Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The great battles of World War II

The great battles of World War II

Monday, December 14, 2015
The USS California sinking at Pearl Harbor.
In the years following World War I "The Empire of Japan" became increasingly active in the South Pacific. The islands that make up Japan comprise a very small area in the Pacific, but support a dense population. The islands are devoid of oil, and land for agriculture to support the heavy population is scarce.
This lack of land and natural resources made the Japanese look to other areas in the Pacific for the resources, needed to support an aggressive industrial economy. More and more, beginning in the 1920s, Japan was clashing with its neighbors, including the overseas territories of the Netherlands, in Malay, the British in Hong Kong, and the United States in the Philippines.
Things began to really heat up, leading to talk of war with the West, when the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931, leading to all-out war with China in 1937. Throughout the decade of the 30s there were incidents with Western Powers, such as the attack on the gunboat, USS Pinay, anchored in the Yangtze River, in China, and the Nanking Massacre, where some Chinese 200,000 non-combatants were killed in indiscriminate killings.

In 1940 the Japanese invaded French Indo-China, in an attempt to stop aid coming to the Chinese. In retaliation to that act, the United States cut off most exports to Japan (with the exception of oil) that might be seen as helpful to Japanese military actions.
In July 1941, before the U.S. entered World War II, France was invaded by Germany. Japan seized that opportunity to expand its presence in Indo-China and invade oil rich Dutch East Indies. The US thereupon, cut off all oil exports to Japan, moved its Pacific fleet headquarters from San Diego to Hawaii, and President Franklin Roosevelt warned that the US was prepared to take further steps to curb Japanese Pacific expansion.
All during the Fall of 1941 diplomatic negotiations between Japan and the US continued. Japan was pushing for the US, the UK, and the Dutch to stop giving aid to the China. In return Japan would pull out of Indo-China and cease its expansion in the Southeast Pacific. But in November the Japanese Konoye government collapsed when the Japanese military refused any military pullbacks at all.
Nevertheless, diplomatic negotiation continued, even on Dec. 7, with the Japanese fleet on its way to Pearl Harbor. Japanese diplomats in Washington had appointments with State Department counterparts to sit down to try to reach a common accord.
Later, it was learned that in early 1941 Admiral Yamamoto, head of the Japanese Pacific Fleet had received the go-ahead to plan a surprise attack in the US Pacific fleet. Over the next months pilots were trained, equipment was adapted, and intelligence concerning the American fleet was collected, to make such an attack possible. Still, it was not until the first of December that an OK by Emperor Hirohito was given for all all-out attack on Pearl Harbor, following the urging of his military advisors.
In attacking the US fleet at Pearl Harbor the Japanese aimed to destroy US Naval Power in the Pacific, eliminating US opposition to their planned attacks on the Dutch East Indies and Malay. By destroying its Pacific fleet, the Japanese hoped, damage to US morale would be so much that they would not rebuild their fleet until the Japanese were so strong that they would not dare enter a war against Japan.
In late November of 1941 a Japanese striking force, consisting of six aircraft carriers, carrying some 400 planes, dive bombers, fighters, and reconnaissance planes, plus six submarines, each carrying at least one torpedo equipped midget sub, for penetrating the harbor.
The attack on Pearl Harbor and Oahu began on Sunday morning, December 7th, commencing at 7:48 Hawaiian time, before Japanese diplomats delivered their Declaration of War" to Washington authorities. It was a well-planned attack, coming in three waves.
First wave, of 133 planes (dive bombers), and submarines, attacked battle ships and carriers in Pearl Harbor, bombed targets at Ford Island, Hickam Airfield, and Wheeler Field, while Zero fighter planes strafed targets and provided air cover for the bombers.
Second wave, of 171 planes followed up on the attacks on the ships in the harbor and concentrated their destruction on the airfields.
There was a third wave planned, which would have concentrated its destructive force on the oil storage units, torpedo storage sheds, and base headquarters.
It was also designed to soften the way for a possible invasion of Hawaii. However, there was dissention among the Japanese admirals over need of continuing attacks. That, coupled with the greatly improved anti-aircraft fire of the Americans during the second wave attacks, caused the Japanese fleet to curtail further military attacks on Pearl Harbor and the island of Oahu.
Just ninety minutes after the surprise attack began, it was over. The damage done during this time was severe. 2,403 Americans had been killed, 1,178 had been wounded -- 2008 sailors killed, 710 wounded; 210 soldiers and Army airmen killed, 364 wounded; 109 marines killed, 69 wounded; 68 civilians killed, 35 wounded. Since, at the time of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the United States was not at war, all of the Americans killed and wounded were listed as non-combatants. In addition to the human toll of the Pearl Harbor attacks, the United States lost 18 ships, either sunk or run aground -- Five battleships, including:
l. The USS Arizona. Of all the US casualties, nearly half occurred on the USS Arizona, when its forward ammunition magazine was hit by a modified 16 in. shell.
2. The USS Nevada. The Nevada was one of the ships hit early in the attacks. Damaged by a torpedo, it attempted to escape to open water. It was hit repeatedly by dive bombers, which started numerous fires. Her crew deliberately beached her, to prevent her blocking the entrance to the harbor.
3. The USS California was hit and sunk by two bombs and two torpedoes, causing the crew to abandon ship.
4. The West Virginia was hit by seven torpedoes, tearing away it rudder.
5. The USS Oklahoma was hit by four torpedoes, causing her to capsize.
In addition, the USS Utah, a disarmed target ship, had two holes blown in her hull by torpedoes.
6. The USS Maryland was hit twice by 40 cm shells, but was not seriously damaged.
Though the battleships were the largest ships in the harbor, and the most attacked, there were also three destroyers, three light cruisers, one mine layer, one repair vessel and one seaplane tender either sunk or heavily damaged in the harbor that day.
Of the 402 US planes in Hawaii at the time, 188 were destroyed and 159 sustained heavy damage. 155 of the destroyed or damaged planes never got off the ground. Eight Army Air Force planes did get into the air. Six of them were credited with downing at least one Japanese plane.
Against the US losses, the Japanese lost 59 airmen and nine submariners -- one was captured. Of the 414 Japanese aircraft, 29 were lost, either shot down by planes or anti-aircraft fire.
If the Japanese believed that the surprise attack on America's most important naval base would cause such a drop in morale by the American people that they would have no stomach for war, they were badly mistaken. Instead, "Remember Pearl Harbor" became a rallying cry for Americans, appearing almost immediately on signs and song throughout the country. It helped steel American resolve to retaliate against a common enemy.
It helped to unleash a monster here at home. In an incredibly short time America became the greatest military power the world has ever seen. In time, all of the ships sunk or damaged, except the USS Arizona, were refurbished and re-entered the war. Enlistments in each of the armed services sky-rocketed. Aircraft factories spawned overnight. Keels for new warships, supply ships, landing craft for the invasions to come, were laid in shipyards. Farmers increased yields from their farms by increasing acreages and adopting new farming practices (fertilizers, etc.) Women and youths went to work in manufacturing plants and took over jobs, formerly done by men, so that the men could serve in military units. Everyone recycled, and everyone conserved -- rationing of vital goods, such as gas, sugar, lard, etc. was willingly accepted, including a mandatory speed limit of 35 mph on the highways. The people (including school children with their nickels and dimes) bought War Bonds to help finance the war effort. Everyone was proud to "help our boys overseas!"
Three and a half years after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor the war was over -- first in Europe, and then in August, with the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, in Japan.
(Over the next year we'll be taking a look at the Great Battles of World War II, and also at how World War II affected us here at home during that time.)
Source: Pearl Harbor -- US. History.com and similar sources

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