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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 (if not of winning the whole war). In all the major battles thereafter, Japanese defeat in that engagement was inevitable.
I suppose one could say that that is the definition of "turning point", but to me, this was merely the point at which it became plain to all that defeat was inevitable. The point at which the Japanese lost their best hope of 'winning' is the true turning point, and to me that looks like Midway.
Anyway, comments? J. Noel Chiappa 20:53, 21 March 2008 (CDT)
I worked on this for a while, separated it into groups, annotated a lot of the entries, and added a bunch more stuff. Two things:
- I have a bunch of books that cover Guadalcanal in passing (e.g. histories of the 'Enterprise', etc) but I don't want to add them lest the bibliography get silly. I mean, at some point we have to stop: if a book has only 3 sentences about Guadalcanal, clearly it doesn't go it. But what about 1 page? Etc, etc....
- I have a book by Hammel: "Guadalcanal: Carrier Battles - The Pivotal Aircraft Carrier Battles of the Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz", Crown, New York, 1987 - but the biblio lists two separate books by him that seem to cover this territory. Did he do a new edition, with more research, and split this old book into two, or what?
Anyway, enough for now. J. Noel Chiappa 00:13, 22 March 2008 (CDT)
- Noel's additionas are excellemt. When in doubt about a marginal book, annotate it and tell user how many pages are on Guadalcanal. I ask myself, "should we recommend users buy this book if they have an interest in the topic?" In military history, academic libraries usually do NOT collect as thoroughly as they do in other areas, so the best bet is the used book market. Generally I'd say a book should have a minimum of 20 pages on the topic that are original (rather than rehash of other books already listed) (There are MANY general books on the Pacific war that have a page or two on the battle. They belong in the ww2-Pacific biblio, not here.) I give preference to titles that are in print or in amazon.com, on the basis they are easier for users to obtain. (I admit I was spoiled by 2 years working in the West Point Library when I was a visiting professor there. They have hundreds of titles on many different units, but we can exclude those.) Richard Jensen 00:30, 22 March 2008 (CDT)
Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of either the condensed or full Samuel Eliot Morison histories here, so I can't check my memory here. As I remember, he wrote of seven naval engagements, assigning numbers as well as names to things like the Battle of Savo Island, rather than just referring to two specific "naval battles of Guadalcanal". Personally, I've generally used the names, but I wanted to link from an article on which I'm working, to cite major cruiser engagements. Any plans to fill in the naval side in the near term? I might be collecting some material anyway.
Also unfortunately, my notes were lost years ago, but when I worked at the Washington Navy Yard, across the street from the Naval Operational Archives, I spent many lunch hours going through all the logs in the final naval engagement, the Battle of Rennell Island. My then-wife's grandfather, Ben Wyatt, had commanded the escort carriers, and his daughter, not exactly a historian, kept insisting he was scapegoated. So, if for no other reason than to quiet down my then-mother-in-law, I tried to find out what actually happened.
From the logs, it certainly seemed that RADM Giffen, the senior officer, was convinced the Japanese threat was submarines, and refused to slow to the maximum speed of the escort carriers. They lagged farther and farther behind, with their fighters having less and less endurance over the fast group. As Murphy would have it, the Japanese managed a last-gasp air strike against Giffen's part of the force, with almost no combat air patrol. My inlaw (I never met him) had clearly warned Giffen that he couldn't provide CAP.
Nevertheless, he ended the war as a commodore, insisting he got that one star on his own and didn't want to be confused with any jumped-up captains with honorary promotions on retirement. His later assignments were interesting, but not "career-enhancing" -- commanding the aircraft delivery carrier in Torch, and then naval attache to Spain. Some things have come out fairly recently; he was part of a diplomatic "underground railroad", working with Raoul Wallenberg, to try to get Jews out of Nazi clutches. Afterwards, he apparently was the area commander at Kwajelein; my ex has his guestbook with comments from everyone who passed through, including Nimitz, MacArthur, Forrestal, etc. Later, he drew the unhappy duty of telling islanders that their homes had been picked for nuclear test areas; he retired soon afterwards.
So, I can't really say what happened to his career. There was also a rumor that he punched Giffen during the debrief. Howard C. Berkowitz 20:47, 19 July 2008 (CDT)