1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; (Part 11+) – “Why Is China’s Navy Studying the Battle of Guadalcanal?”

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 11+

The National Interest magazine recently published Why Is China’s Navy Studying the Battle of Guadalcanal? by Lyle J. Goldstein a research professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI. The following provides key excerpts and  points. The original article can be found here.

China’s military has not had much combat experience in recent decades, and this is recognized among Chinese military leaders as a potentially serious problem. The reasons for this scarcity of battlefield know-how are obvious and might even be praise-worthy. It has been nearly four decades since Beijing undertook a significant military campaign, so how would its armed forces have attained this knowledge? 

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has sought to remedy its lack of actual combat experience by the careful study of military history, including the bloody Pacific War …

… the Guadalcanal campaign that began in August 1942 was hell. It was through that campaign that the fate of the Pacific was decided. While the dazzling miracle of Midway gets infinitely more attention, the grinding attrition battle just a few months later of Guadalcanal, which could be termed the “Verdun” of the Pacific War, ultimately proved to be the turning point. Losing 38 ships and perhaps over 700 aircraft proved devastating for Japan, although these losses were quite similar to those suffered on the American side. The difference, of course, was that America could replace these losses quite easily.

In Dec 2017 the Chinese Navy’s official magazine Navy Today carried a reasonably detailed analysis of the crucial Guadalcanal campaign. The article concludes that Japan’s “command decisions and weapons development errors greatly increased the losses” together with fundamental problems in Japan’s strategic culture. The Chinese analysis of Japanese mistakes in the campaign is neatly divided between errors in strategic judgment, operational and tactical errors, as well as mistakes in developing appropriate weaponry.

At the grand strategic level, this Chinese Navy analysis assesses that Japan’s mistakes in the Guadalcanal campaign were partly a failure to reckon with the true significance of the Midway battle … Tokyo seemingly maintained its offensive posture in the South Pacific without recognizing the fundamental fact of “the mobilization of America’s enormous industrial capacity.” The analysis asserts that much of the Japanese military was not even informed of the truly devastating results (for Japan) of Midway and that Tokyo’s decision-making was plagued by an incessant and pervasive cult of the offensive. It is noted that the South Pacific could have been invaluable to Japan’s effort to sever U.S. supply lines, but that a critical shortage of airborne intelligence inhibited effective decision-making. The great importance of the U.S. capture of Henderson Field early in the Guadalcanal campaign is noted, and this Chinese analysis concluded, meant that the Japanese pilots flying from distant Rabaul could not offer effective support to Japanese ground troops on the contested island, while Japanese carriers “would not dare to overreach by approaching Guadalcanal” Japanese strategic decisions are assessed to have been plagued by poor coordination between ground and naval forces in the completely “unclear situation”

This analysis also points out many Japanese operational practices that contributed to Japan’s defeat on Guadalcanal. [Partial list:]

  • Japanese assaults on Guadalcanal achieved neither stealth nor surprise.
  • Then, there was the failure to concentrate sufficient forces. Initial Japanese attacks were too small and, by the time significant Japanese troops arrived, American defenses had been strengthened.
  • Another fundamental Japanese error, according to this analysis, concerned logistics. Japanese forces were not only inadequately supplied, but also critically failed to target American rear supply depots
  • Concerning weapons (and sensors), the PLA Navy analysis points out that the Japanese Navy put a premium on visual spotting, creating flying bridges on its battleships that were ever higher. This was occasionally effective but caused Japan to be lag behind in the vital trend of radar development, in which the Americans proved adept.
  • A final point in the analysis is that the Japanese strategic culture of “the attack is first” resulted in naval ship designs that had “weak air defense and anti-submarine capabilities ” The Japanese Navy’s ineffective sonars, for example, formed a significant limitation on its naval operations, according to this Chinese Navy rendering.

The above points do not, of course, imply that the Chinese Navy understands the Guadalcanal Campaign better than the countries that actually fought the battle. Indeed, one can find some contradictions in the Chinese Navy analysis. Thus, it is not quite persuasive to criticize Japan for having an offensive, risk-acceptant doctrine, on the one hand, and then simultaneously suggest that they lacked the daring to commit additional carrier forces.

Still, it is not outlandish to suggest the analysis might reflect curriculum development within Chinese military academies. One might deduce from the above rendering that emergent Chinese naval and amphibious doctrine could quite possibly strongly prioritize intelligence, sensor development, firepower concentration and preparation, the interdiction of adversary logistics, amphibious tanks, as well as ship self-defense, including especially anti-submarine warfare.

Readers may take some reassurance from the Chinese Navy analysis of the Guadalcanal campaign in that the PLA does not seem to be enthralled with the so-called “cult of the offensive” that can commonly afflict military organizations.

Part 12 will discuss the air support for Aug 7-8

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TOPGUN – Book Recommendation (2)

Highest recommendation for Dan Pedersen’s (CAPT. USN, Ret) just released book TOPGUN; An American Story

Topgun… we sent our people out there not trained for dogfighting. We sent the aircraft out there not equipped for dogfighting… and we got into nose-nose combat situations where neither the guy flying the airplane nor the airplane itself had ever fired a missile.  Further, based on the expected nature of air war and our technical developments to intercept bombers at long range, we have lost expertise and continuity in ‘being dogfighters’ … there is a need to establish a fighter weapons school to reverse this trend and to eliminate aircrew and ground personnel error…. The Ault Report (1968)

Book reviews for historical works are mostly written by other authors, historians, or folks with significant knowledge of the subject matter, in this case naval aviators, TOPGUN graduates or instructors. Captain Pedersen’s new book timed with the 50th anniversary of the first Navy Fighter Weapons School class has received many excellent and well deserved reviews, so here I’ll take a slightly different tack.

For me there are four significant threads woven into this anniversary book: Continue reading

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Scream of Eagles – Happy Birthday TOPGUN (1)

As the first of two parts recognizing 50 years of training fighter pilots/instructors the below is a modified version of the article written for TOPGUN’s 40th anniversary and serves as introduction for a book review of TOPGUN; An American Story by Captain Dan Pederson USN, Retired, the founder and  first Officer -In -Charge.

Picture1

Fifty years ago,  the first Fighter Weapons School -TOPGUN – class  was in their second week of“graduate level” fighter pilot education and training in an old trailer next to the  VF-121 hangar at Naval Air Station Miramar. (3 March 1969 start date) They were there because eagles screamed. Continue reading

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FIGHT FIGHT – Book Recommendation

Highest recommendation for Kevin Miller’s (CAPT. USN, Ret) newest novel Fight Fight.
I was going to do a normal “book review”/recommendation but decided to just leverage my comments to Kevin along with  his response instead. fight fightI had done a recommendation on his first book Raven One in a somewhat normal/accepted manner, but this book has some deeper levels for me than just good naval aviation fiction so wanted to add some emphasis. Some bit ago the novel Ghost Fleet on a future war scenario was highly regarded.  The books are similar in some ways, but Kevin’s book strikes home (for me anyway) in a much more personal and directly  relatable way to the overall Blown Slick Future Airpower Analysis series and the sub-series on carrier battles in 1942 around the South and Southwestern Pacific island defense chain set up by the Japanese. Continue reading

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Remembered Sky: A Naval Aviator Lies in State

 You Only Live Twice

“My fellow Americans, whom I have gratefully served for 60 years, and especially my fellow Arizonians, thank you for the privilege of serving you and for the rewarding life that service in uniform and in public office has allowed me to lead. I’ve tried to serve our country honorably…” John Sidney McCain III

Navy Wings

A Naval Aviator lies in state  today – since 1852 only 30 people have done so before him. Yet social media continues to extrapolate their dislike and even hatred backwards to his military career, no matter the truth of those times – found in ample sources. You “only live twice” from the James Bond movie seems an appropriate description and vehicle for discussion of the certain elements in the first life of John McCain and the truth out there for those are interested in truth vs. politics. What follows addresses three issues wrongly stated: Continue reading

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1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 11 – Guadalcanal – Admin

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 11

Between the lines

The haste in putting Operation Watchtower together would prove problematic on many levels not the least of which was that this tasking was completely new – none of the commanders knew how to put it all together, from logistics, to air support of ground forces with long term  land, sea, and air opposition, to night battles at sea.

Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, James D. Hornfischer

Bridge_off_USS_Wasp_(CV-7),_August_1942

Lieutenant Commander Wallace M. Beakley, Commander Wasp Air Group, debrief of operations over Tulagi on the bridge wing of the USS Wasp (CV-7), during operations off Guadalcanal on 7 August 1942 after eight hours airborne. Present are (from left to right) Wasp Commanding Officer Captain Forrest P. Sherman, (wearing helmet), Rear Admiral Leigh Noyes, Commander Task Group 61.1 (facing camera), and CWAG Beakley.

The original intent of the Year of the Carrier series was to post discussions on the anniversaries of the major events – Doolittle/Hornet raid and the four ’42 carrier battles. While Hornet’s raid, Coral Sea and Midway battles were time span and focus relatively straight forward, Guadalcanal covers six months with a lot more areas and types of conflict. As such, several aspects of air operations need to be put forward throughout the remainder of the series with some addressed prior to discussion of the third major carrier battle – Battle of the Eastern Solomons . Therefore that will cause a delay in the 24-25 August anniversary post  .

Here are the anticipated areas of discussion: Continue reading

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1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 10 – Guadalcanal Campaign Major Events Overview

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 10

Watchtower

Guadalcanal is no longer merely a name of an island in Japanese military history. It is the name of the graveyard of the Japanese army.

—Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi, IJA
Commander, 35th Infantry Brigade at Guadalcanal

As noted in Part #9, unlike Midway which was almost entirely a carrier vs. carrier battle, the fight to gain and hold Guadalcanal was a land, sea, land-based air, and sea-based air six month give and take. Each element was dependent on the other and the equality of the Japanese and American carrier airpower played a major part in neither side gaining

LandSeaAir

lasting superiority and drove how each side chose to attack and defend. It was one thing to defend Midway operating in open ocean; being closely tied to the geography of the island and surrounding waters to provide air support was a whole other thing. With intelligence far inferior to that during Midway, staying in one general area exposed the carriers to submarine, land and sea based attack. There was much to be learned – at the expense of all participants.

While this series is focused on airpower and the sub-series on examining that first year of war in the Pacific and the emergence, growth, and operational use of the aircraft carrier, it is crucial to the endeavor to  comprehend the total land-sea-air conflict environment if one is to really appreciate the 1942 need for the capability of carrier airpower to be recognized and applied effectively. That particularly requires recognizing the limitations imposed by the threat environment, along with the emerging requirements to support expeditionary warfare (best example, close-air-support communications and coordination was non-existent and was not yet part of navy pilot training). Operational learning in this emerging warfare environment was also critical in regard to preparation for support of the planned operations of 1943-45 along the pathway to Japan itself. Indeed carrier aviation in 1945 would barely resemble that of ’42. Although somewhat lengthy, context and brief reference are necessary. Continued below are abbreviated summaries of the main battles of the Operation Watchtower campaign.

The Battles of Guadalcanal -

Continue reading

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1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 9 – Guadalcanal Introduction

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 9

On Land, on Sea, in the Air

9 February, 1943

Major General Alexander Patch, USA, Commander, U.S. Forces on Guadalcanal to Vice Admiral William Halsey, Jr., USN, Commander, South Pacific Area, 
TOTAL AND COMPLETE DEFEAT OF JAPANESE FORCES ON GUADALCANAL EFFECTED 1625 TODAY . … AM HAPPY TO REPORT THIS KIND OF COMPLIANCE WITH YOUR ORDERS . … ‘ TOKYO EXPRESS ’ NO LONGER HAS TERMINUS ON GUADALCANAL .

Under extreme secrecy, on the nights of 1, 4, and 7 February 1943, the Japanese had completely fooled the ground and sea commanders, pilots, ships and PT boats of the U.S. South Pacific Forces and evacuated the 10,652  remaining of 36,000 soldiers from Guadalcanal.  Operation KE was  indeed a Pacific  Dunkirk. The Guadalcanal Campaign was over.

Guadalcanal2

This series is about the introduction of the aircraft carrier into naval warfare in the four 1942  carrier vs. carrier battles.  Two of those battles – The Battle of the Eastern Solomons and The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands – were part of the Guadalcanal campaign. Tactically similar in many ways to the Coral Sea and Midway battles, the multi-faceted warfare context (land, sea, and both sea and land-based air) created a much different dynamic than the earlier battles. While this discussion of the Guadalcanal battles will not go into any great detail on the land and sea contests, the story of the carriers cannot be told without the broader context.

The battle for Guadalcanal had been a very close run thing. Continue reading

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1942 – The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 8 – Midway Trilogy Epilogue

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 8

Decisive victory? Depends on how you look

… a fundamental transformation in naval power had just taken place. Carriers usurped the prime strategic role of battleships in that their principal opponents were their enemy counterparts, and they should only to be committed to battle in the proper circumstances .. 

Black Shoe Carrier Admiral: Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway & Guadalcanal , Lundstrom, John B..

0. Carrier Warfare

Today, seventy six years after the battle, Midway still has its paradoxes and conundrums; Continue reading

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1942 – The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 7 – Midway Trilogy (3 of 3)

 Blown Slick Series #13 Part 7

 “what did Midway really mean?” 

 “An aircraft carrier is a noble thing. It lacks almost everything that seems to denote nobility, yet deep nobility is there. A carrier has no poise. It has   no  grace. It is top-heavy and lop-sided. It has the lines of a cow. It doesn’t cut through the water like a cruiser, knifing romantically along… It just plows… Yet a carrier is a ferocious thing, and out of its heritage of action has grown nobility. I believe that every Navy in the world has it as its No. 1 priority the destruction of enemy carriers. That’s a precarious honor, but it’s a proud one.Ernie Pyle, 1945

Midway books2

On 13 June USS Enterprise returned to Pearl Harbor. Thus began the celebration, but also, evaluation of the battle operations, the impact on both US and Japanese capabilities and next steps, and of most importance, the beginning of planning to leverage the victory. And so…

“what did Midway really mean?”  Continue reading

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