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Old September 8th, 2016, 09:14 AM   #1
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Pre-war US Navy vs Pre-war Imperial Japanese Navy


The Pacific War begins on Dec 7, 1941 with a Japanese attack on the Philippines, Guam, Wake, Hong Kong, with Singapore and the Dutch East Indies soon to follow. In short, everything is the same except for no Pearl Harbor attack so the US fleet remains intact. The Americans immediately redeploy five battleships, two carriers, and a commensurate number of cruisers, destroyers, and support ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific. They also accumulate a large convoy bearing supplies and reinforcements for the Philippines. On Jan 15, 1942, this massive fleet leaves Pearl Harbor heading west. As the US fleet sails through the Japanese-occupied central Pacific, the Japanese spot it and begin concentrating their own fleet near the Philippines. The Japanese are eager to fight as they wish to prevent the supplies and reinforcements from reaching the Philippines. Morale on both sides is high. Both sides envision the coming battle will culminate in a massive, Jutland-style duel of battleships. However, as the two fleets approach each other both attempt to whittle down the other through carrier strikes and submarine attacks. The Japanese also have land-based maritime strike aircraft. Your thoughts? I propose this counter factual because I'd like to gain an increased understanding of the tactical and operation dynamic in play in Jan and Feb '42. I'm less interested in who would win this battle and more interested in why they would win.
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Old September 9th, 2016, 03:35 AM   #2

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From what I've read the IJN had long trained and prepared for exactly this scenario--winning a decisive battle against a big US fleet headed toward them. Their submarines were to whittle down the approaching armada. Unlike U-boats, New Junsens etc were designed to fight warships. They were big and fast and were to report on US fleet movements as well as try to torpedo US ships.
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Old September 9th, 2016, 04:01 AM   #3
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From what I've read the IJN had long trained and prepared for exactly this scenario--winning a decisive battle against a big US fleet headed toward them. Their submarines were to whittle down the approaching armada. Unlike U-boats, New Junsens etc were designed to fight warships. They were big and fast and were to report on US fleet movements as well as try to torpedo US ships.
the IJN focused it submarines on sinking US capital ships and as such the policy was a dismal failure, big and fast is relative, compared to any reasonable warship, no. To sink a capital ship submarines have to get lucky, they are far too slow to get into position.
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Old September 9th, 2016, 05:02 AM   #4

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the IJN focused it submarines on sinking US capital ships and as such the policy was a dismal failure,
Yeah though they did get in some good punches like the sinking of Wasp, and twice hitting Saratoga. Inaba probably could've sunk Saratoga, instead of just damaging it, had he fired a full spread.


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big and fast is relative, compared to any reasonable warship, no. To sink a capital ship submarines have to get lucky, they are far too slow to get into position.
But Junsens and others were better designed to do this than subs generally were. They could make 23 knots, faster than most warships at normal cruising speed. The main problem was finding the big ships. In the scenario outlined above, it might have been relatively easy. The IJN would've anticipated a big fleet coming at them. They could've established two sub patrol lines. One not far from Pearl, to detect and track the big fleet and another east of the Philippines to ambush it.
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Old September 9th, 2016, 05:57 AM   #5
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American subs were also large compared to U-boats and British subs, weren't they? Because US and Japanese subs were both designed to operate in the Pacific where distances were greater and subs had to carry more fuel in order to reach their targets.

Japan was a maritime nation, like Britain, and like Britain was vulnerable to a war against their commerce. Japan thought they could protect their merchant ships by not attacking enemy merchant ships. The US during WW1 and in the opening months of WW2 was very vocal in defense of freedom of the seas and very critical of German U-boats sinking merchant ships in the Atlantic. So the Japanese thought the Americans would never do the same thing to them. And they may have been right prior to Pearl Harbor. It was only out of anger over Pearl Harbor that the Americans changed their mind about unrestricted submarine warfare. But the Japanese never changed their submarine policy about never attacking merchant ships. In the later phases of the war the US didn't even bother to convoy their supply ships.
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Old September 9th, 2016, 06:10 AM   #6
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Does anyone think the US could win a battle like the one postulated above? Because as I look at the various factors influencing victory and defeat, almost all of them come down heavily in favor of the Japanese. I find the odds so in favor of the Japanese that the Americans would never attempt such a battle unless they seriously overestimated their own abilities and seriously underestimated the Japanese.
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Old September 10th, 2016, 04:56 AM   #7

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American subs were also large compared to U-boats and British subs, weren't they? Because US and Japanese subs were both designed to operate in the Pacific where distances were greater and subs had to carry more fuel in order to reach their targets.
True but I don't think US subs were designed to fight warships specifically to quite the same degree.

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Japan thought they could protect their merchant ships by not attacking enemy merchant ships. The US during WW1 and in the opening months of WW2 was very vocal in defense of freedom of the seas and very critical of German U-boats sinking merchant ships in the Atlantic. So the Japanese thought the Americans would never do the same thing to them.
News to me.From what I've read, the Japanese knew very well they'd suffer significant losses of merchant ships. There was a prewar study which concluded, or assumed, losses would amount to about 700,000 tons a year.


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But the Japanese never changed their submarine policy about never attacking merchant ships.
Na they went after merchant ships from the start. I think they bagged a total of about 900,000 tons in the war--a pretty crummy performance compared to what they might've done had merchant ships had a higher priority. But while many boats formed patrol lines intended to intercept enemy warships, others were used to attack merchantmen specifically, especially in the Indian Ocean.
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Old September 10th, 2016, 05:00 AM   #8

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Originally Posted by Chlodio View Post
Does anyone think the US could win a battle like the one postulated above? Because as I look at the various factors influencing victory and defeat, almost all of them come down heavily in favor of the Japanese. I find the odds so in favor of the Japanese that the Americans would never attempt such a battle unless they seriously overestimated their own abilities and seriously underestimated the Japanese.
You're probably right. At the time the IJN had an edge in battleships (Yamato was ready) and carriers. In addition, destroyers with night fighting tactics were deadly. Had the US tried that, a lot of ships would've been lost, and unlike at pearl, lost irretrievably. The Japanese would've won the decisive battle they had long believed in. Well, at least for the time being.
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Old September 10th, 2016, 06:02 AM   #9
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Do you have any data on which side had the best trained gun crews in terms of sustained rate of fire and also accuracy of fire? Those are two areas where so far I haven't found any definitive answers. I know Japanese gunnery declined after the first year of the war, so I don't want to base any conclusions for Feb '42 on the attrocious Japanese gunnery at Leyte Gulf. So far, I haven't considered the Guadalcanal battles because I suspect accuracy at night might be different than accuracy in the daytime. Gunnery at Java Sea was bad on both sides. It was torpedoes and mines that gave that battle to the Japanese.

Thanks for that bit about Japanese subs lurking off Pearl Harbor. I hadn't considered that one.

Do you know any pre-war misconceptions the Japanese Navy had about the US Navy? Other than the one about Americans being soft and lazy and lacking in warrior spirit? Did they ever over estimate or under estimate the abilities of American ships or planes?
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Old September 10th, 2016, 06:38 AM   #10

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Originally Posted by Chlodio View Post
Do you have any data on which side had the best trained gun crews in terms of sustained rate of fire and also accuracy of fire? Those are two areas where so far I haven't found any definitive answers. I know Japanese gunnery declined after the first year of the war, so I don't want to base any conclusions for Feb '42 on the attrocious Japanese gunnery at Leyte Gulf. So far, I haven't considered the Guadalcanal battles because I suspect accuracy at night might be different than accuracy in the daytime. Gunnery at Java Sea was bad on both sides. It was torpedoes and mines that gave that battle to the Japanese.
Japanese gunnery didn't seem bad during the Komandorski scrap, March 1943. Maya got a few hits on Salt Lake City.

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Thanks for that bit about Japanese subs lurking off Pearl Harbor. I hadn't considered that one.
There were many there in real life but they were too incautious. Too much use of radios.

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Do you know any pre-war misconceptions the Japanese Navy had about the US Navy? Other than the one about Americans being soft and lazy and lacking in warrior spirit? Did they ever over estimate or under estimate the abilities of American ships or planes?
Generally I don't think they underestimated US capabilities because they felt a need to build superior ships in every class, and sought to beat a big US fleet coming at them rather than take the initiative themselves. I recall the IJN had a lower opinion of US weapons when they examined torpedoes captured in the Philippines. Nowhere near as good as the Long Lances.
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