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Talk:Guadalcanal campaign

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Revision as of 03:03, 22 March 2008 by J. Noel Chiappa (Talk | contribs) (the turning point: missing clause)

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 Definition The first Allied offensive campaign of the Pacific theater in WWII, fought August 7, 1942 and February 9, 1943; Allied victory [d] [e]

cleanup

Besides removing a lot of Wikistuff, I simplified the text and notes, added more on strategy, and greatly expanded the bibliography. Richard Jensen 20:44, 4 November 2007 (CST)

the turning point

I'm pondering this description of Guadalcanal as "the turning point" of the Pacific war. (Luckily for us, this isn't Wikipedia, we don't have to "cite sources" for our opinion - we can just work it out, and say what we like! :-)

Conventionally, the other one that's mentioned is Midway. To them, I add the Kokoda Trail / Coral Sea pair, which stopped the advance towards Australia. (Which of this latter pair, if either, is the more important in that is something I'd have to think about.) Mind, I don't have a fixed opinion about which of the three is 'the' turning point - or even if there is one such thing one can name. This note is more in the vein of 'thinking out loud' about this issue, a meditation on the question.

To decide which was the most important turning point of the war, I think one needs to ask 'which one did the most to damage or prevent the Japanese attaining their strategic goals'. At this point, there's a bit of difficulty, because I'm not sure the Japanese had attainable or viable strategic goals - it seems to me that once they attacked the US, the US was not going to rest until the Japanese were defeated. Complete defeat of the US was obviously infeasible for the Japanese. The best the Japanese could hope for, I think, was to create a defensible 'perimiter' (as much as such a thing can exist in a maritime environment like the Pacific), and hope that they could hold the US off until it got tired of the war and agreed to a negotiated settlement. Looking at each of these three in this light:

  • I'm not sure what Yamamoto's strategic goal really was at Midway. I seem to recall he was still following the Japanese chimera of the decisive naval battle, and hoped to provoke that with the Midway attack. I don't know what good taking it would have been for Japan (and I don't offhand recall exactly what their thinking was for the 'next step' after they took Midway, if it didn't provoke the chimerical decisive battle). Presumably, it could have been a way-station on the way to Hawaii; if they could have taken Hawaii as well (assuming such an operation was possible; I'd have to check and see how quickly the US reinforced Hawaii's defenses), it would have denied the US any bases in the Pacific, making the logistics of any counter-attack considerably more difficult. The Japanese could have also pushed their perimeter further out, but only at a cost of over-extending their supply lines even further.
However, looked at in terms of Japan's 'best case' strategy (above), Japan's losses in carriers at Midway were a crucial blow in terms of its ability to defend its perimeter, by removing a lot of the mobile forces one would need to do so. It was a doubly cripping blow to the Japanese, with their much smaller industrial capacity. Also, I don't recall how bad their losses in carrier aviation were at Midway; I know the Marianas are usually spoken of as where their naval air branch was really broken, but I think they lost a lot of their best people at Midway too.
  • The New Guinea defeats were only important in that they made it impossible to invade Australia. I'm not sure the Japanese ever seriously envisaged that, and I'm not sure how feasible it would have been in any event.
  • Guadalcanal was, for the Japanese (IIRC) part of a thrust along the general New Hebrides/Fiji/Samoa axis, which, if they had achieved it, would have allowed them to cut the links between the US and Australia, which would have had a major impact on the US's ability to counter-attack. Taking Guadalcanal definitely improved the US's ability to mount a counter-attack along the Solomons/Phillipines axis, but the US had a second viable axis, as the Marshall/Marianas campaign in the Central Pacific showed.
So I think the former aspect was probably the more important. The Japanese also lost a fair amount of units at Guadalcanal, but the army losses really weren't that great (compared to, e.g. their army in China), the naval losses weren't as critical as those of Midway (mostly smaller units, with a couple of older battleships); I would rate the air losses as probably the most significant.
  • The only further thing I'd like to consider is that indefinable attribute of 'inevitability' or 'undefeatability'. Once an opponent has suffered a major defeat, after an unending string of victories, something indefinable changes in the struggle. Looking at dates, Midway was early June '42, Guadalcanal was August '42 - January '43, and Kokoda was July '42 to January '43, with the Japanese high-water mark at Ioribaiwa being around September. (Of course, Coral Sea was early May, '42, but it wasn't at the time seen as the strategic defeat it was, so I don't think it enters here.) So I think the palm here has to go to Midway.

So I do think it's between Midway and Guadalcanal. Chosing between them, I think involves chosing between whether one thinks the blunting of the Solomons->Samoa advance was more important than the Midway-Hawaii, and whether the Midway losses are more significant than those at Guadalcanal.

On the losses, I think it has to go to Midway; 4 top-line fleet carriers blew a hole in the heart of the IJN it could never fill. As to the thwarted advances, it's hard to say, because for each one you have to ask 'could the Japanese have really done it anyway', and I'm not so sure in either case. And finally, of course, Midway was the first clear defeat.

(I should look up and see what the Japanese naval people see as the key defeat. Since the Pacific war was fundamentally a naval one (much as the Peloponnesian war was), I think the opinion of the Japanese naval personnel is probably more important than those of the army.)

So, having gone through that all, with two out of three factors favouring Midway, and the third something of a toss-up, I'm wondering if Midway isn't more appropriately identified as the turning point of the war?

The thing I think one can accurately describe Guadalcanal as is the climactic struggle of the Pacific war. In duration and intensity, with all three arms engaged to the uttermost in a battle which swayed back and forth for some time, this was the last major engagement in which the Japanese had a serious hope of defeating their opponents. In all the major battles thereafter, the Japanese defeat was inevitable.

Anyway, comments? J. Noel Chiappa 20:53, 21 March 2008 (CDT)