July 09, 2021

Open Thread 82

Nothing particular to say for this week's open thread (beyond the usual rules still being in effect), but I am very much looking forward to seeing those who are going to be coming to the Iowa meetup tomorrow. I'll be wearing a bright green hat with the Naval Gazing logo on it.

Also, it seems likely that the East Coast meetup this year is going to be in DC instead of Philadelphia to coincide with the DSL meetup. I'd like to do the Museum of the US Navy, but that's on Washington Navy Yard, so getting in on a weekend doesn't seem feasible. Any suggestions?

2018 overhauls are Rangefinding, So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Aviation Part 2, The Great White Fleet Part 1, The Newport Conference and the US Dreadnought, my review of Batfish and Falklands Part 4. 2019 overhauls are Information, Communication and Naval Warfare Part 3, dndnrsn's review of Bavarian military museums, Rangekeeping Part 2, Impressment, my review of the National WWI Museum and Signalling Part 1. 2020 overhauls are the Goat Locker picture post, Coastal Defenses Part 4, The Pearl Harbor Rant and Mike Kozlowski's review of Fort Monroe.


  1. July 09, 2021cassander said...

    The internet tells me that the navy museum is open on saturdays but not sundays. the cold war gallery, no idea what's in it, is open by appointment only on saturdays, so if we want to do that we need to call ahead. You also need to fill out a DoD form if you don't have a DoD credential (I had to do this when I taught at NDU, it's annoyingly dumb) Transport will be easy, the place is only a couple of miles from my house.

    Failing that, you guys could visit the world's center of aerospace knowledge, Aviation Week's DC office! You can marvel at our loft style ceilings, lack of carpets, and exceedingly generic open floor plan office that is almost totally devoid of character.

  2. July 09, 2021Directrix Gazer said...

    Cassander, the Cold War gallery is pretty cool. It's got a Trident C4 hanging in the entryway, the sail of a Sturgeon-class boat in one wing, and at least the last time I was there a few years ago, a nifty little interactive display that puts you on the bridge of a cruiser off Vietnam during a torpedo-boat attack.

    The main museum is pretty impressive, too. DSV Trieste is hanging from the ceiling in back 0.0

    I used to go there frequently, as work often sent me to the archives and Naval Historical Libary, also in WNY. I haven't been back since, but seem to remember hearing that they've done a big renovation?

  3. July 09, 2021ike said...

    If we are doing an eastern meet up, how about the Museum of the Airforce at Wright-Patterson? : )

  4. July 09, 2021bean said...

    While I like Dayton very much, I'm going to DC anyway, and thus need something in that area.

  5. July 11, 2021AJ Gyles said...

    I wrote a book review for the AstralCodexTen/SlateStarCodex contest, which might be of interest to the people here. It's for Shattered Sword, about the battle of Midway. You can find my review here:

    To be honest, I'm not very satisfied with my review, so I'm not surprised it didn't make the cut for the finalists. I'd be interested in any feedback that you guys have? Bear in mind that I'm not any kind of military history expert, and I've never written in depth about the subject before, except for dumb internet arguments.

    I didn't want to get too into the weeds with technical details, but I found it hard to write about the review without getting into those details. I also found it hard to find a balance between restating the book itself, versus giving my own views about the battle itself and the war in general. One thing just naturally leads to another, and there's no clear stopping point, but I wanted to keep it reasonably short and easy to read.

    My main "thesis", if I had any, is that everybody takes the victory for granted and doesn't celebrate it enough. Sure the US had more industrial production, more advanced technology, would have won the war in the end no matter what, etc etc. But Midway was still a really important victory, and we should celebrate it as such. Reading that book, to me, underscored that it wasn't so much won by the US, as it was lost by the Japanese by making an incredible number of mistakes, plus some random luck and individual heroism.

  6. July 11, 2021bean said...

    I think a lot of the "is Midway overblown?" argument is a matter of perspective. I would certainly not say that Midway was unimportant. But I do think it gets a disproportionate share of the focus relative to other important battles. (I'd point to the Guadalcanal/Solomons actions and Leyte Gulf as the two that tend to stay firmly in its shadow and shouldn't.) I suspect that this perception drives a lot of the anti-Midway campaign. It's certainly why I haven't talked about it, and won't for a long time. Although in fairness, I think this has been changing over the last 10 years or so, as several authors have put out very successful books on the later part of the Pacific War, and authors of potential Midway books are turned off by how good Shattered Sword is. I completely support this shift, but I can definitely see how it could easily come off as "Midway isn't important", particularly to someone who doesn't remember the libraries of yesteryear.

  7. July 11, 2021AJ Gyles said...

    Sure. All of the "is X underrated" depend on two factors, both X itself and on the general perception of it. I suppose anyone who has actually studied the military history of the Pacific War knows all about Midway, to the point where they might be sick of hearing about it. But I don't think the average person knows anything about it- I think the general perception is that the war went straight from Pearl Harbor into island hopping and Iwo Jima, without any thought about how the Japanese navy got sunk.

  8. July 11, 2021cassander said...

    @aj gyles

    I dispute your contention that midway was won "against the odds". I'd say that midway is a pretty even fight in terms of the forces actually brought to bear, the one that most brought both sides strength and weaknesses to bear in a direct way. the US bringing yorktown into the fight wasn't luck, it was the sort of thing that was possible for the US (and not the japanese) because of doctrine, industrial capacity, etc. a system that empowered people like best and thatch and made it possible for them to have the impact that they did. You poo poo "the way things are done", but that was how things were done in the US navy in 1942.

  9. July 12, 2021AlexT said...

    midway is a pretty even fight in terms of the forces actually brought to bear

    Having recently read Shattered Sword, I can't see how that is the case.

    The campaign involved the IJN using half its carrier strength and leaving its battlefleet far behind out of contact. Which, contra popular opinion, would have made a big difference in any weather, being incredibly difficult to sink for the carrier aviation of the day. So, operationally, the IJN had a massive material advantage that they failed to use.

    Tactically, Japanese carrier aviation had a definite advantage in the quality of their planes and pilots, as well as general operational procedure. Contrast the well-orchestrated Japanese strikes with the shambles that the USN staged.

    The Japanese lost due to command faults and bad intelligence, and their bad damage control practice didn't help either, but they started with a significantly better hand than their opponents.

  10. July 12, 2021Anonymous said...

    The importance of Midway is that it was Japan's first defeat in WWII, before that the worst they did was draw.


    The Japanese lost due to command faults and bad intelligence, and their bad damage control practice didn't help either, but they started with a significantly better hand than their opponents.

    The US reading their messages did a lot to compromise all advantages they may have had.

  11. July 12, 2021Ian Argent said...


    V19 Steering Gear Compartment on S.S. JOHN W. BROWN - a Liberty Ship

  12. July 12, 2021cassander said...


    forces you don't bring to bear don't count. I fully admit that this was a terrible plan by the japanese who squandered their advantages and chose fight the wrong battle in the wrong place, at the wrong time. But when it came down to the clash, it was an even class of 4 carriers vs. 3 and an island. And while the Japanese were certainly good at some things, the fact is that there were 4 cv on cv battles before the Japanese pilot corps fell apart, and the japanese didn't win a single one decisively. That's not a ton of evidence to go on, but it does suggest that there was more to it that there was more than luck going on.


    no, the importance of the battle was tearing the heart out of the japanese carrier fleet and making it so that they'd never again have a serious advantage in carrier air power. And US intelligence did not and could not nullify japan's potential materiel advantage. If the japanese showed up with 6 carriers instead of 4, the outcome of the battle is very different. Of course, if they knew that 6 carriers instead of 4 were coming, nimitz and the others might have done something differently, but I think they would have fought rather than abandon midway

  13. July 12, 2021AJ Gyles said...

    @cassander "forces you don’t bring to bear don’t count"

    Why? That's a pretty important part of military strategy, don't you think- bringing all your forces to bear? Sure, if you look at it from the perspective of Admiral Nagumo on June 4th, there's nothing he can do to summon up the other ships. But from the perspective of when they were planning the operation, months before, the IJN admiralty could have easily changed it, or called it off entirely. They made basically the worst plan possible. It's worth appreciating what a huge, unforced error they made.

    "But when it came down to the clash, it was an even clash of 4 carriers vs. 3 and an island"

    Numbers wise, yes. My impression from the book was that the quality wasn't even. The Americans had basically nonfunctional torpedoes and slow level bombers, so about 2/3 of their planes couldn't meaningfully contribute to the fight. They also had much less experienced pilots in general. The outcome depended on a few lucky dive bomber hits, and on the IJN being extraordinarily bad at firefighting (refusing to train ordinary crew in firefighting in order to boost the prestige of officers).

  14. July 12, 2021cassander said...

    @AJ Gyles

    I'm not sure where we're disagreeing exactly. I agree the japanese made a terrible plan that could easily have been changed, but wasn't.

    As for damage control, I would point out that the 2 carriers the japanese built that were up to US standards (shokaku and zhuikaku) both survived repeated bomb hits, while the one carrier the US built to japanese standards (wasp) went down very quickly. Japanese damage control practice was bad, but ship design also mattered.

  15. July 12, 2021AJ Gyles said...


    I don't know, maybe we don't disagree on much. I didn't really come here to argue, just wanted to share my book review. I just thought it was a great story- one of those "truth is stranger than fiction" type stories, where if you put it in a movie it just seems cheesy and ridiculous, like most sports movies. Maybe it's old hat to people here.

  16. July 13, 2021Doctorpat said...

    [i]one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” type stories, where if you put it in a movie it just seems cheesy and ridiculous, like most sports movies.[/i]

    Sports movies are the modern equivalent of heroic war movies given that modern hollywood (and overseas equivalent eg. BBC) don't want to depict as "heroic" any war since 1945.

    Best sports movie: Black Swan. Ballet as a boxing movie. A vicious indictment of all professional sport really.

    Summary: If it is possible to be sort of famous, and pays well enough to be "professional", in a given physical contest, then human nature means this will develop into a brutal deathmarch as participants tear themselves to pieces for a chance of a shot at brief, fleeting, glory.

  17. July 13, 2021Alexander said...

    So I'm off to the FAA museum. Is there anything particular that I should be sure to photograph to illustrate any of your posts? Otherwise I will mostly focus on cool looking planes.

  18. July 13, 2021bean said...

    Ooh, have fun. I'd just go with "anything that looks interesting". Museum planes are usually well covered by Wikimedia, other stuff around them slightly less so.

  19. July 13, 2021bean said...

    Re the book review itself, I read Shattered Sword 8 years ago, and am just not that interested in Midway in general because I think it's overdone (which says a lot about the different circles AJ and I run in), so I'm not really up to going into fine details on the battle. I will say that I think it probably overemphasizes how vital the loss of the Japanese carriers was, and how much of a shift in the war Midway was. Yes, Japanese construction during the war was terrible, and yes, numbers of flight decks were important, but they did build several other full fleet carriers during the war, the Unryu class. As for the Japanese not being able to go into the open ocean again, that had far more to do with the US taking the initiative a few months later (in fairness at least partially because of Midway) and shifting the battlegrounds to Japanese-held islands instead of American-held ones. But they put on a respectable showing at Philippine Sea, masked by the effectiveness of the American CIC system.

    Also, I would like to point out that there were battleships in the Pacific. Pearl left several battleships intact, and more were transferred in from the Atlantic post-Pearl. They were just guarding Hawaii instead of being out with the carriers. Re the Japanese air defenses, doing good air defense without radar in 1942 basically wasn't possible. You need a certain amount of time to detect the incoming raid and get fighters positioned to intercept, and without radar, you can't do that.

    All that said, I am very much with you on the simple goodness of the American victory, and the badness of the Japanese military. I don't think Parshall and Tully are actually excusing the Japanese in the quote you bring up so much as examining their psychology.

  20. July 13, 2021Lambert said...

    Speaking of museums, I went with my family to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyards last week. What we had time to see was a bit older than this blog is really focussed on: Victory, the Mary Rose and Warrior (1860). But we got the annual season ticket (the most reasonably priced option if you live anywhere near Portsmouth) so I'll be back at some point to see monitor M33, the submarine HMS Alliance and the other exhibits.

  21. July 13, 2021bean said...

    I wouldn't say Warrior is outside this blog's time period. If anything, she defines the start of it. Alsadius reviewed Portsmouth, but he mostly got Warrior and Victory. Be interested to hear your thoughts on the rest of the dockyard.

  22. July 13, 2021muddywaters said...

    @Doctorpat: as a motivational aid, the 1910ish RN and USN both encouraged treating target practice as a competition.

    (This was the time when there was a big push for more accuracy to allow longer battle range but dealing with the ship's roll still relied entirely on human skill. I don't know if it continued after that ceased to be the case, though USN target practice still had ranked scores in 1984.)

    The RN scores were public, implying that the motivational gains were considered worth whatever intelligence value they might have to the enemy. At least the 1911 scores survive (from p.435).

    On reading that there was a time limit not a number-of-shots limit, it occurred to me that trying too hard to shoot fast is potentially dangerous; I don't know whether any such accidents actually happened.

    Percy Scott has more on how the competition worked and how his ship won 4 times.

  23. July 14, 2021Kit said...

    As I understand it, a modern American Amphibious Ready Group consists of three gator-navy ships and no escorts. Weird to me that the USN doesn't send some escorts with the ARG.

  24. July 14, 2021bean said...

    It's not that they never attach escorts. AIUI, they do. It's just that the primary focus of an ARG/ESG is to deliver Marines, and the escorts aren't really relevant to the finer details of that, so they're not really part of the ARG. The primary focus of a CVBG is high-intensity air and sea combat, and the escorts are very relevant to that, so they get integrated.

  25. July 14, 2021Kit said...

    I wonder if I'm misunderstanding. When I look here (https://news.usni.org/category/fleet-tracker) the CVBGs get listed with associated escorts, and the ARGs get listed without escorts. Does the average ARG deployment get escorts, and their just not listed?

  26. July 14, 2021bean said...

    I can't say for sure that the average ARG deployment gets escorts, but if so, they wouldn't be listed. The escorts aren't integrated into the ARG the way they are into a CVBG because they aren't key to the ARG's mission the way they are to the CVBG. If the ARG gets escorts, they're going to come out of the general pool, which USNI doesn't track. But on a general deployment, the ARG's work revolves around what the Marines want/need, which usually involves engagement work with various allies, and for that kind of thing, escorts aren't a priority. The ships have reasonable self-defense capability against most threats, and if more is needed, you find a couple of destroyers.

  27. July 14, 2021Blackshoe said...

    @Kit: administratively (and normally operationally), the escorts are "part" of the CSG (the cruiser Captain and destroyer squadron Commodore are direct-report subordinates to the CSG commander). Thus, when we deploy a CSG, the escorts also deploy with them (note that some-especially destroyers-actually don't and deploy independently; my first deployment was an independent deployment where the only carrier I ever saw was the Italian Giuseppe Garibaldi off Lebanon).

    If for some reason the ARG/ESG (I forget which nomenclature is correct these days) were to need escorts, some would be "chopped" (operational control transferred over to) them (the CSG would retain administrative control). I would wager that the majority of ARG/ESG deployments these days are sans escorts, but that's mostly a reflection of how we employ ARGs.

    As far as self-defense goes, the LPD-17s and the LHAs/LHDs are very capable of self-defense from fairly low-level ASuW and AAW threats, which is all they (theoretically) need to do.

  28. July 14, 2021cassander said...


    pre-midway the japanese had a carrier fleet that could bring ~560 aircraft to bear, and post mid-way they could bring ~240. What they built post-midway wouldn't pass the pre-midway numbers until late '44, by which point US carrier capacity was roughly eleventy billion. And that's looking at total build rates, not what they could actually deploy on any given day. We're also ignoring escort carriers, which tilt the numbers even more towards the US.

    Losing the carriers killed the ability of the japanese to make use of their best weapon (their cadre of ~2000 or so superbly trained carrier pilots) in the time period when they could have had a meaningful effect, which allows the US to pivot to attacking and forcing the Japanese to respond. It also led to the japanese wasting that asset in penny packets over the Solomons. That period is over by, at the latest, in mid 44 when the US historically brings more carrier capacity to the battle Philippine sea than imperial japan builds in its entire history.

  29. July 14, 2021Chuck said...

    This discussion raises the question, why were the Japanese so bad at damage control? Was there something cultural that hampered them, perhaps leading them to see it as less important than it was, or was it an actual design issue with Japanese ships?

  30. July 14, 2021cassander said...



    Somewhat more completely, there was a lot going on here. On ship design, the japanese were laboring under a tonnage disadvantage imposed by the treaty system, and their "solutions" to this were (A) lie, (B) insist that each ship they build accomplish more than the US or UK equivalent on less tonnage, and (C) embrace a number of doctrinal choices that placed a premium on high speed and out-ranging the enemy.

    The result of all of this was the japanese cutting a lot of corners and designing ships that were frequently structurally fragile, top heavy, and lacking the sorts of safety systems, subdivision, and redundancy that the US and UK considered essential to save weight.

    On top of that, damage control (like AAW and ASW) was never a priority of japanese doctrine, so there was less money spent, the officers in that job were lower quality and less respected, and so on.

  31. July 14, 2021Chuck said...

    On the subject of where to meet up in the DC area: The Udvar-Hazy Center is part of the air and space museum, and while not particularly heavy on carrier aircraft it's got a few things. The Alexandria waterfront has a sloop Providence that putters around the Potomac twice a day (not by sail, unfortunately). It has the advantage of being (somewhat) metroable and close to bars, as well. There's also Fort Washington Park, it doesn't appear to be fully open though (specifically it appears the bathrooms are not open, I know someone who was just there recently so I'll verify this.)

  32. July 14, 2021Chris Bradshaw said...

    Japanese sailors also tended to have less prior experience with mechanical maintenance and repair than USN personnel. Since the interwar US had so many more cars and tractors per capita than interwar Japan, American men were much more likely to have some base of knowledge that could be applicable to damage control.

  33. July 15, 2021Alsadius said...

    Random question just came to mind - we talk a lot about torpedo defense systems on battleships. Torpedoes are still a thing, and they still work the same way in terms of the underwater explosion. Modern torpedoes hit underneath instead of on the side, which would complicate a TDS, but would it make sense for a modern ship to install something TDS-like (even if it's just in terms of how they arrange fuel and ballast tanks) near the keel?

    (I know this might have been addressed before, but I can't find it if so.)

  34. July 15, 2021FXBDM said...

    I have seen this making the rounds:


    Do you have plans to discuss it?

  35. July 15, 2021John Schilling said...

    Torpedo defense systems require depth (or width, depending on your coordinate system); typically about five meters worth to be reasonably effective against heavyweight torpedoes. That's something you can really only afford to fit into something the size of a battleship. Even if you imagine doing this by clever arrangement of e.g. fuel tanks and storage spaces, that would require about 3500 tons of fuel for a Burke, which is I think twice a Burke's fuel load, and 3500 cubic meters of "storage" space that's going to be extremely difficult to access.

    And it won't matter, because modern torpedoes have magnetic exploders that work, and no way are you putting five meters of quadruple-bottom onto a ship with only nine meters draft.

  36. July 15, 2021bean said...


    Carriers still have a TDS. Smaller ships can't really be fitted with one because they take up too much space. Double and triple bottoms are the best you can do against an under-keel explosion, and are completely standard.


    Hadn't seen that, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  37. July 15, 2021Lambert said...

    Huh I must have missed that review. Can't say I disagree with the overall assessment.
    Since I have a DSLR and steady hands, I did manage to get some passable photos of the innards of HMS Victory. There is a Victory audio tour, which I might try at some point. And it's easy to miss, but it's worth going to the small exhibit of shipbuilding trades next to the cafe. It doesn't take long to look around and it gives a brief overview of all the smithing, patternmaking, ropemaking and other technologies that were needed to build ships throughout history.

  38. July 15, 2021Philistine said...

    Further to cassander's point re: Midway - pre-Midway the IJN had a critical mass of fast fleet carriers which could steam out to any point in the Pacific, launch enough aircraft to overwhelm any practical level of local defenses (save perhaps Oahu), and beat up on targets of choice before disappearing back into the fog of war. I've seen this referred to by war gamers as the "Kido Butai Death Star," and historically it allowed the IJN to pull off raids against Pearl Harbor and Darwin, and deep into the Indian Ocean, with minimal losses. Post-Midway, the IJN was fundamentally out of the carrier strike business. Shokaku and Zuikaku still remained, but it's obviously easier to prepare an outpost to defend against a 150-plane raid than against a 450-plane raid. Apart from the two Shokakus, Japan had a collection of ships which were variously too small, too slow, or otherwise ill-suited for fleet duty (however much the IJN tried to put them to use as such). Eventually new CVs would start trickling into the fleet, in 1944, but by then it was much too little and far too late.

    While Midway certainly was not "The Battle That Doomed Japan," it certainly did mark a change in the course and nature of the campaign. I think some of the reaction against the longtime over-emphasis on Midway has gone too far in the other direction.

  39. July 16, 2021Alsadius said...

    Just read the Shattered Sword review. It's not as well-written as some of the other reviews in the SSC contest, but I generally agree with you on most of your arguments.

    Also read that assessment of the Navy surface culture by Cotton et al. I'm not a sailor (or even American), but it matches what I've heard in other contexts pretty well, and it was much less partisan than I expected from someone like Tom Cotton. Seems like a good report, tbh.

  40. July 16, 2021Jack said...

    Alsadius said... Just read the Shattered Sword review. It’s not as well-written as some of the other reviews in the SSC contest, but I generally agree with you on most of your arguments

    Shattered Sword reads more like a scholarly/technical article. I recommend James D. Hornfischer's books like "Neptune's Inferno" and "The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors."

  41. July 16, 2021Alsadius said...

    Jack: I was referring to the review itself, as I haven't read the book. AJ Gyles was saying that he didn't think it was a great review, and on the prose side I agree(at least, by the very high standards of the SSC book reviewers), but I think the points he made were quite reasonable.

  42. July 16, 2021beleester said...

    My impression of the book review and "was Midway a miracle?" is that it comes down to if you want to emphasize the tactical or strategic side of the battle.

    Tactically? Basically everything that could have gone right for the Americans did. The carriers launched their ambush without getting spotted, the bombers arrived in the right place at the right time, their bombs landed on the right targets, and the result was they annihilated an enemy force that was equal to or stronger than them on paper. That sounds pretty miraculous.

    But on the strategic level, Midway looks less like "two equal rivals meet for the decisive battle" and more like "The US stacked the deck, and Japan went all-in before looking at their cards." The US's advantage in intel (and poor Japanese planning) meant that they were able to get a fair fight when the Japanese were expecting a one-sided beatdown. At the same time, the advantage in production meant that the US could afford to lose this bet while Japan could not. The events of Midway were very lucky, but something Midway-ish was inevitable because of the broader strategic forces. If the miracle didn't happen, some other tiny Pacific island would be celebrated in the history books as "the turning point of the war," but it wouldn't change who won in the end.

    I think I lean more towards the strategic side on this one. A strategist's job is basically to manage luck - to be aware of the unknowns and make backup plans so that when things inevitably go wrong and the enemy surprises you, that surprise doesn't result in the whole war being lost. So chalking Midway up to luck sort of obscures how much of a role strategy played on each side. The US got lucky the way a gambler counting cards is lucky - because they knew the odds were in their favor before making the bet.

  43. July 17, 2021Anonymous said...


    The events of Midway were very lucky, but something Midway-ish was inevitable because of the broader strategic forces. If the miracle didn't happen, some other tiny Pacific island would be celebrated in the history books as "the turning point of the war," but it wouldn't change who won in the end.

    With US industrial superiority a whole series of repeats of Coral Sea would be enough to doom Japan without anything like Midway which would leave no "turning point of the war", just a grinding down of the IJN.

  44. July 17, 2021Philistine said...

    I think even in a long series of battles with Coral Sea-like results, one of them would be hailed - rightly or wrongly - as "THE turning point of the war." That would probably be the first one where (due to prolonged attrition degrading the skill and experience level of their air crews) the IJN finally lost one or more fleet carriers sunk, without equivalent loss on the USN side of the ledger. And there would be some justification for that, at least superficially, because things would start getting easier for the US as soon as those six ships started going to the bottom.

  45. July 17, 2021Jade Nekotenshi said...

    So apropos of nothing, I've just spent most of a trip from NC to CO listening to the audiobook of Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors mainly for my mother-in-law's benefit. See, we just figured out that her brother was at Samar - took a little sleuthing because he very rarely talks about it. (Except once to hint that he'd seen a "big Japanese warship" up way too close for comfort.)

    Suffice it to say she was enlightened as to why he doesn't often speak of it - he was on Raymond, which can only be counted as unreasonably lucky in that fight.

  46. July 17, 2021Blackshoe said...

    Excited to read that review of Ten Days That Shook the World to see if the guy hated it as much as I did

  47. July 17, 2021Blackshoe said...

    Twitter thread with a bunch of drawings of various BB-61 class conversion proposals (or conversions of the MONTANAs?). bean has covered most of them, but some are kind of interest (BBCAs lulz).

  48. July 18, 2021Anonymous said...


    That would probably be the first one where (due to prolonged attrition degrading the skill and experience level of their air crews) the IJN finally lost one or more fleet carriers sunk, without equivalent loss on the USN side of the ledger.

    Because the US managed to send more flattops to the battle, it certainly wouldn't look like an upset, just a demonstration of Lanchester's law.

  49. July 18, 2021bean said...

    I think even in a long series of battles with Coral Sea-like results, one of them would be hailed - rightly or wrongly - as “THE turning point of the war.” That would probably be the first one where (due to prolonged attrition degrading the skill and experience level of their air crews) the IJN finally lost one or more fleet carriers sunk, without equivalent loss on the USN side of the ledger.

    It seems worth pointing out that given carrier capabilities in 1942, at some point the USN would get the first shot in. If not at Midway, then somewhere else. And when they do, they're likely to do a lot of damage, because reversing Midway does nothing to reverse the Japanese DC problems. That's the one that will be hailed as "the battle that doomed Japan". Unless, of course, they get even more victory disease and do something really stupid like saying "we should go after Hawaii". Which they probably would.

  50. July 18, 2021Blackshoe said...


    With US industrial superiority a whole series of repeats of Coral Sea would be enough to doom Japan without anything like Midway which would leave no “turning point of the war”, just a grinding down of the IJN.

    IIRC, this is basically how Hornfischer ends up judging the Naval Campaign for Guadalcanal: the Japanese are setting up so they can have a Tsushima-style decisive engagement, only to find out at the end they've been sucked into a meat grinder and they've lost the war, even though they've won many battles (quite decisively, even!).

  51. July 18, 2021John Schilling said...

    It's been a few years since I read "Shattered Sword" myself, but I have no problem with describing Midway as a decisive battle. There's no other engagement of the Pacific War, unless we count Pearl Harbor itself, where a reversal of the historic outcome would have had nearly as great an effect on the subsequent course of the war. There was never much chance of Japan winning the war, but with a solid Japanese victory at Midway a negotiated draw is at least within the plausible range. After Midway as it was, there was no chance of even that much. And the paths to American victory after the alternate Midway where TF16 is sunk and the Kido Butai isn't, is much uglier and probably with lots more atom bombs.

    I do think that Parshall and Tully somewhat overstate the deficiencies of the Japanese at Midway. In particular, while the Japanese plan was needlessly overcomplex, that mostly involved doing silly things with supporting forces that didn't much affect the core showdown between the Kido Butai and TF16+17. Waste of fuel and effort, but not a cause of defeat.

    The significant strategic flaw on the Japanese side was splitting the Kido Butai to support the Port Moresby operation so soon before Midway and before the American fleet had been neutralized, or alternately not postponing Midway until Shokaku and Zuikaku were back in service. And that's a problem at a higher level than the Midway planning.

    The decisive tactical flaw on the Japanese side was crappy inadequate scouting doctrine at every level, from the long-range overflights at Pearl, to the submarine picket line, to depending on a handful of floatplanes in the battle itself. They could get everything else right, and there's still no likely path to victory if they don't know there are American carriers in the vicinity until the American strike is inbound.

  52. July 18, 2021Philistine said...


    Because the US managed to send more flattops to the battle, it certainly wouldn’t look like an upset, just a demonstration of Lanchester’s law.

    Assuming a series of Coral Sea-esque exchanges, I strongly believe the reversal would have happened before the USN had enough CVs to just "send more flattops" than the IJN to a given battle. Nagumo's air groups were already suffering from attrition before they sailed for Midway, a problem that would only ever get worse; even assuming slightly fewer losses than historically the IJN's carrier air groups would have been mostly combat ineffective by the end of 1942, opening them up to defeat by a numerically inferior USN CV TF months before the Essex and Independence classes became available in significant numbers.

    And that's just based on attrition of Japanese aircraft and aviators, not even factoring in the failures of IJN scouting doctrine and damage control that others have mentioned.

  53. July 19, 2021Anonymous said...

    John Schilling:

    There was never much chance of Japan winning the war, but with a solid Japanese victory at Midway a negotiated draw is at least within the plausible range.

    I highly doubt that, only way for Japan to get a negotiated peace on their terms is to not attack Pearl Harbor and hope nothing else causes the US to directly enter the war.

    John Schilling:

    In particular, while the Japanese plan was needlessly overcomplex, that mostly involved doing silly things with supporting forces that didn't much affect the core showdown between the Kido Butai and TF16+17. Waste of fuel and effort, but not a cause of defeat.

    Those supporting forces could have been with the main force instead of spread out all over the ocean.

  54. July 19, 2021Ian Argent said...

    I need to re-read Saburo Sakai's memoir, but IIRC he certainly thought Midway was the decisive battle. Though IIRC he was pretty badly wounded there as well.

    I have read both "Tin Can Sailors" and "Neptune's Inferno" and came away with the view that both off Samar and at the Slot, the USN got and did a lot of Wrong Things, but the USN sailors and ships got and did enough Right Things as well at the critical times, but the IJN and their sailors and ships only got and did Wrong Things, generally due to over-centralized C3.

  55. July 19, 2021John Schilling said...

    Those supporting forces could have been with the main force instead of spread out all over the ocean.

    That would have been simpler, yes, but the main force was never involved in the battle so I don't see how it would have made much difference. And they couldn't have been attached to the Kido Butai, because for the most part they weren't fast enough to keep up with it.

    Conceivably they could have consolidated the main and invasion forces to free up Kongo and Hiei to help screen the Kido Butai, but Japanese battlecruisers in 1942 weren't nearly as effective at AA screening that US fast battleships in 1944, so having two more is unlikely to have made a difference.

    They'd have saved Mogami and Mikuma the pounding they took trying to rejoin the main force during the retreat, but that's pocket change.

  56. July 19, 2021Philistine said...

    @Ian Argent,

    Saburo Sakai wasn't at Midway: at the time of the battle he seems to have been flying with the Tainan Air Group from Lae, in New Guinea. He received his serious wound over Guadalcanal in August.

    As to his assessment of Midway's importance... Individual memoirs are generally not reliable sources of factual information, and especially not memoirs written more than a decade after the fact. With the best will in the world, human memory is plastic. People forget some things, confuse other things, (entirely unconsciously) invent still more things from whole cloth, and (also unconsciously) incorporate things they've heard from other sources but did not witness themselves (both of these latter then becoming indistinguishable from "real" memories). So. Consider that in the aftermath of the battle the IJN went to great lengths to keep its outcome secret, so there really should be at least a little question of what Saburo Sakai - a non-commissioned pilot in a remote theater - knew or even could have known about it prior to the end of the war. On the other hand, consider that Samurai! was published more than five years after Fuchida's Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan, a very popular book at the time which extensively hyped up the importance of the battle.

    Re: James Hornfischer - I've read three of Hornfischer's books, though not Neptune's Inferno. In general he seemed to be really good at telling the stories of individuals and small units, bringing home the personal, emotional impact of battle on the people who were there. This is well and good! It humanizes the conflict, and gets more people interested in history! That's great! But he had limitations as well. He didn't care much about technical matters, and it shows. And he wasn't great on Broader Context, I think in large part because he deferred to (or even subscribed to) Conventional Wisdom on a lot of that stuff. So nobody's perfect, and you can't get a full picture of any subject from reading one source about it.

  57. July 19, 2021Doctorpat said...


    the Japanese are setting up so they can have a Tsushima-style decisive engagement, only to find out at the end they’ve been sucked into a meat grinder and they’ve lost the war, even though they’ve won many battles (quite decisively, even!).

    If it can be said that World War I (Western Front) was "won on the playing fields of Eton" then I think it would be even more directly true that WWII (Pacific) was "lost at the battle of Tsushima".

    Japan learnt all the wrong lessons there. Or at least wrong for dealing with 1940s ascendent USA, rather than 1900 spiralling into collapse Tsarist Russia.

    I could even wave my hands, pretend I know what I'm talking about, and say that Germany lost at the battle of France, when they learned that even a world power will be blindsided, confused, outmanoeuvred and conquered by their brilliant new military strategy, tactics, weaponry and ideologically driven forces.

  58. July 20, 2021Philistine said...

    Tsushima notwithstanding, I'm not comfortable dismissing the idea that Japanese planning for a naval war vs. the US was driven more by an appreciation that Japan could not win a long conflict with America - that given time, US advantages in resources and industrial capacity would just be too much to reasonably overcome. So if you, as an IJN planner between 1905 and 1940, want to win the war vs. the US that everybody seems to consider inevitable, any time spent thinking about how to conduct a long war is time wasted. Setting up (and of course winning) a single Decisive Battle that persuades the Americans to cry uncle is just about your only possible path to victory.

  59. July 21, 2021Doctorpat said...

    [QUOTE]Setting up (and of course winning) a single Decisive Battle that persuades the Americans to cry uncle is just about your only possible path to victory.[/QUOTE]

    But it WASN'T a possible path to victory.

    Or at least, not in 1940s. It seemed to actually work in 1968. And 1983.

    I guess that another factor (it's hardly ever just one factor in something so big and complex) is the Japanese misjudged how Hawaii was viewed. This was "part of America", like Okinawa was to Japan. Not "an overseas possession" like Manchuria.

  60. July 21, 2021Philistine said...

    First, sure it was. In hindsight we know it didn't actually work out that way; but absent hindsight, knocking the US Pacific Fleet out of the war early (assuming the IJN could manage it) certainly gave them better odds of securing victory than knowingly and willfully launching a prolonged war of attrition against an enemy possessing vastly greater resources in every category.

    Second, the raid on Pearl Harbor wasn't The Plan: it was a last-second alteration of The Plan, which when put into action effectively canceled The Plan as it had been developed over the course of the interwar period. The Plan was to invade the Philippines (almost certainly kicking things off with a sneak attack against the Asiatic Fleet in and around Manila), Guam, and Wake, then turtle up in the Western Pacific and wait for the US Pacific Fleet to try to relieve the PI. The Decisive Battle as conceived in The Plan would then play out with the US fleet at the end of a long logistical tether, far from any friendly port, and damaged and exhausted after having weathered thousands of miles of constant attack from IJN submarines and aircraft basing out of the Mandates. The US Pacific Fleet would thus be in a bad position, assuming they accepted battle on those terms - but if the USN didn't play to the script then Japan was just hosed, putting them back at, "Why bother making contingency plans which could at best prolong their own people's suffering?" Likewise if the US decided that the PI were "part of America" and worth expending several years, thousands of lives, and millions or billions of dollars to recover/avenge, then Japan was - again - just hosed.

    I'm not trying to say the Japanese had a good plan. There were some obvious gaping holes in their plan, chief among them not having an answer to the question, "What if the US just... doesn't give up?" I'm merely saying that given Japan's strategic limitations, trying to pull the US fleet into a single Decisive Battle for all the marbles was not unreasonable. Especially early in the war.

  61. July 21, 2021John Schilling said...

    If I'm trying to put together an alternate history where Japan at least survives World War II, it might look like:

    1. Japan wins a series of decisive battles that leave the US without a functional Pacific Fleet. Pearl Harbor + Alternate Midway (TF16 and TF17 sunk) + Second Midway (America's desperate attempt to retake Midway fails) would do, or we could have the last one come during an attempt to maintain lines of communication with Australia.

    2. Japan attempts to invade Hawaii and is bloodily repulsed.

    3. Some competent Japanese diplomats talk to their American counterparts.

    4. American headlines read "Japanese decisively defeated in Hawaii! Pearl harbor avenged! Tokyo apologizes, returns all US possessions in the Pacific, agrees to pay reparations. Victory is ours, now on to defeat the Nazis!"

    5. Approximately all white people quietly pretend that China, Indonesia, and Indochina don't exist.

    Like all possible Japanese plans, this one fails if America Absolutely Will Not Give Up Ever, but a priori and from the Japanese perspective in particular, the probability of America giving up was not 0.0 - and the Japanese themselves were pretty solidly committed to getting China and Indonesia at least.

  62. July 21, 2021bean said...

    I think the biggest problem with this plan is in steps 3 and 4. The Japanese government was so messed up that there was no way for them to actually make that compromise work. Japan apologizing and paying reparations? Whoever proposed that would be assassinated by the nearest Lieutenant Colonel before the idea could get out of the building.

  63. July 21, 2021Philistine said...

    My plan for Japan to survive and profit from WW2 is even simpler but equally impossible:

    1: Around mid-1940, formally renounce the Axis Pact and join the Allies. Lease fully-crewed ships to the RN to help fight Italy in the Med, help Chiang hunt Communists in China, whatever it takes. It's clear that the US is leaning toward the Allies, and you desperately want to be on the same side as the US. 2: Post-war, when the various European empires are losing their grips on their colonial holdings anyway, you swoop in and offer the former colonies diplomatic and economic aid on absolutely predatory terms "to help them establish themselves." 3. Enjoy effective control over much of SE Asia, Indonesia, and even parts of Africa, all while looking like Good Guys (at least superficially).

    It has the same underlying problem bean pointed out with John's plan, of course. Military-dominated Imperial Japan would not have gone for a plan that involved pausing their ambitions in China and playing a long game for the rest of Asia.

  64. July 21, 2021bean said...

    I was going to point out that this plan fails at step 1. It's really baffling how out of control the Japanese military was. If they had the social structure to be able to implement this plan, they wouldn't have needed to anyway because they could do things like keep the Army from invading Soviet-owned Manchuria against the Emperor's direct orders.

  65. July 21, 2021John Schilling said...

    @Bean: I didn't say the Japanese would actually pay reparations, just that they would promise to do so. Rather like the British and Russians totally promised to pay for all those lend-lease goodies.

    And the newspaper headlines in Tokyo would presumably be something like "America accepts defeat, pledges to refrain from any interference in the proper establishment of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, accepts demilitarization of its remaining Pacific bases. Onward to victory in China!"

    So long as the Army isn't wedded to the Philippines being part of the GEACPS, that should be tolerable. Given the extent to which the IJN was able to get away with covering up their defeat at Midway, they should certainly be able to distract the Army from questions like exactly whose flag is flying over Guam.

  66. July 21, 2021Solitary Voice said...


    I assume “Soviet-owned Manchuria” is a typo for Mongolia, referring to the Nomonhan Incident of 1939? Manchuria wasn’t under the effective control of the Chinese government in 1931 when the Japanese invaded, but I’ve never seen any suggestion that it was within the Soviet sphere that early.

  67. July 21, 2021bean said...

    @Solitary Voice

    You are correct about Nomonhan. I realized after I posted that I'd probably identified the wrong side of the (admittedly rather poorly-defined) border, but couldn't be bothered to edit it.


    It's relatively easy for a government to tell a lie in public a la Lend-Lease, but it's much harder to tell two contradictory lies to two different groups in public. I don't see any way the Japanese Navy convinces the IJA to go along with the lies, to say nothing of their own internal hard-liners.

  68. July 21, 2021Doctorpat said...

    THis is much like many of the alternate timeline schemes for how Germany could have won WW2.

    It relies on Germany being able to do things that the nation state may have had the resources to do, (if you were playing the part of Nazi germany in a game) but the Nazi government clearly could not do given their structure internal politics.

    • Be nice and welcoming to all the Jewish nuclear physicists required to get a nuclear program up and running. (Also needs resources they didn't have to achieve a bomb... but might just have got reactors happening)
    • Keep playing nice with Russia and launch an invasion of the oilfields of the middle east
    • Only go against Russia (via Poland), and sell themselves to Western Europe as "protection against the communists".
  69. July 22, 2021Ian Argent said...

    @Philistine: Since I misremembered a fairly major point (from a book I last read probably 25 years ago) the rest of my observations regarding the book are retracted.

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