Review of the book "THE WAR FOR THE SEAS A Maritime History of World War II by Evan Mawdsley

Nov 2019
338
United States
I was at first excited to purchase this book, as a thorough analysis and history of campaigns on all the oceanic theaters in one book, did not reside on my bookshelf. Overall Mawdsley does recant a very thorough storyline (but a somewhat disjointed timeline) of the battles and these theaters. I found the summary at the end of each segment of time, which he breaks down into 5 segments, somewhat repetitious and distracting.
None the less, there was much to learn and consider throughout the book, and overall, from a very British perspective the book is worth owning.
I disagree with him rather much in his summary, his views are indeed a very British oriented, and Eurocentric position. He fails, as British authors and historians often do, to recognize the difference in the United States interests versus their own. Though the United States and its leadership, clearly aligned themselves towards a “Germany First” war effort, the attack on Pearl Harbor challenged that position publicly within our country. In the average American’s eye that was no different than had Germany devastatingly attacked Scapa Flow first in 1939 instead of invading Poland.
It is important here to remember that until Pearl Harbor American opinion on entering the war against Germany was fairly divided, despite the clear conclusions that America’s political leadership had made.
Lynne Olson wrote a book called “Those Angry Days”, in which she points out:
“But from 1939 through 1941, Americans were deeply divided between interventionism and isolationism.
"It's so easy, again, to look back and say, 'Well, all the things that the isolationists said were wrong,' " author Lynne Olson tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. " ... But back then, you know, in '39, '40 and most of '41, people didn't know that. People had no idea what was going to happen."”
"They looked on it kind of like a movie. ... It was something that just didn't affect them. We didn't have the technology. We didn't have the instant communication. We didn't have the ability to travel — the ability to travel quickly — to Europe that we have now. And so most Americans — not all, but most Americans, especially those who lived in the heartland — really didn't feel that they had anything in common with Europe. They hadn't been there. They thought this was a distant place that they really had nothing to do with, and they felt that way until 1940."
'Angry Days' Shows An America Torn Over Entering World War II
From the British perspective this viewpoint might be hard to comprehend; Britain was under a life-threatening, apocryphal attack, and to perceive that their “erstwhile” ally could be so sanguine about it is not real comprehended. I liken this to the idea that if my neighbors house is on fire, I rush to help fight it, but when someone’s house is on fire in Maine, it isn’t really so concerning; i.e. I may feel compassion, but it’s not something I can do something about. This sentiment is even more so when the fire occurs several thousand more miles away in Devonshire.
This sentiment changes over the course of the war, as Americans largely began to realize just how interconnected their moral values, and nation’s interests were tied to our Allied Nations.
The importance here however is that the attack on Pearl Harbor was the most sentient event that influenced the change in American’s public view to the War. It is important to remember that emotionally Japan was the nation who had threatened America directly, whereas Germany had not. One can see that clearly in the response of the United States government; the placement of Japanese-American families into “camps” was a response to that public emotion (an obviously irrational one that our nation would later greatly regret).
There is also the contributive point here that America had long construed Japan as a potential enemy, as Mawdsley rightly points out. Japan possessed the 3rd greatest Navy in the world at this point, a MUCH larger force than any of the belligerents in Europe excluding Britain:
On 7 December 1941, the principal units of the Japanese Navy included:
  • 10 battleships (11 by the end of the year)
  • 6 fleet carriers
  • 4 light fleet carriers
  • 18 heavy cruisers
  • 18 light cruisers
  • 113 destroyers
  • 63 submarines
The front-line strength of the Naval Air Forces was 1753 warplanes, including 660 fighters, 330 torpedo bombers, and 240 shore-based bombers. There were also 520 flying boats used for reconnaissance. Japanese Naval aircraft, as Mawdsley admits were qualitatively superior at the beginning of 1942 to the Navies of all other combatants.
Conversely, Germany possessed no aircraft carriers (though they attempted to construct one that was never finished), only 4 battleships, (and 3 pointless pre-dreadnought ships, who never contributed in any meaningful way during the war for obvious reasons), 12 total cruisers of all types, 17 destroyers, 22 convoy escorts, and according to Medley’s numbers, only 198 U-Boats available at the end of 1941.
There was of course the Italian Navy as well, but the fact is that as of the end of 1941, Britain dominated the Mediterranean in terms of large ships and naval flotillas and the Italian’s were loath to risk their Navy against the British.
Conversely, Japan had by early 1942, demolished what presence Britain had throughout the Pacific, had forced Britain to retreat it’s Indian Ocean Navy to the coast of Africa, had severely damaged the United States Pacific Fleet in Hawaii, and by this point had sunk 1 of the 4, and damaged severely 1 of the 3 remaining aircraft carriers in the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Japan at this point possessed a dominant position in the Pacific and the United States had little choice but to concentrate the bulk of it’s naval forces against the Japanese threat, not just to the rest of the Allied Nations in the Pacific (including Australia), but as well to it’s own territories of Hawaii, Alaska, and our own Western Coast (though the Japanese were never going to invade the U.S., they had planned to raid the coastline of the United States if opportunities had presented themselves).
Yes, German U-Boats did occasionally bombard locations on the Eastern seaboard, and even once on the Gulf Coast, however aircraft carriers and battleships bombarding a coastline are a factor many times more destructive.

The hysteria that existed along our Western coast towards this Japanese potential were often written about during the war.

This however is strategically not the most significant factor, among those are also included the interest of Britain, and its colonies. We in Western nations often disregard the ideas that Japan promulgated within other Asian nations as a basis of their war against the West. Those ideas were originally called the “New Order in East Asia”, but eventually evolved in 1943 to be termed “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”. The Allied nations quickly saw this as simply one means that Japan intended to sway the Asian public opinion to their side, and in the long run was simply a method to allow Japan to establish its hegemony over other Asian nations. However, that being true, it also acquired some traction within certain nations, including India, where revolutionary independence movements already existed. It was received by many as an opportunity to cohere Asians against Western colonial aspirations.

Subhas Chandra Bose and Mohan Singh Deb formed the INA, which included 40,000 Indian soldiers to assist the Japanese in their attacks in the Arakan Offensive. The Indian National Congress announced that India would not fight Germany unless India was given it’s independence, nor cooperate with the government, resulting in 60,000 arrests in India by the British.

In Burma, Aung Sang and other Burmese Independence groups formed the BIA under the Japanese in Thailand in 1941 and formed a force of 2,300, later expanded to 23,000, who assisted the Japanese in conquering Burma. Later under Ba Maw the puppet government of Burma, formed the Burma National Army and joined the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Some of there forces were also involved in the attack on the Arakan.

Here is where the “what if” proposed by Mawdsley has it’s impact; the Arakan offensive failed largely because the Japanese could not effectively support their forces in the Arakan or for that matter consistently supply them through the South China Seas due to the presence of both American submarines and naval aircraft sent from locations like Bougainville. The Japanese by the time of the Arakan offensive were losing 75 ships a month in that lane to American Naval and Air Force resources. That was a 3 to 1 ratio of losses to replacement according to Mawdsley himself.
 
Nov 2019
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United States
Critically also, had the U. S. not been heavily involved in the Pacific theater at this time, Japanese Naval forces would easily have been able to control the seas of the Eastern Indian Ocean:

Would not a more well-resourced Japanese Force, whose Navy was controlling the Bay of Bengal potentially have led to a Japanese victory in Eastern India? What would have occurred to the Chinese Nationalist Army if the East India province was lost?
Returning to the next issue is what possibly other than a massive expansion of it’s Navy and it’s focus on the Pacific, could the United States have done to prevent Japan from its continued success?
Wouldn’t more of India’s residents been more willing to revolt if they sensed that Japan might actually win a war for India? (FYI, Britain only survived quasi-independently in the war because of the resources of India.)
Mawdsley admits that Britain quickly learned that its relatively small forces supplied to the Pacific at the end of the war, were completely dependent on all those small islands that the United States had conquered and built into massive supply and porting facilities. Imagine that this was exactly why the United States had conquered them and expended so much money in developing them; it was the ONLY way that a force large enough to attack Japan could position itself to do so.
More importantly, the US Navy’s and Army plan allowed the United States to interdict the one thing that had caused Japan to attack the US, Britain and our Allies in the first place; oil form the Dutch East Indies. Had the Allies not interrupted Japan’s economic and military growth for the 2 years from 1942 to 44, damaging their hold on conquered territory. Japan’s would have expanded its industry greatly. A huge mistake, one that all the Allies would have payed for in larger losses.
Mawdsley; also makes light of the issue of the Philippine Situation and America’s pledge to that fledgling nation. America's 1916 Jones Act promised eventual Philippine independence, and in 1935, the island nation became an independent commonwealth. The United States felt duty bound to insure that rights and protections of the Filipino people. An action we had guaranteed in our laws and treaties. Feel free to speak for Britain, regarding your interests, but don’t imply your right to tell us what we should do regarding ours.Indian Ocean.png
 

Attachments

Oct 2015
1,008
Virginia
Is Mawdsley's thesis that the US did not commit sufficient assets to Europe relative to the Pacific?
Does he deny that the five Army and two Marine divisions, over 900 Army and Marine aircraft, and the carriers, battleships and supporting vessels of the US Fleet were sent to the South and Southwest Pacific in 1942 in response to the specific request of the Prime Ministers of the UK, Australia and New Zealand that the US assume responsibility for the defense of the Antipodes?
 
Nov 2019
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Yes the essence of his argument is that the US overspent the required resources in the Pacific. That somehow those resources would have better spent in the Atlantic, and that it was all politics from the Navy that caused this.
 
Oct 2015
1,008
Virginia
Our cousins certainly like things to go their way...if there had been an effective way (and if the British had agreed) to strike directly at Nazi Germany in 1942-43 far more US resources would have gone to Europe prior to 1944.
 
Nov 2019
338
United States
Roosevelt and the U.S. military understood that 1942 was a Confessional election year as well, failure to provide some sense of the U.S. exacting some level of success against what was perceived publicly as the #1 enemy would have been potentially catastrophic to FDR's administration.
 
Nov 2019
338
United States
Tried to write with my pad in the previous post and spellcheck changed Congressional into Confessional, strangely I can't change this when logged in with my laptop:mad:. Mods please explain why that is?
 
Oct 2015
1,008
Virginia
True...thus Operation Torch.
Don't ya hate machines that think they're smarter than you? (even if they are!)