Monday, December 19, 2011
Japanese Destroyer Captain: Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Midway-The Great Naval Battles as Seen Through Japanese Eyes
My comments as well as some others on the book. I got it via Amazon.
Probably one of the two books anyone interested in the Pacific naval war simply MUST have in his libraray (the other the brilliant 'Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy' by the unfortunately named Paul S. Dull). True experts and affecionados should overlook the occasional mis-identification of ship types (undoubtedly a result of either negligent editing or translation problems), but otherwise a superb recollection of the Pacific war from the point of view of a famous Japanese destroyer captain.
Captain Hara discusses how he commanded a Japanese destroyer in all of the major Pacific sea conflicts during World War II: Empress Augusta Bay, Coral Sea, the invasion of the Philippines, Guadalcanal, Savo Island, and Midway. While on a re-supply mission through Blackett Straight in August 1943, upon noticing a fire-ball explosion near the destroyer "Amagiri" in front of his destroyer "Shigure", he ordered for his ship's crew to shoot at Lt. John F. Kennedy's sinking PT-109. He provides a most harrowing description -- as commander of cruiser Yahagi -- how he barely survied its sinking alongside the ill-fated battleship Yamato on their suicide mission to attack the U.S. forces invaiding Okinawa. He details his training of the pilots of suicide motorboats (Shinyo: "ocean shaker") that were designed to ram Allied warships approaching Japan.
Having studied this war and its naval campaigns, one thing that always struck me was the peculiar paradox of the near-deification of Admiral Yamamoto (engineer of the Pearl Harbor attack) by the Japanese at the time, and many foreign historians as well. Frankly, from any objective point of view, it was Yamamoto who almost single-handedly ensured the disasterous defeat of the Japanese navy, first, by not in fact taking out the most important targets at Pearl Harbor (the enormous fuel tank farm, and the even more important ship-repair facilities and machine shops), and secondly, by repeatedly committing vastly insufficient forces at the places of most importance, and invariably sending these elements through the most convoluted and tortuous separate routes to get there (each element could be easily defeated one at a time).
Further, it appears that at no time during the war did the Japanese have the slightest interest in obtaining or using intelligence, by either method or desire, and this led them into one catastrophe after another. Guadalcanal is probably the best exemplar of this failed strategy, where neither the Japanes Navy, nor the Japanese Army had any idea of the strength of the American presence there, apparently weren't even interested, and instead committed and lost battalions, regiments, whole divisions of troops and squadrons of ships again, and again, and again, until both the Army, and Navy were bled white.
The Japanese submarine fleet was even more useless, not because of any real defect in the subs themselves, but the ridiculous manner in which they were used. This is even more stunning when you consider that not only was the Japanese submarine fleet largely founded by German engineers and specialist after the First World War, but the Japanese maintained close communications with the Germans throughout the war, even sending submarines to Germany and back several times, as well as German U-Boats sailing to Japan and being used by the Japanese Navy. Yet despite the continued availability of the very finest in submarine expertise, the Japanese apparently never bothered to discuss the topic of strategy and/or tactics with the Germans. Incredible!
With all my various studies of this war, I never came across any real recognition of these fundamental flaws, until I read this book, and it is apparent that not only were these flaws as real as i thought, but that many members of the Japanese Navy itself were fully cognisant of these same mistakes, and yet, were unable to convince their own senior command of the need for changes, and so went down together.