Anglo – Japanese Naval Cooperation 1914 – 1918

Admiral Sato Kozo (seated, center) Commanded a Flotilla of
14 Destroyers Based in Malta

by Timothy D. Saxon

The captain of the attacking submarine achieved complete surprise with his bold midday maneuver near Crete. Stealing to within two hundred meters of an unwary convoy escort, he fired at point-blank range. His torpedo ran true, striking the destroyer between its forward stacks and severing the vessel’s bow. Its unlucky crew, packed into the crowded mess for the noonday meal, suffered horrific losses. The explosion and consequent inferno claimed sixty-seven members of the ship’s company and its commander. Despite heavy damage, however, the battered warship survived and later reached port in Piraeus, Greece.1

At first glance, the 11 June 1917 attack by the U-27 on an allied destroyer operating off the Greek coast appears unremarkable among the countless similar engagements of the First World War at sea. Nonetheless, the identities of these two combatants still startle observers more than eighty years later. First, it was an Austro-Hungarian submarine that torpedoed the allied destroyer; theAustro-Hungarian Navy challenged allied naval supremacy in the Mediterranean Sea throughout the First World War. The identity of the destroyer is even more astonishing—the U-27’s victim was the Sakaki, a warship of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Japan rendered vital, worldwide naval support to Great Britain during the First World War, culminating in the service of Japan’s first and only Mediterranean squadron. This long-forgotten Japanese flotilla fought alongside allied warships throughout the most critical period of the struggle against German and Austro-Hungarian U-boats in 1917 and 1918.

Japanese cooperation is all the more surprising given that both British and American historians have characterized Japan’s role in the First World War as that of a “jackal state,” one that took a lion’s share of the kill after only minimally assisting the cause.2 The record tells a different story. Japan in fact stretched its naval resources to the limit during the First World War. Japanese naval assistance in the Mediterranean Sea in 1917 boosted the strength of allied naval escorts during the darkest days of the war. Beyond the Mediterranean, an argument can be made that without Japanese assistance Great Britain would have lost control of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. That would have isolated the British Empire’s two dominions in the Far East, Australia and New Zealand, from the campaigns in Europe and the Middle East. Other British colonies, from Aden and India to Singapore and Hong Kong, would have been exposed. Despite this help, Japan, at best a mistrusted and suspect ally of Great Britain in 1914, emerged from the conflict feared and despised by its “friends.”

A more balanced view of Japan’s role does not overlook the gains garnered by Japan for its exertions. It argues, though, that Japanese gains were commensurate with its efforts and in keeping with the diplomatic understandings that had existed at the beginning of the war. Japan did not participate in the First World War for altruistic reasons—but then neither did Great Britain, France, Italy, or Russia. The concessions Japan received in China and the broadening of its Pacific empire were no more than comparable to the gains made by Great Britain, France, Italy, and Britain’s Pacific dominions. Japan participated in the war as an ally of Great Britain while simultaneously pursuing an expansionist policy designed to maximize its territorial gains in China and the Pacific islands. In the event, Japan’s acquisitions were unquestionably in line with the sacrifices it made and the assistance it rendered to its allies during the conflict.

At the end of the war, Japanese wartime diplomacy did not take on the Wilsonian, idealistic modes that Western leaders by then espoused.3 The Japanese discovered that the new idealism did not apply when it came to affirming (in the Treaty of Versailles) racial equality or equal opportunities for expansion. The British and Americans resisted Japanese expansion before, during, and after the First World War, out of fear of competition in the Pacific and racial hatred of the proud, at times arrogant, Japanese.

How did the Imperial Japanese Navy cooperate with the Royal Navy during the First World War? Although the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902 did not require it, Japan declared it would support Britain in the war against Germany and sent an ultimatum to Berlin demanding withdrawal of German warships from Japanese and Chinese waters. Japan helped establish control of the Pacific and Indian Oceans early in the war by seizing the German fortress and naval base of Tsingtao and Germany’s colonies in the Pacific (the Carolines, Marshalls, and most of the Mariana islands); Japanese naval forces also aided Great Britain in driving German warships from the Pacific. At the outbreak of the war, Vice Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee commanded six cruisers of the German Far Eastern Squadron at Ponape in the Carolines; the Japanese declaration of war compelled him to lead most of his force east to South America and the battles of Coronel and the Falklands. The Japanese navy maintained allied control of Far Eastern and Indian waters throughout the war, assuming responsibility for patrolling them when demands on British naval forces exceeded resources, and in 1917 freeing American naval forces for service in Europe. Japanese forces provided escorts for convoying troops and war materials to the European theater of operations from the British dominions in the Far East. Japan built warships for allied nations and sold merchant shipping to the allies during the war when their shipyards, already working at maximum effort, could not meet such needs. Finally, Japan rendered direct naval assistance in the Mediterranean Sea in 1917 and 1918 when the allied navies faced the prospect of abandoning that sea in the face of the Central Powers’ increasingly successful submarine operations.

The Origins of British Naval Dependence on Japan

The Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902 resulted from the threat that Russia presented to both states by its moves toward India, Korea, and Manchuria.4 As the alliance matured, Winston Churchill (from 1911), like his predecessors as First Lord of the Admiralty, pursued a naval policy envisioning that the outbreak of a general war in Europe would require Japanese assistance in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. As tensions between Great Britain and Germany increased with the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, British naval strength underwent a reorganization that saw the Channel, Atlantic, and Mediterranean forces’ battleship strength increased at the expense of those in the Pacific Ocean. What had been an anti-Russian disposition of British naval forces tilted decisively toward an anti-German alignment after the Russo-Japanese conflict.5

Churchill, almost from the day he took the helm as First Lord in October 1911, accelerated the withdrawal of battleships from the Mediterranean and China seas and their redeployment against the growing naval power of Wilhelmine Germany in the North Sea.6 By March 1914, British naval strength in the Far East had decreased from five battleships and an armored cruiser in March 1904 to two battleships, a battle cruiser, and two cruisers.7

In March 1914, Churchill, arguing for his policy in the House of Commons, acknowledged that defeat of the main British naval force in European waters would leave a small force of Pacific-based dreadnoughts vulnerable. Any British naval force in Far Eastern waters must inevitably be inferior to the main fleet of a European rival. On the other hand, Churchill pointed out, “two or three ‘Dreadnoughts’” in Australian waters “would be useless the day after the defeat of the British Navy in Home waters.”8

This policy produced a growing naval dependence on Britain’s allies. France took up the slack in the Mediterranean, and Japan assumed a correspondingly larger role in the defense of the China Seas.9 With France, this policy worked well, as the British attempted to settle outstanding colonial problems with that nation and afterwards participated in the creation of the Entente Cordiale.

No such reservoir of good will existed between Japan and Great Britain; preexisting tension concerning Japan’s imperial ambitions tested relations throughout the First World War. The strains ultimately contributed to the collapse of the Anglo-Japanese alliance. Japanese expansion beyond Manchuria during 1913 and 1914 increased the deep suspicion of Japanese intentions on the part of the British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey.

Grey opposed any Japanese participation in the war, fearing that Japan would see an opportunity to expand beyond reasonable bounds.10 In the teeth of Admiralty objections, therefore, he worked to prevent Japan’s entry into a European conflict as the situation worsened throughout the summer of 1914. On 1 August, Grey notified his counterpart in Tokyo, Kato Takaaki*, that Great Britain would require Japanese assistance only if Germany attacked its Far Eastern colonies or fighting spread into the Far East. Grey worried not only about Japanese expansion into the German colonies in China and the Pacific Ocean but also that Australia, New Zealand, and the United States would strongly oppose apparent British support of that expansion. In the end, German steps to mobilize reserves at the key port of Tsingtao and to disperse warships into the Pacific, along with the aggressive First Lord’s insistence on expanding the war against German naval forces worldwide, forced Grey’s hand.11

On 11 August 1914, Churchill, worried by what he considered Grey’s clumsy attempts to prevent Japanese entry into the war, or limit Japanese action once in it, warned the foreign secretary:

I think you are chilling indeed to these people. I can’t see any half way house between having them in and keeping them out. If they are to come in, they may as well be welcomed as comrades. This last telegram [to Japan] is almost hostile. I am afraid I do not understand what is in yr mind on this aspect—tho’ I followed it so clearly till today.

. . . This telegram gives me a shiver. We are all in this together & I only wish to give the fullest effect & support to your main policy. But I am altogether perplexed by the line opened up by these Japanese interchanges.

You may easily give mortal offence—wh will not be forgotten—we are not safe yet—by a long chalk. The storm has yet to burst.12

Churchill’s remonstrance helped to alter Grey’s opposition to Japan’s full participation in the war.

The Japanese government of Prince Yamagata Aritomo delivered an ultimatum on 15 August 1914 requiring the dismantling of German power in Pacific. The demarche demanded that German naval vessels either leave or surrender at Kiaochow and that Germany allow the destruction of fortifications there and surrender to Japan the Shantung Peninsula. Japanese demands also included that the German islands scattered throughout the Pacific be turned over to Japan. The Germans made no response, and Japan formally declared war on 23 August 1914.13

Strong evidence existed that justified Grey’s fears of Japanese ambitions. One was the substantial size of Japan’s navy see (Table 1). The Japanese clearly entered the war in large part to increase their prestige among the great powers and to expand their holdings in China and the Pacific. Moreover, Japanese officials had chafed under several unequal treaties imposed after the Western opening of the country in the 1850s.14 Still, such motives for participation in the war were no better or worse than those secretly advanced at the start of World War I by other belligerents. What truly upset Japan’s Western allies was their inability to act in a paternalistic fashion toward what they considered an inferior. Hostile views of Japan prevailed at the beginning of the war, and they did not diminish during the struggle despite Japan’s help for its allies. In fact, such antipathy increased as Japan dared to act as any Western state would have done. This racial animosity is a reason why the institutional memory of the extensive assistance that Japan rendered to the allied cause during the war was so short-lived. Such memories were inconvenient for the account of the war that anti-Japanese groups in Great Britain and the United States wished to perpetuate.

The Joint Expedition against Tsingtao

Wartime Anglo-Japanese cooperation in the Far East opened on a sour note. Immediately upon entry into the war, Japan moved to secure the Kiaochow or Shantung Peninsula, known as the “German Gibraltar of the East” (Map 1). The peninsula,

where lay the German naval base at Tsingtao (modern Qingdao, on Kiaochow Bay), served as the peacetime station for the German Far Eastern squadron. Preparing for its capture, Kato informed his British allies that Japan would return Tsingtao to China after conquest, but only at a price. He also intimated that Japan did not require British support for the operation, but Grey ignored that and sent the South Wales Borderers and a detachment of Sikh troops under Brigadier General N. W. Barnardiston to join the assault. A small British squadron participated in the blockade of Kiaochow Bay, which began on 27 August.15

The Anglo-Japanese expedition arrived off Tsingtao on the 26th. Major and modern units of the German fleet had evacuated Tsingtao in the days preceding the Japanese declaration of war, leaving only the antiquated Austro-Hungarian armored cruiser Kaiserin Elisabeth, five gunboats, and two destroyers.16 The weakness of the German vessels allowed the Japanese navy to use older ships; the Japanese blockaded Tsingtao harbor with three obsolete, ex-Russian battleships, two ex-Russian coastal-defense ships, seven cruisers, sixteen destroyers, and fourteen support ships. The battleship Triumph, a destroyer, and a hospital ship formed the British contribution to the blockading fleet.17

Vice Admiral Baron Kamimura Hikonojo’s Second Fleet transported Japanese and British troops to China to conduct the siege. The initial Japanese landing occurred at Lungkow (modern Long Kou) on 2 September. A naval landing force captured Lau Shau Bay, northeast of Tsingtao, on 18 September, for use as a forward base for further operations against Tsingtao. British troops entered China via other routes on 24 September.18

The Anglo-Japanese naval force maintained a tight blockade of the Tsingtao harbor while clearing mines and providing to allied ground forces vital intelligence collected by the Japanese tender Wakamiya’s seaplanes. The Wakamiya’s aircraft are also credited with conducting at this time “the first successful carrier air raid in history,” sinking a German minelayer at Tsingtao. Throughout the siege, troops ashore called upon naval gunfire support and Japanese seaplanes to bombard enemy positions.19

The Japanese navy suffered a serious loss and embarrassment on 18 October, when the old German torpedo boat S-90 evaded destroyers guarding the harbor and sank the antiquated cruiser Takachiyo with two torpedoes. The S-90 had escaped the notice of patrolling destroyers by waiting for them to reach the far end of the harbor entrance, then running out at high speed and surprising the second line of ships, a destroyer leader and older Japanese cruisers. The Imperial Japanese Navy also lost the destroyer Shirotae, a torpedo boat, and three minesweeping vessels in the process of capturing Tsingtao, with a total of 317 personnel killed and seventy-six wounded, the majority in the sinking of the Takachiyo.20

The German garrison of 3,500 regulars and 2,500 reservists, joined by the entire crew of the Kaiserin Elisabeth, mounted a vigorous defense of Tsingtao. Nonetheless, the Japanese kept British ground forces from playing an active role in the campaign.21 The combined German and Austro-Hungarian force surrendered on 7 November 1914, when the Japanese fought their way into Tsingtao. The British contingent, deliberately excluded from Japanese plans, learned of the assault only after the fact.22 German and Austro-Hungarian prisoners taken in Tsingtao spent the remainder of the war in Japan. The Japanese army reported losses of 414 killed and 1,441 wounded in taking the German citadel.23

The Japanese retained control of Tsingtao and steadily expanded their grip over the Shantung Peninsula, occupying the German railroad running through the region. Thus the effective result of the first Anglo-Japanese operation of the war was the establishment of Japanese control over large areas of Manchuria; mistrust between the two states sharply increased.24

Japanese Patrols and Escorts

While Admiral Kamimura’s Second Fleet was aiding in the conquest of Tsingtao, ships of the First Fleet joined with British, French, and Australian ships in driving von Spee’s roving cruiser squadron from the Pacific. Immediately upon the outbreak of war, Vice Admiral Tamin Yamaya sent the battleship Kongo toward Midway to patrol sea lines of communication and ordered the cruiser Izumo, then off the coast of Mexico, to defend allied shipping there. On 26 August he detached the battle cruiser Ibuki and cruiser Chikuma to Singapore to help allied forces in that region.25 The Chikuma unsuccessfully searched the Dutch East Indies and the Bay of Bengal as far as Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) for the German cruiser Emden.26 Admiral Matsumura Tatsuo, with the battleship Satsuma and cruisers Yahagi and Hirado, patrolled sea routes to Australia searching for German raiders.27

More pressing duties soon diverted the Ibuki from Singapore. Responding to the attacks by the German cruiser Emden on allied Indian Ocean shipping, the Ibuki dashed across the South Pacific to Wellington, New Zealand. On 16 October it conducted the first of what would be many voyages wherein Japanese warships escorted Australian–New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) troops to the Middle East.28 The Ibuki and other Japanese warships were to accompany ANZAC troops as far west as Aden on the Red Sea throughout the war.29 Other Japanese units escorted French troopships sailing from the Far East to reinforce units fighting on the western front.30 (Although the Australian and New Zealand troop convoy did not encounter the Emden, a radio report from the Cocos Islands led to the detachment of the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney from the escort. Near those isolated isles, the Sydney surprised the Emden and destroyed the raider by gunfire after forcing it onto the reefs.)31

Also during October, Japanese naval forces under the command of Vice Admiral Tochinai Sojiro reinforced British units searching the Indian Ocean for German raiders. Tochinai ultimately employed the cruisers Tokiwa, Yakumo, Ibuki, Nisshin, Chikuma, Hirado, Yahagi, and Ikoma, plus part of the British fleet, in hunting down the raiders.32 On 1 November 1914, the Japanese navy agreed to a British request to assume all patrols in the Indian Ocean east of ninety degrees east longitude. Much of Admiral Tochinai’s force, and other warships withdrawn from Tsingtao, guarded this area for the remainder of the month.33 In addition, after the German warship Geier’s appearance at the neutral port of Honolulu on 15 October 1914, the battleship Hizen and cruiser Asama took up positions off that port until the American government interned the Geier on 7 November. The Hizen and Asama then joined the Izumo off the coast of South America and swept those waters for German warships.34

The employment of Japanese ships provoked a mixed response from the governments of Australia and New Zealand. They fully endorsed using Japanese ships as escorts for troop convoys but sharply disapproved when in late 1914 the Japanese First Fleet seized the German colonies of the Marshall, Mariana, and Caroline Islands (Map 2).35 Tamin’s forces took Jaluit

in the Marshall Islands on 4 October, sailing from there to seize the superb harbor at Truk in the Carolines on 12 October. A second force under Rear Admiral Tatsuo Matsumura captured the German port of Rabaul, on New Britain, on 1 October. It continued on 7 October to Yap, where it encountered the German vessel Planet. The crew of the Planet scuttled the vessel rather than have it fall into Japanese hands, and the Japanese captured Yap without further incident. The Japanese navy stationed four warships at Suva in the Fiji Islands and six at Truk for patrol operations in late 1914.36

The British and Japanese governments reached a tentative arrangement in late 1914 concerning the captured German possessions in the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese now held the Marianas, Carolines, and the Marshalls, as well as Yap. Australian forces had taken New Guinea and nearby territories. Troops from New Zealand, just beating Japanese forces to Samoa, now held a firm grip on the strategic island. Rather than risk an incident that might lead to a confrontation, the British agreed that thenceforth forces of the Empire would seize no German territories north of the equator.37

In 1914 the Royal Navy could ill afford to offend its strongest ally in the Pacific. Faced with worldwide responsibilities defending British trade and possessions, it sought direct Japanese involvement in the European theater of operations from the beginning of the war. Sir Edward Grey issued the first formal appeal for Japanese naval assistance on 6 August 1914. It resulted in the previously mentioned deployment of Japanese naval units to Singapore. On two further occasions in 1914, British appeals for deployments of Japanese naval forces to the Mediterranean and the Baltic met with rejection.38

Internal politics throughout the Meiji period gave the Army greater political power in government councils than the Navy ever enjoyed. Although the Navy’s position had strengthened somewhat in the Yammato cabinet, which left office in April 1914, the balance of power in the succeeding Okuma cabinet allowed the Army to veto the deployment of naval units to the European theater of operations in November 1914. Conflict between Great Britain and Germany, which had trained, respectively, the Navy and Army, led to a difference of opinion between the two services. The Prussian-trained Army sympathized with the German-led Central Powers, while the Navy, trained by and modeled after the Royal Navy, supported Britain and the Entente.39 This conflict of loyalties dogged the Japanese government throughout the war in its attempts to aid Great Britain.40

Japanese warships rendered a new form of assistance to Great Britain in February 1915, when they helped to suppress a revolt by Indian soldiers stationed in Singapore. Admiral Tsuchiya Mitsukane’s warships, the old cruisers Tsushima and Otowa, landed marines, who joined with British, French, and Russian forces in quelling the rising.41 Also in 1915, the Imperial Japanese Navy committed many units to help hunt down the German cruiser Dresden and for such other tasks as guarding against the escape of German shipping that had taken refuge in the port of Manila. Japanese warships operating from Singapore guarded the South China Sea, Sulu Sea, and Dutch East Indies throughout the year.42

Sir Edward Grey again requested Japanese aid in February 1916. In that month, the destruction of shipping by mines secretly laid by German auxiliary cruisers led to an increase in the number of ships deployed for antiraider patrols. This time the Japanese government dispatched a destroyer flotilla to Singapore to guard the vital Malacca Straits and a cruiser division to the Indian Ocean for patrol duties.43 Ships of the Japanese Third Fleet began patrol operations in the Indian Ocean and in the Philippine Islands near Luzon. The cruisers Yahagi, Suma, Niitaka, and Tsushima, accompanied by a squadron of destroyers, initiated patrols in the South China Sea, Sulu Sea, Dutch East Indies, and Indian Ocean. Several units maintained a presence off Mauritius and South Africa, and the Chikuma and Hirato journeyed to Australia and New Zealand to escort vessels transiting the area.44

“Japan Is Not Taking a Full Share”

Despite such widespread deployment of Japanese units to protect allied shipping, at the end of 1916 Admiral John Jellicoe, commanding the Grand Fleet, expressed the British skepticism about Japanese intentions in a revealing missive to Admiral David Beatty, who commanded Jellicoe’s battle cruiser squadron. He described Japan’s conduct in the war thus far as not “entirely satisfactory.” While allowing for the idea that mutual antipathy between Japan and the United States had prevented more help from the Japanese, he voiced the suspicion that the Japanese harbored the idea of creating a “greater Japan which will probably comprise parts of China and the Gateway to the East, the Dutch East Indies, Singapore, and the Malay States.” He faulted the Japanese government for operating under the mistaken belief that the “German military machine was invincible”; recent German losses at the Somme and Verdun, he felt, would correct this impression. His statement that “apart from the selling of guns and ammunition to the Russians and ourselves, Japan is not taking a full share of the war,” accurately depicted the growing resentment in Great Britain of Japan’s unwillingness to join operations in the European theater.45 His thinking paralleled that of other key British naval officers who spoke of the Japanese as “not to be trusted very far,” even while requesting their assistance in the critical Mediterranean theater.46

Seen through Japanese eyes, Japan’s role in the First World War takes on a quite different appearance. Not only were the Japanese armed forces divided about which side to support, early in the conflict the average Japanese citizen hardly knew that Japan was at war at all. Lacking any sense of immediate danger to Japan emanating from Germany, most Japanese who were aware of the war found it unfathomable. While officially supporting the Entente, the Japanese government kept the war out of the limelight at home.47

The wartime experience of a British officer in Japan illustrates this low-key approach to the conflict. In November 1917, a time when the Imperial Japanese Navy was engaged in operations in two oceans and the Mediterranean Sea, Malcolm Kennedy (a British army officer participating in an exchange program with the Japanese military) toured the Japanese countryside and discovered that the war was having no direct impact on the life of the average Japanese peasant. Stopping twice to speak with peasants, Kennedy was amazed to encounter complete disbelief when he told them that Japan was at war.

They were frankly incredulous when I assured them, that not only was there a war, but that Japan was taking part in it. Their incredulity was based on the fact that the young men of the village had not been called up for service. If Japan was really at war, they argued, surely all the male youth of the country would be summoned to the colors.48

That finally changed in 1918, when Japan experienced serious social dislocation as a result of the conflict. Wages had failed to keep pace with the inflation that had developed with the wartime prosperity. In August 1918, resentment of the new class of narikin—Japanese who prospered during the war—exploded in rice riots in Osaka, Kobe, and Nagoya.49

Also complicating Japanese participation in the war was a slight to Japanese pride created by severe restrictions placed on Japanese physicians in Singapore. Also, the inferior status accorded Japan in trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand made full cooperation with the British and dominions difficult.50

British requests for naval assistance in the European theater and the South Atlantic grew more insistent in late 1916 and early 1917 as the naval situation deteriorated in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.51 German raiders continued to operate effectively in the Indian Ocean, as documented by the successful voyage of the raider Wolf, which sank some 120,000 tons of allied shipping between 1916 and 1918 while tying down “a host of British, French, and Japanese naval craft . . . in the fruitless hunt—21 cruisers, 14 destroyers, 9 sloops, etc.”52 The Japanese government responded by pressuring the British cabinet, which had dragged its feet in acknowledging Japanese claims to the Shantung Peninsula and the Pacific islands taken from the Germans, for recognition of these gains. Japanese officials argued to their British counterparts that in their desire to retain their conquests they were asking no more than the Russians, whom the allies were permitting to occupy Constantinople. The War Cabinet wrestled with the problem through January and February of 1917, worrying about the potential response of the dominions and of the Americans, who were edging closer to participation in the conflict.53

The Japanese agreed in February 1917 to expand the patrols already protecting commerce in the Dutch East Indies, Sulu Sea, South China Sea, and Indian Ocean as far south as the Cape of Good Hope. The Japanese navy also increased its involvement in safeguarding commercial shipping off Australia’s east coast and New Zealand. In this effort the cruisers Izumo, Nisshin, Tone, Niitaka, Akashi, Yakumo, Kasuga, Chikuma, Tsushima, Suma, Yodo, three squadrons of destroyers, and a “special duty flotilla” participated. 54

Japan also extended considerable help to the allied cause by supplying arms and shipping to its European friends. In 1914, the Japanese navy returned to Russia three cruisers captured in the Russo-Japanese War. The vessels subsequently rejoined the Russian Baltic Fleet.55 Also, Japanese factories supplied arms and munitions to Russia and Great Britain.56 In 1917, Japanese shipyards hastily constructed (in five months) twelve destroyers identical to the Japanese Kaba class for France; Japanese sailors delivered the ships to French forces in the Mediterranean.57 In December 1916, the British chancellor of the exchequer sought and gained the War Cabinet’s approval for the purchase of six Japanese merchant ships, totaling 77,500 tons.58 The British further requested in May 1917 that the Japanese supply shipping for Chinese workers recruited to work in Europe; Japanese warships helped to escort the convoys to France.59 Later in the war, Japan and the United States agreed that Japanese shipyards would produce 371,000 tons of shipping for the U.S. Shipping Board. Although the war ended before the merchant vessels were complete, Japan willingly helped in this effort, according to an American account.60 Moreover, the Japanese government agreed to charter an ever-growing portion of Japan’s merchant fleet for allied use.61

In contrast to this lucrative charter and construction work, persistent British attempts to purchase Japanese warships as replacements for Royal Navy losses irritated the Japanese government and stung Japanese pride. Fearing further raids on the English coast by swift units of the German navy, Admiral Jellicoe proposed in mid-1917 that Great Britain purchase two battle cruisers from the Japanese. He doubted that the Japanese could be persuaded simply to deploy ships to join the Grand Fleet—adding, in a revealing slight, “Even if they did, it is doubtful whether they would be a match for German battle-cruisers when fully manned by Japanese.”62 The government in Tokyo rejected either selling the warships or sending them to serve with the Grand Fleet.63 However, the service later rendered by the Japanese flotilla in the Mediterranean may have caused Jellicoe to reappraise his low estimate of Japanese capabilities.

Japanese Assistance to the United States

A major (and in light of later events, particularly ironic) upshot of the Japanese wartime naval relationship with Great Britain was a similar, if much smaller, relationship with the United States. In effect, the Imperial Japanese Navy now extended further, if roundabout, aid to the Royal Navy by making it possible for the U.S. Navy to assist the British directly. The Royal Navy’s most pressing lack at this point was escort ships; it importuned the Americans to help make good that shortage. Doing so meant shifting U.S. naval forces to the Atlantic from the Pacific, which produced for the Americans a shortfall of their own in the latter theater. To fill it, they, like the British in 1914, approached their new Pacific ally, Japan.

American intervention in the war required a complete rethinking of American naval strategy and construction policies, which before 1917 had assumed an allied defeat followed by an attack by German and Japanese forces against the United States. Shortly after the American entry into the war, a British mission headed by Arthur Balfour sought to alter the American naval construction program, which then called for a massive buildup of capital warships (in part to remain capable of fighting a German-Japanese combination).64 In April and May 1917, Balfour entered into secret discussions with American officials, including Woodrow Wilson’s personal emissary, Colonel Edward M. House. The British proposed that the Americans construct large numbers of desperately needed escort ships in return for a promise of British help in case of a Japanese-American conflict. The two parties ultimately deferred such an agreement for fear of offending Japan, which remained an important ally of Great Britain even at this late stage of the war.65 Nonetheless, that these negotiations occurred shows the depth of Anglo-American antipathy and mistrust toward Japan in 1917.

American leaders viewed their relations with Japan through a prism of concern about China and racial bigotry. James Reed writes that before the First World War, “Pacific coast politicians; labor union leaders; Hearst chain journalists (whose idea of news embraced lovely white maidens found dead in the flea-bag hotels of debauched Japanese); and, perhaps not least of all, the Navy officer corps, whose War Plan Orange was really a war plan yellow,” were sources of anti-Japanese feeling in the United States. Such feelings joined with the American “Open Door” policy concerning China to turn American opinion against Japan. American leaders viewed Japan as seeking unfair territorial and political advantage in China, a state known to most Americans only through the eyes of the many missionaries serving there.66

American entry into the First World War dictated a renewed attempt to resolve the impasse in American-Japanese relations. Like Great Britain at the beginning of the war, the United States now found itself dependent on Japanese good will and assistance in the Pacific. A Japanese mission to Washington led by Ishii Kikujiro concluded an agreement that permitted American warships to redeploy to the Atlantic and support the British fleet.67 Under that secret agreement, Japanese warships patrolled the waters of the Hawaiian Islands for the remainder of the conflict. The cruiser Tokiwa replaced the last major American warship in the Pacific, the armored cruiser USS Saratoga, at Honolulu in October 1917, allowing the ship to join the U.S. naval forces in the Atlantic. The cruiser Asama replaced the Tokiwa in August 1918 and protected commerce in Hawaiian waters until it returned to Japan in February 1919.68

Despite the cooperative manner in which the Japanese extended their wartime responsibilities, American resentment of dependence upon the Japanese throughout the war and of Japanese gains in Micronesia closely paralleled that seen in British quarters.69 The Japanese returned this antagonism after 1917, when the view took root among naval officers that differences between the two powers were irreconcilable short of war. Japanese expansion into Siberia in 1918, seen by some Japanese as preempting American containment on all sides, was to add to the antipathy between the two nations. By 1917, even while acting as an ally, the Japanese navy had officially designated the United States its “most likely enemy” in any future conflict.70

Operations in the Mediterranean

In early 1917, Japan finally deployed forces to the European theater of operations. The lead Japanese warships departed Singapore under the command of Admiral Sato Kozo for the Mediterranean on 11 March. Sato sailed for Malta with the cruiser Akashi and destroyers Ume, Kusunoki, Kaede, Katsura, Kashiwa, Matsu, Sugi, and Sakaki, which collectively constituted the Tenth and Eleventh Destroyer Flotillas. The task force hunted German raiders while crossing the Indian Ocean, arriving at Aden on 4 April. On 10 April Sato agreed to an urgent British request to escort the Saxon, an English troop transport; it sailed from Port Said to Malta guarded by Ume and Kusunoki. The remainder of the Japanese squadron quickly followed and commenced operations against German and Austrian submarines threatening allied shipping in the Mediterranean.71

The Tenth and Eleventh Flotillas reached Malta at the nadir of allied fortunes in the Mediterranean.72 Of the approximately twelve million British registered tons (BRT) of shipping lost during the war, 3,096,109 tons fell prey to mines and submarines in the Mediterranean. From February until December of 1917, allied shipping losses worldwide amounted to 2,566 ships, or 5,753,751 BRT, 48 percent of wartime losses.73 Allied losses in the Mediterranean in April 1917 totaled 218,000 tons, 7 percent of the total sinkings there during the entire war.74 Desperately short of escorts, the allies seriously considered the ideas of reducing the number of ships transiting the Mediterranean by sending them on the safer passage around the Cape of Good Hope, and of evacuating the British contingent at Salonika.75

The arrival of Sato’s cruiser and eight destroyers did not by itself tip the scales toward the allies in the Mediterranean. Nonetheless, the task given the Japanese squadron was an important one—protecting troop transports shifting vital reinforcements to France after the bloody offensives at Arras, Chemin des Dames, and in the Champagne.76 The appearance of Japanese escorts at Malta permitted the allied command to speed the passage of transports. Japanese vessels escorted the transports directly from Egypt to France without stopping at Malta except when convoys formed at that port.77

The destroyers Sakaki and Matsu and other Japanese warships participated in the dramatic rescue of troops from the torpedoed transport Transylvania on 4 May 1917. Some 413 men died in this tragedy off the French coast, but Japanese, French, and Italian naval forces saved most of the three thousand troops despite the danger of further torpedo attack. The Times History of the War reported that “the Admiralty sent a telegram of thanks and congratulation to the Japanese admiral in the Mediterranean for the splendid work of rescue performed by the Japanese on this occasion.”78

The Japanese navy relieved the Akashi in June 1917 with the armored cruiser Izumo and reinforced the Malta squadron with the destroyers Kashi, Hinoki, Momo, and Yanagi. As the tempo of antisubmarine operations in the Mediterranean accelerated, Japanese sailors temporarily manned two British gunboats, which they designated the Tokyo and Saikyo, and two British destroyers, renamed the Kanran and Sendan. At peak strength in 1917, the Japanese Mediterranean flotilla numbered seventeen warships.79

By late summer of 1917, British doubts about the competence and value of the Japanese warships, doubts initially expressed by such officers as Captain George P. W. Hope, director of the Operations Division of the Admiralty War Staff, had vanished. On 21 August Admiral George A. Ballard, Senior Naval Officer-in-Charge at Malta, reported to the Admiralty that the Japanese had rendered invaluable service in escorting troop transports since their arrival at Malta. He reminded the Admiralty that until the Imperial Japanese Navy destroyers had arrived the allies had been short of escorts for this vital duty. Ballard praised the operational capacity of the Japanese:

French standards of efficiency are certainly lower than British, however, and Italian standards are lower still. With the Japanese it is otherwise. Admiral Sato’s destroyers are kept in a highly serviceable condition and spend at least as large a proportion of their time at sea as our own, which is far from being the case with the French and Italian vessels of any class. The Japanese moreover are very independent in all matters of administration and supply whereas the French will never do anything for themselves if they can get it done for them.80

Japanese efficiency meant many more days spent at sea than the warships of other British allies, multiplying the impact of the Japanese contribution to the Mediterranean war effort.

The importance of Japanese escorts dramatically increased when in 1918 the Germans launched their spring offensive on the western front. The British responded with further large movements of troops from the Middle East to Marseilles. Japanese units escorted more than a hundred thousand British troops directly across the Mediterranean during the critical months of April and May. After the crisis ended, Japanese warships convoyed troops from Egypt to Salonika in support of the allied fall 1918 offensive. By the end of the war the squadron had accompanied 788 allied ships across the Mediterranean, including transports conveying seven hundred thousand troops to the fighting fronts. In thirty-four engagements with German and Austrian submarines the Japanese suffered damage to two destroyers, Matsu and, as we have seen, Sakaki.81

Japanese naval forces remained in European waters until May 1919. After the armistice, units of Admiral Sato’s Second Special Mission Squadron helped supervise the Central Powers’ surrendered fleets. The cruiser Izumo and destroyers Hinoki and Yanagi sailed from Malta to Scapa Flow to help guard the German fleet and prepare for the return to Japan of seven surrendered German submarines.

Sato dispatched the destroyers Katsura, Matsu, Sakaki, and Kaede to Brindisi to aid in supervising German and Austro-Hungarian ships surrendering in the Mediterranean. He then rode the cruiser Nisshin, with the eight remaining destroyers, to Constantinople in December 1918. Detaching the destroyers Kashiwa, Kanran, and Sendan (the latter two would be returned to the Royal Navy in 1919) to superintend enemy warships at Constantinople, the balance of the squadron returned to Malta, where it received new orders from Japan to escort German submarines from England back home as part of Japan’s war spoils. Sending the Ume and Kusunoki to the Adriatic for patrol duty, Sato left for England, gathering the remaining Japanese escorts on the way.

The Japanese squadron made Portland, England, on 5 January 1919. The Izumo, Hinoki, Yanagi, and the seven German U-boats joined Sato’s fleet, which then returned at the end of March to Malta, where it was rejoined by the Ume and Kusunoki. The tender Kwanto serviced the U-boats at Malta then joined the cruiser Nisshin and two destroyer flotillas in escorting the submarines to Japan. All reached Yokosuka without incident on 18 June 1919. The Izumo and the last destroyer detachment left Malta on April 10 for various ports, including Naples, Genoa, and Marseilles, and a final trip to Malta on May 5. The warships left ten days later for the voyage to Japan, reaching Yokosuka on 2 July 1919.82

“God Grant Our Alliance . . . May Long Endure”

British leaders had nothing but praise for the Japanese Mediterranean squadron before it sailed for home. Winston Churchill voiced the general high opinion when he said he “did not think that the Japanese [squadron] had ever done a foolish thing.” The governor of Malta, Lord Methuen, who reviewed Japanese warships there in March 1919, also lauded the Japanese navy for “its splendid work in European waters” and expressed the hope, “God grant our alliance, cemented in blood, may long endure.”83

The Japanese warships’ performance in the Mediterranean certainly merited high praise. Japanese destroyers’ ratio of time at sea to time in port was the highest of any allied warships during the war: Japanese warships were under way 72 percent of the time. The British record was 60 percent, the Greek and French only 45 percent. British officers credited the Japanese warships with excellent performance—at least, they added, when all went according to plan. Postwar British criticisms that the Japanese “acted inferior to our men when unforeseen situations cropped up” reflect British prejudices expressed during the war, prejudices not supported by the actual record. That record clearly demonstrates instead how seriously Japanese naval officers took their duty. The commanders of several Japanese warships are reported to have committed Hari-Kari when ships they were convoying were lost.84

Still, why did the British so quickly forget Japan’s assistance to the allied cause, not only in the Mediterranean Sea but in the Pacific and Indian Oceans? See (Table 2) Why did the British permit the Anglo-Japanese alliance to lapse in 1921? The most obvious reason was that the end of the war simplified the situation in the Pacific. The lack of a common foe removed the main justification for the alliance. With the German threat to Britain’s Far East possessions eliminated and the nascent Soviet Union no longer threatening India, the crown jewel of the Empire, Great Britain did not require Japan’s naval cooperation. American pressure pushed the British into an adversarial relationship with the Japanese, whose new island possessions sat astride American communications with the Philippines and Guam. Prewar racial and diplomatic animosity between Japan and the United States, set aside in 1917 and 1918, quickly reemerged despite wartime Japanese assistance to the United States in the Pacific. Japan’s valuable role as an ally never appeared in Western histories of the war.

At home, some Japanese politicians reacted badly to Western treatment of Japan during the war and at Versailles. As early as April 1917, and understanding that the allied public knew little or nothing of Japan’s contributions, Japanese diplomats had offered the British a memorandum for publication in allied newspapers.85 Many resented how at Versailles the “three Great Powers acted as judges” in a confrontation with Chinese delegates over the Japanese occupation of Shantung. The apparent hostility toward Japan after the war, despite its service, led an increasing number of Japanese military officers to believe in an American and British conspiracy against Japan, founded on racial animosity.86

The severing of the Anglo-Japanese alliance, in fact, steered Japan toward cooperation with Germany. The arrival of the seized German submarines began a new, long-term relationship between the Japanese and German navies. German influence and technology quickly supplanted those of the British. The two services began to exchange personnel. Numerous Japanese officers received training in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, facilitating the Imperial Japanese Navy’s ultimate break with its British mentors.87

The British had their empire, and the Americans felt no shame in professing their “Manifest Destiny,” but both attacked Japanese imperial ambitions as excessive. After 1918, neither nation proved willing to maintain the close naval cooperation with Japan that had benefited all parties during the First World War. So it was that despite the strong record of Japanese assistance to Great Britain during that conflict, the true legacy of that cooperation proved to be alienation. Thus began the breach between East and West that led to the Japanese attack upon British (and American) possessions in the Far East as part of a true two-ocean conflict, just twenty-three years after Japan, Great Britain, and the United States had been allies in the “war to end all wars.”


 1. Japanese naval attache to Sir Oswyn Murray, 6 May 1918, Admiralty [hereafter ADM]137/1576 (H.S. 1576. Mediterranean. Central and General Areas II, IV, V, XI. Various Subjects 1918 II); Paul G. Halpern, The Naval War in the Mediterranean, 1914–1918 (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1987), p. 344; U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, July 1917, p. 1616; and Hans Hugo Sokol, Oesterreich-Hungarns Seekrieg 1914–1918, 2 vols., 2d ed. (Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck-u. Verlags Anstalt, 1973), vol. 2, p. 523.

 2. See Arthur J. Marder, Old Enemies, New Friends: The Royal Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy (Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1981), p. 5. Marder asserts, “The Royal Navy had little reason to be grateful to the Japanese in the First World War. Japan refused to send any ships to fight Germany until 1917, when a destroyer flotilla was sent to the Mediterranean, and made hay in the Far East while the British were committed in Europe, as through the seizure of German-occupied Tsingtao and German islands in the Pacific—the Marshalls, Marianas, Carolines, and Palau.” For a similar American view see Robert Lansing, War Memoirs of Robert Lansing (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1970), p. 281. Lansing characterizes Japan’s entry into the war and its subsequent gains as based on a “pretext” that the Anglo-Japanese alliance required its participation.

 3. Akira Iriye, Across the Pacific: An Inner History of American–East Asian Relations (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967), pp. 135–7.

 4. Ian H. Nish, The Anglo-Japanese Alliance: The Diplomacy of Two Island Empires, 1884–1907, 2d ed. (London: Athlone Press, 1985), pp. 17–9, 111–6, 230.

 5. Ruddock F. Mackay, Fisher of Kilverstone (Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1973), p. 328; and Nish, Anglo-Japanese Alliance, p. 353.

 6. Peter Lowe, Great Britain and Japan, 1911–15 (London: Macmillan, 1969), pp. 178–9; and Peter Padfield, The Great Naval Race (New York: David McKay, 1974), p. 293.

 7. Churchill’s response (1 May 1914) to Mr. Middlemore’s questions in the Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th. Ser., vol. 61 (1914).

 8. Churchill’s Statement (Navy Estimates) (17 March 1914) in Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th. Ser., vol. 59 (1914).

 9. Padfield, p. 293.

10. Lowe, pp. 177–8.

11. Edward S. Miller, War Plan Orange (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1991), pp. 109–10; and Michael Montgomery, Imperialist Japan: The Yen to Dominate (London: Christopher Helm, 1987), pp. 233–4; and Lowe,p. 181.

12. For Grey’s plans vis-à-vis Japan, see Sir Edward Grey to Greene, 36531, 4 August 1914; 37691, 10 August 1914; 37900, 11 August 1914, Confidential Print, Japan (1914) Foreign Office [hereafter FO] 410/63, Public Records Office [hereafter PRO], London, England; and Sir Martin Gilbert, Winston Churchill, vol. 3, 1914–1916 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971), p. 43.

13. Greene to Grey, 39546, 15 August 1914; a Mr. Inouyé to Grey, 42297, 23 August 1914, FO 410/63; “Memorandum For Colonel Graham,” 16 September 1921, Office of Naval Intelligence [hereafter ONI], Record Group [hereafter RG] 38, Naval Attache Reports, U-4-B, 11083, National Archives, Washington, D.C., p. 1; and A. Morgan Young, Japan in Recent Times, 1912–1926 (New York: William Morrow, 1929; repr. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1973), pp. 71–2 (page citations are to the reprint edition).

14. Ian H. Nish, Japanese Foreign Policy (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977), pp. 93, 95; and Masamichi Royama, Foreign Policy of Japan: 1914–1939 (1941; repr. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1973), pp. 3, 7, 17–8.

15. Montgomery, p. 237; and Greene to Grey, 28 August 1914, 43927, FO 410/63.

16. ONI, “Japanese Naval Activities during European War,” 11 December 1918, RG 38, Naval Attache Reports, U-4-B, 11083, pp. 2–3, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

17. “Official Report of Japanese Naval Activities during the War,” 11 December 1918, translation of official statement issued by Japanese Navy Department on 8 December 1918, ONI, RG 38, Naval Attache Reports, U-4-B, 11083, p. 2, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

18. Randal Gray, ed., Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1906–1921 (London: Conway’s Maritime Press, 1985), p. 222; Montgomery, p. 237; and ONI, “Official Report of Japanese Naval Activities,” p. 3.

19. ONI, “Official Report of Japanese Naval Activities,” p. 3; and Gray, ed., p. 240.

20. ONI,“Japanese Naval Activities during European War,” pp. 3–7, and “Official Report of Japanese Naval Activities,” p. 4; and Gray, ed., p. 222.

21. Lowe, pp. 196–7.

22. Montgomery,p. 237.

23. ONI, “A Brief Account of Japan’s Part in the World War,” 16 September 1921, RG 38, Naval Attache Reports, U-4-B, 11083, National Archives, Washington, D.C., p. 2.; Gray,ed., p. 222; and Anthony E. Sokol, The Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1968), pp. 89–90.

24. Montgomery, p. 238.

25. ONI, “Operations—Japanese Navy in the Indian and Pacific Oceans during War—1914–1918,” RG 45, Subject File 1911–1927, WA-5 Japan, box 703, folder 10, NND 913005, p. 98, and “Official Report of Japanese Naval Activities,” p. 5; and Stephen Howarth, The Fighting Ships of the Rising Sun (New York: Atheneum, 1983), p. 128.

26. ONI, “Japanese Naval Activities during European War,” p. 11.

27. ONI, “Official Report of Japanese Naval Activities,” p. 7.

28. ONI, “Operations—Japanese Navy,” pp. 55–8, and “Japanese Naval Activities during European War,” p. 13; M. P. Lissington, New Zealand and Japan, 1900–1941 (Wellington, New Zealand: A. R. Shearer, 1972), p. 27; and Howarth, p. 128.

29. ONI, “Official Report of Japanese Naval Activities,” p. 6.

30. ONI, “Operations—Japanese Navy,” p. 38.

31. Ibid., p. 64; and H. S. Gullett, “Australia in the World War (I) Military,” in The Cambridge History of the British Empire (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1933), vol. 7, part 1, pp. 547–8.

32. ONI, “Official Report of Japanese Naval Activities,” p. 6.

33. ONI, “Operations—Japanese Navy,” p. 38, and “Japanese Naval Activities during European War,” p. 13.

34. ONI, “Operations—Japanese Navy,” pp. 98, 115–7, “Japanese Naval Activities during European War,” pp. 11–2, and “Official Report of Japanese Naval Activities,” p. 9.

35. Mr. Haracourt to the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, enclosure 3 in no. 389, 74500, 23 November 1914, FO 410/63; Governor Lord Liverpool to Haracourt, enclosure in no. 260, 13 May 1915, Confidential Print, Japan (1915) FO 410/64; Gray, ed., p. 222; and Lissington, p. 26.

36. ONI, “Japanese Naval Activities during European War,” p. 9, and “Operations—Japanese Navy,” pp. 121–3, 126–8, 130–2, 141–2.

37. ONI, “Japanese Naval Activities during European War,” p. 13.

38. Grey to Greene, 6 August 1914, 36648, FO 410/63; Gilbert, p. 202; and Howarth, pp. 7, 128.

39. Leslie Conners, The Emperor’s Advisor: Saionji Kinmochi and Pre-War Japanese Politics (London: Croon Helm, 1987), p. 55; Kiyoshi Ikeda, “The Douglas Mission and the British Influence on the Japanese Navy,” in Themes and Theories in Modern Japanese History, ed. Sue Henny and Jean-Pierre Lehmann (London: Athlone, 1988), pp. 171–84; Lowe, p. 182; and Marder, Old Enemies, New Friends, p. 3.

40. Howarth, p. 128.

41. ONI “Operations—Japanese Navy,” p. 21; ONI “Official Report of Japanese Naval Activities,” p. 5; and Gray, ed., p. 222.

42. ONI “Operations—Japanese Navy,” pp. 70–1.

43. See the exchange in: W. F. Nicholson (Admiralty) to Foreign Office, 20396, 1 February 1916; Grey to Greene, 26545, 4 February 1916; W. F. Nicholson (Admiralty) to Foreign Office, 24943, 8 February 1916; Grey to Greene, 27477, 9 February 1916; Greene to Grey, 30818, 16 February 1916; Admiralty to Foreign Office, 34976, 22 February 1916, Confidential Print, Japan (1916) FO 410/65, PRO, London, England; ONI “Operations—Japanese Navy,” p. 22; and Howarth, p. 128.

44. Greene to Grey, 65807, 6 April 1916, FO 410/65; ONI “Operations—Japanese Navy,” pp. 22, 73–5; ONI “Official Report of Japanese Naval Activities,” p. 5.

45. Admiral John Jellicoe to Admiral David Beatty, 30 December 1916, A. Temple Patterson, ed. The Jellicoe Papers, vol. 2, 1916–1935, Publications of the Naval Records Society, vol. 111 (London: Spottiswoode, Ballantyne, 1968), vol. 2, p. 135.

46. Admiral Sir Henry Jackson to Rear Admiral John de Robeck, 9 February 1916, in Paul G. Halpern, ed., The Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, 1915–1918, Publications of the Naval Records Society, vol. 126 (London: Temple Smith, 1987), p. 99. See also the fears of Admiral Sir Henry Oliver, Chief of the Admiralty War Staff, who worried that Japan might use British requests for naval assistance in the Mediterranean to “get a permanent footing there.” Quoted in John Fisher, “‘Backing the Wrong Horse’: Japan in British Middle Eastern Policy, 1914–1918,” The Journal of Strategic Studies, June 1998, p. 63.

47. Early in November 1917, the British ambassador to Japan reported, “I notice indications in the press and elsewhere of a desire to awaken Japanese public from apathy and indifference with which they have hitherto regarded the war, and which has found encouragement in high places. Some of the papers even warn their readers that Japan should be prepared for a possible appeal for military aid from the Allies.” Greene to Balfour, 214763, 8 November 1917, Confidential Print, Japan (1917) FO 410/66.

48. Malcolm D. Kennedy, The Estrangement of Great Britain and Japan, 1917–1935 (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1969), p. 13.

49. Greene to Balfour, 180776, enclosure 1 in no. 6, Memorandum, Japan’s After-War Labour Problem, 19 September 1918, Confidential Print, Japan (1918) FO 410/67; and Young,pp. 114–8.

50. G. V. Fiddes (Colonial Office) to Foreign Office, 21 March 1916, 54458, Confidential Print, Japan (1916), FO 410/65; and Lissington, p. 31.

51. Admiralty to Foreign Office, 256472, 18 December 1916, FO 410/65; Balfour to Greene, 256472, 9 January 1917; and Greene to Balfour, 22137, 27 January 1917, FO 410/66.

52. Arthur J. Marder, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, vol. 4, 1917: Year of Crisis (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1969), p. 100.

53. War Cabinet Papers, 29 January 1917, CAB 23/1/47; 1 February 1917, CAB 23/1/51; 12 February 1917, CAB 23/1/63; and 14 February 1917, CAB 23/1/65.

54. Balfour to Greene, 27203, 5 February 1917, FO 410/66; and ONI, “Operations—Japanese Navy,” p. 77, and  “Official Report of Japanese Naval Activities,” pp. 6–7.

55. “Memorandum for Colonel Graham,” p. 2.

56. W. Long to the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia and the Governor of New Zealand, enclosure in no. 9, Colonial Office to Foreign Office, 29366, 5 February 1917, FO 410/66.

57. ONI, “Official Report of Japanese Naval Activities,” p. 1; Gray, ed., p. 205; and Hansgeorg Jentschura, Dieter Jung, and Peter Mickel, Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1869–1945, trans. Antony Preston and J. D. Brown (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1977), p. 135.

58. War Cabinet Papers, 15 December 1916, CAB 23/1/8.

59. War Cabinet Papers, 30 May 1917, CAB 23/2/150; and ONI, “Operations—Japanese Navy,” p. 77.

60. “Memorandum For Colonel Graham,” p. 2.

61. ONI, “Japanese Naval Activity and Other Contributions to the European War,” 16 October 1918, RG 38, U-4-B, 11083, National Archives, Washington, D.C., p. 2.

62. Jellicoe to the First Lord, Sir Eric Geddes, 21 July 1917, The Jellicoe Papers, vol. 2, p. 185.

63. Marder, Year of Crisis, pp. 43–4.

64. David F. Trask, Captains & Cabinets: Anglo-American Naval Relations, 1917–1918 (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1972), pp. 102–4.

65. Sir C. Spring-Rice to Lord Robert Cecil, 14 May 1917, War Cabinet Papers, 22 May 1917, CAB 23/2/142; and Trask, pp. 104–11.

66. Rice to Grey, 77210, 30 November 1914, FO 410/63; and James Reed, The Missionary Mind and American East Asia Policy, 1911–1915 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1983), pp. 96, 99.

67. ONI, “Japanese Naval Activity and Other Contributions to the European War,” p. 1, and “Official Report of Japanese Naval Activity,” p. 8; and Ian Nish, “Japan in Britain’s View of the International System, 1919–37,” in Anglo-Japanese Alienation, 1919–1952, ed. Ian Nish (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982), p. 29.

68. Greene to Balfour, 214266, 7 November 1917, FO 410/66; William Reynolds Braisted, The United States Navy in the Pacific, 1909–1922 (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1971), p. 335; and ONI, “Operations—Japanese Navy,” pp. 99, 172.

69. Miller, pp. 110–1.

70. Iriye, pp. 131, 135.

71. ONI, “Operations—Japanese Navy,” pp. 10–1; and Paul G. Halpern, A Naval History of World War I (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1994), p. 393.

72. Halpern, Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, p. 209.

73. Sokol, Oesterreich-Hungarns Seekrieg, vol. 2, p. 518.

74. Sokol, The Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy, p. 121.

75. Halpern, Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, pp. 70, 209.

76. Ibid., p. 213.

77. ONI, “Operations—Japanese Navy,” p. 12.

78. “Naval Transport and Convoy,” The Times History and Encyclopedia of the War, 22 vols., 11 June 1918, vol. 16, p. 173; “The Navy’s Work in 1917,” ibid., 18 December 1917, vol. 14, p. 164; and Henry Newbolt, History of the Great War (Based on Official Documents) Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: Longmans, Green, 1928), vol. 4, p. 295.

79. ONI, “Operations—Japanese Navy,” p. 11.

80. See Hope’s Minutes, 23 February 1917; Ballard (Senior Naval Officer Malta) to Admiralty, 21 August 1917, ADM 137/1412 (H.S. 1412. Mediterranean. Central & General Areas II, IV, V, and XI); Various Subjects 1917  I, pp. 384–5; and Ballard to Admiralty, 21 August 1917 in Halpern, Royal Navy in the Mediterranean,  pp. 236, 279, 282.

81. ONI, “Operations—Japanese Navy,” pp. 12–3.

82. Ibid., pp. 13–5.

83. Howarth, Fighting Ships of the Rising Sun, p. 130.

84. Arthur J. Marder, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, vol. 5, Victory and Aftermath (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), pp. 36–7; and “Memorandum For Colonel Graham,” p. 1. This American postwar analysis of Japanese operations notes that “Japan sent one or more squadrons of destroyers to assist in the protection of troop and supply ships in the North Sea and the Mediterranean. The service of these squadrons was highly creditable to Japan.”

85. I have no evidence from contemporary publications, but a Mr. N. Kato had an article (based on a paper given to the Central Asiatic Society) printed in The New Europe: A Weekly Review of Foreign Politics, vol. 2, 18 January–12 April 1917 (London: Constable 1917), pp. 136–42. It seems the Japanese were running a public relations campaign about this time. For the Japanese memorandum, Lord Robert Cecil to Greene, 86671, enclosure in no. 21, Memorandum, 25 April 1917, FO 410/66.

86. See Viscount Kato’s remarks as reported to the British government in Mr. Alston to Earl Curzon, 105971, 20 June 1919, FO 410/67. Kato not only reacted “very strongly” to the embarrassing situation that Japan encountered during the peace talks but addressed the “race problem,” stating that for Japanese subjects abroad, it “was settled to this extent that it had practically been abandoned long ago as being impossible of adjustment.”

87. Hosoya Chihiro, “Britain and the United States in Japan’s View of the International System, 1919–1937,” in Anglo-Japanese Alienation, 1919–1952, ed. Ian Nish (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982), pp. 8–9.


Imperial Japanese Navy Antisubmarine Escorts 1941-45

The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) placed little importance on dedicated anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability. The IJN strategic emphasis was on decisive battles early in the war; thus dedicated ASW ships had no role. IJN first line destroyers carried almost no depth charges at all, and the few ASW escorts that were available only carried 12 to 18 depth charges. The lack of equipment was further complicated by poor tactics in responding to any attacks by US submarines. The IJN strategy saw no need to change early in the war as the US submarine fleet’s torpedoes were horribly ineffective. That changed in mid-1943 and the Japanese were completely unprepared. The IJN responded in November of 1943 by ordering newly dedicated ASW ships, but their arrival in 1944 was too little, too late. Ultimately, the IJN ASW ships proved to be most effective at rescuing the sailors of the ships they were supposed to protect.

This 48-page book contains two color paintings by Paul Wright along with a substantial description. The first painting is of Torpedo Boat IJN Hiyadori versus USS Amberjack which is also featured on the front cover. The second Paul Wright painting depicts Task Force 38 Avengers attacking a tanker while CD-35, an IJN Type C escort, tries in vain to fight back against the TBM Avengers. CD-35 took three bombs and ended up on the seafloor. I counted 21 tables, 40 black and white pictures. Paul Wright also contributes twelve color profiles along with a keyed cutaway color illustration of an IJN Number 1 Class (Type C) ASW Escort.

Mark Stille provides a revealing look at the evolution of the IJN ASW capabilities that occurred during World War II. The introduction covers the IJN ASW strategy, tactics, ship design, and weapons. A significant weakness for the ASW ships was the lack of capable depth charges. US Submarines could go down to 400 feet, but the IJN depth charge maximum setting was 295 feet. Complicating the IJN use of depth charges was the rather basic nature of their ASW sensors. The ‘meat’ of the book is a description of the individual ASW classes. Each class description includes a section on ‘Design and Construction’, a table detailing the individual ships and units they served with, ‘Armament and Modifications’, ‘War Service’, and a table of the class specifications. Most of the classes are also represented with color profiles.

Japanese Convoy Escort and ASW Capabilities

Between the world wars, however, ASW had progressed very little beyond its development at the end of World War I. One reason was the financially tightened circumstances in which most navies found themselves in the 1920s and 1930s. The slow progress was also related to the priorities most major naval establishments placed on the capital ship and to the misplaced confidence among these establishments that if need be, the tactics, technologies, and force structures of World War I could be reconstituted to defeat the submarine once again. The use of asdic, or sonar, as it was later called, had proved effective in detecting the direction if not the depth of submerged targets, but its various limitations had not been addressed in the years since its first appearance. Britain, which had pioneered the development of asdic, was so confident of its lead in this technology that it placed no great priority either on asdic’s radical improvement or on the perfection of those complementary elements of ASW—the convoy system, the escort vessel, and the patrol aircraft specifically dedicated to ASW—that had proven effective in World War I. During the interwar years, deficiencies in these tactics, technologies, and force structures were also manifested in the U.S. Navy, second only to Britain in its experience in ASW in World War I. The United States would learn the consequences of its neglect of these elements of ASW in the stunning losses it sustained during the German U-boat offensive along the American east coast in the spring of 1942.

If submarine warfare and ASW warfare had provided obvious evidence of major successes in World War I, amphibious warfare apparently had not. The most ambitious amphibious operation of the war, the landing at Gallipoli, had also been its most disastrous failure. It had, moreover, been one of the few amphibious operations undertaken in the face of determined opposition ashore (the assault on Zeebrugge being the other notable amphibious operation under such conditions). After the war, most military and naval establishments sifting the evidence of Gallipoli found it less a sorry record of mistakes that might be corrected by better planning, organization, and performance, than a confirmation of the difficulty, if not impossibility, of conducting a landing from the sea in the face of entrenched and presighted automatic weapons and artillery.

The Japanese navy was indifferent to the problem of protecting the nation’s shipping lanes. As early as the Russo-Japanese War, this neglect had led to several serious yet avoidable injuries to Japanese sea transport. In the period between the conflict with Russia and World War I, commerce protection was still neglected by the Japanese navy, since the two greatest future threats to merchant shipping, the submarine and the airplane, were still in a primitive stage of development. From the outset of World War I, of course, the submarine caused enormous havoc. Ultimately, however, it was the great gun duel at Jutland, not the ravages of the U-boat, that had the greater impact upon the thinking of the Japanese naval high command. Much the same would be said of the British and American navies. Yet, as major participants in convoy escort and ASW in World War I, Anglo-American efforts in these tasks during World War II were aided at least partly by institutional memory at the high command level of the requirements for convoy protection.

In contrast, Japanese understanding of the rigors of commerce protection against submarines was limited in time, distance, and practical experience. The singular exploits of a handful of Japanese destroyer men who served with the Special Service Squadron on convoy escort and antisubmarine patrol in the distant Mediterranean, 1917-18, had made little impression on the outlook of the Japanese Navy General Staff.

To be sure, the navy took several measures both during and immediately after World War I to keep itself informed on the techniques and technologies used by the Allies in defeating the German U-boats. To begin with, naval observers like Comdr. Suetsugu Nobumasa sent back reports on German U-boat warfare. Moreover, as part of a major study undertaken by a special research commission and by Japanese naval attachés in Europe, the general staff’s Intelligence Division amassed voluminous materials on Britain’s protection of its sea trade during the war. From these sources, the navy collected detailed information on the convoy system and the techniques of ASW, as well as on the British naval organization to deal with these problems, the last being the focus of a special report in 1922 drafted by Lt. Comdr. Niimi Masaichi of the Intelligence Department. After the war, based on the information gathered, the Naval Staff College held lectures and map exercises on commerce protection. But none of these studies and presentations did much to arouse interest within the navy as a whole. Even a memorial to the throne in 1929 by chief of staff Katō Kanji on the importance of protecting Japan’s sea lanes failed to find any resonance in Japanese naval policy. Moreover, Admiral Katō failed to back up his general recommendation with specific proposals that would alter the navy’s force structure to provide for greater commerce protection.

Thus, on a theoretical level, the Japanese navy acknowledged the problems of protecting Japan’s merchant shipping, but it failed to undertake any concrete measures that would make such protection effective. The reasons for this were several. To begin with, the restricted budgets in the 1920s and early 1930s (not unlike those of the U.S. and British navies) did not allow any deviation from the priority the navy had placed on the construction and modernizing of fleet units. Moreover, the failure of contemporary Japanese naval thinking to link commerce protection with the requirements of ASW derived considerably from the navy’s view of its own submarine force. Seeing that force as directed primarily against American fleet units, the Japanese naval high command apparently assumed that their opposites in the U.S. Navy harbored similar plans, as indeed they did, up until the beginning of the war.

Furthermore, while the navy considered protection of its vital sea lanes to be important, the geographic definition of which sea lanes were considered “vital” was quite limited. This limitation can best be understood by reference to the navy’s operational plans. For example, in case of war with the United States, pre- 1941 plans called only for commerce protection in the waters north of the Taiwan Straits and along the littoral of the northeast Asian continent. The China Sea and the waters of Micronesia were only provisionally included. With hindsight, the official history of Japanese escort operations points out that by so limiting the area of Japanese interest, the navy had virtually abandoned the idea of commerce protection in much of the ocean where the Pacific War would be fought.

Essentially, the navy saw commerce protection as an extension of the problem of providing for coastal defense of the Japanese home islands. Immediately prior to the London Treaty both the Navy General Staff and the Naval Affairs Department of the Navy Ministry had done some careful study of the navy’s needs for coastal defense. They had recommended building substantial light forces for this purpose, including escorts, submarine chasers, and land-based air groups. However, the restricted naval budgets of the treaty era aborted such plans.

Undoubtedly, however, the overriding consideration in limiting the construction, training, and equipment devoted to commerce protection was the navy’s absolute priority on the heavy ships with which the navy hoped to win the decisive surface battle. In combination with the interwar budgetary limitations, this fixation repeatedly set aside “lesser” considerations, such as the security of the nation’s maritime transport. Indeed, until the Pacific War, the navy viewed the safety of Japanese merchant shipping as a matter of coastal defense, which the navy assumed would be indirectly guaranteed by Japanese battle forces in any event. The 1928 Nomura Report gave a clear priority to heavy warship construction and, with the exception of a few special units, left the matter of coastal defense to a few overage warships still in service. In the 1936 Imperial Defense Policy, references to the creation of an escort force for Japanese shipping were vague, feeble, and unrealistic: Preparations were to be limited in peacetime to the creation of a few core units; further study was to be made of the kind of training and ships that would be required for protection of Japanese shipping; and, in the event of hostilities, the navy would somehow undertake the rapid and wholesale construction of escort vessels as they were needed. The 1941 operational plan, for its part, did not make specific reference to the preparations necessary for commerce protection, these being subsumed under the problem of the general defense of the home islands. In the plan, sea communications in this rear area would be protected by first-line sea and air forces. Direct protection of coastal areas would be left to elements allotted from the navy’s slender defense units, to wartime construction, and if necessary, to fleet units detached from first-line forces. The view of most Japanese naval officers reflected this official disdain for commerce protection. They had little understanding or experience in either convoy escort or antisubmarine operations and, trained as they were in the principles of decisive fleet action, had no interest in learning what seemed a marginal and unrewarding trade.

At the highest levels of the navy there was Olympian complacency concerning the safety of Japanese shipping in the event of war. Civilian leaders were far less confident. In the summer of 1941, the Cabinet Planning Board had warned of dire shipping losses that might well exceed Japan’s capacity to replace them. In important meetings that autumn, civilian cabinet members had tried to raise the issues of convoy protection, shipping safety, and the American submarine threat with chief of the general staff Adm. Nagano Osami. On such occasions, Nagano either replied with utter assurance about the navy’s ability “to bring American submarines under control” or, under the pretext of national security, refused to discuss the navy’s preparations to deal with these problems.

Thus, on the eve of the Pacific War, the Japanese navy had given almost no thought to the possibility of a submarine campaign in its rear areas, and commerce protection, specifically including convoy escort, was a mission to be improvised as the need arose. These deficiencies in outlook would have been serious enough had Japan been planning to fight a defensive war within its home waters. But with the plans emerging in 1941 for a campaign of territorial aggrandizement, the potential difficulties for commerce protection increased enormously. The strategic rationale for the conquest of Southeast Asia was based on Japan’s acquisition of the region’s vast resources. This being the case, the occupation of the region would require not only the transport of sufficient military forces to bring it under Japanese control, but also forces for the defense of the area and the ships carrying strategic materials back to Japan. Both these operations, moreover, would require attention to the problem of escorts, as well as to the problem of shipping.

No aspect of this twin logistical-naval problem was more important than tanker tonnage and the means to protect it, but only a few Japanese naval officers seem to have grappled with these issues. If his memoirs are correct, Comdr. Ōi Atsushi was one of those who did. In the autumn of 1939, Ōi, then a lieutenant commander and a junior member of the Intelligence Division, studied the convoy system resurrected by the British navy at the outset of the war. He lacked the influence, however, to have his enthusiasm for it converted into concrete measures. Two years later, in an informal meeting, a handful of middle-echelon officers, including Ōi and several civilian petroleum specialists, met to discuss the problem of Japanese access to the oil of the Netherlands East Indies. Ōi argued that the issue was not getting the oil out of the Indies, but getting it back to Japan. Pointing to the threat of British and American oceangoing submarines, Ōi noted the unwarranted complacency of the Navy General Staff and Navy Ministry concerning convoy escort in the face of this potential danger. Ōi’s views led to an extended discussion of the number of tankers available for regular transport of East Indies oil back to Japan, the amount of naval strength sufficient for convoy escort for such shipping, and the expected losses of tankers to enemy submarines. Lacking an official forum, however, neither the views nor the concerns expressed by the participants in the meeting ever reached higher levels to affect policy. Thus, a month before the war, when the emperor queried Admiral Nagano about the ability of Japan “to obtain and transport oil without hindrance when faced with attacks by planes and submarines based in Australia” and what measures the navy would take to deal with the problem, Nagano was still unshaken in his complacency.

Given the general neglect of the problem of commerce protection by the Japanese navy, it is not surprising that on the eve of the Pacific War, there existed very little in the way of organization, naval units, weapons, tactics, or training to deal with the tasks of convoy escort and ASW. To begin with, no organization within the naval high command had exclusive responsibility of planning for these missions. Such responsibility that existed was the concern of a single individual, and not his only concern at that. In the Second Section (Defense Planning) of the Operations Division of the Navy General Staff (much less glorified than the First Section, whose ten members dealt with the heady operational plans for the Combined Fleet), three or four officers were charged with an assortment of planning duties, including those for “rear area” defense. This last was the responsibility of a single officer and was considered to include, inter alia, the task of commerce protection. In 1941, with the imminent possibility of war, rear area defense was assigned to two staff officers. Yet only one of them had responsibility for commerce protection, and until October of that year, he held the concurrent position of aide-de-camp to the emperor.

The actual direction of convoy escort and ASW was assigned to the naval districts, which were responsible for Japan’s coastal defense. Not only did the district staff officers command few resources for this considerable task or even have much understanding of it, but also, by precedent and inclination, they were far more concerned with accommodating the tactical and logistical demands of the Combined Fleet. Before the Pacific War, therefore, there was no major line command for commerce protection and none was established until the war was four months old. Even then, the quality and quantity of these forces were completely inadequate for the task at hand, and Combined Fleet headquarters became exasperated with having to detach destroyers and other fleet units for convoy escort. This would change only with the establishment of a full-fledged escort force in 1943.

The marginal attention given by the navy to protection of sea transport was reflected in the quantity of warship construction devoted to it. Just before the London Treaty, the navy briefly considered building a sizable force of specialized craft for commerce protection, but budgetary considerations had aborted the plan. The meager result of this brief interest in escort ships was the building of four kaibokan (coastal defense vessels) that had originally been designed for fishery protection and security tasks in Japan’s Kurile Islands. Proposed under the Circle One program and then again under Circle Two, the four ships of this Shimushu class were finally authorized under the Circle Three program when the navy concluded that they could fill the role of a general-purpose escort able to perform several coastal defense duties, including minelaying, minesweeping, and antisubmarine patrols. But the low priority that the navy assigned to commerce protection was reflected not only in the navy’s originally laying down no more than four ships of this class, but also in the ships’ reduction from a planned displacement of 1,200 tons to an actual 860 tons. The ships were reduced because a portion of the funds set aside to build them was used instead to help defray the costs of the Yamato and Musashi. These Shimushu vessels were the closest thing the Japanese navy had to the British and American destroyer escorts. Sufficiently satisfied with the Shimushu class, the navy ordered fourteen more ships of an improved Shimushu design (the Etorofu class), but they took so long to construct, because of stringent naval construction standards, that none was completed when the Pacific War broke out. The kaibokan were well designed and sturdily built to withstand the enormous stresses of the North Pacific. But their modest armament, few depth charges (none of which could be thrown forward), and their speed of less than 20 knots (slightly lower than the surface speed of the average U.S. fleet submarine) made these ships less than ideal as antisubmarine vessels. Ultimately, the most serious failure of the kaibokan effort was that not enough were built.

In addition to building the kaibokan, the Japanese navy ordered the construction of vessels that, although constructed for other purposes, could serve as escorts (such as the minelayer-cruiser Okinoshima). Further, the navy converted several torpedo boats and older destroyers for escort work. Beginning in 1931, the navy also ordered a few submarine chasers averaging 250 tons and carrying two 40-millimeter antiaircraft guns and thirty-six depth charges. Finally, it commissioned about seventy-five auxiliary submarine chasers averaging 130 tons. But the auxiliary submarine chasers were only good for harbor and coastal patrol, because their 11-knot speed, feeble armament, and low freeboard made them ineffective for their intended purpose. Destroyers, of course, were the most formidable warships for both convoy escort and ASW, but the priorities of the Japanese navy made it reluctant to release fleet units for either of these missions. In any event, the number of ships assigned escort duty was wholly inadequate for the defense of Japanese shipping.

Not only was the quantity of these vessels wholly inadequate for their assigned missions, but their weapons and equipment were largely ineffective for such tasks. They were equipped with no forward-throwing ASW weapons, and their main armament was usually inferior to the larger deck guns of enemy submarines. Their depth charges were frequently set too shallow because faulty intelligence had underestimated the maximum diving depth of American submarines.

In underwater detection, the Japanese navy had not greatly progressed beyond the technology developed during and immediately after World War I, much of which had been acquired from Britain and Germany. The navy had undertaken research on hydrophones in the 1920s and, in 1930, had imported the American MV-type hydrophone, from which it developed its own hydrophones, the type 93 and type 0. The former was the navy’s standard underwater detection device throughout the Pacific War, despite its limited range of 1,000 yards. In the field of sound ranging—sonar—the Japanese had made some progress when the war broke out; about twenty destroyers had been outfitted with type 93 sonar. Development of sonar continued throughout the war, but the pace of the program was slow, and Japanese sets remained rudimentary.

Detection of submarines by interception of their radio communications offered promise. The Japanese navy had some experience in tracking American naval maneuvers through radio intercepts since the early 1930s. The slow collation of bearings, however, made the navy’s otherwise efficient high-frequency-radio direction-finding (HF/DF) system of little use for the kind of quick response demanded by convoy escort and ASW operations in the Pacific War.

In sum, the Japanese navy was ill prepared, in outlook, doctrine, training, ships, and equipment to deal with either commerce protection or ASW. The official history of the navy’s maritime protection operations during the war recapitulates the reasons for this failure. First, the navy failed to foresee the protracted nature of the war and that it would inevitably involve the protection of sea transport over a vast area. Second, the navy’s fixation on the decisive surface battle monopolized its armaments, its preparations, and its training, and left it blind to the possibility that destruction of the nation’s commercial shipping might also be decisive. Third, the British and American advocacy of limitations on submarines at the London Naval Conference left the Japanese navy with the impression that submarines were a weak point in the U.S. Navy’s force structure. This led to the fatal conclusion that the possibility of an American submarine campaign against Japan was slight. Last, the defensive character of both convoy escort and ASW, and the tiresome, repetitive duty that they entailed, gave them short shrift in a navy whose traditions had held that offense was the best defense.


“I-25 Shells Fort Stevens”. On the night of June 21, 1942, the Japanese submarine I-25 fired 17 rounds at Fort Stevens, Oregon located at the mouth of the Columbia River. It was the second attack on a military base in the continental U.S. during WWII [Painted by Richard L. Stark]

Japanese type B-1 submarine cutaway, ca-1944

The 1920s and 1930s had seen much submarine construction notwithstanding efforts to outlaw or curtail submarine operations by international law. Britain, in spite of its determination to abolish the submarine as more a threat than an asset to its maritime security, had continued to build submarines and to experiment in their design. The United States maintained a growing number of submersibles, though until the mid-1930s these were mostly smaller boats for coastal defense. Lesser naval powers saw the submarine as a means of compensating for the modest size of their battle fleets. France remained the foremost advocate of the submarine, seeing it as a fleet equalizer, and had embarked upon a considerable submarine construction program, which included the construction of the huge Surcouf. Germany had begun secret preparations to rebuild its submarine fleet in the 1920s, an effort so successful that in 1935, less than a week after signing an accord with Britain that generally freed it from restrictions on construction in this category, German launched its first submersible. Japan had led the way in the construction of oceangoing submarines, predicating its submarine policy on the strategic principles set forth by Admiral Suetsugu.

If the pace of submarine construction quickened in the 1930s, at the end of the treaty era, naval strategists worldwide held no consistent views about the most advantageous use for submarine fleets. Certainly, none of the submarine strategies of the former maritime Allies of World War I was shaped by the evidence of the awesome destructiveness of the submarine as a commerce raider. Officially, the United States, up to the outbreak of the Pacific War, continued to view the submarine primarily as an element of fleet operations, though influential submariners in the U.S. Navy appear to have privately advocated a policy of aggressive commerce raiding in the event of war with Japan. Though Britain was determined to stay abreast of the latest developments in submarine design and technology, it failed to develop a coherent submarine strategy, partly because of financial stringency and partly because of the Royal Navy’s continuing priority on the battle fleet. In the Pacific, this left Britain with a submarine force inadequate in numbers and range to carry offensive war to Japan. The submarine force was thus relegated to the defense of the base at Singapore, though World War I offered little evidence that submarines were effective in a defensive role. Given the political and military realities of the time, particularly the near-at-hand Italian threat in the western Mediterranean, French thinking behind the construction of Surcouf seemed, by the late 1930s, quite misconceived. Among the Western maritime powers, only the small but resurgent German navy began to assemble a submarine force whose principal objective was the destruction of enemy commerce. Against the convoy system, which had finally turned back the German U-boat offensive in World War I, Comdr. Karl Donitz now devised new wolf-pack tactics that called for the massing of submarines at night and on the surface.

In part, the coordination of such tactics was made possible by greatly improved communications between submarines and shore command. High-frequency radio transmitters ashore now made it possible to send messages to submarines at great distance from the land, and extremely powerful, very low frequency (10-20 kilohertz) signals could be received even by submerged submarines. Though the vessels had to surface to transmit, these new developments in radio communication not only enhanced the value of the submarine for reconnaissance, but allowed more effective control of submarine fleets. Of course, radio direction finding, perfected during the late 1930s, enabled an enemy to detect the location of a submarine transmitting messages, which was a key element in the development of antisubmarine warfare (ASW) in World War II.

In the mid-1920s, Adm. Suetsugu Nobumasa had given the Japanese submarine force several missions that transformed it, in theory, into a long-range offensive system. The missions assigned to this system were the extended surveillance of the enemy battle fleet in harbor, the pursuit and shadowing of that fleet when it sortied from its base, and the ambushing of the enemy by pursuing submarines that would destroy a number of his capital ships and thus reduce his battle line just before the decisive surface encounter with the Japanese battle fleet.

By 1930, this strategy, embodying the principles of extended, long-range surveillance, pursuit, ambush, and attrition of the enemy, had become, like the 70 percent ratio in the 1920s, an article of faith in Navy General Staff planning for war with the U.S. Navy. Yet, surprisingly, for reasons not entirely clear, the strategy had never been subjected to the trial of its various tactical elements. This failure stands in marked contrast to the navy’s rigorous testing of other tactical matters. At all events, late in the decade, with the acquisition of large submarines with high surface speed, starting with the J3 type, the navy finally began frequent and intensive training in the tactics of surveillance, pursuit, shadowing, and ambushing of enemy fleet units.

Such training began in 1938 with a series of exercises designed to test the efficiency of submarines and crews for intense periods of patrol near the enemy. The next year, the navy began serious practice in submarine attack doctrine, beginning with close surveillance of tightly guarded heavy surface units, both those in harbor and those under way. The results were disconcerting, to say the least. Trying to get near to fleet targets, some submarines taking part in the exercises strayed within waters patrolled by destroyers and were judged to have been sunk; others apparently gave away their positions through radio transmissions. Still others, which had remained undetected while submerged during the periods of most intense antisubmarine activity by destroyers and aircraft, nevertheless missed important radioed instructions.

From these exercises the navy drew several conclusions that eventually were translated into standard operating procedures during the Pacific War. Unhappily for the Japanese submarine force, none made for effective submarine strategy, and some were downright disastrous. The great stress on concealment during extended surveillance operations in enemy waters seems commonsensical, but during the war it contributed to the extreme caution of Japanese submarine commanders off American shores. It also explains the Japanese wartime practice of using submarine- borne aircraft, particularly during moonlight nights, to reconnoiter enemy harbors and bases in place of submarines themselves. (While this technique was used during the war for reconnaissance over several Allied bases, it failed to produce any significant operational results.) Undoubtedly, however, the most significant lesson to come out of the 1938 exercises was the extreme difficulty in maintaining close submarine surveillance of a distant and carefully guarded enemy base. This was the first of many revelations pointing to the clear unworkability of accepted Japanese submarine doctrine.

The key to the success of the actual interception operations was the proper deployment of submarines for the best possible torpedo shots against an advancing enemy fleet. Experience had shown that the best position for a torpedo shot was a 50- to 60-degree angle off the bow of the target at a distance of about 1,500 meters (1,650 yards). Even if the submarine commander was slightly off in his estimates of target course and speed, and even if the target changed course, the likelihood of a hit was greatest with this position. For a submarine to arrive at this optimum point, it needed maximum freedom of movement, so as to locate itself across the enemy’s intended course. Where the enemy’s course was known, interception operations called for pursuing submarines to race ahead of the enemy fleet to a spot where they could lie in wait and maneuver themselves into an ideal firing position. Where the enemy’s actual course was unknown, a picket or ambush line was to be thrown across the track that the enemy seemed most likely to follow.

In 1939 and 1940, as part of a series of maneuvers held in the western Pacific from Honshū to Micronesia, Japanese submarines began to practice these tactical requirements for long-distance interception operations. In these exercises an “A Force” was usually designated to defend Micronesia from an invading “B Force” coming down from Japan. Once B Force had sortied from its home base, A Force was supposed to “acquire” it, pursue it, maintain contact with it, and then destroy it in ambush. To their dismay, the A Force submarine commanders discovered that despite their surface speed, they could just barely maintain contact with the advancing B Force. It proved difficult to race ahead of the enemy and then lie in wait in an ideal firing position, particularly since they were obliged to fire while submerged and, once underwater, they were practically stationary. The surface targets all too often raced by unscathed. Firing on the surface seemed out of the question, since the submarines were easily spotted not only by patrolling destroyers but by carrier-borne aircraft used in an ASW role.

These maneuvers also supplied the navy with one irrelevant “lesson” and another a good deal more ominous. Because of the activity of submarines as well as land-based bombers and flying boats in the defense of Japanese-held atolls in Micronesia, the navy became convinced of the value of both submarines and aircraft in the defense of Japanese island bases in the western Pacific. In fact, submarines were little use in island defense in the Pacific War, except as supply ships for stranded garrisons, and of Japanese aircraft there were never enough, once the American amphibious wave crashed into Micronesia late in 1943. More to the point, the maneuvers demonstrated to individual submarine captains the near impossibility of the pursuit-contact-annihilation elements of the interception strategy, as well as the hazards of these tactics, so long the mainstays of Japanese submarine strategy.

Because the Japanese navy never did assemble its projected long-range attack groups, it is impossible to know what sort of tactics and command structure might have developed out such a combat organization. What is clear from the maneuvers of 1939-40 is that although the navy held exercises bringing together groups of submarines, it never developed the idea of concerted attack. Specifically, the German (and American) “wolf pack” concept—whereby an embarked commander directed multiple attacks on common targets by submarines under his command—apparently never occurred to those directing the Japanese submarine forces. The Japanese approach to submarine operations, practiced in prewar maneuvers and carried out during the Pacific War, was to retain control of submarine forces from a shore command. The navy’s failure to produce more than three type A1 command submarines meant that the at-sea command concept built around Ōyodo-class cruisers never materialized. An ambush or picket line of submarines might be established across an anticipated course of enemy advance, for example, and submarines assigned stations along it, but once on station, a submarine was generally moved only by orders from ashore. This failure of the Japanese submarine forces to develop either the concept of concerted attack or the skills and command structure to make it work is another reason for the meager results of Japanese submarine operations during the war.

The doctrine of concerted attack was developed by the German and U.S. navies for commerce raiding, not for attacks on major fleet units. Moreover, from Suetsugu’s day forward, Japanese submarine doctrine clearly focused on the enemy’s battle fleet, not primarily his sea communications and commerce. The Japanese navy, however, was not entirely unaware of the possibilities of commerce raiding. In maneuvers in October 1940, the Japanese navy actually deployed several submarines to patrol vital maritime corridors in the home islands—Tsushima Strait, between Honshū and Korea; Bungo Strait, between Shikoku and Kyūshū; and Uraga Strait, the entrance to Tokyo Bay. The submarines simulated attack on Japanese commercial vessels to determine how vulnerable the commercial fleet was to submarine raids. Because of inadequate Japanese antisubmarine capabilities and lack of attention to convoy escort, in only five days, 133 Japanese merchantmen were “sunk” by the submarines involved in these simulation exercises. Considering that four years later, these same waters were the scene of actual havoc and slaughter by American submarines, one can only wonder why the lessons of this exercise were not more salutary. Unfortunately for the Japanese, the principal conclusion drawn by those in command related not to the offensive potential of attacking submarines, but to their vulnerability to detection by radio direction finding.

Not surprisingly, the Japanese navy’s neglect of the extreme vulnerability of the Japanese home islands to submarine blockade was matched by its general disinclination to give priority to a submarine campaign against American coastal and trans-Pacific shipping. While the high command did acknowledge that threatening the enemy’s sea lanes was an important part of naval warfare and that submarines should take part in such operations, it held that they should do so only as long as such operations did not greatly interfere with their primary mission of destroying enemy fleet units in battle.

As discussed, a certain incoherence in Japanese submarine strategy was shown by the multiple submarine designs developed before the Pacific War. A further fragmentation of that strategy occurred in 1940-41, now reinforced by the difference in submarine types. It began with the reorganization of the submarine forces late in 1940. The navy created a separate submarine fleet, the Sixth, composed of the first three of the navy’s seven submarine flotillas. The other flotillas were distributed to the Combined, Third, and Fourth Fleets. Each submarine flotilla began operational training according to the mission or missions it had been assigned. As each flotilla was usually composed entirely of submarines of one type, that type differing from flotilla to flotilla, missions had to be shaped by the capabilities and limitations of the particular type. This tactical reality was demonstrated in exercises held in May 1941 that were designed to test different types of submarines in different operational situations. The cruiser submarines proved themselves sluggish but reliable and capable of great endurance. They were therefore confirmed as suitable for long-distance operations—attacks on enemy bases, disruption of enemy transport routes, and ambush operations—but were judged not likely to be effective in fast-moving fleet attacks. On the other hand, the Kaidai submarines, with their slightly greater speed, would be used to pursue, shadow, and attack a westward-moving American fleet or could be deployed in the vanguard of a counterattacking Japanese surface force once the enemy reached Japanese waters.

Exercises undertaken by the Sixth Fleet’s Second Submarine Flotilla from February to April 1941 in the waters between Honshū and Micronesia revealed further difficulties in the pursuit, contact-keeping, and attack formula so long the accepted submarine doctrine in the navy. The postexercise report of the flotilla’s staff pointed out some major problems in the approved strategy. Chief among them were insufficient numbers in surveillance operations, the risk of discovery by antisubmarine forces, and inadequate submarine speed. The current strength of advanced submarine forces was simply insufficient to monitor effectively an enemy fleet in a distant harbor. Moreover, the report argued, submarines assigned this mission had to be positioned at sufficient distance to avoid antisubmarine patrols. Consequently, the enemy fleet often sortied from base undetected by the patrolling submarines. Once at sea, submarines in pursuit continued to have difficulty in maintaining contact with the enemy and even greater difficulty in getting into firing position to attack him. As in previous years, problems were encountered in setting up an ambush or picket line; once again, with submarines stationed along the line at extended intervals, the enemy too often slipped by. To deal with these various problems, the staff of the Second Submarine Flotilla recommended that in gathering information on fleet departures from enemy harbors, the navy should depend as much upon Japanese intelligence organizations as it did on submarine surveillance. To monitor the progress of a westward-moving American fleet, the navy should deploy lines of fishing boats across the enemy’s anticipated track, backed up wherever possible by large flying boats, based, most likely, in Micronesia. These recommendations are a dismal commentary on the general failure of the interception concept by 1941. Certainly, the staff of the Second Submarine Flotilla no longer believed that submarines by themselves could significantly reduce an American battle fleet not yet within the range of Japanese naval and air bases.

Further testing of equipment and training of crews in 1941 extended the scope of problems relating to the use of submarines in the decisive fleet encounter. In March and July, submarines of the Sixth Fleet and Fourth and Fifth Submarine Flotillas practiced close-in attacks on well-guarded fleet units. Again, however, such operations all too often caused the attacking submarines to be discovered because their periscopes were sighted. Some submarine officers suggested that because of the difficulties in carrying out such attacks, it would be better to carry out long-distance firing than to have the attacking submarines discovered and have the enemy turn away to avoid Japanese torpedoes. Though long-distance firing had been conceived in the 1920s, remarkably, its effectiveness had never really been tested. In any event, the concept of long-distance firing cut across the grain of the navy’s traditional nikuhaku-hitchii spirit of close-in attack. This problem lay unresolved by the time the war broke out in December 1941.

Accounts of the Japanese submarine exercises of 1939-41 clearly show that Japanese navy training attempted to be comprehensive, rigorous, and innovative in the development of the submarine as a weapon to attack regular fleet units. Tactical training was carried out at night as well as during daylight. Long- and short-distance operations were practiced. Coordination was attempted between submarines and aircraft. New weapons, like the type 95 torpedo, were tested, and novel techniques, such as “submerged firing,” were practiced.

Japanese submarine commanders developed zembotsu hassha (submerged firing) because, although their boats had proper range finders and devices for ascertaining exact bearing, they could only be used on the surface. Preferring to stay submerged when attacking fleet units screened by destroyers, submarine commanders would submerge, expose the periscope for a final optical reading of bearing and range, keep the periscope down for the final closure to the firing point, and then fire on sound bearings. This technique was hardly unique to the Japanese navy; American submarine commanders practiced something very much like it (“sound shots”) before the war, but having little luck, dropped them.

Despite the navy’s intensive training and development of new tactics, by the eve of the Pacific War, the navy had apparently not resolved the central problem of submarine tactics: the opposing requirements of self-preservation and aggressiveness. The essence of the submarine—and its preservation—is stealth. To be combat-effective, however, it must reveal itself at the moment of attack. “The trade-off between preservation and combat effectiveness,” Norman Friedman has written, “is central to submarine tactics and submarine design.” Right up to the Pacific War, Japanese submarine forces held to the navy’s traditional aggressive “close-in-sure-shot” torpedo tactics rather than switch to long-distance firing (and thus was a notable exception to the navywide obsession with outranging the enemy). At the same time, however, Japanese submarine commanders favored the contradictory and passive emphasis on concealment, which meant staying submerged for as long as possible, lying in wait for heavy enemy fleet units to come steaming by and present themselves as targets. By the time the war began, the concern for concealment proved stronger than the necessity for aggressive action, which, in the prewar exercises, appeared to lead all too often to discovery by antisubmarine surface and air forces. The result was a submarine force hobbled by conservative doctrine and aimed primarily at the destruction of naval targets. After the war, American naval interrogators were astounded at evidence of the timidity of Japanese submarine commanders on patrol. “It was frankly impossible to believe that [Japanese] submarines could spend weeks on the U.S. west coast ‘without contacts,”’ one analysis recorded caustically, “or spend more than forty days among the Solomons during the Guadalcanal campaign ‘without seeing any targets.’”

In fairness, it should be pointed out that before the war, U.S. submarine tactics showed a similar passivity. Submariners came to almost identical conclusions regarding the vulnerability of submarines attacking battle formations based on fleet exercises before the war. They believed, for example, that exposing the periscope in a fleet action was suicide, and they practiced firing on tracks based on bearings acquired by sound detection. The poor performance of U.S. submarines at the beginning of the war is partly attributable to these ingrained tactical lessons, and only the shock of American losses in the Pacific led to rapid adjustments in submarine doctrine.

For the Japanese submarine forces, in any event, this excess caution undoubtedly stemmed from lessons of the exercises of 1939-41, which revealed the extreme difficulties of carrying out their longstanding missions. These difficulties arose in part from the design of the vessels themselves, but even more from the impracticability of the prescribed tactics for the various missions. In the view of one former submarine commander, the fundamental reason for the failure of the Japanese submarine forces in the Pacific War was that those who made the basic decisions on submarine tactics—staff officers in the Combined Fleet and on the Navy General Staff—were ignorant of both the capabilities and the limitations of submarines. Typifying this lack of practical submarine knowledge was Admiral Suetsugu, who can be thought of as the father of Japanese submarine strategy. Because Suetsugu was a gunnery specialist, not a submariner, the essential strategies and tactics that he had devised for Japanese submarines were, in practice, unworkable. Individual Japanese submarine commanders knew that the tactics were impractical by the opening of the war, but being loyal and courageous officers, they did their job as best they could. During the war, this gap between staff ideas and combat realities grew even greater, and by war’s end, despite enormous losses, the Japanese submarine force had substantially failed to affect the course of the war.


Created as a response to perceived shortcomings in their landing craft during operations in China, the new designs were intended to land larger numbers of troops than the earlier designs. The first design, intended to succeed the Shinshu Maru, took that ship’s well deck and added a full-length flight deck for aircraft to take off (but not land) from. The resultant 11,000 ton ship (the Akitsu Maru) resembled an aircraft carrier, but without a hangar, and a well deck for launching 29 landing craft and 4 support vessels, like its predecessor.

Imperial Japanese Army SS craft No.19

Japanese Landing Capabilities

Early in the interwar period, the Washington Treaty had given each of the three major maritime powers a rationale of sorts to maintain an amphibious capability in the Pacific. As the treaty had prohibited the construction of new bases in the western Pacific or the strengthening of existing bases there, a successful strategy in any conflict between the three powers would require the occupation of enemy bases or the recapture of bases lost to the enemy. But by the 1930s, to Britain, the danger seemed to come from the air and ground forces of an enemy much closer to home. In such a strategic context, it was difficult enough to get funds for the navy, let alone the expansion of the Royal Marines as an amphibious force. During these years, professional conservatism, budgetary restraints, and the discouraging conclusions about the Dardanelles campaign also limited the development of amphibious war capability in the British armed forces to the realm of staff studies and the testing of landing craft, vehicles, and equipment in exercises that were theoretically unopposed. Finally, in this period, Britain had no enemy against which amphibious operations would be required. Under such conditions, Britain understandably failed to develop either the doctrine or the forces for amphibious operations.

Of the three major naval powers, the United States had the strongest motivation to develop an amphibious warfare capability, since the Japanese occupation of Micronesia at the outset of World War I had placed Japan directly athwart the path of any American fleet crossing the central Pacific to rescue or retake the Philippines. Japan had been forbidden by the treaty to fortify the islands of the Pacific. But this prohibition in no way lessened the American conviction that the islands would have to be taken by force, strengthened by strong but mistaken suspicions that Japan, prior to the late 1930s, had fortified the islands in violation of its treaty pledge. Thus, with a specific enemy and a specific theater of operations in mind, the U.S. armed forces, through landing practice and staff study, gradually built up an amphibious warfare capability. In this effort, both the major services participated to some extent: the army and navy periodically joined in fleet landing exercises of some scale in both the Pacific and Caribbean in the 1930s and made limited contributions to the drafting of the tactical manuals that served as doctrinal guides for amphibious operations.

But because the tactical priorities of the two services lay elsewhere, the U.S. Marine Corps was left to develop American amphibious warfare doctrine and thus carve for itself a mission and a professional raison d’être, which the corps has never relinquished. The development of that doctrine and the weapons, equipment, and force structure to support it have been discussed in other publications and are beyond the scope of this book. Suffice it to say that the Marine Corps’ recognition of the terrain and configuration of the Micronesia beaches, which it had targeted for its operations, forced upon the Marine Corps tacticians the doctrinal realities that their British and Japanese counterparts were not obliged to confront in the interwar period. The narrowness of the low islands of Micronesia ensured that landing operations would be met with fierce enemy opposition at the water’s edge and would therefore require the most careful planning, the most effective transport loading, and the most precise coordination with naval gunfire to be successful. The traversing of the coral reefs surrounding most such islands would necessitate the employment of transports and amphibious vehicles not yet in the arsenals of any maritime power. The flat terrain of the Micronesian atolls meant that even high-velocity and flat-trajectory gunfire might not destroy the low bunkers dug into the atolls’ coral and sand. In time, the elements of the Marine Corps’ amphibious warfare capability—unified command, combat loading, adjustments in naval gunnery, closely controlled ship-to-shore movement, amphibious landing craft, and specialized air support—came together and found expression in the kind of war that neither the British nor the Japanese armed forces had seriously considered.

The development of an amphibious landing capability offers something of an exception to the otherwise dismal record of noncooperation between Japan’s two armed services. Since nearly all of Japan’s modern wars were fought outside the home islands, of necessity, the army’s initial operations—landings on an enemy coast—required the navy’s support, a fact remarked upon with some irony by Adm. Yamamoto. Japan was thus one of the first nations to understand the importance of modern amphibious operations, without which it could not hope to establish a military presence on the Asian continent. The navy’s cooperation in debarkation of army troops on Korean shores during the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars had set the tone for the amphibious operations of the future: unopposed landings, often at several landing sites simultaneously, undertaken at night to achieve surprise and to have control of the coastline by dawn.

Until the 1930s, however, neither service maintained a force that had landing operations for its primary mission, as did the U.S. Marine Corps. The army’s role in these wars was principally devoted to the great land battles inland, and therefore, its initial interest in amphibious operations was slight; it was the navy that maintained a modest capability to project its power ashore. Most Japanese warships had a portion of their crews (usually less than a third) designated for use as a rikusentai (naval landing party) composed of sailors who had been given a modicum of infantry and small-arms training and who could be put ashore should the need arise. In riverine China, particularly at Shanghai and on the Yangtze, these shore parties were most often used. There, Japanese gunboats shared the rivers with similar vessels of Western nations in the protection of their nationals and their commercial interests at the treaty ports upriver. As early as 1897, at Shanghai, the navy had put these small forces ashore, ostensibly to quell some disturbance or meet some threat to Japanese lives and property. Rikusentai had been among the first units ashore in the Russo-Japanese War, had been used in the occupation of the German-held islands in Micronesia, and had spearheaded the Japanese intervention at Vladivostok in 1918. But the naval landing parties were used most extensively in China, where they often performed garrison duty after securing a particular landing site. Notably, such a unit had formed a permanent garrison just outside the Japanese quarter of the International Settlement at Shanghai, beginning in 1927. In its weaponry, equipment, and combat skills, however, the unit could hardly be considered a formidable amphibious force.

Until World War I, the Japanese army had hardly thought about the problems of amphibious warfare. But the Allied disaster at Gallipoli, demonstrating the difficulty of landings on a well-defended coast, had changed the army’s outlook sharply. Concluding that its future landings—in the Philippines and elsewhere— might have to be made in the face of enemy fire, the army began to insist on a more prominent role in amphibious planning. For that reason, the army actively joined the navy in a series of exercises in amphibious warfare during the 1920s: on the Shikoku coast in 1922, at Ise Bay in 1925, at Niijima in the Izu Islands in 1926 (where the army tried out its first amphibious tank), and along the Wakayama coast in 1929. In these maneuvers, both services worked out problems of navy gunfire support, maps for joint bombardments, ship-to-shore communications and control, various kinds of landing craft, assaults by divisionsized forces, the use of smoke shells, and the movement of troops over long stretches of water. From the experience gained in these maneuvers, the army and navy together developed a series of guidelines for amphibious operations. Among these, the Tairiku sakusen koyo (Outline of amphibious operations) of 1932 became the permanent manual on the subject. The result of five years of inter-service deliberations, the document clearly set forth principles for army-navy cooperation in amphibious operations and delineated the responsibility of commanders at various levels.

The eruption of fighting at Shanghai in 1932 brought about a shift in the relative attention and effort devoted to amphibious operations by the two armed services. In February, the permanent Japanese naval landing party clashed with Nationalist forces in the city streets and was badly bloodied in the process. Fearing that its garrison would be overrun, the navy called for army help in turning back the enemy. Although a mixed brigade was successfully landed to relieve the beleaguered landing party, the experience left much to be desired from the army’s point of view. The first landings were made in navy vessels unequipped with armor or armament and carrying inadequate amounts of ammunition and weapons.

The mediocre performance of the navy in the fighting at Shanghai in 1932 caused the navy to modify the way in which its naval landing parties were organized, armed, and employed. It was now perfectly willing to leave the development of a major amphibious capability to the army, including the design of docking ships, transports, and landing vessels. But in its determination to reduce its traditional reliance on the formation of ad hoc landing parties from warships on station, a measure which only depleted their complements and reduced their efficiency, the navy now decided to create permanent, specialized landing forces for limited, small-scale missions. Thus was born the Special Naval Landing Force, initially of battalion strength and armed with no more than small arms and mortars, but extensively trained in landing operations. Five units were formed in the 1930s, one at Shanghai and one each at the navy’s principal bases in the home islands: Yokosuka, Kure, Sasebo, and Maizuru. Each domestically based unit was designed to be embarked on warships, usually light cruisers or destroyers, whose naval guns could support the limited, specialized missions projected by the navy.

The army’s dissatisfaction with its actions at Shanghai also led it to rethink its dependence on the navy for amphibious operations. As a first step, it sought navy assistance in the development of a specialized landing ship. The Shinshu-maru, designed and built by the navy to army specifications, was the first ship of any nation specifically conceived for amphibious operations, a prototype of the landing ship dock later developed by the U.S. Navy. The army also went on to develop landing craft for tanks and to upgrade the training of several divisions specially earmarked for amphibious operations. Through these developments, the army became the dominant partner in the conduct of amphibious warfare even as the navy’s role shrank to providing gunfire support and convoying army landing craft to the beaches. Still, both services continued to cooperate in perfecting amphibious training and tactics.

Such training proved its worth when Japan’s China War broke out in 1937. The first amphibious operation of that conflict, in August, at the mouth of the Yangtze, reverted to the earlier arrangement of navy-directed landings in which the navy used its warships to bring the army’s troops ashore. But larger army forces were landed by army vessels, including the Shinshu-maru, in a textbook operation that followed the principles set down in the “Outline of amphibious operations”: a landing unopposed, at dawn, and at several places simultaneously. Three other major landings involving divisional forces took place over the next fourteen months: at Hangchow Bay in November 1937; at Ta-ya Wan (Bias Bay) near Hong Kong in October 1938; and at Bocca Tigris (Humen) at the entrance to the Pearl River the same month. All followed the essential pattern of established Japanese amphibious doctrine.

The Japanese landings in the China War provided excellent experience in working out the procedural and logistical problems of large-scale amphibious operations. While these operations, unopposed as they were, hardly put a strain on Japanese amphibious resources, in the words of a recent comparative study, they demonstrated that in amphibious warfare, “Japan entered World War II as well prepared as the United States, both in terms of operational forces and published doctrine.”

As discussed, in the 1930s the army had come to dominate the development of Japanese amphibious warfare, particularly in transport, equipment, strategic decisions, and the scale of forces directly involved. Yet, the army’s major missions were the defeat of enemy ground forces and the occupation of large land masses. For this reason, the army never saw its amphibious function as paramount. The same could be said of the navy, because of its obsession with the decisive battle at sea. The navy, however, confronted with the problems of seizing British and American island possessions in the Pacific, continued to manifest a strong interest in improving its amphibious capability.

Thus, as the likelihood of a war in the Pacific approached, the navy began to enlarge, strengthen, and diversify both its landing forces and their missions. The special naval landing forces grew to enlarged battalions of about two thousand men, equipped not only with small arms but also with heavy weapons, including 3-inch naval guns and howitzers. After the outbreak of the war, the battalions were sometimes enlarged by combining two or more such units into a new type of organization designated the Combined Special Naval Landing Force. On the eve of the Pacific War, some officers were inspired to promote a powerful and semi-independent amphibian force, but the idea never received much interest from the navy brass, caught up as they were in the strengthening of the battle line. Other proposals for extending the navy’s power ashore were realized, however, chief among them the idea of vertical envelopment. The navy had recognized the possibilities of this new dimension of warfare after the German paratroop successes in Europe in 1940. Late that year, under the cover designation of “Experiment 1001,” the Japanese navy began secret paratroop training for men selected from its special naval landing forces, and by the outbreak of the war had organized at least two paratroop units within those forces. The forces performed superbly in several combined operations that contributed to the rapid conquest of the Netherlands East Indies in the first months of the Pacific War.

On the eve of the Pacific War, therefore, Japan had good reason to be supremely confident of its abilities to conduct amphibious operations. This confidence was basic to its strategic decision to give military reality to the long-standing concept of nanshin, the southward thrust of Japanese power into Southeast Asia. Indeed, the first months of the Pacific War demonstrated how effectively the nation’s armed services had mastered the logistical and doctrinal problems of amphibious operations. Japanese landings in Southeast Asia—often at night, by forces that landed separately but concentrated at the point of attack—were carried out with a speed, surprise, and economy of force that sowed confusion and consequent demoralization among their British, Dutch, and American enemies. In these operations, the navy’s role was slighter than the army’s, but the former’s powerful covering forces, both distant and close, as well as its destruction of enemy air opposition, were necessary if not sufficient causes for the operations’ success.

With the end of the major Japanese offensives in the Pacific, however, the mission of the navy’s land forces changed from mobile to positional warfare. Indeed, the precedent for the shift had been set as early as 1939, with the Japanese occupation of Hainan Island, off the South China coast. Its seizure had been largely a navy operation, and with its completion, the special naval landing forces involved had been transformed into a naval guard force whose mission was defense and internal security. With the occupation of an expanded circle of island territories in the central and southwestern Pacific early in the war, the navy was obliged to repeat this model. Its land forces were increasingly given defensive missions, and their organization was changed accordingly. Increasingly, the shipborne, quickstrike special naval landing forces were replaced with konkyochitai (base forces) and their subordinate keibitai (guard units), often hastily organized and hastily dispatched to defend the navy’s advanced bases in the Pacific. Although some of these proved exceedingly resistant to attack, most were eventually annihilated by American amphibious offensives more powerful than any similar operations that Japan had ever mounted, or were simply bypassed and, by their isolation, rendered ineffective.

Clearly, then, the particular skill mastered by the Japanese navy in projecting its power ashore was the ability to make unopposed amphibious landings—operations carried out against undefended or lightly defended coastlines. This facility was amply manifested in all Japan’s modern wars. In these conflicts the navy, as well as the army, demonstrated mastery of the complex tactical and logistical problem of putting troops ashore in landings marked by stealth, deception, and dispersal.

What the navy never developed was a capability in amphibious assault. This term means the ability, such as that developed by the U.S. Marine Corps, to make an amphibious landing in the teeth of determined resistance by an alerted, fortified, and entrenched enemy. Indeed, the navy’s one experience in such operations, the assault on Wake Island in December 1941, met with near disaster and revealed how unprepared were Japan’s armed services to undertake them.

One must recognize, however, that for the entire history of the Japanese navy, amphibious assault was irrelevant. From the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 through the first year of the Pacific War, the navy had no need of such a capability. By 1943, even had Japan’s armed services developed the doctrine, training, forces, and techniques to conduct amphibious assault, its inability to establish local sea and air control in contested areas of the Pacific would have made such operations impossible.

Sino-Japanese War 1894-1895 Part I

Chinese soldiers of the reformed units.

Comparative strength of belligerents and their war plans


In the decade of the Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion, the Chinese army differed considerably from European-style forces. The differences were not so much in the armament or equipment, but mainly in the organisation and command system, adapted from the existing political system.

The Chinese army was essentially divided into separate formations and only some of those were under the control of the central government. The rest remained under the orders of provincial authorities, a fact which seriously hindered the ability of the force to be placed under a single command and sometimes even prevented it altogether. Thus, the optimal use of the country’s military potential was practically impossible. Dependence of particular units on provincial authorities was the result of the paternalistic structure of the army, where the officer corps was selected on the basis of personal loyalty. Consequently, in the Chinese armed forces, personal dependence on a specific commander was dominant, unlike modern European armies which could rely on strict subordination to orders. At the same time, command over larger military units was given to officials who had undergone little or no military training. This was the result of the low social status accorded to people devoted to military service, which had not previously been considered an honourable profession.

This all amounted to low combat effectiveness in the Chinese army, despite its considerable numerical strength and sometimes even good weaponry. Even the Chinese, who were convinced of their civilisational superiority, and generally despised any achievements of the ‘barbarian nations’, were compelled to acknowledge the fact. To remedy this, in 1861, the ‘Self-Strengthening Policy’ was introduced, which was mainly limited to providing the army with modern equipment purchased overseas or manufactured locally, organising new Western-style units, building a modern navy, and creating the necessary armament industry base and infrastructure for a modern armed force. The introduction of those reforms was intended to equalise the technological differences between the Chinese army and those of the European nations. That, according to their supporters, would allow for the possibility of defending the Middle Country against aggressive actions by the European powers. Chinese policy-makers saw their weakness only in the military aspect, completely ignoring those of the political, social and economic systems.

Implementation of the ‘Self-Strengthening Policy’ encountered serious difficulties from the very beginning. Interestingly, these problems were not financial. People were the problem – mainly imperial officials, a majority of whom were unable to break free from the previous cultural and behavioural norms. Consequently, the sums allocated to reforms were mostly wasted due to prevailing corruption, incompetence and lack of organisation. Paternalistic relations in the army were also often difficult to overcome. The new units were usually created by reforming the old ones, keeping their composition intact. As a result, despite new armament and regulations, the old personal connections and habits were retained, which seriously reduced the reform’s efficiency. However, it would not be true to state that the ‘Self-Strengthening Policy’ was without success. The combat effectiveness of the Chinese army was increased, but mainly because of the introduction of modern armament and Western-style training (and the extent of the latter was usually insufficient). Discipline, morale and logistics, on the other hand, still left much to be desired. In comparison to the effort required to implement it, the results of the ‘Self-Strengthening Policy’ can be considered unsatisfactory.

On the eve of the outbreak of the war with Japan the Chinese army was divided into four basic military units and irregular militia forces. Theoretically, its core was the Manchu Eight Banners Army which officially consisted of approximately 250,000 soldiers. In practice, however, there were no more than 100,000 troops. The Manchu Eight Banners Army was complemented by the exclusively Chinese Green Standard Army, which in theory had one million troops, though in practice its strength was no more than 600,000 soldiers (and may have been as low as 450–470,000). The troops of the Eight Banner Army were stationed mainly in the capital province of Chihli, Manchuria and Eastern Turkestan (in the latter there were no more than 15–16,000), while those of the Green Standard Army were stationed at various provinces where they mainly performed police duties. The banner units were traditionally reinforced by local militias performing vital duties in the defensive system of Tibet, Mongolia and Manchuria, which were theoretically numerous, but in reality numbered no more than 300,000 troops. Contrary to appearances, these were not worthless units – some of them were quite well-armed and trained, exceeding even the banner units in combat effectiveness, though this was by no means true of all of the militias.

Based on experiences of the Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion, new units, armed and trained in the Western style, were created. Thus, a new unit, named the Brave Army, composed of local volunteers, came into being. Since its elements were generally under the control of local authorities, the so-called Trained Army was founded to keep the balance, as it remained under the control of the central government. Both of these armies, along with some non-permanent, militia-style units undoubtedly constituted the most valuable component of the Chinese army, although as far as combat effectiveness was concerned, they were still not up to the standards of European-style forces. On the eve of the outbreak of the war with Japan, the numerical strength of the Brave Army was estimated at approximately 120,000, while that of the Trained Army numbered no more than 100,000 troops. Thus, the imperial armed forces had a total of about 1.2–1.3 million troops3. In the area where future military operations would take place (the territory of the capital province Chihli, Manchuria, Shantung province) the government had roughly 350–360,000 troops at its disposal, including approximately 125,000 serving in reformed units. However, at a later time, the figure could be increased by about 145,000 recruits called to arms (mainly to serve in the reformed units) shortly after the outbreak of war.

The basic tactical unit in the Chinese army was a detachment similar in size to the battalion of European armies. (In theory each detachment had 500 men, though on average it was generally 350 for infantry and 250 for cavalry). Up to a dozen of such ‘battalions’ formed an independent corps, which as far as numerical strength was concerned, was usually equal to a European-style brigade or a weak division. Only at that level of organisation were the Chinese troops equipped with artillery, the numerical strength of which (similarly to that of the corps) was not precisely specified. Chinese troops used a variety of firearms, which could differ even within the same unit. Infantry used mainly modern Mauser, Remington, Snider, Martini-Henry, Chassepot and Maxim rifles of various patterns. However, old flintlocks could also be found (especially the long chinkai rifles, operated by two soldiers). Apart from fire-arms, the banner armies still used traditional ‘cold steel’ weapons. The reformed cavalry units were generally armed with Mauser rifles and sabres, while the banner army units had cold steel weapons and bows.

Chinese artillery units were relatively numerous and armed with diverse range of equipment. The most modern guns in their arsenal were their 75mm Krupp field and mountain pieces and the 88mm guns of the same manufacturer. Moreover, the Chinese had a considerable number of various 67 to 76mm British pattern guns, both muzzle and breechloaders, as well as 88mm Krupp field mortars and 8cm mountain and field pieces with muzzles made of hardened bronze, manufactured at the Nankin armaments factory. That arsenal was supplemented by a number of mitrailleuses, Hotchkiss revolver guns and multi-barrel Nordenfelt naval machine-guns on field carriages. Also in use, mainly in forts, were a large number of obsolete smoothbore guns of various gauges. Despite the number of weapons, artillery was not a strong point of the Chinese army, which was unable to effectively use its advantages (which was generally the case with modern firearms of all kinds), mainly dispersing the guns along their positions.

Definitely the weakest point of the Chinese army was its training and the morale of its soldiers, which was considerably lower than in European-style armies. Admittedly, there were situations in which Chinese soldiers could attack or defend with the utmost dedication, displaying bravery and fortitude. However, more often they lacked perseverance in combat and broke down after initial failures, quickly panicking or becoming discouraged and losing faith in victory. In combat they preferred defence to attack in the belief that victory could only be achieved by defensive actions which would gradually exhaust enemy forces. Consequently, the Chinese army was usually rather passive in the field, lacking determination and quickly allowing the active enemy to seize the initiative. Combined with poor leadership and inefficient logistics, it was obvious that despite numerical strength, it could not be considered a dangerous enemy for modern European-style armed force of comparable size.

Defeats suffered by the Chinese during the Opium Wars led them to realise the need to possess a modern navy. The first attempt to create one, undertaken in 1861 (the so-called Lay-Osborne6 flotilla composed of eight steamers), misfired due to issues around jurisdiction. Consequently, creation of the navy became the responsibility of individual governors of coastal provinces and thus, in the 1860s, separate provincial fleets were created in Canton (Kwangtung province), Foochow (Fukien province and Taiwan) and Woosung near Shanghai (Chekiang province and Kiangsu). Although quite large, the navy thus created was not adapted for the military needs of the entire empire and mainly served the local feudal-military coteries.

Li Hung-chang, who since 1870 had been a Viceroy of the capital province Chihli and one of the leading Chinese politicians of that period, tried to change the situation. After the Taiwan crisis of 1874, he took advantage of his good relationship with the Court and called for reorganisation of the Chinese navy, and the creation of three fleets controlled by the central government, composed of six large and 10 smaller warships each at Tientsin, Woosung and Amoy. The idea was not realised, but a year later Chinese territory was divided into two military districts: northern Peiyang and southern Nanyang. Li Hung-chang and his Huai coterie took control over the former, while the latter (which was formally created later) fell under the control of the Hunan coterie. Simultaneously, a naval defence fund was legislated for, which would receive 40 percent of maritime customs tariffs, amounting to approximately four million taels annually.

The cruiser Chih Yuan. Along with her sister Ching Yuan, she was the fastest warship in the Peiyang Fleet.

Those actions led to creation of the uniform Peiyang Fleet subordinate to the central government (in practice to Li Hung-chang and his coterie). However, in the south, the force was still divided into three autonomous fleets: the Nanyang Fleet proper, based at Wusung near Shanghai and the provincial Fukien Fleet at Foochow, as well as the Kwangtung Fleet at Canton. Each of those operated in a different basin, was under separate command, and had distinctive structure and tasks.

The furthest south was the Kwangtung Fleet, subordinate to the governor general of ‘Two Kwangs’ (Kwangtung and Kwangsi provinces) and based at Hoanpu near Canton. It had a relatively large number of warships, but these were mainly small, often obsolete, units used mainly for customs service patrol or police duties such as protection of the mouth of the Sikiang River against pirates. Consequently, combat effectiveness of that fleet was low.

Another provincial unit was the Fukien Fleet with its main base in Foochow and auxiliary ones at Amoy and Swatou. Developed on the basis of its own shipyard and arsenal at Foochow, it was initially one of the stronger of the Chinese fleets. During the war with France in 1884–1885, the Fukien Fleet was almost completely annihilated (along with the shipyard and the arsenal) and consequently lost most of its importance. Even when rebuilt, it never regained its former relevance and its tasks were limited to coastal protection of the Fukien province and Taiwan.

Second in size on the eve of the outbreak of the war with Japan was the Nanyang Fleet, with its main base in Woosung and auxiliary bases at Ningpo and Hanchou. It was subordinate to the governor general of the Kiangsu and Chekiang provinces and its main task was coastal protection of the said provinces and navigation on the Yangtze River. Composed of rather outdated warships, it nevertheless had a military potential which could not be underestimated. The fleet remained under the direct command of Admiral Kuo Pao-ch’ang.

The Peiyang Fleet, which was created after 1875 as a result of Li Hung-chang’s reforms, was the youngest Chinese fleet but the most powerful on the eve of the outbreak of the war with Japan. Using a significant part of the naval de-fence fund (the Peiyang Fleet was entitled to half of the 40% of annual income from maritime custom tariffs, which in theory amounted to about two million taels) it was developed rapidly. Li Hung-chang, being aware of the weakness of the national shipbuilding industry, opted for the purchase of modern warships, including battleships, abroad. Initially, he wanted to order them from British and French shipyards, but following the recent war with the latter country, and problems the British raised due to the Sino-Russian border dispute over Turkestan, Li Hung-chang finally decided to place the majority of orders with German shipyards. At the turn of 1870s and 1880s, two modern battleships, three cruisers and a number of torpedo boats were ordered there. Another four cruisers, a number of gunboats and torpedo boats were ordered in Great Britain. Moreover, some warships, including one small battleship, were ordered in native Chinese shipyards. Consequently, by the end of 1880s, the Peiyang Fleet had become a serious force, capable of facing its likely main adversary, the Imperial Japanese Navy, in a struggle for the control over the Yellow Sea. However, further development was discontinued for several reasons. Firstly, maintaining so many modern and large warships required considerable resources, reaching approximately 1.8 million taels in 1888, which was almost all the amount allocated to the Peiyang Fleet by the naval defence fund. Further development could have been financed by other means. However, since 1889, a substantial amount of money from the naval defence fund had been semi-officially embezzled by the court and spent on the development of the Empress T’zu Hsi’s Summer Palace (in fact on the palace complex). This, to all intents and purposes, halted further development of the navy.

The main bases of the Peiyang Fleet were the strongly fortified harbours at Port Arthur (Lushun) and Weihaiwei. Moreover, the harbours at Talien, Chefoo and Yingk’ou and the mouth of the River Peiho near Taku had also been fortified. The growth of China’s shipbuilding base could not keep up with that of the Peiyang Fleet. Nevertheless, in 1894, it had suitable infrastructure at Port Arthur (with dry docks which could accommodate Chinese battleships) a small shipyard at Taku and repair shops at Weihaiwei.

The Peiyang Fleet itself was divided into seven squadrons, including three combat squadrons (centre, right and left wing), torpedo, training, transport and harbour (coastal de-fence). Supreme command was exercised by the chief of Naval Defence Department of the Tsungli Yamen, Viceroy of the capital province Chihli and Chief of the Peiyang armed forces, Li Hung-chang himself. He was undoubtly both an outstanding personality and a controversial figure whose characteristics were said to include greed, lust for power and hon-ours, and putting his own interest over those of the country. Direct control over the Peiyang Fleet was in the hands of Li Hung-chang’s supporter Admiral Ting Ju-chanag. He was a former Taiping Rebellion-period cavalry officer, distinguished by personal courage and energy, but without training to command the navy. Therefore, his decisions were largely based on the opinions of the foreign advisors he surrounded himself with.

Being in command of the largest fleet, Li Hung-chang made efforts to subordinate the remaining fleets to himself. He even managed to bring about joint naval manoeuvres under the command of the Peiyang Fleet (which took place in 1891 and 1894, shortly before the outbreak of war), although ultimately no fixed rules of cooperation among all four fleets were formulated, much less was there any chance for taking control over the remaining three. Consequently, only the Peiyang Fleet and the warships of the Nanyang (gunboat) and Kangtung (small cruiser and two torpedo gunboats) Fleets which had been stationed in the north faced the Japanese in 1894. The lack of backup from the merchant navy to provide transports and auxiliary vessels, was an additional problem for the Chinese. At the beginning of 1895, there were 35 steamers with a total tonnage of about 44,000 GRT, in the hands of Chinese shipowners, which was definitely not enough to satisfy the needs of the navy (all the more so, because most of those vessels were of no military use). Admittedly, the Peiyang Fleet owned some transports, but these were already obsolete, and during the war they had to charter foreign vessels which caused numerous complications.

Tactics of the Peiyang Fleet were based on European standards from the 1870s. Consequently, it was assumed that Chinese warships would go into battle in the line abreast formation and while in combat, the units abeam of the flagship would copy its manoeuvres. Leaving aside the fact that manoeuvring in line abreast formation in combat was extremely difficult, the signal books of the Peiyang Fleet were written in English, which was not spoken by all of its officers. Taking into consideration the different general and combat characteristics of the Chinese warships which were supposed to fight and manoeuvre in a similar fashion together, it all did not augur well for the Peiyang Fleet’s effectiveness in combat.

The outbreak of the war came as a surprise to the Chinese and therefore, they had no specific plan of action. A plan only began to crystallise after military operations had already been in progress and since the situation on the front was constantly changing, so were the plans. However, the actions of the Chinese high command were highly influenced by the classical Chinese philosophy of war, which had its roots in the teachings of Confucius. According to them, the Chinese saw war in a broader perspective. Ideological, psychological and propaganda warfare were as important as the actual combat and arguably a greater priority. In that situation, successes achieved in military operations were treated mainly as arguments, which could be presented during diplomatic bargaining.

Thus, the result of the military operations was not supposed to be physical annihilation of the enemy, but rather accomplishment of goals which could be used in negotiations that would lead to the termination of the conflict. Following these guidelines, the Chinese assumed that strategic victory could be achieved mainly by defensive actions designed to wear down the enemy, limiting offensive operations to local counter-attacks judged rather for their propaganda effects than military advantages.

Adopting such a strategy was favoured by the lumbering military bureaucratic system, which preferred schematic actions since they reduced risk.

The initial plan of operations was formulated at the beginning of August at the meeting of the Tsungli Yamen. It postulated sending the Peiyang Fleet to Korean waters, where it was supposed to cooperate with General Yeh Chih-chao’s corps at Asan and paralyse further operations of General Oshima’s brigade at Chemulpo, which would be unable to launch any serious operations without reinforcements and supplies delivered by sea. Simultaneously, the corps stationed at Phyongyang was to be reinforced. At the right time it would, according to the development of the situation, support General Yeh’s corps, deciding the outcome of the campaign or stop further Japanese northern-bound offensives.

Nevertheless, the Peiyang Fleet had significant fighting strength and was on paper an equal adversary for the Japanese navy – all the more so, because the training and morale of its crews was significantly better than those of the army.

The plan quickly came to nothing due to General Yeh’s corps’ defeat and Li Hung-chang’s resistance due to the fear that, while undertaking offensive actions in Korean waters, ‘his’ fleet would suffer significant loses. Consequently, Admiral Ting was ordered to take defensive action only and patrol the waters between Port Arthur and Weihaiwei. Any offensive operations beyond the line marked by the mouth of the Yalu River and Shantung Peninsula were forbidden. As a result, on land, the Chinese were to stop Japanese troops at Phyongyang, while at sea, the Peiyang Fleet was to prevent Japanese landing on Chinese soil and protect communication lines with troops stationed in Korea.

That plan was only in effect until mid-September and collapsed after Japanese victories at Phyongyang and Yalu. Later, the Chinese high command would try first to organise the land defence at the line of the River Liao (Liaoho) and then, when this failed, at the Shanhaikuan line, to block the access to the capital and wear out the Japanese troops through attrition. In fact, after the battle of Yalu, Admiral Ting’s only objective was to save the remains of the Peiyang Fleet, which would by its very existence serve as an argument in peace negotiations. Consequently, after 17 September 1894, the Chinese navy passively awaited further events.

Sino-Japanese War 1894-1895 Part II

Soldiers of the Japanese army. From the left: private, sergeant and captain.

Comparative strength of belligerents and their war plans


The modern Japanese army originated from the Imperial Guard, created in April 1871 in the strength of nine infantry battalions, two cavalry units and four artillery brigades. These were the first regular Japanese European-style units. Soon thereafter a draft of the military reform was prepared, which was approved by Imperial edict in January 1873. By its power, universal conscription was introduced and all men of a particular age were obliged to serve. Along with the abolition of class differences, this was a serious blow to the samurai class, for which military service had been an honourable distinction which decided their social and material situation. The reforms inevitably caused dissatisfaction in that group, which found its outlet in a few armed riots of the ‘unemployed’ samurai, including the famous Saigo Takamori’s rebellion of 1877. However, all these were swiftly put down and the samurai, convinced of the European-style troops’ effectiveness, were quick to join the ranks of the army, which allowed them to regain their former prestige. Consequently, in a relatively short time, Japan managed to create a valiant and well-trained army based on German standards. Its officer corps was mainly composed of former samurais, who introduced old military traditions. That blend of tradition, modern organisation and armament gave excellent results – an army that was equal to European armed forces in every respect.

On the eve of the outbreak of the war with China, all men between 17 and 40 years old were under conscription, but only those who turned 20 could be drafted (younger ones, who turned 17, could volunteer). Following the period of active military service (gen-eki), which lasted for three years, the soldiers became the 1st Reserve (yobi), than the 2nd Reserve (kobi). Young and able-bodied men, who did not have basic military training became 3rd Reserve (hoju) right away and so did those conscripts who had not fully met the physical requirements of the service. All soldiers who served their term joined the ranks of the territorial militia (kokumin). In case of war, the 1st Reserve (yobi) were to be enlisted in the first instance. They were intended to fill in the ranks of regular troops. Next to enlist were the kobi reserve, who were to further fill in the ranks of line units or to be formed into new ones. The hoju reserve members were to be enlisted only in exceptional circumstances. Territorial militia would only be called to arms in case of immediate danger of enemy invasion.

The country was divided into six military districts, each being a recruitment base for a two-brigade infantry division of approximately 18,600 troops (including 1/3 of rearguard units) and 36 artillery guns in times of war. There was also an Imperial Guard division with recruits from all districts. This was also composed of two brigades, but they were made of two, not three battalion regiments. Therefore, its numerical strength after mobilisation was 12,500 troops (including rear echelon units) and only 24 artillery guns. In addition, there were fortress troops (approximately six battalions), the so-called ‘Colonial Corps’ stationed on Hokkaido and the Ryukyu Islands (about 4,000 troops) and a battalion of military police in each of the districts. In peacetime these units had a total of fewer than 70,000 men, while after mobilisation the numbers rose to over 220,000. Moreover, the army still had a trained reserve. Following the mobilisation of first line divisions, those reserves were to be formed into reserve brigades (four battalions, a cavalry unit, a company of engineers, an artillery battery and rear echelon units each), which in the first instance were to serve as recruiting base for ‘their’ front divisions. They could also perform secondary combat operations. If necessary they could be developed into full divisions, i.e. a total of 24 territorial force regiments. However, formation of these units was hindered by the lack of sufficient volume of equipment, mainly uniforms.

The main weapon of a Japanese soldier was the 8mm Murata Type 18 breech-loading rifle. The improved five-shot Type 22 was just being introduced and in 1894, only the Imperial Guard and 4th Division were equipped with rifles of that pattern. The division artillery consisted of 75mm field guns and mountain pieces with muzzles made of hardened bronze manufactured at Osaka. That equipment, based on Krupp designs adapted by the Italians at the beginning of the 1880s, could hardly be described as modern in 1894, although in general, it still matched contemporary battlefield requirements.

Japanese troop training promoted offensive spirit and special attention was paid to forming resilience and strength in battle. In combination with systematic training and strict discipline it produced good results and consequently, the combat effectiveness of Japanese troops was high. The only weak point in the Japanese army was the logistics services, which were not very efficient. This could be observed especially during the Manchurian and Korean campaigns. Despite the fact that the armament of the Imperial troops was not as modern as some of latest patterns used by some of the Chinese units, their combat effectiveness was incomparably higher than that of the enemy, being equal to European armies.

The Japanese cruiser Itsukushima. Units of this class were built specifically to face the Chinese battleships – thus, they were armed with a huge single 320mm gun, whose projectiles were able to penetrate the armour of Chinese warships. Despite the fact that the design failed, cruisers of that class constituted the core of the Japanese navy during the war with China.

The Japanese navy came into being along with the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The isolationist policy adopted at the beginning of the 17th century stopped the development of the Japanese naval tradition. Consequently, until the 1860s the naval forces were practically non-existent. Their rebirth started only after the ‘opening of Japan’ in the 1850s. However, there was no centralised naval policy and individual clan leaders (daimyos) had their own armed forces including navies. That situation came to an end in 1869 with the Meiji Restoration, which dismantled the bakufu system. As the result of those events, the imperial government also took over all the warships which belonged to the shogun and placed them under the control of the Ministry of War (Hoyobusho), which had been created in August 1869. However, over 85 per cent of all vessels were still under control of daimyos.

Such a weak and poorly organised navy could not be considered an effective force, which was clearly demonstrated during the Enomoto Rebellion. The rising was not successfully put down until mid 1869. Already in March of the same year, on the rising tide of patriotic elation, the most powerful daimyos of Satsuma, Choshu, Tosa and Hizen clans renounced their feudal right and offered to hand over their estates to the emperor. The court accepted their offer in June, thus starting the process known later as hansen-hokan (return of the registers). Within the following six weeks, rights were renounced by a further 118 daimyos and by the end of August 1869, only the last 17 (of a total of 276) had not done so. This event had a significant meaning for the future fate of the Japanese navy, since along with their rights, land and fixed property, daimyos also started to hand over their movables including the warships that had been under their control so far. Their takeover by central authorities was a gradual process which lasted until the beginning of 1871. Control over those warships was taken by the Ministry of War, which had an autonomous naval section since February 1871. In June 1871, the existing Ministry of War was divided into the Ministry of the Army (Rikugunsho; unofficially still known as the Ministry of War) and the Ministry of the Navy (Kaigunsho).

The new ministry took control over all warships, which were a mix of types and classes of different characteristics and in various state of repair. Guided, on one hand, by economic policy and on the other trying to eliminate units of dubious combat effectiveness, out of over 100 warships and transports, only 19 vessels, of a total of 14,610 tons and complements of almost 1,600 men, remained in service. Moreover, the shipyards Ishikawajima and the naval shipyard at Yokosuka (so far remaining under the control of the Ministry of Public Works) came under control of the Ministry of the Navy and so did the Tokyo Naval Academy, established in 1873.

The beginnings of the Japanese navy were not easy since circumstances marginalised its role. Suffice it to say that in the years 1868 to 1872 there were about 160 peasant revolts or rebellions, which had to be put down mainly by land troops. Still later, there were at least three significant former samurai rebellions including the famous Saigo Takamori’s Rebellion in 1877. Again, the navy’s role in putting them down was insignificant. Thus, the development of the army became the priority of the Japanese government in the first half of the 1870s and that inevitably affected the condition of the navy. Thus, when in 1873, Minister of the Navy Katsu Kaishu put forward the first in Japanese history naval build-up programme which would provide for construction of 104 vessels (26 of metal, 14 large and 32 smaller ones of mixed construction plus 32 transports and auxiliary vessels) within 18 years for the sum of 24,170 thousand yen, the plan was rejected by the government for financial reasons.

The situation changed considerably following the Japanese intervention on Taiwan, lasting from May to October 1874, which made Japanese authorities realise the need for a strong navy. Consequently, still in 1874, a decision was made to order three modern warships (including one battleship) from Great Britain, which would significantly strengthen the imperial navy. All the warships, built for a total of three million yen, were delivered in 1878. Until the mid-1880s, a further six medium size units (in fact there were five warships and an imperial yacht) and two training sailing vessels were built by native shipyards. Additionally, four torpedo boats were purchased abroad. However, these were all short-term measures which did not ensure the appropriate development of the navy in the long run.

Meanwhile, the financial situation of the country began to improve. This was not so much due to increased income, but to settlement of some legal-financial and administrative issues. Moreover, the introduction of the cadastre brought regular revenues, although not high enough to cover every need. All that allowed for real planning of budgetary expenditures, including military ones. Consequently, in 1881, Minister of the Navy Kawamura Sumiyoshi (who had held the position since 1878), put forward another naval build-up programme which would provide for construction of a total of 60 vessels within 20 years (at three units a year) for 40 million yen. Although it was not endorsed by the government, the next year brought the approval of an eight-year programme which would provide for the construction of a total of 48 vessels and modern naval bases at Kure and Sasebo (apart from the already existing base at Yokosuka) for a total of 26,670,000 yen. Its purpose was the creation of a navy, which would provide effective protection of the Japanese islands and at the same time be capable of limited-scale offensive operations, especially against Japan’s largest potential enemy – China. Guided by its economy policy, the Ministry of the Navy adopted the French concept of the ‘Young School’ (Jeune École), which advocated the use of torpedo forces for coastal defence and cruisers for offensive operations against enemy communication lines. The adoption of such a solution was a result of a compromise between the need to guarantee the appropriate potential of the navy in case of the war with China and the ability to undertake effective operations in case of conflict with a European power.

To provide suitable funds for the programme (as well as other military spending), in 1882, the Japanese government introduced excise duty on sake (Japanese rice vodka), soya and tobacco, which annually generated income of approximately 7.5 million yen. An increase in the fiscal burden on society provided additional income, and therefore naval spending rose from 3.4 million yen in the financial year 1882/1883 (the first budget year of the implementation of the programme) to 9.5 million yen in the financial year 1891/1892. It enabled for full realisation of the 1882 programme, which after the introduction of some modifications, saw the completion of 22 large and medium size warships (nine cruisers, six small cruisers, two torpedo gunboats and five gunboats), two training vessels and 18 torpedo boats, as well as the aforementioned naval bases at Kure and Sasebo. These warships were to face the Peiyang Fleet in the coming war.

The emperor was the commander-in-chief of the Japanese armed forces, both the army and the navy. The Ministry of the Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy General Staff were also directly subordinate to him. The former body was responsible for all structural, technical and personnel matters, while the latter was responsible for those directly connected with the organisation of combat operations and maintaining of combat readiness. At the moment of the outbreak of the war with China, the post of the Minister of the Navy had been held since 1893, by Vice-Admiral Saigo Tsugumichi30. Vice-Admiral Kabayama Sukenori, an experienced officer, able and energetic, albeit sometimes thought a bit too impulsive, had been the Chief of General Staff since July 1894. Shortly after the commencement of military operations, a High Command was created in Tokyo, which, apart from the emperor, gathered the foremost officers of the army and the navy, and was responsible for important strategic decisions made during the war. Due to its unsatisfactory location, since most of the mobilised troops were concentrated at Hiroshima and dispatched to the front lines from the harbour of Ujina located nearby, the High Command was transferred to Hiroshima in mid-September.

The entire coast of Japan was divided into five naval districts based at Yokosuka (District I), Kure (District II), Sasebo (District III), Maizuru (District IV) and Muroran (District V). Since in 1894, the organisation of the fourth and fifth had not yet been finished, the territory of District IV was placed temporarily under the management of the Kure authorities and partially those at Yokosuka, while District V was only under the control of the latter authority.

In peacetime, warships of the Japanese navy were divided among three main naval bases at Yokosuka, Kure and Sasebo, interchangeably performing active, guard and training duties or remaining as a reserve. Following mobilisation, the navy would be composed of five divisions of seagoing warships and three flotillas of torpedo boats (a fourth was being formed). Obsolete units of little combat effectiveness were not mobilised. During peacetime, at the end of 1893, there were 14,850 officers and seamen in the service, but during the war the number increased to over 20,000 men.

A relatively large merchant navy, which at the beginning of 1894 had 288 steamers of a total of 174,000 GRT, was an excellent complement to the Japanese navy. Sixty-six of these vessels, of a total of 135,755 GRT, belonged to Nippon Yusen Kaisha, the shipowner which received national treasury subsidies to maintain the vessels which could be used by the navy in case of war. Thus, the navy could call on a sufficient number of auxiliaries and transports.

During the war with China, the naval base at Sasebo played the most important role. Apart from Sasebo, harbours at Hiroshima (Ujina), Yokohama, Kobe and Nagasaki – mainly for loading troop and supplies – would also be used. Muira Bay in the Tsushima Archipelago would be used as a temporary base and later also some Korean harbours and anchorages. Naval bases at Kure and Sasebo, as well as the entrance to the Tokyo Bay were heavily fortified and equipped with considerable numbers of 120mm to 280mm coastal artillery guns.

The Japanese Navy was under the immediate command of Admiral Ito Yuko, who was not a brilliant commander, but undoubtedly experienced and well-prepared for his duty. He was by nature cautious and not willing to take any unnecessary risks, but was at the same time a skillful tactician, persistent and not easily discouraged. Japanese crews were also well prepared for war – both officers and ordinary seamen were well-trained, and their morale was excellent. Only the rules of officer promotion and appointment to command posts could raise some objections. Although class divisions were abolished in 1871, samurai background could definitely make a career easier. Clan connections were also still important – following 1872, the Satsuma clan had a majority in the navy and its members constituted most (though not all) high ranking naval officers. Essentially, the aforementioned phenomenon did not violate internal discipline of the navy and with minimum essential requirements for a commanding post in effect, it did not have significant impact on the level of training of the officer corps, which could be considered good.

Japanese navy tactics were based on combat regulations of 1892. They assumed that Japanese warships would enter combat in line-ahead (in four-warship divisions) with the flag-ship in the lead. At times when signals could only be transmitted visually (by signal flags, light or semaphore signals), this formation was supposed to facilitate commanding and manoeuvring of the entire force in face of the enemy. The role of speed and manoeuvre was very important, as they would allow for optimal utilisation of the existing combat potential. As a matter of fact, the Japanese performed tactical experiments almost from the beginning of the war (mainly thanks to Rear Admiral Tsuboi), developing the rule of dividing forces in battle into the main force and a fast manoeuvring unit, which, while operating separately on the battlefield, would fight in concert, giving the advantage over a homogenous enemy force (advantages in speed of manoeuvring unit would allow the force to attack weak points of the enemy formation or absorb his attention to facilitate operations of the main force).

To sum up, the combat effectiveness of the Japanese navy was high, lowered only by the lack of modern battleships, which on the other hand, the Chinese were in possession of. Admittedly, a temporary naval build-up programme passed in 1892, which provided for the construction of two battleships, three cruisers and one small cruiser, constituted a clear departure from the ideas of the ‘Jeune École’ but it was not completed before the outbreak of the war with China. Consequently, in the coming war, the naval forces of China and Japan could have been balanced – better training and more modern armament on the Japanese side was counterbalanced by large and relatively modern battleships on the Chinese side.

Japanese Plans

Japan, on entering the war, had a clearly specified plan of action, whose main military objectives were the capture of Korea and driving the Chinese troops behind the Yalu River. It would be executed in three phases.

The first phase would be further divided into three stages: the Japanese navy would prevent the delivery of reinforcements for the Chinese corps under General Yeh at Asan. Then, General Oshima’s brigade would defeat Yeh’s force, and finally take Seoul. The second stage would comprise the prompt redeployment of the I Army forces to Korea, while the third stage would be defeating the Chinese troops concentrated at Phyongyang and driving them behind the Yalu River. Accomplishment of the third stage would end in the conquest of the entire Korean territory.

Japanese victory in Korea would be largely dependent on maintaining control of their sea communication lines in order to freely deliver supplies and reinforcements to their troops fighting on the mainland, the second phase of operations would be for the Japanese navy to secure the control of the sea. It was anticipated that this would be achieved in a decisive naval battle, but the timing of that phase was fluid. It depended on the actions of the enemy, but the fastest possible capture of Korea was a priority. Only then would energetic operations against enemy naval bases commence, in order to annihilate its navy (or any forces which survived the expected decisive naval battle). The second phase would end with achieving total control of the sea and annihilation of the enemy’s naval forces.

If, following the loss of Korea and control of the seas, the Chinese still possessed the will to fight, the Japanese anticipated a third phase of a series of offensive operations, both on land in Manchuria and, exercising full control of the sea, also against selected coastal targets, which had the potential to inflict heavy losses and force the authorities in Peking to sign a peace treaty on Japanese conditions.

Thus, the Japanese war plan was distinctly offensive in nature and largely based on the principles of the classic naval doctrines of Mahan and Colomb. Its characteristic feature was that redeployment of troops to Korea was not dependent on seizure of the absolute control of the sea. Logically speaking, taking control of Korea should have been dependent on control of the sea. Every other combination, even taking into consideration passivity and ineptitude within the Chinese high command, attracted a serious risk of a breach in the communication lines between the troops fighting in Korean and the homeland. Should this be fulfilled, the worst-case scenario would mean a catastrophe of unimaginable consequences, even after initial successes. However, the Japanese deliberately took that risk, taking into consideration the country’s economic potential. Japan simply had no means of waging a long-lasting war with wealthy China. War had to be swift and successful. Therefore, a more risky military plan was adopted to avoid lengthy military actions, which would be destructive for the Japanese economy. However, it should be emphasised that the risk taken was within acceptable limits and with certain discipline of operations and strategic initiative, the Japanese plan nevertheless had a good chance to grant a significant degree of success – especially if the overall advantages in the quality of Japan’s forces were taken into consideration.

Zeros as Kamikazes

The Kamikazes represented just one facet of the extreme Japanese measures originated to present a last-ditch defence against the American onslaught, under the overall title of Tokku (Special Attack) and the latter term is the one used by them. As in all things, the western usage of the term Kamikaze to apply generally to all such facets of self-sacrifice, has become the accepted norm. The Japanese term Shimpū (Divine Wind) so named after two opportune typhoons that legend had it had providentially arisen and destroyed two huge invasion fleets sent by Kublai Khan against Japan in 1274 and in 1281 applied to the air-to-sea arms of the Tokku. There have been many theories as to when exactly the idea of the suicide attack, as a given policy rather than as a personal decision, were adopted, and just as many speculations as to the originator. In my study on this subject I have tried to list the precedents down through the war. Before proceeding in detail with how the A6M came to be involved, it should also be firmly held in mind that the lone ‘suicidal’ attack was far from just a Japanese concept. All nations’ armed forces had embraced the ‘take one with you’ philosophy down the ages, from forlorn hopes such as King Leonidas and his Spartans who sacrificed themselves to hold the pass at Thermopylae against the Persian hordes of Xerxes in 480 BC, throughout succeeding centuries, and World War II was no exception. In the particular field of aerial warfare the examples of Major Katsushige Takada off Biak in May 1944 and Rear-Admiral Masabumi Arima’s sacrifice on 15 October of the same year had been preceded by many similar actions by all other air forces. Russian fighter pilots such as Lieutenant II Ivanov of 46 Fighter Regiment became ‘Heroes of the Soviet Union’ for ramming Luftwaffe bombers, and even women pilots got into the act when First-Lieutenant Yekaterina Zelenko rammed a Bf.109. Major Ernst-Siegfried Steen of the Luftwaffe crashed his Junkers Ju.87 dive-bomber into the Soviet heavy cruiser Kirov and was awarded a posthumous Knight’s Cross. The Americans were no exception to this list, with Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr, for example lauded coast-to-coast by the press back home for his heroism in diving his huge B-17 bomber into the battleship Haruna and sinking her off the Philippines on 10 December 1941– when in fact he did no such thing, only a light cruiser was present and she was not scratched, while Haruna herself was hundreds of miles away at the time. That same day Lieutenant Samuel H. Marret of 34 Pursuit Squadron was killed when his P-35 fighter was caught in the up-blast from a bomb hit on a Japanese transport ship and the two stories became intertwined. Neither man committed suicide of course but the American press, hungry for some grain of success, invented stories to say they had, and, in doing so, also treated them as heroes for so doing. At Midway Marine Captain Richard E. Fleming is credited with diving his Vought SB2U dive-bomber into another ‘battleship’ (actually his target was the heavy cruiser Mikuma) at Midway, but his citation clearly stated he scored a near miss and crashed into the sea, the press knew otherwise; but other American pilots most certainly did self-sacrifice in this way, and were rightly hailed as heroes. So self-immolation for the defence of one’s country was not an exclusive trait of the Japanese.

However, the Japanese most certainly embraced the concept (although not without considerable reservations on the part of many and outright rejection by many more) more than any other nation had done up to that point. The suggestion of deliberately crashing aircraft into enemy ships as a matter of policy had been raised at various times, by various people, only to meet rejection. The American landings at Leyte Gulf on 20 October, at the start of their campaign to re-conquer the Philippines, brought all such speculations to a high pitch.

When Vice-Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi, commanding 1 Kōkū-kantai, visited 201 Kōkütai at their Mabalacat base (Clark Field) that day events did not auger well. Bombarding battleships and cruisers lined the coast, tens of thousands of American troops were in transports just offshore protected by dozens of small escort carriers, while over the horizon the all-powerful US Task Forces with their massed aircraft prowled in overwhelming strength. What was left of the Japanese surface fleet was to be committed to an all-out assault to drive the enemy back, but to facilitate their task, those carriers just had to be eliminated. The Admiral had been charged by the High Command to do just that, destroy the American carriers, but, from previous experience and failures, he had come to the conclusion that there was only one way left to achieve his brief and save his nation. Originally when the question of suicide attacks had been raised, Ōnishi had been rigorously opposed it; he called it ‘heresy’.9 Now faced with the direness of the situation he had put all such scruples behind him. He postulated to assembled officers that Japan’s position was a desperate and extreme one. If the Philippines went then Japan would be cut off from the oil sources she had gone to war to obtain and then it was just a matter of time to total defeat. He put to them the option of loading their sleek little A6M fighter planes with 551lb (250kg) bombs and deliberately crash-diving (Tai-Atari – literally body-crash) them into the wooden flight-decks of the American carriers operating offshore. Such a revolutionary concept, deliberate suicide, would, one would have expected, have caused considerable pause, but it would appear that, after the briefest of consultations between Executive Officer Commander Asaichi Tamai and Lieutenant Masanobu Ibusuki, senior squadron leader (the Group commander, Captain Ei Yamamoto, was hospitalized after an accident at this time) they accepted the Admiral’s option without reserve. The generally accepted versions of events presented are that the pilots of 201 were immediately assembled and the news broken; volunteers were called for; every man raised his hand. Almost in a trice then the Kamikazes were born. Other accounts recall a considerable reluctance on the part of the chosen leader, Lieutenant Yukio Seki, but, upon reflection, he finally consented. Whatever the truth, and there must surely have been some pause, the ultimate outcome was the same and planning commenced. Four units were set up, named after elements in the poet Norinaga Motoori’s epic one-line homage to Japan – Shikishima-Tai (traditional name of the Japanese islands); Yamato-Tai (the original name of the Japanese nation), Asahi-Tai (the rising sun) and Yamazakura-Tai (the mountain cherry blossom).

Admiral Ugaki duly noted this revolutionary step in his diary entry for 21 October.

In view of the present situation, the 1 Kōkū-kantai is going to organize a Kamikaze Special Attack Corps with twenty-six carrier fighters of the 201st Kōkūtai, all of its present strength, of which thirteen were suicidal ones. They are divided into four units. They intend to destroy enemy carriers without fail – at least put them out of order for a while – before the thrust of the [our] surface force, when they come to the sea east of the Philippines.

He added in an emotional outburst of spiritual pride, ‘Oh, what a noble spirit this is! We are not afraid of a million enemies or a thousand carriers because our whole force shares the same spirit!’

The selection of the A6M as the first Kamikaze operator may appear a bizarre choice. The agile little fighter plane was renowned for her deftness and lightness and the options of various bomber types would seem more apt as pile-drivers to sink carriers. Ōnishi was certainly influenced by the fact that the group’s earlier experiments with the chōhi bakugeki method made them stand out in this regard. Considered practically suicidal anyway they were used to toting bombs around and making high-speed approaches. Instead of bouncing the bomb off the water into the side of the ships, they could adopt varying approaches, which included a low-level approach with a final climb and dive, according to the conditions and scale of defences. That the A6M had the necessary speed to penetrate US defences whereas the Philippine Sea battle had shown that the dive-bombers and attack planes stood very little chance of doing so, decided the choice. The same problem remained, the size of bomb that the suicider bakusō could carry into battle to be an effective carrier-killer. It still remained in essence a 551lb (250kg) weapon when at least 1,100lb (500kg) was required to smash up such large ships as fleet carriers and fulfil the basic premise of the Kamikaze, ‘one ship for one plane’. Of course all other types of aircraft were soon pressed into service, even floatplanes and flimsy wire-and-strut trainers, in fact anything that could be flown piloted by anyone capable of flying them; but it was the A6M that led the way, and indeed remained the mainstay of the earlier Kamikaze attacks.

How did their designer feel about this apparent waste of his outstanding design concept, the A6M? Did he feel it was being thrown away in a totally unsuitable manner? Did he resent the misuse of his brainchild? At the time he contributed an article for the Asahi newspaper group’s publication Kamikaze Special Attack Forces, which he titled ‘Compliment to the Kamikaze Special Attack Forces’. Horikoshi was to write, ‘As I have witnessed the birth of the Zero, I know there is nothing to fear, since we have created an aircraft worthy of its task and the Kamikaze Special Attack Forces does the job that must be done.’ This seemed to be a very clear and unequivocal endorsement of the role to which his creation had been assigned. Later he recalled that he reflected that this was not really the case, asking himself, ‘Why were the Zeros used in such a way?’ He mused, ‘Of course, I could not say such things publicly at that time …’

However Hirikoshi thought about things there is no doubt that the A6M carried out the strange new role that was thrust upon it very well indeed. Indeed, initially, the whole Kamikaze concept took the Allies totally by surprise. Not only were they amazed at the alien mind-set that could conceive, and carry out continuously, such a sacrificial effort, but at its effectiveness. The debut was made during the closing stages of the Leyte Gulf battle, a sprawling encounter as labyrinthine and complex as all of the previous Japanese grand assaults from Midway onward, which saw the remnant of the still powerful surface fleet crushed and scattered to the four winds and yet another instance of a Japanese commander turning back with victory almost within his grasp. At Savo Island in 1942 with the Allied warships beaten and bewildered and with the American transport fleet at their mercy, the Japanese had turned back, a decision which led to the long-drawn out defeat in the Solomons. At Leyte Gulf, in the Shō-Gō Operation – with the whole American landing fleet within their grasp and the chance to justify the sacrifice of their whole fleet, command irresolution again took place at the critical moment and lost the Japanese their one last chance. But if the Americans had survived the massed salvoes of the Japanese battleships and heavy cruisers, the arrival of the Kamikaze gave them much pause for thought.

There were initially several abortive missions, on 21 October the Shikishima-tai failed to find the enemy carriers, while the Yamato-tai (‘Spirit of Japan’) flew a sortie from Cebu, from which Lieutenant (j.g.) Kōfu Kunō vanished without a trace. However, the Australian heavy cruiser Australia was hit and badly damaged by a suicide aircraft, the first of many such crashes endured by this ship. Similar failures by the Shikishima-tai were recorded on each succeeding day up to the 24 October. It was not until 25 October that the Kamikazes made their mark when the Commander Yukio Seki’s group of five bakusō, including Ensigns Iwao Nakano and Nobuo Tani and Petty Officers 1st Class Hajime Nagamine and Shigeo Oguro, with a four A6M fighter escort, attacked the eighteen escort carriers of Task Group 77 under Rear-Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague off Samar where they had just narrowly escaped total destruction by Kurita’s premature withdrawal. The carrier St Lo was sunk, and the Kalin Bay, Kitkun Bay and White Plains were all damaged. These attacks were all observed and confirmed by Warrant Officer Hiroyoshi Nishizawa of the escort. That same day Lieutenant Hiroyoshi Nishizawa was refused permission to lead his own group and his aircraft was instead flown by Petty Officer 1st Class Tomisaku Kastsumata, who crashed the escort carrier Suwanee off Surigao. Others of his group hit and damaged her sister ships, the Sangamon and Santee, in the same mission.

After these initial victories the High Command in Tokyo enthusiastically embraced the Kamikaze concept and it rapidly became the most efficient method of anti-ship operation, although it never totally replaced conventional dive- and torpedo-bomber sorties entirely, and was itself supplemented by the Oka (‘Baka’) human-guided-bomb missions, Maru-dai, on which 252 Kōküati also flew as escorts, and other innovations. The missions themselves rapidly developed and Allied defensive methods, which included stronger fighter patrols, heavier radar-controlled gun barrages at longer ranges, picket-destroyers and proximity AA fuses, were countered by intelligent use of the land mass, mountains and cloud cover to shield approaches, the alternation and constant variation of altitudes and early morning and dusk attacks to take advantage of poor light, to keep up the pressure. Another tactic that confused the defending gunners was to make a determined run against a specific ship in the fleet and then, at the last moment, turn hard to port or starboard and crash an adjacent ship. Once the A6Ms were inside the warship formation at low level the gunners were restricted in their fire because the chances of hitting a friendly ship in the heat of the action were high. In public the Allies derided the Kamikaze as ‘wasteful’, in private the US Navy was seriously worried as warship losses sharply escalated.

The use of the suicide attacks rapidly gained favour and the Japanese Army Air Force was also a contributor, indeed, some sources say they originated it. From being a purely voluntary operation before long the commanding officers of entire units were ‘volunteering’ them for this mission. Love of one’s country, the need to protect one’s family, peer pressure, even mental blackmail, the motivation varied from individual to individual. There was not the blanket blind obedience that nowadays many Americans allege existed. Even among those that volunteered and died, rational doubts were uppermost in the final thoughts. One young pilot, Lieutenant-Commander Iwatani, wrote:

I cannot predict the outcome of the air battles, but you will be making a mistake if you should regard Special Attack operations as normal methods. The right way is to attack the enemy with skill and return to the base with good results. A plane should be utilized over and over again. That’s the way to fight a war. The current thinking is skewed. Otherwise, you cannot expect to improve air power. There will be no progress if flyers continue to die.

The A6M remained one of the principal aircraft utilized as Kamikaze during the Philippine campaign. The principal -tai (units) in which the A6M were involved either as suicider or as escort, were the Kamikaze Tokubetsu Kōgekitai Asahi-, Baika-, Byakko-, Chihaya-, Hazakura-, Jimmu-, Junchū-, Kasagi-, Kashima-, Kasuga-, Kazaki-, Kikusui-, Kongō-, Kōtoku-, Niitaka-, Ōka-, Reisen-, Sakon-, Sakurai-, Seikō-, Shikishima-, Shinpei-, Shisei-, Shōmu-, Taigi-, Tenpei-, Tokimune-, Tsukuba-, Ukon-, Wakazakura-, Yamato- and Yamazakura-tai. As far as can be ascertained approximately 230 A6Ms were despatched on suicide sorties from the Philippines, with a further eighty assigned as escorts.

The shock of being on the receiving end of one of the first A6M suicide attacks was recorded in the Action Report of the St Lo, all the more graphic because of its detachment.

At about 1051 AA fire was seen and heard forward and general quarters was sounded. Almost immediately thereafter, numerous planes, believed to include both friendly and enemy, were seen at 1000 – 3000 feet ahead and on the starboard bow. These planes moved aft to starboard and one of them when about abeam to starboard went into a right turn toward the St. Lo. The after starboard guns opened [fire] on him, but with no apparent effect. This plane, a Zeke 52, with a bomb under each wing, continued his right turn into the groove, and approached over the ramp [aft] very high speed.

After crossing the ramp at not over fifty feet, he appeared to push over sufficiently to hit the deck at about number 5 wire, 15 feet to the port side of the centre line. There was a tremendous crash and flash of an explosion as one or both bombs exploded. This plane continued up the deck leaving fragments strewn about and its remnants went over the bow. There is no certain evidence as to whether or not the bombs were released before the plane struck the deck.

The Captain’s impression was that no serious damage had been suffered. There was a hole in the flight deck with smouldering edges which sprang into flames. Hoses were immediately run out from both sides of the flight deck and water started on the fire. He then noticed that smoke was coming through the hole from below, and that smoke was appearing on both sides of the ship, evidently coming from the hangar. He tried to contact the hangar deck for a report, but was unable to do so. Within one to one and a half minutes an explosion occurred on the hangar deck, which puffed smoke and flame through the hole in the deck and, he believes, bulged the flight deck near and aft of the hole. This was followed in a matter of seconds by a much more violent explosion, which rolled back a part of the flight deck, bursting through aft of the original hole. The next heavy explosion tore out more of the flight deck and also below the forward elevator out of its shaft. At this time, which he estimated as still shortly before 1100, he decided that the ship could not be saved. With the smoke and flame, he was even uncertain as to whether the after part still was on the ship, though later he had glimpses of it. All communication was lost, except the sound-powered phones, which apparently were in for some time although no reports could be obtained from aft.The word was passed ‘stand by to abandon ship’ and the order given to stop all engines. The order to the engines appeared to get through, and the word to stand by to abandon ship reached all parts of the ship, partly by sound-powered phone and partly by word of mouth, and the personnel assembled largely on the flight deck forward, and on the forecastle. During this time, some personnel had been blown overboard, and some had been driven over by fire.

The Philippines 1944: Japanese Preparations and Plans I

Preparations for the defense of the Philippines did not start in earnest until March 1944, when the IGHQ issued “Battle Preparations No. 11,” aimed to bolster the strength of the Fourteenth Army. The enemy landing at Hollandia in April 1944 finally convinced the IGHQ that no time must be lost in strengthening the defenses of the Philippines.

Defense Preparations, October 1943–June 1944

Between October 1943 and March 1944, the Japanese defense preparations in the Philippines were limited to preparing the islands as rear operational base for support of a decisive battle along the Marianas-Carolines–western New Guinea line. Yet the Japanese did not prepare any plan to reinforce the Philippines against an enemy invasion. One reason was that Japanese resources were already heavily taxed elsewhere. The Japanese also believed that the Allied advance could be stopped at the forward defense barrier before the Philippines were seriously threatened.

After the Japanese conquest of the Philippines in April 1942, the 24th Army, with four “mixed” (composite) brigades, was left as the occupying force. Its main task was to crush the growing guerrilla movement in the Philippines. In October 1943, the IGHQ directed the Fourteenth Army, responsible for the defense of the Philippines, to complete necessary base facilities by the spring of 1944. All the existing 13 airfields were scheduled for improvements, while an additional 30 airfields would be built. The plans also called for the expansion of other rear-area bases and communications routes.

The IGHQ directed additional personnel to the Philippines to accelerate the entire construction program. In late March 1944, the IGHQ’s Army section ordered a change of command organization for the southern area (put in effect on 5 April 1944). The Southern Army’s area of responsibility was enlarged to encompass deployment areas of the Fourteenth Army in the Philippines, the Second Army in western New Guinea and the eastern NEI and Fourth Air Army. The Fourteenth Army was directed to start defense preparations, with the focus on defense of Mindanao.

In April 1944, the commander of the Fourteenth Army, Lieutenant General Shigenori Kuroda, regrouped his forces to occupy better positions against the enemy’s possible invasion of the archipelago. The 16th Division (minus one infantry regiment), plus one independent mixed brigade and some other minor elements designated as Army reserve, was transferred from Luzon to Leyte. Two other brigades were deployed to northern and southern Luzon, respectively. The 30th Division, after its arrival from Korea in late April, was deployed to Mindanao.

By early May 1944, the Fourteenth Army consisted of only the 16th Division and four independent mixed brigades. The staff of the Fourteenth Army estimated that at least 15 divisions would be required to fight a decisive battle in the Philippines. However, because of the demands of reinforcing the Marianas–western New Guinea line there was little hope that these forces could be available for the defense of the Philippines.

Beginning in May 1944, the IGHQ relieved the Southern Army commander of all responsibility for the defense of eastern New Guinea. At the same time, the Eighteenth Army and other units were redeployed to new locations in western New Guinea. In mid-May, Field Marshal Terauchi transferred his headquarters to Manila to ensure more effective control over operations in that part of the theater. In addition, the 3rd Shipping Department HQ was relocated from Singapore to Manila.

During June 1944, approximately 15,000 to 20,000 additional Japanese troops were redeployed to the Philippines. The Fourteenth Army was directed to reorganize and increase each of its four independent mixed brigades to a division-size force. The new divisions were located at Davao (100th Division), Cebu (102nd Division), Baguio, Luzon (103rd Division), and Las Banos, Luzon (105th Division). In addition, two new brigades were activated in Luzon, while another newly organized brigade was transferred to Zamboanga (western Mindanao) via Cebu. Another brigade raised in Japan was also assigned to the Fourteenth Army. However, two out of the four newly created divisions lacked large unit training, and their recruits were poorly trained. Hence, teams of instructors were sent from Japan in June and July to help in training. Nevertheless, these brigades were not fully combat ready by the time of the enemy invasion of Leyte.

As part of their defense preparations, the Japanese also started a process of increasing reserves of logistical supplies for the Southern Army. The Southern Army’s Lines of Communications Command was established on 10 June. This headquarters consolidated the control of all transportation units in the Philippines and the logistical support for the Southern Army.

Naval Preparations

After the Japanese conquest of the Philippines, only small forces for local sea defenses were deployed in the archipelago. The main responsibility for naval defense of the Philippines belonged to the Southwest Area Force. Its area of responsibility stretched from central New Guinea in the east to Burma in the west. After July 1943, the Southwest Area Force HQ was temporarily in Penang, Malaya. It was moved back to Surabaya in February 1944. On 12 July, it was again relocated from Surabaya to Manila to assume closer control of naval bases and surface forces in the Philippine waters.

The 3rd Southern Expeditionary Fleet, subordinate to the Southwest Area Force, was specifically tasked for the defense of the sea approaches to the Philippines. In early May 1944, this fleet consisted of only ten, mostly small and obsolete vessels. All of them were involved in escort duties in the Philippine area.

In March 1944, the naval air strength in the Philippines consisted of the 32nd Air Group at Sarangani and the 31st Air Group at Nichols Field (Luzon). The Navy used only a dozen of airfields and seaplane bases in the archipelago. Initially these fields were used for pilot training, but later they were converted into frontline air bases. Sites for new airstrips were surveyed, especially at Davao and Manila areas, as additions to the Army’s airfields at Bagorod and the Clark Field area. Construction of the new and larger air bases progressed rapidly. An additional 21 naval air bases were planned for completion by the end of 1944.

The Japanese Navy did not concentrate its efforts on the defense of the Philippines until May 1944. Combined Fleet used the bases at Tawi-Tawi, Sulu Archipelago, and the Guimaras Strait in the Visayas. In March 1944, a decision was made to use Davao Bay as the main naval base in the southern part of the archipelago. New communications equipment was installed there because of the anticipated relocation of the Combined Fleet HQ from the western Carolines to Davao. It was also planned to move the First Air Fleet HQ from the Marianas to Davao. In mid-May 1944, the Combined Fleet arrived at Tawi-Tawi and spent about one month there before beginning its A-Operation, which led to the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

Air Preparations

The Japanese recognized that the key factor in the successful defense of the Philippines would be air power. Consequently, the Battle Preparations No. 11 issued in March 1944 directed that the defense of Halmahera and the Philippines would be the responsibility of the air forces and assisted by Navy and ground forces. On the basis of the IGHQ’s assumption that the enemy would land on the Philippines in or after mid-November, training of the aircrews was scheduled for completion by the end of October.

The 4th Air Division directed the major part of the airfield construction. However, the Army troops would be mainly used for the construction. This, in turn, considerably affected their combat training and state of beach defenses. Construction of the airfields and aircraft shelters was completed by the end of September 1944.

At the beginning of 1944, the Japanese situation concerning land-based aircraft in the Philippines was extremely unsatisfactory. The 6th Air Division lost virtually all of its remaining aircraft in Hollandia. The 7th Air Division was fully committed in the defense of the island of Ceram, Moluccas. Operations in Burma prevented the Japanese from timely redeploying their aircraft to the defense of the Philippines if needed. Land-based naval air strength was limited to only the 26th Air Flotilla, redeployed from the Rabaul area to Davao in February 1944 for reorganization and training.

Shortly before issuance of Battle Preparations No. 11, the IGHQ’s Army section ordered the transfer of the 2nd and 4th Air Divisions from the Second Air Army in Manchuria to the Philippines. The 4th Air Division was directly assigned to the Fourth Air Army in late May, when the first increment of these reinforcements arrived in the Philippines. On 1 June, the Fourth Air Army HQ completed the planned transfer from Menado, Celebes, to Manila.

In April 1944, the Japanese Navy had in the Philippines only three air squadrons plus some training units. After the fall of the Marianas in July 1944, there was an urgent need to reconstitute naval air forces. The then newly organized Second Air Fleet was not employed in the Marianas because of its poor state of training. Its strength was gradually built up at its main basing area on Kyushu. The First Air Fleet was redeployed from Yap to Davao and then to the Clark airfield cluster. A plan to reconstitute that fleet encountered many obstacles because of enemy air strikes on its bases in September 1944. Also, the availability of aircraft had been severely reduced by maintenance difficulties and a lack of spare parts.

Operational Plans

Allied advances in the spring and early summer of 1944 gave an increased urgency to prepare plans for the defense of Japan’s inner zone, the Philippines in particular. By late spring, the Japanese had concluded that the fate of the Philippines would determine the outcome of the struggle to defend the entire southern area. The Allied landing at Hollandia, which reportedly took the Japanese by surprise, reinforced their conviction that defenses in the Philippines had to be strengthened and the sooner the better.

Planning Process

Operational planning in the Japanese Army and the Navy was conducted by the respective general staffs and major field commands. The Army and Navy sections were organized along similar lines. The Army was a senior service, and, not surprisingly, its staffs were larger than the Navy’s. The Army section consisted of a number of “bureaus” or departments. The most important were the 1st (Operations), 2nd (Intelligence), 3rd (Transportation), and 4th (Communications) bureaus.

Operational plans were developed separately for each service in the 1st Bureau of the respective general staffs.20 Plans for a major operations prepared by the Army or the Navy were usually made without the input of the other service. Often, Army-Navy disagreement over a certain joint operation would result in the delay or even abandonment of the effort. Even when an agreement was reached, the operation would normally be executed not by a joint commander, but by respective service commanders. Unity of effort would be ensured by the terms of the pertinent Army-Navy Central Agreement.

The most important plans for the employment of Japanese naval forces normally originated within the IGHQ’s Navy section. The chief of the Navy section closely cooperated with the Navy Minister prior to the adoption of any operational plan. However, once the operation started, the Navy Minister did not have any direct or indirect control over operational matters.

The second highest planning echelon in the Navy was Combined Fleet HQ. The plans prepared at the Navy section and the Combined Fleet HQ were afterward elaborated in more detail by the numbered naval and air fleets, area fleets, and subordinate tactical commands. Within the Navy section, operational planning was the responsibility of the 1st Bureau’s 1st Section. Logistics planning was the responsibility of the 2nd Bureau. The 3rd Bureau provided intelligence, while all communications planning was the responsibility of the 4th Bureau. The Special Section of the 4th Bureau provided radio intelligence.

Final plans were prepared after discussion between the CINC, Combined Fleet, and the chief of the Navy section. Joint operations were discussed at the liaison conferences between the Army and the Navy, while the most important plans were discussed at the IGHQ. Agreement had to be reached with the Army section before a plan was submitted to the Chief of the Navy section for final approval. After a joint operation was agreed upon, the Navy and Army general staffs issued identical orders. If a joint plan involved the participation of other government agencies, then the Navy minister’s agreement had to be obtained. If a forthcoming operation exceeded the authority delegated by the Imperial Directive to the chief of the Navy section, the plan was submitted through the IGHQ to the emperor for approval. Afterward, the plan was issued as an order of the Navy section.

Sho Plans

The Allies’ penetration of the New Guinea defense line and invasion of the Marianas convinced the IGHQ of the need to fight a decisive battle to protect the inner defense area. The Allies were advancing, and the Japanese expected them to attack the Philippines first. Simultaneously, they had to prepare contingency plans for the defense of Taiwan or Nansei Shoto, or possibly even Home Islands. The IGHQ’s basic order for the Sho-Go (Victory) operations was issued on 24 July 1944. The basic variants of the plan were as follows:

•   Sho-1: Defense of the Philippines

•   Sho-2: Defense of southern Kyushu, Nansei Shoto, and Taiwan

•   Sho-3: Defense of Honshu and Shikoku, and, depending on the situation, the Ogasawara Group (Bonin Islands)

•   Sho-4: Defense of the Hokkaido area

Broadly, the Sho plans were aimed at preventing the enemy from obtaining a foothold within the inner defensive perimeter running from Home Islands–Nansei Shoto–Taiwan–Philippines–Timor–Java–Sumatra. The basic strategic principle was that the IGHQ would designate as the “decisive battle area” whichever part of the inner defense area was attacked by the enemy’s main strength. Afterward, all available Japanese sea, air, and ground forces would be quickly concentrated to destroy the enemy forces. The prospective area of the “decisive battle” was Home Islands, Nansei Shoto, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

Sho-1’s strategic objective was to prevent the enemy’s forces from seizing control of the Philippine archipelago. The most important initial operational objective was to preclude enemy forces from obtaining a lodgment in the Philippines. The original Sho-1 plan, drafted in late July, envisioned a full-scale battle in Luzon fought with all three services, while naval and air forces would be primarily employed in defense of the central and southern Philippines.

The Japanese anticipated that the enemy’s possible (operational) objectives would be first to seize Mindanao, and then in decreasing order of probability, Leyte, San Bernardino Strait, and central Luzon. They believed that the best way to prevent the enemy from accomplishing his objectives would be to obtain command of the local sea area through a decisive defeat of enemy naval forces at the time of landing. Afterward, Japanese reinforcements could land without difficulty, enhancing prospects for a successful ground battle.

The Sho plans contained an “Outline of the Decisive Battle.” The IGHQ assumed that the enemy would apply the same amphibious landing scheme used in the invasion of the Marshalls, Hollandia, and Saipan. In all variants of the Sho plans, it was contemplated that the Second Air Fleet would provide the major part of the striking power for the decisive battle. In conducting the decisive battle, the initial priority would be to destroy enemy task forces (U.S. carrier groups), especially “regular” (fast) carriers. Afterward, the entire enemy invasion force would be destroyed in a single blow delivered by concerted efforts of the Japanese air, sea, and land forces. Attacks against the enemy carriers would be conducted predominantly at night and in bad weather. Attacks during daylight hours would aim to immobilize a large part of the enemy carrier force before the next night action, or to capitalize on the results of night attacks by mopping up any carriers that hadn’t already been sunk or crippled. Attacks on enemy transport convoys would be launched in daytime and aimed to reduce the strength of enemy landing forces before they hit the beaches.

The IGHQ’s outline of the decisive battle also envisaged the withdrawal and dispersal of the naval land-based aircraft in the face of the enemy air attacks before the enemy’s main landing. However, once enemy landing forces were engaged in the battle ashore, the naval land-based aircraft, cooperating with other naval forces and the Army air forces, would do their utmost to destroy those forces ashore.