carrier, Zuikaku, and every other two-bit aviation ship the Navy could scrape up would be loaded with whatever planes could fly, scrounged from both the Army and the Navy. The planes would have to take off only once. They would be expended in the fight.

This improvised carrier fleet would sail several days behind a convoy escorted by the Fifth Fleet, Japan’s northeast sea frontier protection force, expected to leave the port of Yokosuka carrying an Army infantry regiment. The carrier force would cover its approach with a one-way air attack. The next day Japan’s Second Fleet, the Navy’s big-gun unit, would steam in and crush the Allied fleets off the Marianas. The Fifth Fleet would then arrive with the Army’s regiment, and a day after that would be another convoy with a full Army division.

The rescue, still merely on paper, already looked shaky. The Ozawa fleet had been smashed in a full-scale battle and could hardly be ready for another. That went for the Second Fleet as well—it had been part of Ozawa’s force. Admiral Ozawa himself estimated he needed two months to get the ships back in fighting trim. About the only naval units really at hand were the Fifth Fleet and the old battleships. The aged Yamashiro of Battleship Division 2, and a pair of converted battleship–aircraft carriers, the Ise and Hyuga, were just completing modification to this hybrid status. There was also the Fuso, then in the southern Philippines after participating in a similar—but abortive—sortie to aid the Japanese defenders of Biak Island. The two hybrid ships, still working up, were ultimately left out of the plan.

Operations officers wanted to send at least the Yamashiro. She could dash to Saipan, deliver the regiment to stiffen the defenses, and then ground herself to serve as an artillery battery. The Army might contribute one of its own transport ships. Cruisers of the Fifth Fleet could carry more troops as well as the landing barges to put them ashore. With a handful of escorts these warships could become a relief mission. The Fuso, sailing independently, would shoot up Allied convoys headed to the battle areas. Combined Fleet alerted her for that mission on June 17. But the battleship-only rescue was a nonstarter. Three days later the Navy scrubbed the Fuso raiding mission. Combined Fleet commander in chief Toyoda Soemu thought the entire concept reckless and rejected chief of staff Kusaka’s proposals. According to Kusaka this was among the few times Toyoda ever did that.

Historian Anthony Tully attributes the rescue to Captain Kami Shigenori. A notorious hothead in the Imperial Navy, Kami might well have dreamed up this kind of scheme. Tully reports that Captain Kami, ready to accept any risk, volunteered to skipper the Yamashiro to her destiny. Contrary to some claims, however, at that time Kami was no operations specialist with either the fleets or the NGS. He was captain of the light cruiser Tama. That vessel at least belonged to the Fifth Fleet and could have participated, but it leaves the captain as just another advocate, not the planner of this extravaganza. It is true that Kami had spent much of his career in staff billets, but by the same token he had minimal command experience. The Tama had been his first ship in many years. Why the Navy should put Kami in charge of a battlewagon goes unexplained. In November 1966, Admiral Kusaka personally claimed credit, regretting the rescue had not been carried out, claiming that with the right timing it could have worked.

Meanwhile the plan had also envisioned that a long-range air unit (the “Hachiman Force”) would cooperate with the surface fleet, flying out to strike the Allied armada and paving the way for the surface ships. Cobbled together ad hoc, and composed of crews picked from the Yokosuka Air Group and Twelfth Air Fleet, the Hachiman Force actually deployed to Iwo Jima, but it never comprised more than sixty aircraft, and half those were lost in June and July.

Serious fliers thought this enterprise could only be a death ride. How a small air unit would penetrate the dense Allied umbrella, where the entire Mobile Fleet had failed, remained a mystery. Similarly, an ancient battleship was supposed to sink the mighty Blue Fleet, and another would get through to Saipan and reverse the strategic balance. The rescue plan had no substance. Admiral Toyoda stuck to his guns, and the Army high command dismissed the idea out of hand. The Army had spent six months reinforcing the Marianas with really significant forces—more than a few of which had been sunk en route by Allied subs. A single regiment sent now would achieve nothing, a regiment plus a division not much more.

But these plans, empty as they were, are important for other reasons. Such a degree of desperation now prevailed in Tokyo that the most extreme alternatives suddenly appealed. There is an argument from cultural history that the Japanese held special esteem for showing nobility even in failure. In the Pacific war in late 1944, Japan stood at the brink of that very deep chasm.

A more mundane reason would turn out to be a distraction in the next real battle. That is, the rescue plan envisioned taking the Fifth Fleet away from its geographic mission, employing it instead as an integral element in a battle concept. Once the Imperial Navy finally finished reconfiguring the force for the next battle, that element stuck—the old northern force would morph into the anticipated vanguard for the Ozawa fleet.

Emperor Hirohito sided with the young Navy officers. He demanded action. He had told Admiral Shimada on the eve of the Philippine Sea battle that with sufficient determination Japan might achieve a success like Tsushima, the glorious 1905 victory against the Russian fleet in the Sea of Japan. Hirohito warned Prime Minister Tojo of air raids on Tokyo if the Marianas were lost. They had to be held. IGHQ chiefs kept bringing him bad news. The emperor ordered Navy minister Shimada to craft a rescue. On June 24 Tojo and Shimada united to tell the emperor the bad news that Combined Fleet now felt the plan unworkable. Hirohito countered, demanding a second opinion from the Board of Field Marshals and Fleet Admirals, a military appendage of the jushin, or senior statesmen, who had a behind-the-scenes role in Tokyo. When the board also nixed a rescue, the emperor ordered them to put that judgment on paper, turned on his heel, and stalked off. The Yamashiro mission evaporated.

One jushin with whom diplomat Kase Toshikazu discussed Japan’s situation was Admiral Okada Keisuke. Okada had been Navy minister and prime minister in the 1930s. Now he told Kase that a rescue operation would only deepen the disaster, though perhaps that was a good idea—“he thought it advisable to let the ‘young fellows’ have their own way once in order to reconcile them ultimately to their inevitable fate—defeat.” Admiral Yonai Mitsumasa, another jushin, agreed the loss of Saipan would be a calamity, but he refused a useless gesture.

On June 29 Prince Takamatsu conceded to associates that the recent defeat had stymied the Imperial Navy for the present. The Navy captain’s remark, coming from the second brother of Hirohito, suggested the emperor had accepted reality.

The only efforts to rescue the Japanese in the Marianas would be by submarine. The big fleet submarines, I-boats, and smaller medium-range craft, RO-boats, were used in these operations. Two subs went down in futile missions to Saipan to recover Sixth Fleet commander Vice Admiral Takagi Takao. Thirteen Japanese submarines were lost in the Marianas, nearly half in rescue attempts. The sole success came to Lieutenant Commander Itakura Mitsuma’s I-41. Itakura managed to get his boat into Apra Harbor on Guam and spirit away more than 100 airmen.