Problems of Coalition Warfare

The German blockade runner Odenwald underway. Odenwald was stopped and boarded by the U.S. Navy light cruiser USS Omaha (CL-4) in the South Atlantic, 6 November 1941. Odenwald was disguised as the U.S. merchantman SS Willmoto and the crew unsuccessfully tried to scuttle the ship. Omaha’s boarding party stopped the flooding, got the ship underway again and sailed it to Trinidad. This became known as the “Odenwald incident”, as Germany and the United States were not at war at that time. After Germany had declared war on the U.S. on 11 December 1941, Odenwald was seized and put into U.S. service as SS Blenheim.

Between Jan, 1941 and Mar. 1942 15 ships sailed from the Far East with a total cargo of 101,775 t. (including 44,450 t. of crude rubber); 12 ships with 75,000 t. (including 32,650 t, of crude rubber) reached German bases in France, In the opposite direction all 6 ships which left Europe arrived at their ports of destination in East Asia, After the autumn of 1942 the losses of blockade-runners increased considerably: thus Roskill, War at Sea, ii, 482 ff, (appendix n)

Rare color photo (the Navy actually took a number of color photos and film during WWII, but a lot has since gone missing.) of the U-234’s surrender. Unknown to many people then (and even now), Japan and Germany had a submarine highway between their two countries. U-Boats and Japanese submarines would transit between each country by rounding the Horn of Africa and crossing the Indian Ocean.

Effective and successful coalition warfare essentially calls for close co-operation among the partners to the alliance at all levels of warfare, from the opening of hostilities to the conclusion of peace, from the formulation of strategic objectives via a frank exchange of information and views, to tactical collaboration among the fighting forces. Direct geographical contact between the partners is an essential prerequisite of co-operation, facilitating as it does mutual support by fighting forces and armament potentials. This contact need not necessarily be a land link but can be based-as shown by the example of the United States and Britain-on largely secure sea communications. This ideal pattern of co- operation was nowhere approached by the partners Germany, Japan, and Italy. Their only common opponents were the western powers, as Japan remained neutral vis-ii-vis the Soviet Union. Their strategic objectives differed considerably, their exchange of opinions and information remained rudimentary and selective, as no partner was willing to reveal his aims or his own position openly and unreservedly. Intelligence communication was dependent on long courier routes and doubtful telecommunications. The biggest obstacle, however, was geographical separation, which was only sporadically bridged by a few blockade-runners and U-boats, so that the exchange of raw materials, armaments, and other industrial products remained exceedingly modest.

When the outlines of closer military collaboration began to emerge in the autumn of 1940, after the conclusion of the Tripartite Pact, Japan at the be- ginning of 1941 dispatched major naval and army missions to Germany in order to profit as much as possible from German war experience and developments in weapons technology. Analysing the voluminous catalogue of questions and inspection requests (77 questions on German war experience so far, 115 technological questions, 89 visits to specified German armament plants), the Naval War Staff gained the impression that Japan believed it could demand ‘an intellectual clearance sale from Germany’, which, however, was not justified by the conclusion of the Tripartite Pact alone. As the Wehrmacht High Command had not yet issued any basic guidelines for future collaboration with Japan, the Naval War Staff seized the initiative by issuing a directive on 11 February 1941; this emphasized the principle of reciprocity and recommended only short-term measures of support. Any requests ‘which amount to industrial espionage or industrial theft’ were to be refused. Tokyo’s past behaviour, when the German Naval War Staff was only very cautiously supported and only rather superficial insight into armaments granted in response to requests for information by the attaché, seemed to justify such German reserve. Hitler, however, sharply criticized that directive. He accused the navy of unauthorized intrusion into the realm of politics and gave orders that ‘Japanese requests for information on German war and battle experience and for support of an armament-economy and technological character [were] to be met in a comprehensive and generous manner’ in order ‘to enhance Japanese military strength in every way’ for future collaboration.

Raeder thereupon ruled that anything should be shown and explained to the Japanese ‘which is no longer in the phase of development or testing’. However, in view of Japan’s insignificant collateral in matters of direct support, the Naval War Staff continued to hold back. This applied in particular to the areas of radio intelligence and radio location (radar). Information on the former was confined to an explanation of the organization and basic principles; no specific reconnaissance findings or hints on evaluation were passed on. When in October 1941 the Japanese naval attaché in Berlin requested a short-term delivery of two DT instruments (the German radar device) for the location of aircraft, on the grounds that Japanese devices were not yet combat-ready, the German Naval War Staff explained that its own operational needs did not permit of such a delivery and ‘the threat to Japan [was] not particularly great’ anyway. Although this hint probably referred only to the threat from the air, this was an odd reaction from a partner who had expected so many advantages from Japan’s entry into the war.

‘Bismarck is avenged, will tighten our helmet-straps. Best regards to Grand Admiral.’ With these words on 11 December 1941 the chief of the Japanese Admiralty Staff, Nagano, dismissed the German naval attaché after a detailed report on the sinking of the British battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse on 10 December. It seemed as if trusting co-operation would now begin, but soon Wenneker and the other attachés discovered that the exchange of views with the Japanese staffs continued to be ponderous and was by no means marked by a willingness to discuss strategic plans or specific possibilities of co-operation in all frankness. Mostly the German attaches learnt about Japanese operations only when these had been successfully concluded. By always highlighting their successes and carefully concealing their losses, or else minimizing them, they were displaying an arrogance which seriously jeopardized co-operation.

Although on 12 February 1942 Wenneker had confidently reported to Berlin that, after a phase of self-conceit and arrogance, the Japanese officers had reverted to sober self-examination, thus re-establishing the old relationship of trust, a mere four weeks later he had to lodge a strong protest at the navy ministry against a speech by the Japanese navy spokesman, Captain Hiraide, which had been published on 13 March in all Japanese newspapers. Hiraide had said:

Napoleon once exclaimed: ‘Let me have command of the sea in the English Channel for six hours and I shall rule England.’ Shortly after the beginning of the present war in Europe the German Fuhrer said this: ‘I want to achieve command of the sea in the Strait of Dover, just 23 nautical miles wide; when I have that, the British Empire is finished.’ Today the British fleet still exercises command of the sea in that strait, although it is in fact only a distance of some 20 nautical miles. How are things with our Imperial Navy? We operate over 2,000 nautical miles and land our troops wherever we choose.

The British Admiralty could not have found a better formulation in the propaganda war against Germany, even though not long previously a German battleship force had managed to pass through the Strait of Dover unscathed. Wenneker saw these attacks as an attempt ‘to make Germany a laughing- stock in the world’s eyes’ and a belittling of the effectiveness of the German Wehrmacht in order to magnify Japanese successes. He therefore demanded satisfaction in the form of a visit of apology by Hiraide’s immediate superior. That same day Rear-Admiral Oka, chief of the Command Department in the navy ministry, appeared at the German embassy to present a letter from the navy minister, Admiral Shimada. This described the remarks objected to by Wenneker as ‘inappropriate’, expressed his ‘deepest regret’, and announced that Hiraide would be disciplined. Hiraide’s behaviour was nevertheless symptomatic of the euphoria which had seized Japan’s military leadership and public during the first few months of 1942, which was subsequently, in a spirit of self-criticism, labelled as a ‘victory disease’ preventing a sober view of military realities and befogging people’s minds.

When Wenneker had an opportunity in April of a four-week tour of the fronts to inspect the Japanese conquests in South-East Asia, he once more recorded the ‘unwelcome concomitant’ of a Japanese arrogance ‘which presented the British and Americans as an extremely worthless adversary, greatly inferior to the Chinese’. In response to ceaseless questions by Japanese officers about the date of the grand attack on the British Mediterranean Fleet, ‘whose annihilation would render possible a link-up with Japan and virtually decide the war in favour of the Axis’, the German naval attaché had to remind them time and again of the ‘massive achievements of the German Wehrmacht, which prepared the ground for the successes of Japan’s arms’.

While Vice-Admiral Wenneker and the military attaché, Major-General Alfred Kretschmer, acted in Tokyo as the German military leadership’s liaison with the Japanese navy and army-Wenneker providing the better information thanks to his rather good relations with Japanese naval officers-a major Japanese military mission had been in Berlin since the spring of 1941, headed by Vice-Admiral Nomura Naokuni, dispatched to Germany on the basis of the Tripartite Pact. This mission, in which Lieutenant-General Banzai, in his capacity of military attaché, represented the interests of the Japanese army, remained, even after Japan’s entry into the war, the central and most senior military mission in Germany. However, in view of the heterogeneous leadership structure in Japan it did not always maintain close touch with its own embassy in Berlin, but often bypassed it. Within the German military leadership the Naval War Staff was in continuous touch with Nomura and informed him in general terms about Germany’s war at sea. By contrast, the Wehrmacht High Command’s and the Army High Command’s contacts with the Japanese remained sporadic and superficial. Artillery General JodI, the chief of the Wehrmacht Operations Staff, did not receive the military representatives of Germany’s most powerful ally until two months after his entry into the war, and on that occasion displayed little inclination to explain to the Japanese officers even the basic outlines of Germany’s future overall conduct of the war. The army’s operational objective for its second assault on the Soviet Union, the Caucasus, was only vaguely hinted at. A little later the Naval War Staff observed with regret that no ‘large-scale strategic or operational collaboration with the Japanese armed forces command exists. The initiative for such collaboration would, strictly speaking, have to come from the Wehrmacht Operations Staff. But it seems that the Wehrmacht High Command attaches no importance to combined strategic and operational planning with the Japanese.’

Here undoubtedly was the root of the problem. The German leadership was not prepared, and probably not able, to make full use of the strategic chances of coalition warfare. When, in the summer of 1942, at the peak of the German successes in the east, it asked its Asian partner for vigorous support in the Indian Ocean, Japan had already passed its peak of military performance- though this, in turn, was kept from its German partner. In any case, specific possibilities of military co-operation existed only in the event of both partners’ employment of naval forces in the Indian Ocean-when the German navy in 1942 provided only two auxiliary cruisers, supply vessels, and, from the autumn onwards, a few large U-boats-and in the control of the blockade- runners which shuttled between the bases on the French Atlantic coast and the Japanese sphere of power. There too operational co-operation was laborious and cumbersome as soon as a crossing of the operations boundary (70* east) was envisaged. Not until ten months after Japan’s entry into the war was an ‘Agreement on Message Handling’ concluded between the German and Japanese navies, which laid down radio procedures, call signs, and coding matters. Even at the beginning of 1943 the Japanese naval command was reluctant to grant the German naval attaché in Tokyo a transmitter for radio traffic with German units, including the blockade-runners. In January 1943 Wenneker gained the impression that the installation of transmitters was ‘still a very eerie affair’ for the Japanese. By contrast, the exchange of the results of radio intelligence proved a positive aspect of German-Japanese collaboration. In the spring of 1942 the Japanese Admiralty Staff informed Wenneker that about a third of the German reports had been of operational use.

The only direct transport link between Europe and Japan was provided by the blockade-runners, which, at least until the middle of 1942, achieved a considerable measure of success. The operation and safeguarding of this limited freight traffic, however, time and again caused problems with Japanese authorities and staffs, who were not, as a matter of course, prepared to promote this goods traffic unreservedly, but frequently erected bureaucratic obstacles which were overcome only by Wenneker’s vigorous intervention. Typical of the tense situation in the Japanese sphere of power, with its long sea communications, were Japanese efforts to make additional use of the few German blockade-runners for their own transports between South-East Asia and the mother country. Among the German leadership staffs it was probably only the Naval War Staff which fully grasped the vital importance of coalition warfare. This emerges from the observations made on 7 September 1942 by its chief of staff, Admiral Fricke, to Vice-Admiral Nomura. Fricke expressed his ‘firm conviction’ that the greatest advantage would lie with that side in the war which, in continuous mutual contact, in ongoing discussion conducted with absolute trust, manages to wage a coalition war according to uniform points of view’. Here Fricke ‘was describing an ideal model which just then applied to the co-operation between the United States of America and Great Britain, even though the German admiral doubted this. Yet by conceding that hitherto Germany and Japan had not adequately achieved ‘a very close coalition war’ and by hoping ·for an improvement, he revealed where, after ten months of common war, the shortcomings, contributing to their defeat, of the Tripartite powers ‘were to be found-no common enemy on the Euro-Asian continent, no common war aims, no common planning, and no frankness or basis of trust,

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