Urakaze class destroyers

The Urakaze class destroyers was a class of two destroyers built for the Imperial Japanese Navy by Yarrow Shipbuilders of Scotland. These were the last Japanese destroyers ordered from overseas shipyards

The failure of Japanese shipbuilders with the Umikaze-class destroyers left the Japanese navy without a large destroyer capable of extended blue ocean operations. The Parsons steam turbines of the Umikaze-class were plagued with maintenance issues, as well as tremendous fuel consumption. The navy then returned to its previous mainstay for new technology and equipment, Yarrow shipyards in the United Kingdom, ordering two vessels to a new design in the 1911 fiscal budget.

However, Yarrow, along with other British shipyards, had a large backlog of orders, and it was not until 1915 that the new vessels could be completed, and due to the outbreak of World War I, not until 1919 before Urakaze was turned over to Japan.

The Urakaze class vessels made use of oil-fired Brown-Curtiss turbine engines, and had the distinction of being the first vessels built for Japan to be designed for use without coal. The initial design called for diesel engines, however, due to the outbreak of World War I, Yarrow could not obtain necessary gear components from Germany.

Armament was slightly less than that of the Umikaze classes, with a single QF 4.7 inch Gun Mk I – IV mounted on a small shelter forward and four QF 3 inch 12 pounder guns, two amidships, one of the stern, and one mounted on a tall pedestal just aft of the smokestacks. The Urakaze class was also the first Japanese class of destroyers to use the 533-mm diameter torpedoes.

Urakaze was turned over to the Imperial Japanese Navy too late to see combat service in World War I. It was used for many years in patrols on the Yangzi River. It was retired in 1936, and used as a training vessel for the Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Forces. It was sunk in an air attack by United States Navy aircraft on July 18, 1945. It should not be confused with the later Kagero class destroyer Urakaze of World War II.

Due to a strong request from the British government, Kawakaze was sold by Japan prior to completion to the Regia Marina of Italy. Italy was one of the Allies of World War I, and faced a severe shortage of modern warships. Kawakaze was completed as Audace, and later renamed San Marco, and saw considerable combat service in the Mediterranean. During World War II, it was captured by the German Kriegsmarine, and renamed TA20. It was sunk on November 11, 1944 near Venice in the Adriatic Sea. It should not be confused with the later Shiratsuyu class destroyer Kawakaze of World War II.


Defending the Japanese Homeland

B-29s of the 500th Bomb Group on a bombing strike against Tokyo on 19 February 1945. The bombers encountered flak and were attacked by numerous Japanese fighter aircraft – “Tonys”, “Zekes” and Ki-45 “Nicks”. A Kawasaki Ki-45 “Toryu” of the 53rd Sentai piloted by 2nd Lt. Osamu Hirose rammed “Z Square 12”, a B-29 of the 881st Bomb Squadron. The bomber was cut in two and six parachutes were seen, although one was on fire and it collapsed. Of the five remaining crew members, only one survived. 2nd Lt. Hirose also perished, but his back seater, Corporal Kimio Kato was ejected from the aircraft and survived. Most people associate B-29s with the atomic bombing of two cities in Japan.

This painting shows what bomber crews had to contend with each week. Seventeen hour missions, battling flak, fighters, fatigue, weather and 200 mph jet streams at high altitude.

Japan’s ability to repel an American bombing campaign began with very few prospects in 1942 and sharply declined thereafter. Yet an enduring question is why Tokyo squandered more than two years after the Doolittle Raid, and why so little interservice coordination was attempted once B-29s appeared in homeland skies. The answer lies in the Japanese psyche more than in its military institutions.

In defending its airspace, Japan’s army and naval forces were tasked with a nearly impossible mission. Nonetheless, they failed massively in even approaching their nation’s potential to ameliorate the effects of the Allied onslaught.

Japan’s only prospect for staving off aerial immolation was to inflict unacceptable losses upon B-29s. Because of the Superfortress’s exceptional cost—some $600,000 each—a downed B-29 represented the financial equivalent of nearly three B-17s or B-24s, plus an invaluable crew. Development of ramming units demonstrates that some Japanese understood the value of a one-for-one or even two-for-one tradeoff, but the tactic largely failed for technical and organizational reasons. Therefore, defense of the home islands reverted to conventional means: flak guns and ordinary interceptors.

The resulting failure was systemic, crossing all boundaries of government and military-naval leadership. Probably the major cause was Japan’s national psychology: a collectivist culture possessing a rigid hierarchy with unusually strict protocols that inhibited breakout thinking and instilled extreme reluctance to express contrary opinions. Japan poses an intriguing puzzle for sociologists and political scientists: how an extremely well-ordered society permitted itself to make a series of disastrous decisions, each threatening its national existence. Ironically, the situation was partly explained by the atmosphere of gekokujo (“pressuring from below”) in which strident subordinates often influenced their superiors.

If interservice rivalry constituted a “second front” in Washington, D.C., it was a full contact sport in Tokyo. The postwar United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded, “There was no efficient pooling of the resources of the Army and Navy. Responsibility between the two services was divided in a completely impractical fashion with the Navy covering all ocean areas and naval targets . . . and the Army everything else.”

In June 1944, the month of the first B-29 attack, Imperial General Headquarters combined army and navy assets in an air defense command but the navy objected to army control. A compromise was achieved with naval air groups at Atsugi, Omura, and Iwakuni assigned to the respective army district. Phone links from JAAF command centers were provided to each of the three naval units, but operational integration was seldom attempted. In fact, throughout Japan, the two air arms operated jointly in only three areas: Tsuiki on Kyushu plus Kobe and Nagoya.

A major part of the problem was astonishingly sparse allocation of fighters to air defense. As late as March 1945, Japan allotted less than one-fifth of its fighters to home defense, and the actual figure only reached 500 in July. By then very few were flying, as Tokyo hoarded its strength for the expected invasion.

In the crucial realm of radar, Japan got a jump on the world—and almost immediately lost its lead. The efficient Yagi-Uda antenna had been invented in 1926, the product of two researchers at Tohoku Imperial University. Professor Hidetsugu Yagi published the first English reference two years later, citing his nation’s work in shortwave research. But such was military secrecy and interservice rivalry that even late in the war few Japanese knew the origin of the device that appeared on downed Allied aircraft.

The Allies rated Japanese radar as “very poor,” and fighter direction remained rudimentary. While land-based radar could detect inbound formations perhaps 200 miles out, the data included neither altitude nor composition. Consequently, picket boats were kept 300 miles at sea to radio visual sightings—of marginal use in cloudy weather. However, what radar systems did exist were easily jammed by American radio countermeasures—aircraft dropping aluminum foil that clogged enemy screens.

Furthermore, the Japanese army and navy established separate warning systems, and seldom exchanged information. Even when unit-level pooling was attempted, navy officers generally refused orders from army officers.

Civilian observers were spread throughout Japan to report enemy aircraft, but predictably there was no unity. The army and navy established their own observer corps, and neither worked with the other.

Japanese navy doctrine contained an internal contradiction for air defense. A 1944 manual asserted, “In order to overcome the disadvantages imposed on fighter plane units when the enemy raids a friendly base—that is, getting fighter planes airborne on equal terms with the enemy airplanes—full use must be made of radar and other lookout methods. . . . These must be employed in the most effective manner.” But as noted, use of radar remained rudimentary.

Some pilots dismissed the state of their nation’s electronics. “Why do we need radar? Men’s eyes see perfectly well.”

Excluding mobile radar sets, at least sixty-four early-warning sites were built in the homeland and offshore islands: thirty-seven navy and twenty-seven army. But the rare assets often were squandered by duplicating effort: at four sites on Kyushu and seven on Honshu, army and navy radars were located almost side by side. The southern approaches to Kyushu and Shikoku were covered by some twenty installations but only two permanent radars are known on all of Shikoku.

Though the huge majority of Japanese radars provided early warning, some sets directed AA guns and searchlights. But apparently there was little integration of the two: some B-29 crews returned with harrowing tales of ten to fifteen minutes in a searchlight’s probing beam with minimal or no flak damage.

Apart from inadequate radar, some of Japan’s technical focus was badly misdirected. From 1940 onward, the military devoted over five years to a “death ray” intended to cause paralysis or death by very short-wave radio waves focused in a high-power beam. The nonportable unit was envisioned for antiaircraft use, but the only model tested had a range much less than firearms.

Tactically, the lack of army-navy cooperation hampered the already limited potential of Japan’s interceptors. With unit commanders conducting their own localized battles, there was little opportunity to concentrate large numbers of fighters against a bomber formation as the Luftwaffe repeatedly achieved.

Overall, Japanese fighters were spectacularly ineffective against B-29s. From more than 31,300 Superfortress sorties over the homeland, only seventy-four were known lost wholly to interceptors and perhaps twenty more in concert with flak guns. Japanese pilots logged their best performances in January and April 1945, each with thirteen bombers downed. But during fifteen months of combat, losses to interceptors amounted to merely 0.24 percent of effective B-29 sorties.

The Strategic Bombing Survey concluded, “The Japanese fighter defense system was no more than fair on paper and distinctly poor in practice. One fundamental matter stands out as the principal reason for its shortcomings—the Japanese planners failed to see the danger of allied air attacks and to give the defense system the requisite priorities.”

Lieutenant General Saburo Endo of Army Air Force Headquarters stated, “Those responsible for control at the beginning of the war did not recognize the true value of aviation . . . therefore one defeat led to another. Although they realized there was a need for merging the army and the navy, nothing was done about it. There were no leaders to unify the political and the war strategies, and the plans executed by the government were very inadequate. National resources were not concentrated to the best advantage.”

In short, in Japan’s military, parochialism trumped efficiency at every turn.

The Russo-Japanese War – Japanese Army I

To many informed observers the advent of the new twentieth century heralded the demise of the old China. Japan’s victory had exposed China’s military weakness, which the western powers were quick to exploit, placing the empire in danger of dismemberment. In January 1898 Germany secured a ninety-nine-year lease on the Shandong Peninsula as a settlement for the murder of two German missionaries. Two months later Russia negotiated a long-term agreement with the Chinese court for a leasehold on the Liaodong Peninsula between Dairen and Port Arthur (where Russian warships had been anchored since the previous December). Great Britain reacted by extracting concessions in April for a naval base at Weihaiwei. France carved out a sphere of influence in southern China, and Japan sought railroad concessions in Fujian opposite its Taiwan colony.

The Boxer Expedition

Popular Chinese resentment over thirty years of foreign humiliation boiled over in 1900 as a series of violent attacks against foreigners led by the Boxers, a secret society that enjoyed covert backing from the Qing court, tapped widespread local support with its antiforeign and anti-Christian rhetoric. The murder of the German ambassador to China and the subsequent Boxer siege of the foreign legation quarter at Peking caused the western powers (Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States) as well as Japan to send troops to north China to rescue the diplomatic missions, protect western missionaries, and punish the Boxers. The Japanese army would use the occasion to showcase its latest military reforms.

A small, hurriedly assembled allied expeditionary force under British command of about 2,000 troops, including approximately 300 Japanese, marched from Tianjin for Peking in early June. On June 12, mixed Boxer and Qing army forces halted the advance by destroying a bridge about 30 miles from the capital. The road-bound and badly outnumbered allies withdrew to the vicinity of Tianjin, having suffered more than 300 casualties.

Aware of the worsening conditions, the general staff in Tokyo drafted ambitious contingency plans, but the cabinet, with fresh and bitter memories of the Tripartite Intervention, refused to deploy large forces unless requested by the western powers. Three days later the general staff did dispatch a 1,300-man provisional force to north China commanded by Maj. Gen. Fukushima Yasumasa, director of the second (intelligence) department, chosen because his fluent English enabled him to communicate with the British commander. Fukushima’s detachment landed on July 5 near Tianjin.

During the interval, a few hundred naval infantry from the Sasebo Special Landing Force had joined British, Russian, and German troops to seize the Dagu forts near Tianjin on June 17, but four days later the Qing court declared war on the foreign powers. The dangerous circumstances compelled the British, then heavily engaged in the Boer War, to ask Japan for additional reinforcements. Overriding personal doubts about supporting what many Japanese thought amounted to a religious crusade by the western powers against the Chinese, Foreign Minister Aoki Shūzō calculated that the advantages of participating in an allied coalition were too attractive to ignore. Prime Minister Yamagata thought likewise, but others in the cabinet demanded guarantees from the westerners in return for the risks and cost of reinforcements. The cabinet alerted the 5th Division on July 6 for China duty but set no timetable for its deployment.

More ground troops were urgently needed to lift the Boxer siege of the foreign legations at Peking, and the Japanese had the only readily available forces in the region. As mentioned, the British army was tied down in South Africa, and it would take too much time and weaken internal security to deploy large forces from its India garrisons. On July 8, the British ambassador to Japan offered Aoki one million British pounds in exchange for more reinforcements. Shortly afterward, advance units of the 5th Division departed for China, bringing Japanese strength to 3,800 personnel of the 17,000-man allied force.

This second, stronger expeditionary army stormed Tianjin on July 14 and occupied the city. The allies then consolidated and awaited the remainder of the 5th Division and other coalition reinforcements. In early August the expedition pushed toward Peking where on August 14 it lifted the Boxer siege. By that time, the 13,000-man Japanese force was the largest single contingent, about 40 percent of the approximately 33,000-man allied expedition.

Japanese troops were on their best behavior throughout the campaign. The 5th Division commander (who had taken operational control from Fukushima) ordered the troops to demonstrate Japan’s brand of discipline, courage, and fortitude in battle to the world. Officers at all levels enforced draconian standards of discipline. Junior officers warned troops that the army would summarily and severely deal with violence against Chinese households, arson, or theft. Rape was punishable by immediate arrest and decapitation. Even minor infractions were harshly punished. Fukushima remained in China to enforce frontline discipline.

Japanese troops acquitted themselves well on all counts, although a British military observer felt their aggressiveness, densely packed formations, and willingness to attack cost them excessive and disproportionate casualties. During the Tianjin fighting, for example, they suffered more than half of the allied casualties (400 of 730) but comprised less than one-quarter of the force (3,800 of 17,000). The story was similar at Peking, where they accounted for almost two-thirds of the losses (280 of 453) but slightly less than half of the assault force. The only major lapse in discipline occurred when all ranks joined their allies in the widespread looting in Peking, apparently with the understanding that whatever the westerners did, the Japanese could do too. A British correspondent noted, however, that the Japanese plundered “so nicely that it did not seem like looting at all.”

As part of the September 1901 settlement with the Chinese court, the coalition powers were allowed to station troops between Tianjin and Peking to protect their nationals and maintain a secure line of communication to the sea. The war ministry activated the China Garrison Army, the designation for army units stationed in North China under terms of the Boxer Protocol. The new army was a provisional unit, not a regular one (whose troop basis was fixed by imperial decree) and drew on elements from several homeland divisions assigned to it on a temporary one-year rotating basis. Other concessions included Russia’s right to retain its reinforced garrisons in Manchuria, pending a phased withdrawal.

The Boxer Rebellion revealed Great Britain’s growing difficulty in maintaining its influence in northeast Asia. The Boer War had drained the British army and forced diplomats to pay Japan to send troops to quell the Boxers and counterbalance Russian military intervention. The European alliance system had isolated Britain internationally, and in East Asia the combined Franco-Russian navies outnumbered the British fleet. Engaged in a naval race with Germany and wary of Russia’s meddling in China and the implications of the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the British needed allies. Japan was likewise diplomatically isolated after the Tripartite Intervention and had to deal with the Russian presence in Manchuria and its potential threat to Korea. By signing the 1902 Anglo-Japanese naval alliance, the parties agreed to respect each other’s interests in China, maintain strict neutrality in case one or the other became involved in a war, and to intervene if a third party entered the conflict. For Britain, the treaty restored the naval balance in East Asian waters and provided an army to check Russian expansion. For Japan, it allowed the army to address the Russian threat to Korea without fear of foreign intervention.

The treaty assumed greater significance when Russia did not withdraw the reinforcements it had sent to Manchuria to protect its railway zones and seemed intent on further expansion. Military engineers were improving the Russian naval base and fortress at Port Arthur, and the Trans-Siberian Railroad was nearing completion. Russia’s greatly improved strategic mobility, particularly the potential to move large units rapidly by rail to Manchuria, alarmed Japan’s leaders, and Yamagata’s repeated warnings of the dangers the railroad posed to Japan’s national interests seemed to be coming true.

Preparations for War

The army had regarded Russia as its traditional enemy, but the general staff only began substantive operational planning for war with Russia in 1900. Initial plans envisaged capturing Port Arthur, followed by a decisive battle near Mukden in Manchuria with secondary amphibious operations directed against Russia’s Maritime Provinces. After the arrival of additional Russian reinforcements in Manchuria during July 1900 and the completion of most sections of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the general staff revised plans in 1901 to focus on the defense of Korea.

The next year Maj. Tanaka Giichi, recently returned from attaché duty in Russia, took charge of a small planning group within the general staff that worked under tight security. By August 1902 it had recast the staff’s war plans into a strategy that, much like the Sino-Japanese conflict, depended on Japan’s naval capabilities. If the navy could control the Yellow Sea, the army could safely deploy troops to the continent and Manchuria would be the main theater of operations. Should the navy only be able to control the Tsushima Strait, the army would land in southern Korea and defend Japanese interests on the peninsula.

For its part, the navy was dissatisfied with the arrangements for imperial headquarters, which, in case of war, would be commanded by an army general. Frustrated by playing second fiddle to the army-dominated IGHQ, naval leaders, especially Adm. Yamamoto Gombei, aggressively demanded changes to the IGHQ regulations to make the naval chief of staff coequal to his army counterpart, in effect the recognition of an independent naval general staff. Gen. Kawakami Sōroku adamantly opposed Yamamoto and insisted that wartime operations had to be based on peacetime plans prepared by a single authority—the army.

After Kawakami’s death in 1899, both services continually appealed to the throne for a resolution of command authority. Finally, in December 1903, with war with Russia looming, army Chief of Staff Gen. Ōyama and Prime Minister Yamagata petitioned the emperor to allow both the chief of the naval general staff and the chief of the general staff to advise the throne on matters of national defense and military operations. This change created a wartime headquarters in which the army and navy general staffs were independent of one another, but did not resolve fundamental issues of joint planning, joint operations, or command and control.

Vice Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Tamura Iyozō was the brain behind the army’s operational and mobilization concepts for the war. Having spent six years as a junior officer studying in Germany, Tamura was one of a handful of Japanese officers well versed in Clausewitz’s theories of war and had matured into a first-rate if conservative strategist. To keep Tamura’s work secret, the army’s annual report submitted to the throne continued to describe a defensive national strategy, even while the general staff rewrote its offensive contingency plans.

When Russian troops did not leave Manchuria as the Boxer Protocol stipulated, on April 21, 1903, the prime and foreign ministers met with senior statesmen at Yamagata’s Kyoto villa, where they agreed to seek a diplomatic solution. If diplomacy failed, they would resort to war. Maj. Gen. Iguchi Shōgo, director of the general affairs department, a hawkish short-war proponent, pressured Tamura to notify the cabinet that the army was ready for war at a moment’s notice. Tamura, however, harbored serious reservations about the army’s combat readiness—the new, enlarged force structure had just become operational—and used the Russian threat to justify greater army expansion.

Army Chief of Staff Field Marshal Ōyama Iwao notified the emperor that Russian meddling in East Asia would erode the overseas gains Japan had made since the restoration and that Russian domination of Korea would directly threaten national security. Immediate military preparations for war were necessary. Amidst these conflicting military assessments, an imperial conference on June 23 concluded that concessions to Russia were possible regarding Manchuria, but Korea was a vital national interest and therefore nonnegotiable.

Tamura died suddenly in October 1903, having literally worked himself to death. His loss was a crushing blow to the general staff coming as it did at a critical juncture in Japanese-Russian relations that found leadership in disarray. Prime Minister Katsura Tarō was indecisive, Yamagata was depressed, and Ōyama was not psychologically ready for war. Gen. Iguchi lamented that the army and the navy were at odds over strategy, and the navy minister was placing parochial service interests above the national good. The only bright spot was Lt. Gen. Kodama Gentarō’s willingness to accept a demotion in order to replace Tamura, an act that Iguchi regarded as proof that “heaven has not yet abandoned our empire.”

Kodama resigned two ministerial portfolios and took a two-rank demotion to serve as army vice chief of staff. Under his guidance in February 1904 the general staff finalized a two-stage campaign plan that sought the destruction of the Russian field armies in Manchuria as well as the Russian Pacific Fleet. During stage one, the First Army would advance to the banks of the Yalu River to prevent a Russian invasion of northern Korea. The Second Army would establish a base of operations on the southeastern Liaodong Peninsula; then the Third Army would land, advance to Port Arthur, isolate the fortress, attack it if necessary, and support the other armies. As the First and Second armies moved north into Manchuria, the smaller Fourth Army would land between them along the northeast bank of the Bohai Gulf to secure their flanks and protect the rail line of communication.

Kodama’s objective was to encircle and destroy the Russian Siberian Independent Corps and the Second Corps near Liaoyang before reinforcements from European Russia could arrive and overwhelm the Japanese with their superior numbers. Staff officers calculated that it would take about six months to move eight divisions from Europe to Manchuria, giving the army that much time to achieve Kodama’s objectives. There were no specific plans for a second year of campaigning.

Unable to resolve the impasse with Russia through diplomacy, the February 4, 1904, imperial conference decided on war. For several days afterward Emperor Meiji was unable to sleep or eat, dreading the possibility of having to report a defeat to his ancestors. He later told the empress that it was not his wish to fight Russia and worried about facing his subjects if Japan lost. Senior army officers were also well aware that Japan could not win a protracted war. Amidst uncertainty and trepidation Japan severed diplomatic relations with Russia on February 6, and two days later, without a formal declaration of war, the navy launched a surprise attack against the Russian squadron moored in the harbor at Port Arthur.

The surprise attack aimed to destroy the Russian fleet at anchor or at least neutralize the enemy fleet by sinking obsolete Japanese transports to block the harbor entrance. Maritime supremacy would then pass to the Japanese navy and permit the army to ship troops safely to Korea’s west coast and the Liaodong Peninsula. Russian contempt for the Japanese led them to underestimate the seriousness of the threat and leave Port Arthur unprepared for a sudden raid. Still, the Japanese naval attack neither destroyed the Russian squadron, although it did heavily damage three capital ships, nor closed the harbor. The Russian fleet-in-being at Port Arthur remained a strategic liability for Japan that would extract a terrible toll on the emperor’s army. On February 10 Meiji issued a memorial declaring war against Russia.

Imperial General Headquarters was established on the palace grounds the next day. Unlike the case during the Sino-Japanese War, the prime and foreign ministers were excluded from the headquarters and the army barred civilian ministers from officially attending IGHQ meetings, although, as will be discussed, informal networks kept civilian leaders well apprised of developments. IGHQ became the official operations center where senior staff officers reported to the emperor on strictly military matters rather than the locus of civilian-military policy formulation. Strategic decision-making occurred during the deliberations of the senior statesmen that usually preceded an imperial conference and made the meeting in the emperor’s presence the highest decision-making mechanism for wartime military and foreign policy issues. There was no formal apparatus to connect military and civilian policy, and the system depended on informal personal relationships cemented by years of working together in the government.

Three subsequent attempts by the navy—in late February, late March, and again in May—to seal the Port Arthur channel by sinking old transports in the mouth of the harbor also failed. The army general staff had scripted a tightly sequenced deployment schedule that depended at every stage on the navy’s support, and with each disappointment, army-navy relations deteriorated. In mid-March, for example, the First Army landed safely near Pyongyang. The general staff then was shocked and dumbfounded when the navy announced that it was postponing further blockship operations against Port Arthur until mid-May. Unable to delay the Second Army’s scheduled May 5 landing on the Liaodong Peninsula, the army had to risk its slow-moving troop transports to possible attack by the Port Arthur squadron in order to meet its short-war timetable.

Meanwhile, the First Army moved north from Inchon and in two days of fighting over April 30 and May 1 pushed the Russians back along the Yalu River near Andong. This minor engagement had major ramifications. The Japanese, regarded by many in the West as quaint little people from an exotic land, had defeated Caucasian troops of a world-class power. Stock markets in New York and London suddenly realized Japan was a sound investment, and foreign purchases of government bonds and offers of loans buoyed the wartime economy. On the home front, however, the public was shocked and critical because the more than 900 Japanese killed or wounded exceeded total battle casualties for the Sino-Japanese War. Vice War Minister Lt. Gen. Ishimoto Shinroku defended the troops’ performance to reporters by attributing the losses to modern weapons technology, not incompetent leadership.

On May 25, the Second Army’s three divisions attacked an entrenched Russian infantry regiment defending Nanshan on the narrow neck of the high ground that separated the northern and southern halves of the Liaodong Peninsula. Fighting began early in the day with a three-hour artillery preparation, followed by a textbook frontal assault against the still mostly intact Russian positions. By midmorning the Second Army had thrown its final reserves into the battle but still could not break the defenses. As artillery ammunition dwindled, casualties mounted, and the troops became exhausted, staff officers recommended that Gen. Oku Yasukata, the Second Army commander, withdraw and regroup. Oku instead ordered renewed attacks, regardless of losses.

Tactical doctrine depended on dense columns to build up sufficient fire superiority to carry a defensive position, but Nanshan’s limited maneuver space canalized infantry attacks into direct frontal assaults. The combination of tactics and terrain left massed attackers exposed to withering Russian fire that inflicted staggering losses before the Russians finally retreated in the late afternoon. The army later described these assaults as “human-bullet attacks” and claimed for public consumption that they epitomized uniquely Japanese virtues of courage, determination, and self-sacrifice. In fact, when staff officers at imperial headquarters received the first official reports of 3,817 casualties in the Nanshan fighting, their immediate reaction was that a careless cipher clerk had mistakenly added an extra digit.

The army’s tactical doctrine was mismatched against modern weapons technology. According to a young captain attached to the Second Army, “It’s not our human-bullet tactics that throw away brave warriors’ lives. It’s the superior Russian fortifications and equipment and our lack of machine gun firepower that gives us no chance of winning. With machine guns extending the distance [of the killing zone], table-top tactics can no longer have any practical application.” Extended lines of skirmishers soon replaced the densely packed columns, and intervals between individual soldiers increased. Some tactical commanders, such as Col. Ichiwara Shinichirō, quickly adapted. Ichiwara’s nonchalant attitude had embarrassed his junior officers during peacetime maneuvers, but at Nanshan he repeatedly rallied his men, ignoring heavy Russian fire. In real fighting, he later remarked, the enemy was less cooperative than on exercises.

Army Chief of Staff Yamagata, Prime Minister Katsura (concurrently an active duty general), War Minister Terauchi Masatake, Manchurian Army commander Ōyama, and his chief of staff, Kodama, gathered at Imperial General Headquarters on June 10 to set the operational direction of war. Katsura participated in IGHQ conferences in his capacity as a retired general officer but was not kept informed officially about operational matters. However, he received accurate information from the senior statesmen (Yamagata and Itō) because the army did provide them accounts of the military situation. Katsura was also a close friend and drinking companion of War Minister Terauchi, who likely passed him information. Because of the cumbersome and exclusionary bureaucratic system, informal personal relations played a crucial role in coordinating military, political, and diplomatic initiatives. A brief review of operations highlights these deficiencies.

The Russo-Japanese War – Japanese Army II

The Manchurian Campaign

The Manchurian Army, consisting of the First and Second armies, would advance along the South Manchurian Railroad to Liaoyang, where the First Army would envelop the enemy’s right flank, destroy the Russian field army, and open the way to Mukden and the decisive battle before Russia could mobilize its full military strength. Simultaneously, the Third Army would attack Port Arthur and after taking the fortress rejoin the field armies near Mukden. The Russian commander, however, fought a series of skillful delaying actions in June and July to buy time for reinforcements to arrive from European Russia. Port Arthur was left isolated and besieged by the recently arrived Third Army.

General staff officers had not originally considered seizing the port and were unaware of the extent of Russian improvements to the fortress’s defenses. Russian military engineers had shrouded their work in tight security, and Japanese spies lacked the technical expertise to determine the strength of the improved concrete-and-steel fortifications. As a consequence, they reported that the Russians had merely extended existing trench lines, leaving the impression that Port Arthur was weakly defended as it had been during the Sino-Japanese War.

On August 19 the complexion of the war changed dramatically when the Third Army commander, Lt. Gen. Nogi Marasuke’s, ill-conceived frontal assault against Port Arthur cost at least 16,000 killed and wounded, a disaster compounded by his stubborn refusal to halt the futile attacks. A few days later Ōyama’s armies suffered more than 23,000 casualties during the seven-day battle for Liaoyang (August 25–September 3). The First Army struck the Russian center while the Second and Fourth armies turned the enemy’s eastern flank. Unable to encircle the Russians, the Japanese resorted to costly frontal attacks.

Though the army publicly glorified the efforts of the so-called human-bullets to sustain home-front morale, more responsible commanders were appalled at the needless slaughter. Junior officers blamed the “big-shot tacticians” for stubbornly applying textbook tactics that needlessly threw away soldiers’ lives. Ōyama relieved three major generals, all brigade commanders, because their inflexibility caused unnecessary casualties.

The combination of heavy losses and the inability to encircle and destroy the enemy field army shook Japanese regimental and division commanders’ self-confidence. At the height of the Liaoyang fighting, Tokyo newspaper editorials confidently predicted another Sedan, a reference to the Prussian army’s encirclement and destruction of the French army in 1870. Self-confident and certain of the outcome, the First Army’s officers and men anticipated truce talks after the battle. Morale plummeted as the realization sunk in that they faced renewed fighting. Replacements for Nogi’s Third Army at Port Arthur lost heart when battle-toughened veterans dismissed them as cannon fodder. The commander of a Guard infantry brigade wrote to the vice chief of staff that just declaring morale was high did not necessarily make it so. Discipline suffered, and the army resorted to field gendarmes to drive reluctant troops forward, at least in one case at bayonet point.

Although the army had steadily expanded from 123,000 officers and men in 1896 to 191,000 in 1903 and increased its reserves proportionately, it could not compensate for the unexpectedly high attrition during the opening engagements. These battles made clear that more troops were needed. Immediately after the Liaoyang fighting, the emperor, at IGHQ’s request, on September 29 activated four new divisions, doubled the second reserve obligation to ten years, extended the age limit for the first reserve term from 32 to 37 years old, and added forty-eight infantry battalions to the second reserve. The new provisional divisions would be organized by February 1905, but they would not be trained and ready for operations until late May at the earliest. By the time the first of the new formations was activated on April 15, 1905, the major fighting was over.

The Vladivostok naval squadron added to the overall sense of gloom and anxiety in Japan. On the morning of April 26, Russian warships surprised and sank a small Japanese ship carrying a 200-man infantry company. The soldiers refused surrender or rescue and went down with their sinking ship. Army authorities stoked patriotic home-front fires by portraying the act as a deliberate decision to avoid the shame of surrender and the debasement of captivity. Russian raiders continued to cruise the Sea of Japan, picking off victims, spreading panic among Japanese coastal towns, and provoking public criticism of the military’s incompetence.

In mid-June the Vladivostok squadron sank a large army troop transport carrying almost 2,000 soldiers and irreplaceable artillery and stores. When the admiral charged with protecting the convoy could not find the Russian warships to retaliate, angry Tokyoites stoned his house, denounced him as a Russian agent, and demanded his suicide. Wild rumors about the Vladivostok fleet terrified civilians and forced the cabinet to order an emergency reinforcement of coastal defenses in Tokyo Bay and Tsushima Island.

While the Russian squadron rampaged seemingly at will and Nogi’s Port Arthur offensive collapsed, the northern front stabilized around Liaoyang. By the end of September the army had committed three divisions to Port Arthur, sent eight to Liaoyang, and mobilized 65,000 replacements to fill the losses in its infantry divisions. In addition, field army commanders wanted the two divisions remaining in the homeland strategic reserve, but IGHQ insisted that they were needed for coastal defense against a possible Russian landing. Emperor Meiji intervened in the dispute between the field army and IGHQ by deciding that one homeland division would deploy to Liaoyang.

In early October a Russian offensive surprised the Second Army at the Shahe River, about 45 miles northeast of Liaoyang, and in the week-long battle that followed, three Japanese armies again failed to envelop the Russian flanks. Losses were heavy: more than 41,000 Russian and 20,000 Japanese fell. By this time, sickness was ravaging the field armies as beriberi, typhoid, and dysentery incapacitated thousands more troops. Ōyama halted his armies to regroup.

While Ōyama reconstituted his battered forces, imperial headquarters, reacting to the navy’s demands that Port Arthur be taken quickly, again ordered Nogi to attack the fortress. After his first setback, IGHQ had reinforced the Third Army with heavy artillery in hopes of breaching the Russian defenses. Higher headquarters grasped that artillery observers atop the dominating heights of Hill 203 could direct accurate plunging fire onto Port Arthur and its harbor, making them untenable. Nogi and his staff, however, had never been to the front lines and regarded the heights, particularly Hill 203, as secondary to the Third Army’s objective of capturing the town.

After a council with IGHQ liaison officers on September 5, the Third Army staff agreed to attack Hill 203. Assaults two weeks later seized outposts on Hill 203 but could not take the crest. Although Nogi had received reports from the front that parts of Port Arthur could be seen from recently captured hills, the full impact of this intelligence escaped him, and he suspended the offensive on September 22 after suffering 5,000 casualties.

The well-publicized struggle for Port Arthur captured world attention, and the western press popularized Nogi for its readers as the personification of the samurai warrior, who uncomplainingly endured hardship and suffering. Kodama and other senior commanders, however, were appalled by Nogi’s incompetence, which had shifted the strategic focus of the war, cost tens of thousands of unnecessary casualties, consumed vast quantities of scarce war material, and achieved nothing. The Third Army opened its third major offensive on November 26 and the next day finally captured Hill 203. The fortress and naval base were defenseless and soon surrendered. More than 59,000 Japanese casualties paid for Nogi’s victory.

In late January 1905, Russian forces tried to drive the Japanese back to Liao-yang and inflict as many casualties as possible. Fighting in bitterly cold weather near San-de-pu, the Japanese stopped the counterattack—at a cost of more than 9,000 casualties. Next followed the epic struggle from February 22 through March 10 for Mukden, a battle that pitted almost 300,000 Russians against slightly more than 200,000 Japanese. The Japanese again tried a sweeping double envelopment but could not close their pincers in time to trap the retreating Russian armies. Despite losses of 70,000 Japanese and almost 90,000 Russians, the battle was indecisive and the ground war in Manchuria was stalemated.

Tokyo misread these results. On March 11, Katsura and Terauchi proposed new offensives to Yamagata, who in turn forwarded their recommendations to Ōyama. Responding from Manchuria a few days later, Ōyama described Mukden as indeed a great victory, but he dwelled on his heavy casualties and exhausted supplies. He needed time to rebuild his logistics network and wanted the cabinet’s guidance in the form of a unified military-diplomatic policy on whether to pursue the Russians or switch to a protracted war strategy.

Ōyama’s sobering assessment convinced Yamagata and Terauchi that Japan had no means of forcing the Russians to capitulate, short of attacking Moscow or St. Petersburg, which of course was impossible. The Manchurian Army could not even attack Harbin some 250 miles away because of recent personnel losses, especially among officer ranks; ammunition shortages; logistics deficiencies; and transportation problems, including a requirement for extensive railroad construction to build a line for transporting supplies to forward units. Taking this into account, on March 23 Yamagata requested the cabinet end the war by diplomatic means.

IGHQ recalled Kodama to Tokyo at the end of March for discussions on whether to continue a protracted war or sue for peace. Kodama’s outspoken criticism of the general staff’s ineptitude peaked when he called the vice chief of staff a fool for starting a fire without knowing how to put it out. At an April 8 meeting, the senior statesmen and major cabinet ministers resigned themselves to the possibility of a protracted war unless diplomatic measures could achieve satisfactory peace terms.

In mid-October 1904 the Russian Baltic Fleet had sortied from its home port for an eight-month, 10,000-mile voyage via the Cape of Good Hope to reinforce the Russian Far Eastern squadrons and relieve Port Arthur. The adventure ended on May 27, 1905, in the Tsushima Strait, where Vice Adm. Tōgō Heihachirō’s combined fleet sank twelve first-line Russian warships and captured four more. Antiwar demonstrations erupted in Russia, where the crew of the battleship Potemkin mutinied. Internal unrest, the gloomy military situation, and the czar’s concern about a possible invasion of Sakhalin made the Russians amenable to negotiations. Japan’s leaders, aware that their armies and resources were exhausted, were likewise anxious for talks and secretly approached U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt to mediate. After a month of discussions at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, mainly about Russian refusal to consider indemnities or territorial concessions, on September 5 the Russians grudgingly agreed to cede southern Sakhalin Island to Japan. In addition, Japan received exclusive rights in Korea and control of Russian railroad lines in southern Manchuria. But there was no indemnity.

During the lead-up to war, the army appealed to an increasingly literate public and conscript force with themes of Japan’s uniqueness by virtue of the unbroken imperial line. Pamphlets subsidized by the war ministry explained in simple language that the army protected Japan from foreign threats, much like the wall around a storehouse kept wild animals or thieves from stealing treasures. Essays popularized notions that seishin and the intangible factors of battle were responsible for tiny Japan’s victory over the enormous Chinese Empire and that Japan had to fight Russia to save China from itself and prevent a collapse of the international order.

Building on that foundation, wartime propaganda had concealed Japan’s military weaknesses to manufacture an unprecedented national commitment to the war across the society. The potent combination of prewar indoctrination and wartime propaganda raised popular anticipation that shared hardships would entitle everyone to benefit from the fruits of victory. With these unrealistic expectations, the Japanese people were infuriated that the treaty contained no indemnity and doled out seemingly paltry rewards for such great sacrifices. Anti-treaty rioting and popular demonstrations erupted in Tokyo as the public directed its fury against the civilian cabinet. It might better have targeted the army.

An Assessment

Despite its extensive planning, modern weaponry, and expanded force structure, the 1904 army was still an amateurish one, characterized by regional cliques, favoritism, incompetence, and nepotism. In 1901, for example, the staff college had reorganized its curriculum to prepare officers for command of large units (brigade and higher echelon) and educate them with the latest technological principles. Instruction, however, remained rooted in tactics, and the curriculum stressed individual initiative that taught officers to command by resolute action and not get bogged down in details. Staff officers assigned to the respective armies in the Russo-Japanese War were expected to be decisive, but they lacked practical experience and tended toward doctrinaire staff college solutions, regardless of circumstances. An uncritical adherence to the norm pervaded the officer corps.

Many senior officers had made their rank and reputations as young soldiers in the restoration wars of the 1860s or the Satsuma Rebellion of the mid-1870s. Too many were autodidacts, ill prepared to encounter the rapid advances in early twentieth-century technology, military professionalism, and warfare. Nogi, for instance, a veteran of the restoration wars, the Satsuma Rebellion, and the Sino-Japanese War, was stumped when looking at a topographic map of the Port Arthur defenses. Unable to understand terrain contours or elevations, he concluded the shortest distance between two points was a straight line and ordered an attack into the most difficult and best-defended terrain, where his troops suffered enormous and unnecessary losses.

Nogi’s selection for high command also illustrated the regional biases and web of personal connections that hampered the creation of an effective professional officer corps. The army originally recalled Nogi from retirement in February 1904 to command a reserve Guard division. Two of the three serving army generals (Oku and Kuroki Tamemoto) were slated to command the First and the Second armies. The third, Sakuma Samata, had retired in October 1902 and at age 61 was judged too old to withstand the rigors of field campaigning. Yamagata then selected the 55-year-old Nogi to command the Third Army and assigned him the responsibility for Port Arthur because Nogi had captured the fortress in 1895. Nogi’s Chōshū lineage and long-standing acquaintance with Yamagata made him acceptable to the Chōshū clique that dominated the army; in addition, Nogi was on friendly terms with many senior naval officers, making him a suitable liaison for a joint campaign. But Nogi was a martinet and an aesthetic who carried his notions of a samurai code to extremes and had never psychologically recovered from losing his battle standard during the Satsuma Rebellion. Yamagata and the other generals recognized his limitations, but they still agreed that Nogi could handle what was planned as a minor secondary operation to isolate Port Arthur.

The army selected Maj. Gen. Ijichi Kōsuke as Nogi’s chief of staff. Ijichi was a superannuated artillery officer and former instructor at the staff college. He hailed from Satsuma, the cradle of many naval officers, making him acceptable to the navy and serving the army’s desire to balance its regional cliques. He was also Ōyama’s son-in-law. Though army authorities did not think much of Ijichi’s abilities, they considered him at least capable of conducting a siege. Neither Ijichi nor Nogi, however, understood modern fortifications, and Nogi’s lack of self-confidence allowed Ijichi to make operational decisions. Ijichi was incompetent, opinionated, but cautious, and he deferred to his overworked deputy, Lt. Col. Ōba Jirō, a Chōshū native, and a very aggressive personality.

In this dysfunctional headquarters, staff officers displayed little ability or initiative, leaving Ōba, an infantry officer unacquainted with siege tactics, to handle most planning. The army’s expert of fortifications and siege warfare was Maj. Gen. Uehara Yūsaku, a French-educated engineer officer. But Uehara’s father-in-law was Lt. Gen. Nozu Michitsura, the 64-year-old commander of the Fourth Army, who insisted on Uehara for his chief of staff. Unfortunately Nozu’s difficult personality made it all but impossible for anyone but his son-in-law to work with him. Personal relationships were no better in the two main armies.

Lt. Gen. Kuroki, a 60-year-old Satsuma native, commanded the First Army. He had led a division in the Sino-Japanese War, cultivated a rude and simple lifestyle, and loved good cigars. Despite appearances, he was a bookish officer, fond of history, and not a risk-taker. His chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Fujii Shigeta, was mean-spirited, nasty, and ignorant of the working of a headquarters staff. He had been the commandant of the staff college, and after it closed for the duration of the war he was assigned to Kuroki. Fujii proved inflexible, indecisive, and continually at odds with his highly talented deputy. Vice Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Nagaoka Gaishi regarded Fujii and Ijichi as equally dangerous incompetents whom the army would be better off without.

Lt. Gen. Oku Yasukata, commander of the Second Army, was barely on speaking terms with his chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Ochiai Toyosaburō. A protégé of the late Tamura, Ochiai had headed the general staff’s fifth (war history) department and served as an instructor at the staff college. He had a flair for map maneuvers and tabletop tactics, but in actual operations he proved stubborn, inflexible, and ignorant of logistics as well as rear area security requirements. Ochiai handpicked his subordinates from the ranks of staff college instructors, and, like their mentor, they were fixated on map exercises and theory, unable to adapt swiftly to rapidly changing battlefield conditions of real warfare.

Intelligence collection and analysis was also personality-driven and idiosyncratic. Maj. Gen. Fukushima was the chief of the intelligence department of the general staff. Col. Matsukawa Toshitane, an infantry officer and director of the first (operations) department, however, relied on his own intelligence sources, splitting the general staff into fiercely competitive Matsukawa and Fukushima factions. The general staff’s arrogance so alienated the foreign ministry that diplomats refused to share the intelligence that they gathered in the United States or Europe, leaving the army without strategic data regarding domestic unrest in Russia, manipulation of radical elements there, or the Port Arthur defenses. At the operational level, officers treated intelligence casually because the top graduates of the staff college invariably went into combat arms—infantry, artillery, cavalry—and were taught to and preferred to make their own assessments.

Operational intelligence repeatedly ignored inconvenient discoveries that might disrupt planning already in progress. After the Liaoyang battle, the long-serving military attaché in London, Lt. Col. Utsunomiya Tarō, received intelligence from British sources that the Russian Second Army was about to counterattack the Japanese right flank. Imperial General Headquarters decided that the Russians could not move large formations through the rugged, mountainous terrain and did not pass on the warning. Oku was thus surprised on October 5 when the Russians struck his exposed right flank to open the Battle of Shahe.

In mid-January 1905 Utsunomiya and the military attaché to Berlin, Lt. Col. Ōi Shigemoto, reported that Russians planned to attack the left flank of Ōyama’s Manchurian Army along the Shahe River. Manchurian Army staff officers insisted that the bitter cold and deep snow made a major offensive impossible. When eight Russian divisions attacked in the middle of a late January snowstorm, Ōyama’s headquarters dismissed the offensive as a minor reconnaissance-in-force.

The displacement of IGHQ to Hiroshima a decade earlier had been disruptive because the government ministries remained in Tokyo, requiring extensive and expensive coordination that resulted in frequent delays. This time the emperor stayed in Tokyo to coordinate civil government as well as military affairs. Senior officers then complained that IGHQ was too far removed from the front lines to act as an operational headquarters, and in March 1904 Vice Chief of Staff Kodama suggested a supreme command headed by a crown prince be established in Manchuria.

Ōyama, the newly appointed commander of the field armies in Manchuria, insisted on total control of the overseas forces, including logistics and personnel matters. War Minister Terauchi rejected the general staff’s proposal to grant Ōyama such sweeping authority because it would turn IGHQ into a cipher. Furthermore, Terauchi and Prime Minister Katsura—the latter acting as a general, not as the prime minister—wanted IGHQ to coordinate the joint campaign against Port Arthur directly from Tokyo. Based on Yamagata’s counsel, on May 25 the emperor instructed Terauchi and Ōyama to establish a senior field headquarters to command Manchurian armies and gave Ōyama operational control of the field forces.

On June 20, the war ministry activated the Manchurian Army Headquarters, appointed Ōyama as supreme commander, promoted Kodama to general, and reassigned him as Ōyama’s chief of staff. Yamagata became chief of staff (rear) with control of logistics, personnel, and administrative matters at IGHQ; Nagaoka Gaishi was the vice chief of staff (rear). The brightest young officers were assigned to the Manchurian Army while recalled officers or senior statesmen staffed Imperial General Headquarters. Friction quickly developed between the Manchurian Army and IGHQ, especially over the development of the Port Arthur campaign, the deployment of strategic homeland reserves to Manchuria, and the mobilization of new divisions.

Dysfunctional personalities, a cumbersome command-and-control network, and a poorly integrated imperial headquarters exacerbated the army’s fundamental problem: it was essentially refighting its last war, having projected casualty rates, ammunition consumption, and logistics requirements based on its Sino-Japanese War experience.

After driving the Russians from Nanshan, IGHQ expected to systematically isolate Port Arthur, causing it to fall. As mentioned, the second department’s outdated intelligence underestimated the much-improved fortress defenses that skillfully blended formidable new strong points into the hilly topography. Based on shopworn intelligence, in late February 1904 Maj. Ōba Jirō and Maj. Tanaka Giichi (both then concurrently general staff and IGHQ staff officers), among others, recommended seizing the seemingly weak fortress before reinforcements arrived from western Russia. Kodama wanted to keep his armies intact and thought it better to isolate Port Arthur rather than storm it. Once the navy closed the harbor entrance, the Russians would be isolated and the Third Army could prevent the garrison from threatening the First Army’s rear areas. Port Arthur would wither on the vine.

Because the navy failed to close the harbor, it had to blockade Port Arthur and patrol the nearby waters to prevent the escape of the Russian naval squadron. Put differently, the Russian fleet-in-being at Port Arthur tied down a goodly part of the combined fleet. To unleash the fleet, the navy pressed IGHQ to order the army to capture the fortress, which would also neutralize the Russian fleet. Under mounting pressure from the navy, on June 24 IGHQ ordered Nogi to attack Port Arthur as soon as possible. A few weeks later, intelligence reported that the Russian Baltic fleet was making preparations to sortie. Tōgō then requested via the naval chief of staff on July 12 that the army attack Port Arthur without delay to allow the navy the time it needed to refit before arrival of the Baltic fleet. Whatever Nogi’s faults—and they were many—he was the only field commander subjected to repeated operational interference by Imperial General Headquarters and the navy.

IGHQ hoped to avoid a frontal attack by maneuvering the Third Army farther west to take the fortress from the rear. Nogi and his staff complained that repositioning the troops and artillery would take too much time and pull the Third Army farther from its railhead supply point. He understood his mission was to capture the city, not the defensive outposts on the high ground overlooking it, and, as mentioned, was unable to read topographic maps so chose the shortest direct route to Port Arthur.

A two-day bombardment by Nogi’s light artillery did not seriously damage the concrete-and-steel–reinforced bunkers. Russian machine-gun crews secure inside their fortifications raked the massed attackers, who became snarled in barbed-wire entanglements. Faulty intelligence that the Russian line had broken prompted Nogi to renew the costly attacks. By the time he called off the assaults, the Third Army had suffered almost 16,000 casualties, including more than 5,000 killed in action. An Osaka-based regiment refused to attack after suffering heavy losses and was escorted to the rear under guard.

Losses among officers were extremely heavy because tactical commanders followed their training and led from the front. The 44th Infantry Regiment, for instance, had two of its three battalion commanders killed and the third wounded; it lost all twelve of its company commanders, eight killed and four wounded; and thirty-five of forty lieutenants were killed or wounded. Nogi’s losses and the subsequent 23,000 casualties suffered at Liaoyang precipitated a chronic replacement crisis that was exacerbated by the lack of tactical skills and leadership ability among many replacement reserve officers and NCOs.

Government authorities tried to conceal the magnitude of Nogi’s defeat through a combination of strict censorship, tight restrictions on war correspondents, and control of battlefield news releases. Army service regulations issued in January 1904 to protect military secrets complemented home ministry restrictions on newspaper articles enacted the previous year to stifle dissent. Police censors paid special attention to articles that they thought might lower the morale of soldiers’ families.

At the opening of the Russo-Japanese War, the government mobilized patriotic associations to organize nationwide relief campaigns to assist families of soldiers serving overseas and send troops small packages of sundries. Officials also diverted public attention from battlefield realities by publicizing real or imagined heroism and tales of glorious death in battle. Official propaganda unintentionally inflated popular expectations, working the public into a patriotic fervor that backfired when unrealistic goals could not be met. For instance, in August the government-sponsored preparations were under way nationwide to celebrate the anticipated fall of Port Arthur, but popular enthusiasm soon waned when victory was not forthcoming. After another Tokyo pro-war rally degenerated into a brawl that left thirty-nine people dead or injured, even “spontaneous” victory parades fell under greater police scrutiny.

Despite government and army propaganda, Nogi too fell under a cloud of growing criticism. Irate citizens denounced him as a butcher, stoned his home, and threatened his wife. Nor could the government’s upbeat official version of events conceal the grievous losses from the Japanese public. Hospital trains departed nightly from Ujina, and by mid-September the sight of caravans of wounded soldiers passing through the Tokyo streets to hospitals was commonplace. Letters from frontline soldiers and stories from replacements reached home with tales of heavy casualties, widespread illness, and war weariness. Inflation, numerous new special taxes on land and consumables to pay for the war, the continual reserve mobilizations of replacements, and rumors of terrible casualties weighed heavily on popular morale.

Japanese adoption of Portuguese muskets


The Japanese landing on Busan


Japanese arquebuses of the Edo era. These types of firearms were used by Japanese soldiers during Hideyoshi’s invasions

The advances in guns there with the Japanese adoption of Portuguese muskets through Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea in the 1590s. Although guns were widely available in the struggle for supremacy in China during the mid-fourteenth century, they became a cornerstone of the Ming army only after the Ming conquest of China. Before the end of the fourteenth century, almost 10 percent of the army’s 1.2–1.8 million soldiers were armed with guns. The capital’s arsenals produced 3,000 cannon and 3,000 handguns annually from 1380 to 1488. These weapons were widely deployed and initially gave Ming armies an advantage over neighboring states that were not so armed. European advances in gun technology were quickly adopted in China, and the cannon it brought into the field owed as much to the West as did the Japanese army’s muskets.

Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea brought about a direct clash between three different gun-armed forces, the Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans. Japanese forces were armed with muskets and trained in volley fire; Chinese forces relied upon cannon; and Korean forces used cannon on armored warships to interdict Japanese maritime supply lines. On the strategic level, the Japanese were completely defeated, achieving none of their political or military goals at a tremendous loss of life. Tactically, the results were more mixed. Chinese armies succeeded when they brought their cannon up to the battlefield, and lost when they did not. The Korean navy defeated the Japanese navy using cannon to oppose their boarding tactics, but was ineffective when poorly commanded. Overall, the conflict demonstrated that guns, whether muskets or cannon, were now critical in East Asian warfare.

After the first Japanese campaign (1592–3) was driven back to the southern tip of Korea, the Ming attempted to improve the Korean army by training its soldiers to use firearms. The course of the war surprised all sides, revealing deep-seated weaknesses within everyone’s armed forces. By campaigning outside of Japan, Hideyoshi subjected the Japanese army to new military problems that it struggled to overcome. The Korean and Chinese forces suffered similar difficulties in dealing with new modes of warfare. For example, the Ming army, which possessed several different kinds of troops based upon their regional origins, had to bring southern Chinese troops, who had previously fought against ‘‘Japanese’’ pirates, to the battlefield in order to engage the Japanese in close combat. Northern Chinese troops, who emphasized cavalry and had no experience of the Japanese, were generally regarded as ineffective.

It is impossible to draw conclusions about which mode of warfare was superior without taking into account the specific conditions and commanders of a given battle. Japanese superiority in close combat, and in medium-range missile firing through their use of muskets, was negated when Chinese cannon were present on the battlefield. At the same time, the test of combat could be rendered moot by larger strategic issues. Japanese attempts to hold and control Korean territory, combined with a desire to avoid large-scale battles with the Chinese and their cannons, induced them to disperse their troops and focus on ambushes and placing small garrisons in key locations. These tactics then exposed them to even greater risk, as Korean partisans were able to ambush small Japanese units, or harass their supply lines.

Hideyoshi’s invasions, like the construction of the Great Wall, demonstrated once again the close connection between siege warfare, naval warfare, and guns. While troops in the field could maneuver to take advantage of their own strengths and avoid those of their opponents, sometimes to the extent of refusing battle entirely, siege and naval warfare quite often did not allow that possibility. Strong points had to be taken if territory was to be controlled, certain sailing routes had to be used at certain times if ships were to reach their destination. One of the greatest weaknesses of the Japanese war effort was the Japanese navy, a rather surprising circumstance given the competence of Japanese sea lords earlier in the sixteenth century.

China remained connected to the maritime world on its coast. Guns were part of the Ming response to the wokou pirates in the mid-sixteenth century, and in some ways prepared at least part of the Ming army to fight the Japanese at the end of that century. Yet larger issues of morale, training, command, and supply far exceeded the importance of guns by themselves. Better guns were not decisive on their own, though Jesuit-supplied military technology would play a significant role on all sides during the invasion of Korea.

Kikusui 2: Kamikaze Crucible

Admiral Matome Ugaki was still convinced that his April 6-7 strikes at the Americans had seriously damaged TF 58, an estimate not shared by his colleague, Lieutenant General Michio Sugahara of the Sixth Air Army. A report made by Sugahara’s staff somewhat sourly concluded: “Despite many attacks, the Navy cannot block the enemy’s carrier force, which still is operating east of Okinawa.”

Nevertheless Sugahara was eminently cooperative in preparing for Kikusui 2, which Ugaki hoped would so shatter Spruance’s fleet that it might seek sanctuary in the open sea. But both he and the army general realized that the second Floating Chrysanthemum would never equal the strength of the first, if only because of the serious losses it had suffered. They were also concerned to learn that Marine Corsairs had indeed arrived at Yontan and Kadena, thus menacing their own aircraft with ground-based fighters that, because of their proximity to their base, were more to be feared than carrier-based interceptors.

Their apprehension was somewhat eased, however, with the arrival on Kyushu of a new weapon: the Oka, or “Cherry Blossom” glide bomb, a rocket-boosted, piloted suicider capable of speeds of 500 knots and carrying a huge wallop of 2,645 pounds of trinitroanisol. The Oka was slung beneath a mother plane, usually a heavy Betty or Peggy bomber, and flown to within about a dozen miles of its target, when it was released with the pilot firing its rockets and directing it toward its target. Moving at pistol-bullet speed, the Oka was believed to be almost immune to enemy gunfire, but its very velocity made it extremely difficult for its pilot to keep his 16½-foot missile on target. American intelligence was aware of the appearance of this new weapon, but considered it so ineffective that it was christened baka, or “foolish.”

Although Kikusui 2 was scheduled for April 12, Admiral Ugaki tried to destroy “the remnant” of TF 58 on the day before, hurling a daylight suicide attack of about fifty-two planes against Admiral Mitscher’s carrier force. Typically glowing reports claimed three carriers sunk, a cruiser set ablaze, another cruiser holed, and two destroyers hit with torpedoes. The next day Ugaki’s pilots, still mightier with pen than bomb, reported sinking two battleships and a light cruiser. Actually very little damage was done to Mitscher’s ships on either day. Some damage was inflicted on the veteran flattop Enterprise, and a kamikaze crashed the majestic new battleship Missouri, but succeeded only in scratching her deck and blistering some paint. Destroyer Kidd was hit on picket duty and badly hurt, with thirty-eight sailors killed and fifty-five wounded, the worst casualty of the day. Waggish bluejackets aboard another picket destroyer, exasperated by repeated strikes at their station, erected a huge sign on deck with an arrow pointing aft and reading: CARRIERS THIS WAY.

Both Ugaki and Sugahara hoped to neutralize the enemy Corsairs by planning a series of bombing raids on their airfields the night before the scheduled attacks of April 12, while Sugahara also organized a decoy flight of fighters to lure TF 58’s Hellcats and Corsairs away from the impact area. In the bombing operation, 22 Japanese aircraft struck Yontan and Kadena shortly before dawn of the twelfth, damaging 5 enemy planes but losing 5 of their own to American gunners of all services. Next, Sugahara’s decoys attracted nothing but birds rising for dawn breakfasts, so that it was not until eleven o’clock in the morning that the Kyushu main body of about 120 late-model fighters arrived over both Kikai Jima and the Hagushi Anchorage to try to clear the strike area for following flights of 76 kamikaze, plus 20 suiciders roaring up from Formosa.

Although the Nipponese fighters were more successful than usual against the more skillful Americans flying better planes—claiming a probably exaggerated 20 kills—the Navy and Marine pilots from the carriers of TF 58 reported a much higher 126 enemy planes downed during fighter sweeps. This also was probably exaggerated—not by intent like the starry-eyed enemy—but from the inevitable duplication occurring when more than one fighter was firing on the same enemy, or even when a “flamer” plunging toward a watery grave might have the winds caused by his velocity blow the fires out, enabling him to return successfully to base. “Kill” estimates like body counts were much like American taxpayers’ income-tax returns: so full of deductions for charity that the churches of America would all be rich “beyond the dreams of avarice.”

But the American interceptors did effectively prevent the enemy fighters from protecting the kamikaze. Although the suiciders succeeded in damaging eight American ships—mostly destroyers and destroyer-escorts of the radar picket line, as well as some smaller craft—and causing high casualities, only one warship was sunk: the new picket destroyer Manert L. Abele, the first kill on record by a baka bomb.

Abele was on Picket Station 14 about thirty miles west of Okinawa when it was jumped by a pair of suicide Vals. Abele’s AA opened up, each burst seemingly scoring a hit but with the planes reappearing through the smoke. One of the attackers was sent into the sea, but the second struck the destroyer’s after engine room, spreading death and destruction and causing Abele to buckle visibly. Just then one of two Betty bombers circling like scavengers overhead released its baka bomb, which came shrieking at the stricken destroyer at five hundred knots. The pilot kept his missile perfectly on course, striking Abele exactly amidships. A tremendous blast lifted the American out of the water to be slammed back again. Many men were blown overboard, among them Lieutenant s.g. George Wray, who swam back to his ship, clambering aboard to tear open a jammed escape hatch allowing the entire watch of the forward engine room to scramble to safety. In less than another minute, Wray might have been too late, for Abele sank five minutes after the baka struck. Most of her officers and crew were rescued by a nearby LSM, but six men were killed and seventy-three missing.

Simultaneous with the agony of Abele, a flight of conventional kamikaze found Rear Admiral Deyo’s gunfire support force patrolling waters off the Motobu Peninsula. When they struck, Deyo fortunately had his ships concentrated and they were ready for the Divine Winds, which could do little more than stagger a destroyer and crash a 40 mm mount aboard battleship Tennessee. One sailor who was blown into the air landed atop a five-inch gun turret, where he crouched while calmly stripping off his burning clothing to await a cold bath from the nearest fire hose. Marine Corporal W. H. Putnam either fell or was blown overboard, surfacing near a big life raft. He clambered aboard, finding unusual company in the presence of the headless torso of the kamikaze who had crashed his ship.

Thus the scourging of the American fleet off Okinawa continued unabated, but once again the kamikaze had failed to strike the paralyzing blow so eagerly sought by Admiral Ugaki. Losses among the suiciders are not exactly known, although 185 of them had participated in the assault—an enormous decline from the 355 making the first attacks. The decrease would continue until on June 21-22 Ugaki could scrape together only 45 decrepit Divine Winds—the shriveled petals remaining on the deadly Floating Chrysanthemums.

The Sinking of I-70

The I-70 in port during May 1941 after a collision with the submarine I-69 during exercises. The submarine was repaired and sent to support the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Portrait of Lt. Clarence Earle Dickinson, Jr., VS-6

At 0553 that morning Enterprise and its task force, after having passed between Oahu and Molokai on the 9th, was continuing its search toward the north and northeast along the sea lane toward the mainland’s west coast, and launched her first group of planes to fly the morning search patterns. They were looking for Japanese surface ships, aircraft or submarines. It was to be a day of frequent contacts with enemy submarines, intense flight operations, sightings of submarine periscopes as well as submarines running on the surface, enemy torpedo wakes sighted tracking toward Enterprise, aggressive depth charge attacks by Enterprise’s submarine screening destroyers, a zigzagging task force, sharp changes in speed from flank speed to engines stop, and abrupt changes in direction at flank speed with the great ship heeled over twenty to thirty degrees opposite the direction of turn. The day began with a bang.

The last aircraft among the first group to launch lifted off at 0602. They were from Bombing Squadron Six, and within seventeen minutes of the first launch, one aircraft from

VB-6 sighted an enemy submarine running on the surface. At 0618 Enterprise began launching a second group, and completed the launch three minutes later. While the second launch was in progress at 0619, SBD 6-B-17, from VB-6 reported a submarine at latitude 22 degrees 30 minutes north, longitude 156 degrees 30 minutes west, course 080 degrees true – a course nearly due east. At 0630 hours, the plane’s crew reported they bombed the submarine.

The pilot, Lieutenant (jg) Edward L. Anderson, with Radioman/gunner Third Class S.J. Mason in the rear cockpit, was searching an area forty miles south of Enterprise at 300 feet altitude. In his action report of 15 December, he wrote,

…sighted a wake made by [an] enemy submarine. The vessel was close and [the] conning tower [was] sighted above water. The submarine was making a crash dive. I pulled up to 800 feet over the enemy and released a 1000 pound bomb which was seen to explode approximately 50 feet aft and somewhat to port of the submerging submarine’s conning tower. Oil appeared on water. No further evidence of submarine.


The last aircraft airborne in the morning launch was at 0621. At 0627 hours, Ensign Clifford R. Walters, flying SBD 6-B-2 from Bombing Six, reported sighting a Japanese submarine bearing 020 degrees from point option, the point from which the squadron dispersed to begin flying search patterns. He had reached the end of the search mission’s first navigation leg, and after rendering a report and being informed that ten surface vessels he had spotted were Task Force 1, detached from Task Force 8 to meet Saratoga and escort her to Pearl Harbor, he turned toward the Enterprise. In his 13 December action report he recounted what occurred:

…While en route back to the ship, I saw a submarine on the surface. Tracking the submarine in the sun, I was able to see it was large, no flag, and traveling at about 16 knots. I decided to bomb it in a glide bomb but the higher winds pushed me into a dive bomb attack and with little flaps. I dropped the bomb at 1800 feet and was unable to pull out until about 600 feet because I was traveling at a speed of about 240 knots. The submarine submerged just before I was in firing range with the .50-caliber fixed guns. He submerged slowly and blew many bubbles on descent. The 1000 pound bomb landed about 40 feet on the starboard quarter. I believe shrapnel hit the submarine as the bomb had an instantaneous fuze. My Radioman, IVANTIC, J.J., RM3c, strafed the submarine with his .30-caliber free machine gun as we pulled out of the dive. I remained over the spot for a few minutes and the submarine did not surface again, so I returned to the ship. I saw no oil on the surface.

Ensign Walters’ action report suggests he probably had attacked and damaged the I-70. His Imperial Majesty’s submarines I-25 and I-70, were two of the Japanese combatant’s attacked by Enterprise aircraft that morning. I-25 reported being attacked with a depth charge by a TBD-1 “Devastator” of VT-6, but dove to 130 feet, and the depth charge exploded above her, causing no damage. After waiting thirty minutes, I-25 returned to periscope depth and was attacked a second time, and again dove to 130 feet, causing the depth charge to explode above her, with no damage.

The I-70 was less fortunate. She had been damaged by a bomb released by an SBD in the early morning attack, damage that forced Commander Sano’s decision to surface, and continue running on the surface. Considerably smaller and carrying less firepower than the Type C.1 cruiser subs that carried the midgets launched into Pearl Harbor, the Type 6A submarine built in 1934 was 336 feet long, 27 feet abeam, with a hull depth of 15 feet; displaced 1,400 tons normal, 1,785 full, and 2,440 tons maximum submerged; carried a 4-inch instead of a 5.5-inch gun; six instead of eight torpedo tubes; and 14 instead of 20 torpedoes.

The end came in the early afternoon 121 miles northeast of Cape Halava, Molokai, Hawaiian Islands, at latitude 23 degrees, forty-five minutes north, longitude 155 degrees, thirty-five minutes west. Lieutenant Clarence E. Dickinson, the pilot who had, himself, been shot down by swarming Japanese fighters over Oahu the morning of 7 December – costing the life of his radioman/gunner – had his opportunity for payback, and succeeded. He struck with one dive bomb pass, and the submarine sank, leaving four sailors in the water who later perished.

Lieutenant Dickinson, writing in his 1942 book, The Flying Guns, had no way of knowing the identity of the submarine he and his Radioman/gunner sunk that day, but vividly recalled the sequence of events leading to I-70’s destruction.

…the morning scouting flight picked up three or four submarines on the surface. Three or four seen in the area covered by the scouting flight logically meant that there were an awful lot of Jap submarines around. So, about 11:30 in the morning of December 10, Admiral Halsey decided to send three planes to each place where a submarine had been sighted. I was detailed to make this flight.

At that time no one had been assigned to me in place of Miller, [my radioman-gunner killed over Oahu the morning of 7 December.] So I took a lad named [Thomas E.] Merritt, about twenty-one; very nice looking. This young man turned out to be an extremely reliable radioman and gunner, one of the best in the squadron. But this was going to be his first chance for revenge.

The submarine I was to hunt for was supposed to be about 125 miles north of Pearl Harbor. However, when I had flown about 75 miles south I wasn’t expecting to find the submarine waiting for me; that was only my starting point, really. It had been seen at six o’clock approximately where I was by a half hour past noon. Where could it have gone in the Pacific Ocean in six and a half hours? I decided the best thing to do was to fly a rectangular course around the position where the sub had been last sighted and give emphasis to the north and east. I went twenty miles south, then traveled thirty miles on a leg to the east, then began the leg forty miles north. I had left the carrier at noon. It was now about half past one. Nothing but sky and water anywhere in sight.

The wind was blowing pretty much of a gale. There were white-capped waves, but visibility was excellent. I could see twenty-five miles in any direction, possibly thirty miles. Just as I reached the north corner of my rectangle, lo and behold! Way over to the northeast about fifteen or eighteen miles away there was a great big submarine running on the surface. It was pushing to the northeast just as fast as it could go. It was obviously a submarine but it looked to me to be the biggest I had ever seen. I talked to the carrier immediately.

“This is Sail Four…Have sighted submarine. Am attacking.”

The carrier acknowledged my message. I was already heading toward the sub. I was about 800 feet off the water then and to make a good dive bombing attack I would have to climb up to 5,000 or 6,000 feet at least. So I started climbing. I suppose I was climbing while I was talking with the ship. Now, to go straight ahead fifteen to eighteen miles in a scout bomber is one thing, but it is something else to go a mile up while you are going eighteen miles ahead; moreover I was flying right into a heavy wind. It would probably take six or eight minutes for me to get into position to do my job. I had certain chores to do in connection with my craft of bombing. I had to “arm” the bomb mechanically before I dropped it. I had to do certain things to it that would make it explode on contact. Threaded through the fuse of that 500-pound bomb I was carrying were what we call “arming wires.” These arming wires have to be pulled out of the fuse before the bomb is dropped, else it will fall as a dud. When the wires are pulled out, two parts of the fuse move into position, the “vanes” on the fuse rotate properly and on contact the bomb explodes. Consequently the height of futility in bombing is to neglect to arm your bomb. The arming of the bomb is the pilot’s job, but to make sure that none of us forgets in the excitement of the attack, it has been made a part of the gunner’s duty to check with the pilot just as your partner checks you against a possible renege in a bridge game when you fail to follow suit by asking politely, “No spades?”

I had plenty on my mind climbing to a good diving position. I didn’t see how I could stand the disappointment were the Jap to submerge. Next thing I knew he was shooting at me; just as soon as I was within gun’s distance of him the sub had opened up with two deck guns, four or five inchers. The Japs manning those guns were not especially good shots but, after all, this was the second time within three days that I had been shot at and I was a little tired of being on the receiving end. I was getting sensitive, I suppose. However, I had fine faith in that bomb. It is quite an effective weapon if you drop it close enough. Right beside the submarine, in the water, is best.

Those anti-aircraft bursts were giving me just a touch of headache. There wasn’t a great deal of danger from them but they were annoying. I was climbing as hard as I could and then young Merritt called over our radio. “Is the bomb armed, Mr. Dickinson?”

I was busy in my cockpit just that second and did not respond. “Mr. Dickinson, is the bomb armed?” I feel sure I must have said yes a couple of times but this kid back of me wasn’t going to have a failure on his hands. I was climbing and estimating the situation every instant. The Japs were shooting. Merritt was prompting. “Be sure the bomb is armed!” “Look here,” I said, “the bomb is armed. For God’s sake! Relax! Maybe we can get this submarine. Take my word for it, the bomb is armed.”

Those aboard ship hadn’t realized how far I had to go when I reported I was attacking. However, when I was about half way to where I was determined to get, there was a voice in my ears, asking for a report. Was I making progress? With the Jap shooting at me, with my deep concern for fear the submarine would disappear before I could lay my egg and further rasped by Merritt’s well-meant solicitude, I was in no mood to be heckled by the ship. So I told them I would report the progress of my attack as soon as I had time to drop the bomb.

I suppose the Jap’s two deck guns had fired at least twenty-five anti-aircraft shells at me. I had had him in sight for almost eight minutes. Yet he had made no attempt to submerge. All he was doing was turning to the right a few degrees. Obviously there was something wrong with him. He had been bombed once before that day. The plane from our carrier that had found him at six o’clock in the morning had dropped a bomb fairly close to him. So I believe he could not submerge. I can’t imagine a submarine skipper in his right mind staying on the surface to fight a plane rather than dive. Even when I was three or four minutes away, in good working order he might have submerged easily. He did not, so I believe that he had previously been damaged.

Those two deck guns, one forward, one aft, were big enough to sink anything but a battleship. But they were firing a couple of machine guns, too. These were mounted on the platform of the oval, tank-like conning tower. For the second time in three days I could see the head-on, deadly jewel wink of machine guns but the flashes from the muzzles of those two anti-aircraft guns were yellow as lemon cream. Nevertheless the black explosions that occasionally washed a slight tremor into the plane quite definitely were not lemon pies.

I was measuring the sub’s course, measuring my height and getting nicely set when my gunner spoke again. “Is the bomb armed, Mr. Dickinson?” This time I said, rather gently, I think, “Yes.” Then I dived. I had a pretty good dive. All the way down I could see the heathen still shooting. Their faces looked brown, not yellow. I wasn’t close enough to see expressions because I was probably as much as thirty stories higher than the Empire State building when I acted. At the left-hand side of the cockpit there is a handle, the bomb release. You simply pull this back so that it travels an inch or possibly an inch and a quarter, until it will go no further. There is no click or jar but you know you have dropped your bomb.

By the time I was able to pull out of the dive, and turn to get my plane’s tail out of the way of my eyes it was probably fifteen seconds before the bomb struck; it struck right beside the submarine, amidships.

I saw first of all only one gun was firing. I suspect the bomb explosion had killed the Japs at the other gun. In a further space of seconds I had the plane turned and was flying back towards the sub. It had stopped, had no perceptible headway and had started to settle, as nearly as I could tell, on an even keel. The fact she had no forward motion satisfied me right then this was not a dive. She was settling! A little more by the stern than forward. In about three-quarters of a minute after my bomb struck the sub had gone under the water.

The chances are, I think, that the bomb explosion caused the submarine to open up underneath. That would kill her speed. Filling amidships would cause her to settle more or less on an even keel. Right after she disappeared, from her amidships, as near as I could tell, there was an eruption of oil and foamy water, like the bursting of a big bubble. Seconds later, fifteen or twenty, I suppose, there was a second disturbance; another bubble-like eruption of foam and oil churned to the white-capped surface of the sea. This time I saw some debris. I reported to the carrier what I had done and what I had seen. But I was careful to say that “possibly” the submarine had been sunk. You simply can’t be sure on such evidence.

During the flight back to the carrier the young man in the rear seat and I discussed the probabilities. “Looks like we got him, Mr. Dickinson.” “Yes, I think we did.”

“That’s certainly pretty nice, huh?”

If you had seen Pearl Harbor you would think so, too. I said to Merritt: “Glad you didn’t let me forget to arm that bomb.”

This was no time to lose the ship but as I approached the position where I estimated she would be all I could see was a big rainstorm covering the area. I circled the storm without seeing a trace of the carrier. I felt certain she was in the storm but I had a feeling it would be easy to get lost in such weather. At such a time! I had things to talk about. I finally plunged into the rainstorm and there was the carrier.

The day proved hectic for Task Force 8 and the quarries she sought. In addition to the two bombing attacks on surfaced submarines and the sinking of I-70, there were seven other confirmed contacts with enemy submarines, which included non-stop air operations, periscope and conning tower sightings, two torpedo wakes clearly observed aiming for Enterprise, two depth charge attacks by screening destroyers, and gunfire at one submarine observed on the surface by the cruiser Salt Lake City. Throughout the day the two forces were constantly searching and maneuvering for shots at one another, or to spoil shots, weaving, zigzagging, changing speeds and directions.

The day after the loss of I-70 and Task Force 8’s heavy engagement with the Japanese submarines in the vicinity of Oahu, Vice Admiral Mitsoyoshi was aware only that he had heard nothing from the submarine’s commander, and the boat’s status was still uncertain. Nevertheless, looking ahead to operations off the West Coast of the United States, and answering to directives from Imperial General Headquarters, he issued a detailed order to the Submarine Force Detachment now moving toward the coast. On Christmas Eve night, I-15, I-9, I-10, I-17, I-19, I-21, I-23, I-25 and I-26 were to each surface and fire 30 shells on selected targets. Rear Admiral Sato, aboard I-9, was charged to execute the order.

Several facts were evident in Task Force 8’s high number of active encounters with Japanese submarines 7 through 13 December. The enemy submarines were in the waters around Oahu in force, astride the sea lanes between Hawaii and the mainland, and an unknown number were now moving toward the west coast. They would probably arrive on stations off the west coast about 17 December. Between the 10th and the 17th, the enemy would begin taking a toll on shipping.

While Enterprise and the ships and planes of Task Force 8 were aggressively pursuing enemy submarines north and northeast of Oahu on 10 December, the carrier Saratoga, which departed San Diego 0958 hours the morning of 8 December, bound for Pearl Harbor, was refueling the three destroyers in her submarine screen, one at a time. From Destroyer Division 50, they were the Talbot (DD-114), Waters (DD-115), and Dent (DD-116), all World War I “four stackers.” Saratoga, which began flight operations on the 9th, on the 11th dispatched Talbot to pick up the two-man crew from an SBD, plane number 3-B-2, from Bombing Squadron Three (VB-3). The aircraft went down 50 miles distant, and another plane in the flight reported the two men were in their rubber boat.

On 12 December at 1335 hours, Talbot, Waters and Dent, were relieved of screening duties and turned back to San Diego when the ships of Task Force 1, which had been sent by CinCPac to escort and screen Saratoga on into Pearl Harbor, took stations in the formation. The ships in the now-strengthened task force were the heavy cruiser Minneapolis (CA-36), and the newer, more modern destroyers Tucker (DD-374), Selfridge (DD-357), Case (DD-370), and Conyngham (DD-371).

Saratoga entered Pearl Harbor and moored at pier F-9 at 1037 the morning of 15 December without having logged a single submarine contact the entire sortie from San Diego to rejoin the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii. Less then twenty-four hours later, at 1226 on 16 December she was underway again, turning west southwest, soon to join Task Force 14 and deliver additional aircraft to Wake Island. At 1350 hours, while outbound initially to the southeast, Saratoga logged the sighting of Task Force 8 and the Enterprise, which was proceeding to Pearl Harbor for refueling and provisioning for further operations.

While Saratoga and her newly formed task force were en route to Pearl Harbor from San Diego, Task Force 12, with the Lexington, was returning from the cancelled delivery to Midway of 18 Marine Vought SB2U-3 Vindicators from VMSB-231 squadron at Ewa. On orders from CinCPac, Task Force 12 turned around the morning of 7 December to search for the Japanese carrier strike force while maneuvering toward Pearl Harbor. At 1152 hours, as Lexington and her screens were steaming northwest toward the harbor’s entrance, the heavy cruiser Indianapolis (CA-35) reported a torpedo wake on the cruiser’s port side and the task force began maneuvering to avoid additional torpedo launches at Lexington.

At 1621 hours, another submarine contact was reported on Lexington’s starboard bow, and she changed course left to avoid a torpedo wake that had been sighted. Escorting destroyers attacked the intruder with depth charges. Unknown to Lexington and Task Force 12, the depth charge attacks had taken their toll on the Japanese submarine I-68, whose captain was Commander Otoji Nakamura.

Ordered to patrol on a station 20 to 50 miles southwest of Pearl Harbor, Nakamura vainly attempted more than once that day to penetrate the submarine screen and torpedo Lexington. For his trouble I-68 was repeatedly hammered by 21 near miss, depth charge attacks. The attacks were uncomfortably close to being fatal for I-68 and its crew. The last attack wrecked many of the submarine’s battery cells, and caused flooding in her aft torpedo tubes. Nakamura decided to terminate I-68’s first patrol against the United States Navy, in support of the Combined Fleet’s Pearl Harbor operation, and brought his crippled submarine limping slowly back to Kwajalein, where it arrived on 28 December – a long, and undoubtedly tense 15-day journey for the crew.

Following another rapid turnaround, Lexington was again underway from Pearl at 1357 hours on 14 December, and at 1732, saw Saratoga and her task force disappear over the horizon as she returned to refuel, take on aviation fuel and provisions, for the next sortie. Steaming on a southwesterly course as part of Task Force 11, by shortly after midnight the morning of 17 December, Lexington and the commanders of all the task force’s ships knew they were embarked on a raid on the Japanese-held Marshall Islands, in support of Saratoga’s planned delivery of additional aircraft to Wake Island.

Saratoga left Pearl on 16 December, steaming toward the west, southwest with four destroyers providing plane guard duties and submarine screen: the destroyers Blue (DD-387), Henley (DD-391), Helm (DD-388), and Bagley (DD-386). At 1215 on 17 December, she commenced joining Task Force 14, a powerful force consisting of the heavy cruisers San Francisco (CA-38), Astoria (CA-34), and Minneapolis; destroyers Mugford (DD-389), Selfridge, Patterson (DD-392), and Ralph Talbot (DD-390); the tanker Neches (AO-5) and seaplane tender Tangier. Finally, Lexington and Task Force 11, supporting Saratoga and Task Force 14 were about to take the fight to the enemy.