Vaisseaux du premier rang

An oil painting by Thomas Whitcombe of the Battle of the Saintes, 12 April 1782, with Comte de Grasse’s flagship the 104-gun Ville de Paris in the foreground, in close action with Barfleur, 98 guns, flying the flag of Sir Samuel Hood. Although captured during the battle, the French flagship was wrecked before she could reach a British port, so it is unclear what reference Whitcombe used for the appearance of the Ville de Paris. She had originally been built as a 90-gun ship at Rochefort between August 1757 and May 1764, but during repairs at Brest in 1778-79, the waist was filled in to create a continuous third deck, with a new quarterdeck and forecastle constructed above and fourteen 12pdrs and 6pdrs added to her ordnance.

The First Rank Warships with 80 or more guns after 1715.

The first classification of the vessels of the French Navy into four Ranks (or (with a fifth Rank added) in July 1670. The 1st Rank Rangs) took effect in 1669, but was swiftly altered classification covered the most prestigious ships in the French Navy, embellished with ornate carvings and decoration. They were intended to be employed as as fleet flagships, as strong points in the fleet’s formation, and as symbols of Louis XIV’s magnificence displaying France’s maritime strength. Because of their large crews and requirements for stores they were also very expensive to operate and except during wartime were used sparingly.

The only `three-decker’ of over 60 guns built for the French before 1661 had been the Vendome of 1651. The somewhat smaller Saint Philippe which entered service in 1664, and subsequent ships built to the same concept, were officially classed by the French as three-deckers without a forecastle and with a rudimentary quarterdeck (really a poop); they carried no guns or gunports amidships on the third deck, and usually there was a physical break in the deck level (forming a `waist’), so that the portions of the third deck forward and aft of this interruption served in effect as forecastle and quarterdeck. In a few cases this unarmed portion of the third deck was physically present, complete with deck beams below it, so that the absence of guns and gunports (and sometimes the absence of any bulwarks along each side) left a complete structural level, thus improving the structural integrity of the ship; but in most cases there was a physical gap with the middle portion of this deck not constructed, so that the type was what the English defined as a two-decker.

Most of such `semi-three-deckers’ were eventually re-classed as 2nd Rank, but this applies solely to vessels built before 1689 – after 1689 only three-deckers built with a complete third tier of guns were classed as 1st Rank, until the appearance of 80-gun two-deckers of the 1st Rank in the 1740s.

The last 1st Rank three-decker of this broken-deck type was the Paris of 1669, while the last such 2nd Rank vessel was the Fier of 1682. It should be noted that the three-deckers with interrupted third tiers of guns retained the two levels of accommodations in the stern typical of three-deckers (the captain’s cabin and stateroom on top of the wardroom) while two-deckers had only a single level combining the captain’s cabin and the wardroom. Thus while the small three-deckers looked like two-deckers and are perhaps best understood as such, they had some structural features found only in three-deckers.

The first extra-large French three-decker with 100 guns or more (rated as a vaisseau du premier rang extraordinaire) was the Royal Louis, completed in 1669. Prior to 1689, these flagships, generally pierced with fifteen pairs of gunports on the lower deck (excluding the foremost pair or chase ports) were the only vessels fitted with the rare 36pdr bronze guns. Until 1690, these guns were in limited supply – iron 36pdrs did not appear until 1691 – and up to this date, vaisseaux du premier rang extraordinaire generally carried a mixture of sixteen 36pdrs and fourteen 24pdrs on the lower deck (all guns in these ships were of bronze). The vaisseaux du premier rang extraordinaires were also the only French three-deckers allowed by regulation to have a forecastle as well as a quarterdeck following the unhappy experience of the Monarque in 1669.

From 1690, these ships generally carried a uniform battery of 36pdrs (usually fourteen pairs) on the lower deck; initially there were two exceptions – the Soleil Royal (after her rebuilding in 1689) carried a mixture of 48pdrs and 36pdrs, while the new Royal Louis in 1692 received a complete battery of thirty 48pdrs. The huge 10ft bronze 48pdrs proved too cumbersome to handle, and the ships’ commanders (Tourville on the Soleil Royal and d’Estrées on the Royal Louis) soon arranged for these to be replaced by 36pdrs. The 48pdrs were also briefly carried in Monarque (1690) and Admirable (1692).

The flagships (navires amiraux) of the two fleets were always drawn from the premier rang extraordinaire. For the Mediterranean Fleet (Flotte du Levant), the flagship was always the most powerful ship based in Toulon: the Royal Louis of 1667, its namesake (and replacement) of 1692, until that ship was disarmed in 1716 and taken to pieces in 1727; from 1780 the new Majestueux became the navire amiral of this fleet, to be superseded by the Commerce de Marseille in 1788. For the Atlantic Fleet (Flotte du Ponant), the Soleil Royal served the same role from 1669, as did its namesake in 1692; the Foudroyant of 1724 then held the same responsibility, as did the new Soleil Royal in 1749, followed by the Royal Louis of 1759; the Bretagne of 1766 then fulfilled the role until the 1790s.

The smaller of the 1st Rank ships (those with fewer than 100 guns – in general 84 guns was the maximum) were pierced with thirteen pairs of gunports on the lower deck (again not counting the foremost pair or chase ports). Until 1689, those of 80 guns generally carried a mixture of twelve 24pdrs (bronze) and fourteen 18pdrs (iron) on this deck, and fourteen 18pdrs (bronze) and twelve 12pdrs (iron) on the deck above, with twenty-two 8pdrs (all bronze) on the upper deck, separated into those forward and aft of the unarmed waist, and with six 4pdrs (bronze) on the quarterdeck, the latter effectively being a poop deck; these ships as indicated above had no forecastle. The 84-gun variant had no gap on the upper deck, thus mounting twenty-six 8pdrs there (of which one pair were iron guns). After 1689, a standard armament of 36pdrs was adopted for these ships also, with new 1st Rank ships carrying a similar battery to the largest ships. By 1692, the foremost pair of ports (or chase ports) were no longer cut through on 1st Rank ships, in order to strengthen the head.

Altogether twelve three-decker 1st Ranks were begun during the 1660s. Colbert produced the first French system of rating with his Reglement of 4 July 1670, dividing the fleet into `Rangs’ (i. e. Ranks, analogous to the English system of Rates), the first of which comprised the three-deckers with more than 70 guns, while the second included the smaller three-deckers (as well as a few large two-deckers). By 1672, several of the smaller 1st Ranks (those with fewer than 80 guns) had been re-classified to the 2nd Rank. More important than actual numbers of guns, all 1st Ranks built after 1689 – see Section (C) – carried a principal (LD) battery of 36pdrs, while the main battery on the 2nd Ranks were generally 24pdrs (although some of this type carried a mix of 36pdrs and 24pdrs on their LD).

In 1680 or early 1681 an `establishment level’ of twelve 1st Rank ships was set, and retained well past the end of Louis XIV’s reign. This was the actual number of such ships on the List in January 1681 – five in the Brest Department, one at Rochefort (the never-completed Victorieux), and six at Toulon. This number was roughly adhered to until 1690, when the massive building program of twenty-five 1st Ranks made it irrelevant, but after 1712 the number shrank back and by 1717 most of the remainder had been taken to pieces without replacement.

By the close of the seventeenth century, all 1st Rank ships were three-deckers with three complete gun decks, and this continued well into the eighteenth century. At the same time forecastles were reintroduced in all 1st Rank ships. The relatively few three-deckers built after 1715. From 1740 onwards a new series of two-deckers armed with 80 guns was introduced; these fulfilled the role of capital ships (and usually the flagships) for the battlefleet.

Three-decked vessels acquired from 1 September 1715

Following the close of the war and the death of Louis XIV, the battlefleet was rapidly run down, with many of the remaining three-deckers being disposed of by 1715. Following the dismissal of Jérome de Pontchartrain as Secretary of State for the Navy on 1 October 1715, a Conseil de marine was set up by the Amiral de France (Louis-Alexandre de Bourbon, Comte de Toulouse), directed by his two Vice-amiraux (Victor Marie, Maréchal and Duc d’Estrées and Alain Emmanuel, Comte de Coetlogon, for the Ponant and Levant Fleets respectively), which ran the Navy for the next three years.

Nevertheless, there nominally remained eleven 1st Rank ships at the end of 1715, survivors of the 1689-94 building spree. All of these were three-deckers, almost all with a principal battery of 36pdrs (the sole exception was the Monarque which from 1704 had only 24pdrs on its LD) and all had a second battery of 18pdrs. The Royal Louis, Triomphant, Vanqueur, Monarque and Intrépide were all noted as in need of rebuilding, while the Magnifique was already condemned (since March 1713) and the Orgueilleux and Admirable had been ordered (on 1 December 1715) to be broken up.

A year later the number was officially down to five – Royal Louis, Sceptre, and the soon-to-be-dismantled Magnifique, Orgueilleux and Admirable – and by the end of 1717 there were just four (the Sceptre had been condemned on 18 December, and would be ordered to be taken to pieces in January 1718). The Royal Louis (disarmed since 1716) lasted until condemned in 1723 and was broken up in 1727; no further threedeckers were attempted until 1723, and even then results were deplorable, no successful ship being achieved until the 1760s. After two short-term Secretaries in the five years from 1718, the appointment of Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux, Comte de Maurepas (and son of Jérome de Pontchartrain), began a term of office which lasted to his dismissal in 1749.

80-gun two-decked vessels (Vaisseaux de 80) acquired from 1740

All 80-gun ships prior to 1700 had been three-deckers, and none were built in the first four decades of the new century, but in 1740 the first of a series of two-decker 80s was begun. At the start of hostilities against Britain in 1744, this ship (Tonnant) was the only French warship with more than 74 guns, but more were begun from 1748 onwards. All had thirty 36pdr guns on the lower deck, and thirty-two guns (18pdrs or 24pdrs) on the upper deck, while eighteen guns (mostly 8pdrs) were fitted on the gaillards. Thirteen ships were built in the period to 1785 (one of which was rebuilt after a fire).

These ships were ambiguously classed in French official records, being usually defined as `premier rang’ but in 1766 the earlier Tonnant, Duc de Bourgogne, and Orient (all with 18pdrs on the UD) were classed as `second rang, premier ordre’ while the later Languedoc, Saint Esprit, and Couronne were `premier rang, second ordre’. We chose to class all of them here with the 1st Rank ships, as France built virtually no three-deckers for most of the eighteenth century, and in lieu of these deployed the 80-gun two-deckers as their principal capital ships. The original type with 18pdrs on the UD mustered a broadside of 900 livres, while the later substitution of 24pdrs on the UD raised this to 996 livres (or 1,075 English pounds), significantly greater than the standard French 74-gun ship’s 838 livres (904 pounds), which was in turn greater than the 818-pound broadside of the British three-decked Second Rates of 90 guns, and not incomparable with the 1,140-pound broadside of the largest British three-decked First Rates of 100 guns.


WWII Anti-Vessel Ordinance

The Magnetic Mine

Napoleon once said that he preferred marshals with luck. Somebody else said, “Luck is a matter of planning.” The story of defeating the magnetic mine, which to the British was a bad surprise, shows how one side’s poor planning was the other side’s luck.

Toward the end of 1939, some ships entering and exiting British ports were damaged by underwater explosions that hit their lower hulls. The damage usually was not fatal, but in many cases bottom plates were torn, rivets popped out, and internal machinery and propeller shafts dislodged. Many of these ships had to be written off or at best put into dry dock for repair.

An investigation confirmed that these ships were not hit by conventional sea mines. (Such a mine is usually placed at low depth and anchored to the bottom by a cable so that it will be positioned a few feet below the surface.) The investigation of the ships that managed to stagger into port pointed to an explosion beneath the ship but at a distance from it. This led to the conclusion that the damage was caused by a so-called “influence mine,” which was laid on the bottom and was activated by the propeller noise, the pressure wave of the approaching ship, or the effect of the ship’s metal hull on the local magnetic field of the earth. The experts tended to assume that these were magnetic mines, because already in World War I such mines were developed although never used. The trouble was that no effective countermeasures could be devised and employed without knowing the exact characteristics of the detonation mechanism, and finding one became a priority undertaking. But how do you identify and recover a mine lying somewhere on the sea floor? Here Lady Luck smiled on the British—and not once but twice.

A German aircraft dropping such mines made a navigational error at night. At high tide, the area flown over by the airplane was covered with water, and the pilot (or navigator) probably thought he was in the right position, but when the tide receded the mine was observed lying in the mud next to a British military base. The mine was moved into a workshop, and the experts (who already suspected it to be a magnetic mine) manufactured a set of bronze (nonmagnetic) tools, disassembled it, and learned how it worked. Here luck played a role again. The mine contained an antimotion device to protect against tampering if dropped on land. This device was to be deactivated by water entering it, if dropped at sea. The short time the mine spent in the water rendered it safe for handling.

The British developed three ways to counter the mine. The one that finally became standard, because it was the cheapest and did not require sailing through “cleared” corridors, was the “degaussing” of the ships. By dragging charged electrical cables over the hulls, the ships became nonmagnetic. This took about half an hour, although the process had to be repeated every six months. The technology of the magnetic mine was not really new, and the Germans chose a well-suited weapon to use. Without better information, the British might have groped in the dark for a long time, spending time and effort trying to deduce the exact nature of the mechanism. Navigational carelessness negated all the work the Germans invested.

The Acoustic Torpedo

An acoustic torpedo, which homes in on the noise the target produces, was thought of during World War I but, because of technical limitations, was never developed. The Germans were later the first to produce one designed to home in on the propeller noise of surface ships. A first variant was introduced in July 1943 but quickly superseded by a faster variant (the Zaunkoenig), which was used with moderate success. It had a major problem that the Germans were apparently unaware of: it sometimes exploded just when entering the turbulent wake behind the target. The Allies for some time suspected such a German development, because the Americans were busy developing their own acoustic torpedo and concurrently thought of potential countermeasures. So within sixteen days of the appearance of the Zaunkoenig, they introduced the Foxer, a towed noisemaker that caused the torpedoes to detonate prematurely (Macksey 2000, 143).

The Germans distributed this torpedo sparingly, and submarine crews were instructed to use it only against escort vessels and not merchantmen (Gannon 1996, 99–100). Later, when several such torpedoes were captured by the Allies, it was found that they could home in only on ships moving at twelve to nineteen knots (Gannon 1996, 101). It is not clear if the Germans were aware of this limitation or that the torpedo was designed from the start to attack escort ships as first priority.

The Americans advanced the homing technology much further. They had no need to attack merchantmen or escort vessels in the Atlantic but were acutely aware of the need to attack submarines. (The German submarine force was deemed of higher priority than the Japanese merchant fleet and its escorts.) From 1943, the ocean was regularly scanned by aircraft that took off from Iceland or Greenland and from convoys’ escort carriers. When such an airplane discovered a submarine, it would attack using bombs or depth charges and report the position to a Combat Information Center, which then decided whether to send a surface vessel (if one was available) or aircraft, which would force the submarine to stay submerged until the arrival of surface vessels.

But depth charges were of a limited efficacy. To explode near the submarine, the attacker had to follow the underwater maneuvering of the submarine and stay more or less above it. This remained true even after the next generations of forward-firing projectors—starting with the Hedgehog—were developed. More important, depth charges were set before firing to explode at a given depth. While this did not totally depend on guesswork, it was nearly so. Obviously, something better was needed.

In the fall of 1942, the U.S. Navy developed the sonobuoy. This device parachuted to the water, listened for anomalous sounds, and broadcast them to an airplane. It succeeded in detecting submarine propellers up to three and a half miles away. In order to fully exploit this capability, the United States then developed an acoustic torpedo that could home in on the submarine’s propellers, and specifically on cavitation noises. This torpedo, the Mk-24 (referred to as the Mk-24 Mine to hide its true nature, and nicknamed FIDO), entered service in the beginning of 1943 and was meant to be kept in production only until the end of the year. It was assumed that by that time the Germans would figure out its characteristics and its usefulness would be over (Price 1980, 110). To delay this possibility, the Allies introduced some strict rules. One of these said that this torpedo was not to be dropped against a submerged submarine when surfaced submarines were in the vicinity. By that time, the Allies controlled the air to such an extent that they could force even groups of submarines to submerge and then attack (Price 1980, 181). This torpedo also exploited the basic instinct of any submarine’s commander: when detected, dive as fast as possible. But running the motors at highest power caused cavitation, which was his undoing. In fact, if he had just shut down his motors, the torpedo would have lost its lock-on, but as pointed out, this was against the basic instincts of submariners. The secret of the Mk-24 torpedo was not compromised until the end of the war (Price 1980, 225n1).

Due to the combination of advanced technology and good secret keeping, this torpedo achieved a high success rate of nearly 20 percent sinkings and 9 percent damaged submarines, compared with 9 percent for depth charges.

“Long Lance”[1] Type 93 Torpedo

The modern torpedo, initially intended to be fired from surface ships, was developed by Robert Whitehead, a British engineer who lived in Italy (then under Austrian rule) and operated there a successful factory for marine engines. In 1848, Whitehead observed Austrian troops in Milan suppressing a popular uprising. He was horrified by what he saw and became a pacifist. He then thought of developing naval weapon so dreadful it would prevent future wars. His occupation with marine engines and his belief that naval warfare was the key to victory (in this, he anticipated Admiral Alfred Mahan) no doubt lay behind this conclusion. In 1860, he saw a demonstration of a remotely controlled explosive-carrying boat, but he thought that an underwater vehicle would be better and sat down to develop one. In 1870, he demonstrated his “torpedo,” and the Austrian navy, which at the time controlled part of the Adriatic Sea coast, was the first to buy it. The Royal Navy, the strongest naval power of the time, was the second, and in a few short years all the world’s navies were equipped with torpedoes. One of the torpedo’s main advantages was that even small boats could pack a punch comparable to big ships, which led to the development of a new class of ships—the “torpedo boat destroyer”—which eventually became the “destroyer.” The Royal Navy was the first to fire a torpedo in anger, in 1877, against some Peruvian rebels. It missed, but it was enough to scare the rebels away.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the torpedo was improved. Its original source of propulsive power, compressed air, was replaced by an internal combustion engine that received oxygen from a tank of compressed air. This was a major improvement but had a major drawback: Beside oxygen, air consists of 80 percent nitrogen, which does not contribute to the combustion and thus is exhausted as a visible wake of bubbles. This sometimes enabled a ship to avoid the torpedo by a quick maneuver. Everybody was looking for something better.

Replacing the air in the tank with pure oxygen, or high-concentration peroxide (H2O2), which the Germans tried, would have solved two problems. It would have increased the amount of oxygen in a given air tank, and since all combustion products were water-soluble, the bubbles would have been eliminated. However, the proximity of pure oxygen to grease and moving parts is an invitation for uncontrolled combustion, especially on surface ships engaged in combat.

Experimentation with oxygen was undertaken by several navies, and on the entrance of the United States into World War II, such torpedoes were at various stages of testing. However, Admiral King, the U.S. Navy’s chief of naval operations, believed such research would interfere with the production of standard torpedoes and assigned it the lowest priority (Blair 1975, 279–80).

The Japanese, in their effort to achieve excellence, were aware of the dangers but decided that the advantages of oxygen technology surpassed its disadvantages. They developed several versions of this torpedo, to be launched from surface ships, submarines, and aircraft. Thanks to the use of oxygen, these torpedoes were faster, had more than double the range, and carried a heavier warhead than any comparable Western torpedo. After the war, the Japanese also reported that they had no shipboard accident with these torpedoes (Blair 1975, 279–80).

The Japanese were very careful to make sure that no such torpedo fell into the wrong hands. This policy sometimes caused large numbers of ships to search for lost practice torpedoes, which were supposed to surface after their run (Lowry and Wellham 2000, 38). Nevertheless, their security sometimes failed. Luckily for them, the Americans did not notice.

In 1934, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) translated a Japanese article that stated “our latest torpedoes ran with practically no track.” One of the officers who read that passage highlighted it, but there is no evidence that ONI pursued the matter further (Mahnken 2002, 70). A worse security leak occurred several years later.

At the end of 1939 or the beginning of 1940, the American naval attaché in Tokyo was approached in his tennis club by a local medical student who turned out to be Chinese. The man, angered by Japanese atrocities in China, told the American that the Japanese navy organized tours for students in order to encourage a national spirit and increase recruitment. The American asked some specific questions, and on their next meeting the man told him that the Japanese had developed an oxygen-propelled torpedo and cited its performance, which surpassed anything available in the West (Mahnken 2002, 70–71). The naval attaché forwarded a report to Washington, and although the range was understated by the Chinese student, it still caused a stir at ONI. A copy was forwarded to the Bureau of Ordnance, but they declared that such a weapon was impossible (Mahnken 2002, 71). They probably understood that to obtain such performance the torpedo had to utilize oxygen technology, as the Tokyo report clearly stated. But since the United States and Britain were struggling with this technology, they assumed the Japanese could not have perfected it on their own. The Bureau of Ordnance experts preferred to consider the report a mistake rather than face the spectre of Japanese technological superiority. Ironically, the Japanese developed this technology because of a mistaken belief that the British had already mastered it (Mahnken 2002, 71n101).

Armed with the judgment of the Bureau of Ordnance, ONI filed away all reports about oxygen-powered torpedoes and abandoned pursuing any further “rumors” about advanced Japanese torpedoes.

In response to the Guadalcanal landing and in an attempt to hit American supply ships in the area, the Japanese sent in a task force of cruisers and destroyers. In a night battle (the Savo Island Battle), it attacked and defeated a similarly sized American force in what was later described as the worst defeat in battle of the U.S. Navy, which lost four cruisers and a destroyer against no losses and only slight damage to the Japanese. It was the first in a series of night battles in which the Japanese fired long-range torpedoes at ranges far longer than the range of their or American guns.

In the beginning of 1943, such a torpedo, called the Long Lance, washed ashore at Cape Esperance on Guadalcanal, was taken apart, and its data was sent to Pacific Fleet intelligence, but nothing except rumors filtered back. In a meeting preparatory to one of these battles (Kula Gulf), the captain of one American cruiser who had heard the “rumors” warned the presiding admiral not to approach the Japanese to less than ten thousand yards. The admiral, who believed that a submarine sank one of his ships in a previous engagement, dismissed the story as “scuttlebutt” (Morison 1949, 196). In the ensuing battle, this captain’s ship, in addition to a destroyer, was sunk.

The U.S. Navy was aware of Japanese emphasis on night fighting, which reduced the advantages of American material superiority (Mahnken 1996, 435). This possibility was already exercised in 1933 in an American war game in which the American force was defeated by a torpedo attack, nine years before a Japanese admiral actually did this for real. (A night gun battle could not be efficient, let alone decisive, without radar.) Surprisingly, the Americans did not ask themselves whether the real-life Japanese (not those in the war game) would look for other means to circumvent their inferiority in radar technology.

And there was another failure, that of not realizing that the enemy thinks in a different way. In the United States, it was thought that radar developments would enable gun battles at night, and this might have led to the implicit assumption that when the Japanese would catch up in radar technology, naval battles would revert to gunnery, including at night. But apparently the Japanese understood early the advantage the Long Lance conferred on them. Their doctrine thus called for a night battle, initiated by torpedoes fired from cruisers and destroyers, and a daylight mopping up by guns. For this purpose, they equipped many destroyers and cruisers with large numbers of these torpedoes, and they even converted two cruisers to “torpedo cruisers,” which carried dozens of them (Mahnken 1996, 435).

[1] The Type 93, designated for Imperial Japanese calendar year 2593) was a 61 cm (24 in)-diameter torpedo of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), launched from surface ships. It is commonly referred to as the Long Lance by most modern English-language naval historians, a nickname given it after the war by Samuel Eliot Morison, the chief historian of the U.S. Navy, who spent much of the war in the Pacific Theater. In Japanese references, the term Sanso gyorai, lit. “oxygen torpedo”) is also used, in reference to its propulsion system. It was the most advanced naval torpedo in the world at the time.

Battle of the Delta

Battle of the Delta was a sea battle between Egypt and the Sea Peoples, circa 1175 BCE when the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses III repulsed a major sea invasion. Illustration by Igor Dzis

A contingent of the Sea Peoples Invasion came by water. The Ramesses III reliefs text at Medinet Habu, Western Thebes, states that there was a naval encounter at the mouths of the Nile in the Delta. The king’s defensive measures included a stockade of lances that was set up on the shore to impede the enemy ships. At the minimum, this was done to prevent the Sea Peoples from landing their troops. In the accompanying reliefs, perhaps reflecting artistic sensibility, only four Egyptian ships attack five Sea Peoples war vessels. The king remained on land while his archers provided the necessary attack force. No chariots were employed because the battle was fought from shore to ship and from ship to ship. The naval victory was celebrated at a coast fortress. Ramesses III indicates the types of ships employed in this defense, and that they were also divided into three groups: ordinary transporters, galleys, and coasters. The first term was the most common one, and we can assume that the king requisitioned all types of Nile-bound vessels in order to provide his defense. The second refers to cargo ships whereas the third was employed for naval vessels undertaking lengthy voyages in the Mediterranean along the eastern coastline of Palestine and Syria.

The naval battle, quite rightfully, has been the subject of much study. The ships of the enemy reflect an Aegean tradition, one that was based on relatively long sea voyages across a large extent of water. In other words, they were not mere coasters or trading vessels. The hulls of the enemy fleet were angular and the prows and sternposts vertical. In addition, it seems that the Egyptian fleet blockaded the river outlets in order to prevent the enemy from escaping. This novel interpretation implies that Ramesses purposely waited until the enemy was close to disembarking and then, after having trapped them between shore and sea, attacked. In the scenes of battle, the enemy ships are stationary and within range of the land-based archers. Their vessels appear slender and lower in the water than the Egyptian ones, but a problem remains concerning the artistic impression. The Egyptian ships, on the other hand, reveal quite astounding details. Their high angular sternpost has no native parallel. The aftercastles were built with two stories, thereby providing a higher base for the naval archers and giving the helmsman a better position. But the high bulwark that protects the rowers is not known in the Nile Valley even though it was commonplace among the Aegean Bronze Age galleys. The low prow may imply the practice of ramming and therefore reflect a technological defense against the maritime activities of the Sea Peoples. This interpretation, however, seems questionable. Under Ramesses II and III the Egyptians began to employ a type of merchant ship hitherto unknown within the Nile Valley. These ships, called menesh, were probably built in the royal dockyards. But they were not developed from local sailing vessels known to the Egyptian for many centuries earlier. Lucien Basch has proposed that these menesh were derived from the north, and he pinpoints Syria, although Phoenicia is meant, as the origin. Known from the early years of Ramesses II, these ships were also present in the naval battle of Ramesses III against the Sea Peoples but operated as well in the Red Sea for voyages to the fabulous land of Punt, inland from the Somali coast or, as has been recently argued, along the southern coastline of Arabia. By and large, it seems reasonable that in Dynasty XIX, if not somewhat earlier, the flotilla of Egypt was reorganized according to the naval traditions of the Phoenicians. Their ports had close connections with various peoples traversing the eastern Mediterranean, and possibly their shipwrights had developed the high prows and sterns of other foreign sea cruisers. Moreover, these high prows were also common in scenes of the Syrian ships that unloaded their produce at Thebes in Dynasty XVIII. It appears reasonable to conclude that the Egyptian state improved its own merchant and combat navy during the second half of Dynasty XVIII and the first part of the succeeding dynasty in order to transport soldiers and to deliver “tribute” from Asia. Later, however, they would be used in sea combat.

The reliefs show that the fighting was mainly hand-to-hand, notwithstanding the presence of Egyptian archers on land and in the ships. Many of the Sherden and other enemies are carved in the position of captives. Their hands are constrained within wooden shackles. Some Egyptians have spears whereas others brandish swords. The Peleshet, Sherden, and other sea enemies mainly depended upon spears, swords, and protective shields. The reliefs depict one enemy ship captured by Sherden “mercenaries,” and we can see their round shields, medium but thick swords, and distinctive helmets. (Note that the Sherden do not appear to have been part of the archer contingent of the Egyptian army.) Here, an Egyptian with shield is about to climb into an enemy ship. In another location one vessel has already been seized. Avner Raban, after subjecting the scenes of warfare, concluded that Ramesses’ flotilla may have been built upon the lines of the Sea Peoples’ fleet. We can add that it is equally possible that the Egyptians, with the Sherden for instance, may have reorganized their ships along more up-to-date military lines. Whether or not this was a contemporary innovation must remain open, especially because the encounter between Ramesses II and the Sea Peoples early in his reign could have provided such an impetus. At any rate, the juxtaposition of both fleets is so close that we must conclude that only the final hour of the battle is pictorially recorded. The melee appears similar to a land battle, with the tactics of the Egyptian navy dependent upon the use of archers, thereby reflecting the New Kingdom tradition of the composite bow. In other words, just as with chariots, bows and arrows provided the main element of fighting.

Although the navy (such as it was) was certainly not as extensive as the navies of contemporary nations/states. For much of the Dynastic Period, shipping in the Mediterranean was mostly commercial, not military, but this seemed to change towards the latter part of the New Kingdom, when the Delta coastline was under threat from several seaborne foreign armies. For example, there was a raid by Sherden pirates in the second year of Ramesses II’s reign; these pirates were not only defeated, but were also incorporated into the Egyptian military as mercenaries. However, Ramesses II’s reaction to this seemed to be the building of multiple fortresses along the coastline, rather than increasing the number of military ships.

Most of the time, the ancient Egyptian fleet seems to have been used more for the transport of troops to battlefields as quickly as possible for the active engagement in naval battles. For example, towards the end of the Second Intermediate Period, Kamose (making a point to emphasise the amount of timber to be used in the construction of the flotilla) arranged for his fleet to lay siege to the Hyksos capital of Avaris, the soldiers and war supplies being transported to the site more quickly than they could be by marching overland. This would change to some extent later in the New Kingdom, but not hugely.

Much of the evidence for actual naval battles and warships seem to come from the reign of Ramesses III, when (in the eighth year of his reign) the Sea Peoples attacked at the Delta border. They came first over land (but were defeated in a single battle at the northern edge of the Sinai desert) and then by sea, where they were defeated in what seems to have been a fairly epic naval battle. This naval battle is portrayed at the mortuary temple of Medinet Habu, where the relief depicts handto-hand combat between the Sea Peoples (on five boats) and the Egyptians (on four boats which were, naturally, larger than their Sea Peoples counterparts). Ancient Egyptian artistic sensibilities and aesthetics must be taken into account here and it is safe to say that perhaps the numbers of vessels depicted on the reliefs do not accurately reflect the actual numbers that took part in the battle. It is possible, as with the smiting scenes discussed elsewhere, the artists were instructed to portray the superiority of the Egyptian fleet, or maybe there simply was not enough room on the relief to fit in the correct numbers of vessels.

The Egyptian vessels have rows of up to twenty-two oarsmen along with archers and foot-soldiers (although the exact numbers are difficult to discern with any precision), outnumbering the people on board the Sea Peoples vessels, where it is argued that the figures on-board must have doubled-up as warriors and rowers. The Egyptian vessels are described as having low prows, high, angular sterns, with ‘aftercastles’ of two storeys, and a high bulwark. The Sea Peoples boats were angular, with vertical prows and sterns (very much in the tradition of Aegean ships), designed to do well on long sea voyages. One of the Sea Peoples vessels has seemingly capsized or been brought down by the Egyptian flotilla and the Sea Peoples dead are seen floating in the surrounding water. As with the Sherden pirates discussed above, the Sea Peoples were apparently also assimilated into ancient Egyptian empire after Ramesses III’s victory, although in the long-term this solitary victory was only putting-off the unavoidable as the region of Canaan was lost to the Sea Peoples by the end of the Twentieth Dynasty.

It would seem that most of the time, particularly during the latter part of the Dynastic Period, any Egyptian fleet was mostly used to protect and enforce Egypt’s trade interests. For example in the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, the Saite pharaohs created a large fleet of war-galleys, in the style of Graeco-Phoenician ships, in order to regain (albeit temporarily) control of trade in the Levantine.

Despite this evidence for some aspect of naval warfare later on in Dynastic Egypt, throughout most of the Dynastic Period Egypt’s military forces were chiefly land-based, resorting to naval battles rarely, with the flotilla mostly being used to transport equipment and soldiers to battles. Certainly, there is a dearth of evidence for Egypt’s flotilla in the New Kingdom, but there is a wealth of evidence for the land-based forces; this either suggests that the sea-based military was not as important or developed as the land-based army, or that there is simply an annoying lack of primary resources providing relevant information. The former is the most likely explanation, with the land-based military indeed being far more advanced and essential to Dynastic warfare than the ancient Egyptian navy (such as it was).

Sea Peoples by Johnny Shumate.

Sea Peoples

They were a confederation of various groups who were active as pirates and marauders in the Ramessid Period, the Nineteenth Dynasty (1307-1196 B. C. E.) and the Twentieth Dynasty (1196-1070 B. C. E.). RAMESSES II (r. 1290-1224 B. C. E.) sought a pact with the HITTITE ruler HATTUSILIS III, in defense against these wide-ranging attackers, and MERENPTAH (r. 1224-1214 B. C. E.) faced one contingent of them during his reign. The actual listing of the Sea Peoples, however, dates to RAMESSES III (r. 1194-1163 B. C. E.), who destroyed them.

The Sea Peoples recorded on the walls of MEDINET HABU at THEBES include the Ekwesh, believed to be Greek Achaeans; Teresh, Anatolian sailors, possibly the Tyrrhenians; Lukka, an Anatolian coastal people; Sherdana, probably a group of Sardinians; Shekelesh, identified as members of the Sicilian Siculi; Peleset, from Crete and the ancestors of the Philistines. Others not identified with certainty were the Kizzuwatna, Arzawa, Zakala, Alasiya, Tjeker, and Denyen. The MESHWESH, Libyans who were always active in Egypt’s Delta, were also listed.

Originally some of the groups had fortified cities and worked copper mines. Displaced, the Sea Peoples conquered CYPRUS and blockaded Syrian ports. They began their first campaigns near their homelands. The Mycenean Greeks repulsed them, but other nations, including the Hittites, endured their aggression.

In Ramesses III’s eighth regnal year, the Sea Peoples had attacked Cilicia, CARCHEMISH, Palestine, Arzawa, CYPRUS, Amurru, and the HITTITES and had arrived in the Delta region with the Libyans. These marauders came in carts, bringing their entire families to the invasion. They wore kilts and headdresses of feathers or pleated stiffened cloths and they carried spears, short swords, and round shields. The Great HARRIS PAPYRUS adds other details.

Ramesses III met the Sea Peoples who were entering Egypt as migrants, not as marauders. Crop failures in the eastern Mediterranean region caused these nomads to destroy entire cities in their movement. They sought the safety of the Nile, and Ramesses III had to repel land and sea assaults. He moved defensive units to the eastern border and fortified the Nile branches in the Delta. By allowing the Sea Peoples to enter certain Nile branches and then moving floating islands and debris behind them, Ramesses III trapped entire contingents and annihilated them. Others he took as prisoners and forced them into his armed forces or made them slaves.

Egypt withstood their assaults, but the Sea Peoples changed the political matrix of the Mediterranean. One group that managed to escape Ramesses III’s assaults were called the Peleset. These are believed to have been the Philistines documented in Palestine. Some records indicate that the Peleset, or Philistines, were sent into Palestine to control the area there for Egypt.

Fire Direction and Radar Equipment on the Bismarck Class BBs

Weapons and Fire Control Systems

The designers of the Bismarck class adhered to the tried and tested main armament arrangement of two twin turrets forward and aft, the rearmost of each superfiring. The reason for this was the better field of fire and more effective sequence of salvos. The smaller calibres—the 15cm secondary artillery and the 10.5cm flak—followed the previous layout.

The concept of the 15cm gun was its role as a classic anti-destroyer weapon. It fired a theoretical eight, but in practice only six, rounds per barrel per minute, and was in no respects of any value as an anti-aircraft gun, having too slow a rate of fire and turret rotation speed and an inadequate angle of elevation. Together with the main armament, it was used on Tirpitz in an anti-aircraft role as it could put up a long-range barrage of time-fused shells to confront approaching bomber formations with a curtain of shrapnel.

German naval flak was inadequate, and lacked a gun which was capable of engaging both a fast bomber at high altitude and long distance and also a torpedo bomber closing in just above the wave tops. The planners had failed to grasp the concept of the multi-purpose flak gun. There would certainly have been room for them, but it was left to other navies to address the problem and to come up with workable solutions towards the end of the war. Of course, Germany already had an excellent flak gun, the 12.7cm Flak L/45 Model 34, which had a range, at 30 degrees’ elevation, of 10,497.3m, a shell weight of 23.45kg and a muzzle velocity of 829.97m/sec and which had given outstanding results against enemy bombers over the Reich.

The VDI-Memorandum (which had had handwritten comments added in April 1957 by former ministerial adviser Dipl-Ing Ludwig Cordes, from December 1942 Chief of the Official Group for Artillery Construction at Naval Command, a personality familiar with the whole subject inside and out) drew special attention to fire direction centres with the following notable conclusion:

There was no technical expert at Naval Command (OKM) charged with responsibility for this particular interest. Rulings were ultimately within the jurisdiction of a military centre, which led to frequent erroneous decisions.’


There were two different models. The 10.5cm model C33 guns of Bismarck were fitted in twin mountings, C31 forward and C37 aft. The guns differed principally in the coordination system for their target data. In themselves both weapons were flawless, but unfortunately when the C37 had been shipped, the necessity to install the fire direction equipment individual to each model of gun had been overlooked, with the result that, when the fire direction instructions were transmitted, Flak C33 fired at the target and Flak C37 at a point beyond it. The error here clearly lay with Kriegsmarine planning, which resulted in the linking of an incompatible battery to the control centre.

Flak Direction Centres

Until the end of the war, German heavy units were equipped with grossly inferior flak direction centres based on the Cardan ring system with a large revolving base. At a massive 40 tons, their weight tended to affect the ship’s stability. In battle, many defects came to light, for the Cardan ring system was very sensitive to underwater hits: even the lightest hits could cause a break in the ring, resulting in a total system breakdown.

As early as 1932 engineers had set out proposals for an improved and more suitable development which had a smaller and triaxial rotating base. Despite repeated reminders, it was not until 1942 that the new device was first commissioned, and the experimental prototype was eventually ready by the end of the war though never fitted aboard ship. Complementing a far superior handling capability and better armour protection, the new device had a weight of only 6 tons.

In 1933 proposals had been put forward for automatic fire direction mountings for 3.7cm and 2cm guns. This demonstrates how far-sighted the German weapons engineering industry was, but in this case nothing came of the proposals.

Radar Equipment

At the outbreak of war in 1939 Germany had two workable radar systems, Freya (2.4cm waveband) and Würzburg (50cm waveband). At the time, the Third Reich led the world in this field. This would change. In the autumn of that year the British built a 12m system and then concentrated their efforts on the centimetre wavebands. In 1943, they introduced the 9cm device known to the Germans as ‘Rotterdam’.

In Germany the industry was fragmented, and instead of drawing on the experience of well-established firms, new companies were set up and the Luftwaffe commandeered all new developments. In 1942–43 it was decided that no new developments in radars of wavebands less than 20cm were possible, and all research into that area was abandoned. Only when a ‘Rotterdam’ set fell into German hands was work resumed. None of the equipment built worked satisfactorily in service. Germany had ‘missed the bus’.

These few concluding remarks may be sufficient to permit a more critical assessment of German warship construction of the period than is normally the case. At their completion, the two Bismarck class units were the culmination of capital ship building, but they were already obsolescent. They were powerful and sturdy fighting ships, but not unsinkable. In their final form they were, asthetically, the crowning glory of German warship construction.

The destruction by Bismarck of the world’s largest capital ship of the time, the battlecruiser Hood, is an impressive testimonial to German naval gunnery. But in respect of this success, it must be remembered that it was achieved against a warship which had been laid down in the Great War twenty-five years previously—certainly modernised but unchanged in her basic structure.




The Chinese fleet review, April 2018 in the South China Sea. More than 10,000 service personnel, 48 vessels and 76 aircraft took part in the review, including the Liaoning aircraft carrier, high-tech submarines and warships as well as advanced fighter jets. More than half of the vessels were commissioned after the Communist Party’s National Congress in 2012, when Xi became the party’s general secretary.

Naval fleets 2011

Designing and implementing an effective strategy for China will be an especially demanding task for U.S. policymakers. Almost every dimension of the problem adds difficulty and complexity to the challenge.

Within a decade, China’s economy, and the potential for that economy to support military power, will constitute a rival the size of which the United States has not faced since it emerged as a global player over a century ago. Comparisons with recent large military competitions reveal the size of the looming challenge. World War II required the United States to mobilize for a global war effort. But once it did so, its production, combined with that of its allies, including the Soviet Union, easily swamped that of the Axis powers. By 1944 success in that war was not in doubt. During the Cold War, U.S. economic and technical advantages over the Soviet bloc permitted a military competition that little strained the United States but bankrupted the Soviet Union.

With China, by contrast, the United States could by next decade face a rival with substantially equal economic output and potentially comparable military spending. Unlike the Soviet Union, China, with a much larger economy, will very likely be capable of sustaining an arms race on roughly equal terms for as long as it chooses. For the security balance in East Asia, China, as we have seen, gets much more out of its military spending because it is the “home team.” The effectiveness of U.S. military investment by contrast is diluted both by U.S. global security responsibilities and by the nation’s need to project its military power to a far-off “away game” in East Asia. The United States will be able to add the military potential of its partners in the region to its side of the ledger. But others in the region may bandwagon with China. The result is a security challenge in East Asia the potential magnitude of which U.S. policymakers have not faced in the modern era.

Second, as much of this book has sought to explain, the structure of the military problem in East Asia seems only now to be dawning on policymakers in Washington responsible for the design of U.S. military forces. Overconfidence in an assumed lead in U.S. military technology and attention drawn to nearly two decades of small wars have led policymakers and planners to lose sight of technological developments—most of them ironically first developed by the United States—that are now nullifying previous U.S. military advantages in power projection and strategic mobility. With the PLA’s military strategy now placing much of America’s tremendous investment in naval and aerospace power at risk of irrelevance, U.S. military planners and commanders must now cobble together new ways of performing basic missions in a region they previously took for granted.

America’s allies in the Asia-Pacific region are its most valuable asset; but they are also an especially challenging lot for U.S. diplomats. In Western Europe during the Cold War, former enemies were able to put the past behind them and coalesce around NATO and the concept of collective security. The bald Soviet threat, the brashness of which China has yet to fully replicate, certainly provided much of NATO’s glue. France’s early obstreperous behavior toward NATO is just one example that not all was harmonious inside the Atlantic alliance. But today’s American diplomats would surely welcome that relative unity of purpose compared to what they must wrestle with in East Asia.

Unlike Europe, bitter memories in Asia from last century and before remain unforgotten, with multilateral security cooperation suffering as a result. Moral hazard, the temptation by allies to let America do the heavy work, remains strong; for all of the talk about China’s military modernization, defense spending in frontline places such as Taiwan, the Philippines, and Japan is shockingly slight. Schizophrenia over either U.S. abandonment or entrapment in a military misadventure still plagues many of America’s allies in the region. With little prospect of any permanent and effective security institutions developing in the region, U.S. diplomats will continue to face uncertainty and ambiguity; partners may plead for U.S. protection while simultaneously hedging to keep their options open.

At home, the American public and policymakers have yet to sort out just what to make of the new China. A poll conducted in 2012 by Pew Research showed that while 52 percent of the U.S. general public viewed the emergence of China as a major threat, the concern centered on China’s economy rather than its military potential; only 28 percent of the public rated China’s military might as the greatest concern. A parallel poll of government executive and legislative branch officials found just 31 percent perceived China as a major threat. A 2013 Pew poll asked respondents from the general public to rate various international security issues. While 59 percent assessed North Korea’s nuclear program a major threat, 56 percent said the same of Islamic extremist groups; China’s power and influence, number five on the list, was rated a major threat by 44 percent of the respondents. With economic anxiety lingering in the United States in the wake of the recent economic recession, many in the U.S. public register more concern about China’s economic competitiveness than its military modernization, a topic which has received scant media attention. So although we have argued in this book for major reforms to U.S. security strategy in Asia, most of the U.S. public seems unaware of the need for a change.

Adopting a more assertive stance toward China is also likely to create frictions inside the United States. The 2012 Pew poll showed a broad disparity of views between the general public and some elites regarding China. For example, 71 percent of the general public perceived a loss of U.S. jobs to China as a very serious problem, a view held by only 15 percent of the business and trade leaders Pew interviewed.

Even as a security competition between China and the United States continues to grow, trade and financial linkages will continue to deepen. Commercial and financial interaction with China creates winners and losers inside the United States. Although overall economic welfare benefits from this trade, those losing from trade with China—say workers and investors in some industries—might view a more assertive stance against China favorably. By contrast, those who currently benefit—those with large exports and investments in China—may argue against a more assertive U.S. security strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. Because of the deepening trade and financial linkages between the two countries, a debate over U.S. security strategy in the region could pit many domestic interests against each other.

It has been two centuries since the United States last faced a country that was simultaneously a potential adversary and a large and vital trade and financial partner. The misbegotten War of 1812 divided the southern and western states, which saw the war as a chance to expand the country into Florida and farther west, against the New England states that had deep commercial and financial ties with Great Britain and that therefore strongly opposed President James Madison’s war policy.8 Strong economic ties to an adversary, concentrated in mainly one region of the country, resulted in a deep internal split over foreign policy. Should the security competition between China and the United States accelerate in the years ahead, we should expect to see interests and factions inside the United States clash over America’s China policy. An internal competition over China policy will only increase the subject’s complexity for political leaders responsible for fashioning that policy.

Finally, the gravity of U.S. interests at stake in the Asia-Pacific region will magnify the stress on America’s policymakers. No less than America’s standard of living, the future of its relationships around the world, and its status as a great power are in the balance. The Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” is both a reflection of this gravity and an antecedent for follow-on actions in the region by his successors. With the China security competition, U.S. policymakers will be forced to deal with a true peer competitor, a confounding military challenge, quarrelsome yet vital allies, clashing domestic interests, and a public that is understandably conflicted about the issues in play. Because the stakes are so large, no security issue will be more consequential for American interests. China policy will be a great challenge for a long time to come.

The United States Needs a New Approach

For the United States and its allies, the current trends are too dangerous to be allowed to continue. By early next decade, China’s leaders could conclude that they, and not the United States and its partners, possess escalation dominance. Those leaders could perceive that China’s leverage would improve during a crisis in the western Pacific, the more that crisis escalated. During such escalation, the PLA could put into readiness, and perhaps into action, more and more of its land-based access-denial air and missile power. Under these conditions, U.S. commanders would not relish the prospect of sending their naval and airpower into such tactically unfavorable circumstances. They would presumably have to report this analysis to policymakers in Washington, who would similarly have to ponder the consequences of a visible and substantial military setback. For the policymakers, attention would inevitably shift to face-saving de-escalation of the crisis, done with a lack of negotiating leverage.

Needless to say, such a scenario would be unfamiliar ground for U.S. policymakers and commanders who have held, in most cases since World War II, the advantage of escalation dominance. Policymakers in the Lyndon Johnson administration believed (incorrectly as it turned out) that escalating the employment of airpower and ground forces would compel North Vietnam to end its military operations in South Vietnam and its support for the Viet Cong resistance. In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, President George H. W. Bush resisted attempts to arrange a negotiated settlement even after the monthlong preparatory air war had begun; Bush and his advisers wanted more escalation, with the employment of U.S. and coalition ground combat power against Iraqi forces.10 In 2002 and 2003 President George W. Bush and his advisers again favored escalation in order to achieve the employment of what they believed was U.S. military superiority over Iraq.

Perhaps the most interesting and, for current U.S. planners, the most disturbing parallel, is the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. In that case, President John Kennedy and his team employed conventional military escalation—the visible buildup of air, naval, and amphibious forces opposite Cuba—to persuade Soviet leaders that a military clash in the Caribbean was hopeless for Soviet plans. In this case, Soviet forces, in the role of the expeditionary power, faced poor odds against the American and continental “home team.” The result was a withdrawal of the Soviet missiles from Cuba.

An adversary’s possession of escalation dominance will be strange territory for U.S. policymakers, one that could lead to either costly miscalculation or an embarrassing climbdown in a crisis. Most dangerous of all would be a situation in which each side perceived it would benefit from escalation. In that case, a conflict would be virtually certain. By next decade, such a disturbing scenario in East Asia is plausible. By that time, PLA commanders might have great confidence in the missile and aerospace power they will have built. On the other side, the confidence of U.S. policymakers in a crisis could rest on comforting, but possibly mistaken, memories of military dominance. Needless to say, it can’t be the case that both sides will benefit from escalation. We can hope that it won’t take a clash of arms to prove this point.

Should U.S. policymakers and military planners take little effective action to change the current trajectory, we should expect other players at risk in the region to take their own actions, with unpredictable consequences. For example, in July 2013 the Japanese government, led by the nationalist prime minister Shinzo Abe, released a new defense policy white paper. Reflecting a trend of increasing Japanese anxiety about the regional security situation, the white paper called attention to China’s “dangerous acts,” including intrusions by Chinese air and naval forces into Japan’s territory. Perhaps most notable was the white paper’s call for Japan to develop the ability to execute preemptive attacks on enemy bases abroad and an amphibious assault capability, presumably with the clashes over the Senkaku Islands in mind. As a result, the Japanese government increased defense spending in 2013 and directed more of Japan’s defense resources toward the Chinese threat to the Japan’s southwest.

U.S. policymakers should obviously be pleased that Japan is doing more for its own defense. The much more assertive content of Japan’s 2013 defense white paper is largely a response to China’s own military assertions, even into Japanese territory. As a consequence, Japan’s defense policy is now much more hawkish, a substantial change in policy and military latitude from just a few years ago. This trajectory is likely to keep going should the security situation in the region continue to deteriorate. Without a new American strategy, the still-modest defense buildup now under way in Japan could metastasize into a much more intense regional arms race, with destabilizing consequences to follow. Indeed non-Chinese defense spending in the region is expected to leap 55 percent in the five years ending in 2018. This budding arms race could turn dangerous should players conclude that they need more nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles or should they perceive that adverse trends and time pressure are eroding their strategic positions.

It matters who runs the western Pacific. Because the United States is an outsider, most countries in the region trust it to be the region’s dominant security provider, a role they will not trust to a local great power like China. As a corollary, it is very unlikely, and indeed too risky, to contemplate East Asia finding a stable balance of power on its own. The Asia-Pacific is the globe’s economic dynamo and the direct source of nearly a tenth of America’s economic output; the consequences of a large conflict in the region would be disastrous. Thus, the United States needs to maintain its security presence. But it also needs a new and better way to do so.

Sustaining an Effective Peacetime Competition

The goal of America’s strategy for the region should be to preserve the region’s security while also maintaining the existing rules-based international order. With China’s interests and those of the United States and its partners increasingly coming into conflict, a successful strategy must first attempt to persuade China’s leaders to accept—to China’s benefit—the existing order and to dissuade China’s leaders from attempting to replace it with an alternative that privileges China over its neighbors. Developing effective persuasive and dissuasive leverage will require a much deeper understanding of Chinese decision making. It will also require assembling a full range of political, diplomatic, economic, and military tools that can both provide rewards for favorable Chinese behavior while also threatening to impose costs for unfavorable actions. China has interests and vulnerabilities that can be sources of leverage for a competitive coalition strategy. U.S. and allied policymakers and planners need to understand these sources of leverage and design a strategy that takes advantage of them.

The first and most important element of an effective American strategy is America’s partners in the region. In most respects, the security interests of the United States and its partners are in alignment; China’s rising military power and its territorial assertions are a common concern. These partners in the region, especially those on the front line such as the Philippines, Japan, India, and Vietnam, add political legitimacy to the effort of resisting China’s assertions in the region. The larger the partnership network, the greater its overall legitimacy and the more difficult the task for China’s decision makers. No U.S. strategy can hope to succeed without the participation of these partners. For these reasons, the partnership network should be the key pillar of any U.S. strategy for the region. This means that all other elements should support this pillar. And in order to do that, U.S. policymakers and diplomats must listen carefully to the interests and concerns of the partners.

The United States and its partners face an open-ended competition with China. All the players have an interest in avoiding conflict. But that outcome will not happen without active “preventive maintenance” by policymakers. For the United States, that means creating persuasive and dissuasive leverage designed to influence Chinese strategic behavior along a favorable path. An effective and sustainable U.S. strategy will engage the partners to contribute to this effort.

Persuasive and dissuasive leverage comes in many forms. China’s breathtaking economic growth over the past three decades should be evidence enough to China’s leaders of the rewards for cooperating with the existing international system. That success has resulted in more diplomatic power for China and greatly increased prestige for the CCP. China’s continued access to these benefits should be persuasive.

China’s military modernization now hangs like a cloud over this universally beneficial success. This means the United States and its partners need to develop dissuasive tools that could impose costs on China and that would promise to negate much of the large investment China has made in its military strategy. The coalition’s dissuasive tools should hold at risk those assets and conditions China’s leaders value most. These dissuasive tools should encompass a very broad range, from political and economic pressure up through potential military options. As we have seen throughout history, the more the United States and its partners are prepared to employ these tools, the greater will be their credibility and thus the less likely their need to be used.

Much of the recent discussion inside Washington defense circles regarding China and the Pacific has focused on Navy and Air Force programs and plans. But regarding the peacetime security competition in the region and bolstering deterrence, the contribution made by U.S. ground forces—the Army, Marine Corps, and special operations forces—may be the most valuable. These services will have the lead role in assisting America’s security partners in the region as they build their own capabilities to resist China’s pressure and assertions. The actions of China’s neighbors to defend their sovereignty will enjoy increasing political legitimacy and will be key to preserving the existing rules-based order.

U.S. ground forces can provide assistance with internal defense, building conventional combat power, air defenses, antiship missile systems, command and control, intelligence gathering and sharing, amphibious capability, and many other important military functions. Ground forces will also have an important role preparing for various forms of defensive and offensive irregular warfare, which could occur as the security competition intensifies. The assistance provided by U.S. ground forces will boost the confidence of America’s partners while displaying to China’s leaders the rising costs for potentially bad behavior. Such an outcome would bolster deterrence and improve regional security.

The U.S. Navy and Air Force naturally must prepare as well for a security environment in the western Pacific that now challenges the operating practices these services have long taken for granted. China’s land-based air and missile power, and a “reconnaissance-strike complex” with ever-increasing range and targeting ability, have resulted in bleak prospects for the U.S. Navy’s surface forces in the region, at least until advanced missile defense technology arrives at the end of the next decade. The Navy will thus increasingly rely on its submarines to hold China’s navy at risk; the Navy must make sure that this remains the case.

Meanwhile the United States needs to ensure that it has enough long-range strike capacity to hold at risk those targets China’s leaders value most. High on this list should be China’s land-based “anti-navy” capabilities. The U.S. Navy will not be able to maintain freedom of navigation in the western Pacific without the capacity to suppress these forces. In addition U.S. long-range strike capacity should hold at risk targets and assets valued most by China’s leaders. Creating these capabilities will be technically challenging and will not be cheap. Suspending the purchase of systems such as aircraft carriers and short-range tactical aircraft that don’t have much use in the region could help pay the bills. Meanwhile, expanding America’s long-range strike capacity will be an important dissuasive tool and will be critical to maintaining deterrence.


Why the Skeptics of Sustaining America’s Presence in Asia Are Wrong

This book has argued that sustaining the U.S. forward presence in Asia is essential to America’s interests. It has also shown that the current policies supporting that commitment are weak and are failing. Dramatic reform to the U.S. approach to the region is needed if the United States is to maintain the credibility of its commitments. Some of these reforms will be controversial because they will include measures that threaten to impose steep costs on China in the event Beijing pursues actions that would harm U.S. and allied interests.

Naturally there are skeptics who doubt whether it is wise or even practical for the United States to attempt to sustain its leading role in the region in the face of China’s rapid rise.16 It is important to rebut the skeptics’ arguments.

Some skeptics assert that a visible and formidable response to China will only antagonize China, making an enemy where none previously existed. But this ignores the fact that China’s well-planned military modernization strategy began two decades ago and has followed a steady course since its inception. The U.S. “pivot to Asia” came long after and was clearly a response to decisions China’s leaders had previously taken. The skeptics’ view also presumes that China’s leaders respond emotionally rather than deliberately, as is much more likely the case. The recent U.S. response to the changing security balance in the western Pacific will not spark a new military competition with China, because that competition has been already been under way for some time.

Many observers explain that it would be irrational for two countries as interdependent economically and financially as China and the United States to ever go to war. Others made the same assertion a century ago to explain why a war among the great powers in Europe would be similarly illogical. In 1914 Europe’s great powers were more intertwined by trade and financial linkages than are the United States and China today. But for the statesmen who made decisions in that fateful year, strategic considerations trumped economics and finance. We can hope that today’s policymakers, chastened by the past century’s wars, will be wiser. But now as then, decision makers might also conclude that it will be easier to recover from the economic consequences of conflict, which could be temporary, than from a grave strategic setback, which would more likely be permanent. By this reasoning, a temporary economic setback caused by conflict would be a price worth paying for the avoidance of a strategic defeat.

Perhaps more relevant in the current case is Beijing’s view that it does not have to choose between peace and the achievement of its territorial and security goals. Through careful “salami slicing,” China’s leaders very likely believe they can have both the peaceful development they enjoy plus the enlarged security they seek. The risk, of course, is that China will eventually meet resistance that its leaders did not expect, resulting in a crisis fueled by nationalism and the perceived need by leaders to defend their country’s prestige. Add in the possibility of miscalculations over escalation dominance and the result could be calamity. The United States and its partners can avoid this scenario by bolstering their deterrence capacity and by displaying early resolution against China’s assertions, before possible misunderstandings accumulate.

Many skeptics assert that it is the responsibility of China’s neighbors, and not the United States, to balance China’s power. Under this view, these countries, having the most at stake, should bear the heaviest portion of the balancing task, instead of “free riding” on U.S. security guarantees. Other skeptics (notably Christopher Layne and others from the “offshore balancing” school) believe that U.S. security alliances in general expose the United States to unnecessary risks in exchange for minimal benefits.

This book has argued for a diplomatic strategy that would make America’s security partners in the region the central pillar of this strategy and would arrange for them to play a larger role in regional security; but a leading U.S. role is also essential. Just as Europe witnessed in the years leading up to World War I, East Asia, too, will unlikely be able to peacefully establish on its own a stable balance of power. It is certainly too dangerous to take a risk with such an experiment, because the consequences of failure would be immense. By contrast we see how the opposite experiment, with the United States as the outside security provider, has allowed East Asia to become perhaps the most successful region in the world over the past seven decades. The United States has a strong interest in making sure that experiment continues to run.

Another criticism is that China’s military rise is simply a natural consequence of its economic and political rise and its need to protect its growing interests around the world. It is argued that this is a reality U.S. policymakers must therefore simply accept. It is true China’s military expansion is a consequence of its rising power and interests, but just because it is a natural and logical consequence of China’s rise does not mean it is not also dangerous to regional stability. Indeed, the rise of Athens in ancient Greece, Germany in the late nineteenth century, and Japan during the first half of the twentieth century were similarly “natural” and all led to clashing interests and war. It will take more than merely accommodating or accepting China’s rise as a great power to avoid similar disastrous results. Avoiding disaster will require astute policies that both actively balance China’s power and create effective incentives for China and the other players in the region.

This book has called for numerous reforms to U.S. military forces for the region. These reforms include increasing U.S. long-range striking power, establishing the capability to suppress China’s land-based “anti-navy” air and missile forces, and holding at risk other assets and conditions highly valued by China’s leaders. Many observers object to a strategy designed around the prospect of bombing China. They assert that such a plan only guarantees a large and damaging war, and potentially ruinous escalation.

The object of the strategy proposed in this book is preventing conflict in the region by bolstering deterrence. The proposed strategy is not a war plan. It is a strategy to manage a peacetime security competition in East Asia.

The strategy calls for preparing favorable and unfavorable consequences for China’s leaders to consider as they fashion their nation’s external policies. A credible U.S. strategy must include the ability to hold at risk those targets China’s leaders value. The United States, with its tiny number of stealthy long-range bombers and relatively small capacity to deliver Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles, currently lacks the needed capacity to threaten these targets during a conflict. China’s leaders will take that into consideration during a crisis. Perhaps most important, the United States cannot achieve its most important mission in the region, defending the freedom of navigation in the western Pacific, while China’s land-based antiship forces continue to threaten the sea lines of communication. A credible strategy will have to include the ability to hold these land-based targets at risk.

Finally, some will label a policy that responds to China’s assertions as “containment” and thus a throwback to the Cold War. But the strategy proposed here in no way resembles Cold War–style containment. The West’s containment of the Soviet Union during the Cold War was multidimensional. In addition to the military competition, the United States and the West battled the Soviet Union’s ideology and isolated it (until late in the period) economically and financially. Diplomatic contact was sparse and trade was virtually nonexistent until near the end. In sum, containment was broad-ranging isolation, imposed until, as George Kennan predicted early on, the Soviet Union’s internal weaknesses caused its ruin.

The policies proposed in this book in no way resemble containment. China’s economic and financial linkages with the world are large and expanding, trends the United States should welcome. There is no ideological competition with China, at least from the U.S. perspective (the leaders of China’s Communist Party may have a different view). Diplomatic contact between China and the United States is continuous and extensive. Far from containment, the strategy proposed in this book relies on positive (and negative) incentives to encourage China’s leadership to choose a path that benefits China, its neighbors, and the United States. This book has recommended U.S. military reforms that counter China’s military modernization and create a capacity to hold valuable Chinese assets and conditions at risk; but these reforms serve deterrence and regional stability and hardly amount to Cold War–style containment.

Those who are skeptical of maintaining America’s leading role in the region are concerned that the cost of that role is going up, perhaps sharply. On this, the skeptics are right—the costs are going up. But so too would be the consequences to the United States for surrendering that role. It will not be easy for the United States to sustain its position. But the benefits of doing so are still great and will exceed the costs and risks.

The Barriers to a New Strategy

If a better approach to China was obvious and easy to implement, that approach would already be current policy. There are several reasons why the United States does not have the policies for the region that it should; overcoming barriers to a better approach will be a challenge and will require leadership from policymakers.

The first barrier is overcoming the reluctance to recognize that the U.S. strategic position in the western Pacific is quickly deteriorating, a syndrome seemingly few policymakers, let alone the public, yet appreciate. Media attention on China has focused on its economic growth, its financial influence, its cyber espionage activities, and some of its internal social problems. China’s military modernization, by contrast, receives only occasional coverage in mainstream Western media. Most people inside the United States assume that American military power is still superior and free to roam as it has for decades; arguing that this will soon no longer be the case in East Asia is a novel thought to most observers and thus not easy to accept.

Next, U.S. policymakers, tasked with an entire world of security responsibilities, will struggle to decide how many resources to allocate to the growing security problems in the Asia-Pacific region. This book has focused narrowly on what the United States should do to respond to the challenge presented by China; it is explicitly not a template for how America should meet its global responsibilities. Many of the military capabilities proposed, such as new long-range strike aircraft, however, would be useful everywhere, not just in East Asia. Even so, policymakers will debate what draw on resources the China challenge properly merits. The Obama administration has identified the region as America’s top security priority. But that does not settle how much of the security pie it should receive. That is a question that very likely will never be finally settled.

With resources finite, allocating more to meeting the particular challenges in East Asia means allocating less elsewhere. The good news is that whenever U.S. policymakers have given their consistent attention to certain security threats, they have usually been successful at mitigating those threats. Four decades of consistent attention to Soviet power deterred conflict, prevented war, and protected Western values and institutions. In another example, once the U.S. security bureaucracy fully mobilized after 2001 to face the terrorism threat, large-scale terror attacks inside the United States did not recur. Likewise, if U.S. policymakers really make security in East Asia the priority they say it should be, they should be able to prevent conflict in the region from happening.

However, in a world of zero-sum security planning, U.S. policymakers will necessarily have to take risks. Even while defense planners averted conventional and nuclear war with the Soviet Union, irregular and proxy conflicts occurred in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere, with damage to U.S. interests. Neglecting the terrorist threat before 2001 led to a decade of costly interventions. The security challenge posed by China is arguably the most consequential the United States faces and therefore warrants the first call on attention and resources. But that will likely necessitate more risk elsewhere.

The greatest barrier to a better security strategy for Asia is the existing bureaucratic and institutional interests that will resist changes to the programs from which they currently benefit. There are large defense bureaucracies, industrial contractors, military bases, local constituencies, and supporting interest groups that have grown around the current defense posture and that will resist any radical change to it. Short-range tactical airpower and surface forces of all kinds are under increasing threat in the looming military environment. But these forces also constitute the overwhelming majority of the U.S. Defense Department’s current program of record. In theory, reallocating the same defense dollars into more useful programs and systems could see existing personnel, contractors, and communities transition to those new programs and systems. But that reassuring message likely won’t forestall bureaucratic and political resistance from risk-averse interests that fear change.

Overcoming these barriers to change will require persistent and bipartisan leadership from civilian political leaders and policymakers. These civilian leaders must learn about the quickly changing security situation in Asia and then formulate enduring policies that successive administrations will continue. Above all, success will require strong civilian leadership to implement the changes that numerous interests are likely to resist. That is asking a lot from America’s political system; but that is what the China challenge will require.

Entering a Danger Zone

The delayed response by U.S. policymakers to China’s military modernization has regrettably ensured that a period of danger for U.S. and allied interests will inevitably occur around the end of this decade. China’s development of its space- and land-based reconnaissance and command systems, and its land-based antiship air and naval forces, will begin to fully flower around 2020 and thereafter. However, U.S. responses, such as directed-energy missile defenses and alternatives to space-based command and control, are not likely to arrive in force until the second half of the next decade. Military improvements begun recently by China’s neighbors may similarly not mature until later next decade. New U.S. long-range aircraft and missiles could arrive sooner if made an urgent priority.

China’s leaders may perceive a narrow window of opportunity during which they might believe they will possess escalation dominance. These leaders might conclude that early next decade will be the last opportunity for China to settle its claims in the Near Seas and to obtain any other regional security interests its leadership feels China requires. The leaders of Imperial Germany, facing similar concerns about Russia’s growing economy and military power before World War I, felt themselves under pressure to employ their military option while it was still useful.

The fact that an improved U.S. military and diplomatic strategy for the region will create time pressure for China’s leaders is certainly not an argument that the United States should refrain from these reforms. Prolonging the period of danger—the consequence of further delaying or even rejecting reforms—makes no sense. U.S. military planners will attempt to get through this increasingly risky period by shifting more military assets into the region. This shift will increase the vulnerability of these mostly short-range forces to Chinese attack and will magnify the risk of “use it, or lose it” instability during a crisis. In order to escape these dangers, U.S. policymakers should urgently get on with the military reforms discussed in this book, reforms designed to increase the range and reduce the vulnerability of U.S. military power in the region.

In the long run, the Asia-Pacific region will avoid major conflict only after the players in the region establish incentives that reward cooperation and punish attempts to disrupt the existing rules-based system. For these incentives to be effective, they will have to endure changes in governments and policies as well as shifts in the region’s allocation of power and influence. Sadly, history is filled with occasions when swings in the balance of power, national and ethnic grievances, or the sudden arrival of aggressive leaders brought an end to long episodes of regional stability.

The United States and its partners should firmly pursue their interests; this book has described how they can do that. As they do so, they must also treat China with respect and ensure that China has a clear path for continued success, a path that does not detract from the potential of its neighbors or the United States. The United States and its partners should bolster their defenses quietly, but in full view of the PLA and China’s decision makers. The United States and its allies should do nothing to cause China’s leaders to lose face. But these leaders should also be fully aware of the consequences of continued assertive behavior.

Preparing for the security challenge posed by China’s growing military power is not an affront to China. Indeed, these preparations show respect for China’s arrival as a great power. That arrival now threatens the region’s hope for a rich and peaceful future. History is now calling on the United States to again lead its partners in a new effort to sustain the region’s balance and prosperity, an endeavor from which all will benefit.

Shigeyoshi Inoūe: the visionary?

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.

It is not surprising that the Japanese also developed the idea of naval air war to make up for numerical inferiority in battleships to the US Navy. It was generally assumed that  they were to fight the decisive battleship engagement somewhere in the Western Pacific. With the 10:6 advantage the Americans enjoyed, even after the US Navy suffered from wear and tear during the long voyage from the American West Coast to the Western Pacific, they’d still enjoy their superiority. The Japanese naval men therefore sought to reduce American battleship strength by naval guerrilla war at sea. Using aircraft and submarines, the Japanese would set up a series of ambush points along the most likely lines of American advance. By hit and run tactics, they would try to damage or sink American battleships before they could reach anywhere near Japan. By the time they had their naval showdown, hopefully, the opposing battle fleets would have a rough parity in the number of battleships they could deploy. Then, the Japanese believed, they would enjoy advantage over the Americans as they were fighting closer to home. They were more highly motivated as they were defending their own home country; their sailors were in a fresher state, in contrast to the tired Americans; and their battleships would be better serviced and in an optimal condition to fight a fleet battle.

During the 1930s, Japanese thinking drifted towards more offensive-defensive ideas. At first, many naval thinkers, both Japanese and Western, believed in the idea of a naval showdown in or near Japanese waters or the Philippines. Towards the eve of the actual war in the Pacific, however, the Japanese were getting increasingly reluctant to wait until the American navy came to them. Surely, Americans would not repeat the mistake of the Russians? They’d rather fight the decisive battle on the ground of their own choosing. And  so would the Japanese. Moreover, the Japanese valued offensive spirit. The idea of fighting a defensive naval war simply because they had fewer ships than their opponent just didn’t sit well with their mentality. Admiral IsorokuYamamoto, who was the overall commander of the Japanese naval forces since the summer of 1939, thus sought to deliver a massive blow to the US fleet at the very opening of hostility in a surprise attack, aiming at destruction of not just the US fleet but also that of morale of the US public. In order to do so, Yamamoto could not risk losing any of his battleships as they had to be preserved for the coming showdown, so he preferred using naval air forces to achieve this.

Therefore, the ‘naval revolution’ which the supposed genius of Yamamoto initiated was to a large extent just a logical extension of the battleship era thinking. In fact, most Japanese naval leaders continued to think in terms of fighting a decisive fleet action by big gun battleships.  Yamamoto certainly believed in the power of naval air arm, more so than most of his colleagues, yet it is doubtful he thought that airpower could completely replace the battle fleet. Airpower was only useful to keep American battleships at bay while Japan could achieve its strategic aim of destroying US morale, which was the most vital war aim for him. Yamamoto, who had lived in America for a few years, was too aware of massive economic and industrial potential of the US. He felt that unless American will to fight could be destroyed, the US would simply outbuild Japan. How does he achieve this? The Japanese navy had to win and win big so much so that Americans would get so discouraged to fight war thousands of miles from their own home. Waiting for the US to mount its offensive, even a Japanese win in a defensive sea battle would not affect American morale that much. To reduce American battleship strength, his naval air forces would strike en masse, delivering a crippling blow to the US battle fleet to such an extent the final battleship duel would even be unnecessary. His aim was, ideally, a total sea denial to the US naval forces in the western Pacific.

Thus, another point that is not widely recognised is that Japanese strategic thinking was defensive in orientation. As Japan was waging a very aggressive war of conquest, there is a general sense that Japan’s war with China and the Western allies were an offensive war aimed at imperial expansion. However, Japanese thinking was dominated by concerns for defence of what they considered as their sphere of influence. On a map, Japanese gains from the end of 1941 up to the summer of 1942 look impressive. What they achieved was large territorial expanses to ensure that Japan would keep a self-sufficient, autarkic empire. Only by achieving such goals, their country’s social stability, economic welfare of its people and respectability in the new international community would be ensured, or so did they believe.

Therefore, both their strategic and political goals was to acquire colonies to build and defend an empire and force the Western Allies to accept the fait accompli. Given the level of threat the US and the Allies posed, the Japanese thought, Japan needed to acquire and control as much territory as possible, in order to absorb the shock of American counter-attack. In May 1942, Japan was embarking on what appeared to be the conquest of Australia, landing troops in New Guinea. This operation was in fact designed to cut off communication between Australia and the US mainland, and so to deny the Americans the use of Australia as the base for the anticipated counter offensive. They wanted to keep the Americans in check just long enough. They knew they could not fight a long war, even though they did not know how to ensure the war would be short. They just hoped that the US would be too busy with war with Germany and the US public was not very keen on war for Asia. By the time the war weary US public forced their government to sue for peace, Japan’s empire should still be large enough to maintain its territorial and economic integrity. In hindsight, they utterly underestimated the US public’s ability to endure a long, bloody war. Some Japanese naval men suspected that their plans were based on unrealistic assumptions, but political atmosphere of the day made them hesitate to admit the doubt, let alone to speak out.

A few did. In the early 1941, Rear Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoūe was one of the  least popular figures in the Imperial Japanese Navy because he often called his fellow admirals stupid. When the navy put forward a plan for a massive naval expansion to keep pace with the latest American naval programme in anticipation of war, he shocked his colleagues by allegedly blasting, ‘Who came up with this? Are you retards or something?’ This caused consternation among other admirals. Japan was about to launch her war against America within several months. Strategy had been agreed upon and a new naval building programme had been approved. Now he’s saying what they are doing is nonsense! The insulting way he put it made them even more angry. They demanded that Inoūe articulate what he would do then. In response, he produced a short paper presenting his views. While, in hindsight, his proposals do not show great spark of genius, when it comes to what the US would do, he was so dead-on, if anyone should be called a prophet of war, Inoūe is the one who fits the bill.

His thinking shows strong British influence. But he did not just copy British ideas. Like his British counterparts at Greenwich, he worked the problem from the very basics: geography and technology.

Geographically, he pointed out, a big, continental country like the United States had an advantage of strategic depth. It was simply impossible for Japan to invade the continental America and to reach its capital. Japan could not hope to wipe out American military forces. On the other hand, the US was capable of doing this to Japan and taking even the capital Tokyo.

He also pointed out that the sheer vastness of the Pacific Ocean meant that the likelihood of the decisive battleship action happening was practically nil. Finding an enemy battle fleet alone would be next to impossible. He also asked, surely you don’t expect Americans to be stupid enough to rush to fight our fleet prematurely only so that we could annihilate their battleships? Indeed, the Japanese were to be frustrated by lack of opportunities to use their super battleships for a showdown. The biggest battleship ever built, the Yamato, failed to sink anything of value throughout the war.

As Inoūe repeatedly insisted that aircraft and submarines changed naval warfare so fundamentally, his enemies attacked him as self-interested, for he was the head of naval aviation of the Japanese Navy at the time. Nevertheless he was certainly correct that the US would employ submarines in the western Pacific to disrupt Japanese sea communication. Hence, he preached that Japan needed to devise anti-submarine strategy and tactics, though he could not offer anything in detail, as Japan had little experience in this area of naval warfare. The British experience during WW1 was the only guide: all he could do was to recommend that more escort ships should be built for convoy duties.

Remarkably, Inoūe predicted the island hopping campaign employed by the Americans. To him, this was only logical. While the British emphasised that sea control must be established by winning major fleet actions, he understood that without winning bases and facilities, sea control could not be won. For warships without fuel were useless. Therefore, what was to come was a series of deadly struggles for bases, which were mostly on tiny islands in the Pacific. Only by winning this contest, Japan had any realistic chance of winning war.

He even went on to say that the navy could afford to sacrifice battleships and heavy cruisers as they would be of little practical value. This naturally did not go down well with his peers (and on this he was perhaps wrong, as the US Navy actively used these types of ships for escort and anti-air duties and shore bombardment), as the belief in decisive battleship action was too strong.

Most Japanese officers spurned Inoūe’s views. Unfortunately his battlefield performance did not help either. He was the overall commander of the task force to attack Australia in the spring of 1942. In the ensuing battle, known as the Battle of Coral Sea, he managed to sink the US carrier Lexington, while losing one light carrier of his own (the Shoho) and getting a fleet carrier (the Shokaku) damaged. Thus he called off the operation, for he feared that aircraft carriers were too vulnerable to enemy attack and did not want to take unnecessary risks. For this he was considered as lacking offensive spirit and was removed from command. He was unpopular as a mouthy and brainy aristocrat (he was of old Samurai stock) without charisma or killer instinct, unlike the popular Yamamoto. He was to be made full Admiral only towards the end of the war when some Japanese leaders began to realise that Japan was losing and that someone had to represent Japan in search of peace with the Allies. For this, he was derided as an admiral who was only good at losing.

Most regrettably, his political views were totally ignored and overruled before the war. He was against war with the US and thought it unwise to jump on the ‘German bandwagon.’ After Japan’s defeat, Admiral Inoūe retired unceremoniously and lived quietly and in poverty, earning meagre living by teaching children English and music. It was long after the war his predictions of US strategy were belatedly recognised by the astonished Americans. It was only after his death that some of his pupils and friends began to see his talent and insight. In 1941, however, no one would listen to him. The war was on.