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The Invasion of Japan, a Book Review

Discussion in 'The Pacific and CBI' started by belasar, Oct 23, 2015.

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  1. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    The Invasion of Japan: Alternative to the Bomb, by John Ray Skates, University of South Carolina Press, 1994, 276 pages, Hardcover, Maps, Photo's, Charts, Notes, Bibliography, Index

    ‚ÄčThe end of the Pacific War remains one of the most controversial aspects of the Allied decision making to this day. Mr. Skates attempts to bring some clarity to one element of this dispute, namely the proposed invasion of Japan. He examines the genesis, evolution and final planning (as to the point when the Atomic Bombs were deployed) of the joint Army-Navy operations known. as Olympic and Coronet.

    What may not be understood by most casual history buff's is that planning for the military defeat of Japan began well before Pearl Harbor and can trace its linage to the early 1920's. To be fair Japan also was thinking on how to defeat western power's, Primarily the US from this same period. Both Tokyo and Washington saw the other as it's primary foe in the Pacific and eventually a showdown must inevitably come to pass.

    At first This a all Navy affair. The USN would steam west, engage the Imperial Japanese Navy in one or more decisive battles destroying Japan's fleet before taking up station blockading the Home Islands until they saw the writing on the wall and sued for peace. There was no place for the Army save as garrison troops on any islands taken on the march west. As the 1920's gave way to the '30's the Navy was forced to modify this approach.

    The need to augment Army forces in the Philippine's so that it could remain a viable jumping off spot, the extent of Japanese prewar conquest's and the advent of the value of long range aviation all conspired to give the Army a junior partner role in planning replacing its previous position as a coat holder for the Navy. This was seen as a complement rather than a revolution to existing plans. The Navy would still run the show.

    The actual war would greatly alter these plans. By 1944 the Army would have a commander of near equal stature to Nimitz commanding the US Pacific Fleet. Japan would also demonstrate a near fanatical desire to defend any portion of her empire to the proverbial last man and bullet. Hopes that Japanese leaders would be reasonable and see 'the writing on the wall' were fast dwindling

    MacArthur and Nimitz went ahead with a actual boots on the ground invasion plan. One, that had it been executed, would have dwarfed D-Day not once but two times over for both operations. Skates looks at both US and Japanese plans in great detail and I was struck how each mirrored the other. Post war observers were so concerned that they spent time looking for security leaks by questioning surviving Japanese military planners on this topic but the truth was they were not fools and had come to understand US tendencies all to well.

    There were some shocks for me as well. The plan to relocate European forces to the Pacific, which had began so well was by the time of Hiroshima, was severely breaking down. This would not have affected Olympic, but the latter stages of Coronet might have become embarrassing had Japan not surrendered on the America's timetable.

    Finally the aspect of battle casualties is explored and the disparity of those quoted by post war political leaders. Most Military estimates (Army, Navy, Joint Army-Navy) saw 100,00 to 150,000 casualties for each operation going out to a maximum of 120 days from the first landing on the Home Islands which corresponds to the oft quoted '250,000' that is so critical to those who decry the use of the Bomb and contrast so completely with Churchill's 500,000 and Truman's 1 million.

    This is still room for some ambiguity as Military estimates call for Japan to surrender on America's timetable and only project out to about 120 days after Olympic and 90 days after Coronet. A two to 3 month gap between operations do not seem to be factored, nor does any operations after the conquest of the Tokyo plain.

    I am not sure this will changes anyone's carved in stone opinions, it did not mine, but it did offer hard facts to better understand the invasion option. I strongly recommend this book to those who choose to argue the matter. .
     
  2. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    While I haven't read this book, it sounds pretty good. Have you read Hell to Pay? There is much in it to recommend. It sounds as though this book would be a good companion to it. Maybe nothing more than a comparison of viewpoints, but it's worth a look.
     
  3. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    I've been looking for a book on Operation Downfall. It appears that the two "big ones" are The Invasion of Japan and Hell to Pay. The latter has more positive reviews and is more well-known, but it could just be a side effect of being the newer book of the two. Has anyone read both? If so, which is the better of the two?
     
  4. Otto

    Otto Rested & Resupplied with MREs. Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    Nice review, and more importantly you examine the books place among others who cover the topic. Your post has been appropriately saluted. :salute:
     
  5. mcoffee

    mcoffee Son-of-a-Gun(ner)

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    Another to consider is Downfall by Richard B. Frank
     
  6. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    First, thanks for the positive feedback! Second, I apologize for the original post. I have been forced to employ a mobile device and this led to several grammatical errors and misspellings which I think I have cleared up. Sadly I think much faster than I can type and you the poor reader pays the price.

    Lou I have not read Hell to Pay but I do have Downfall in my collection, as yet unread however. I do look forward to comparing the two and hope to download Hell to Pay on my not so secret X=mas gift!

    I heartily recommend that on any subject, especially controversial ones, that multiple sources be examined if they are available. I constantly find my perception about the war evolving.
     
  7. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    I just ordered Downfall, so I'll be able to compare it to Hell to Pay. I agree that multiple sources are key. The problem is that the more I read, the more there is to read. Granted, that's not necessarily a bad problem, but it sure takes up my free time.
     
  8. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Any invasion was meant to be a massive loss of manpower. If you consider how much a change in the weather could do alone any idea between total failure and total success is there. Thanx for the book suggestion!
     
  9. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    While I do not wish to turn this into a tired repetition of previous debates about casualties I think it is important to keep in mind that other battle fronts in the Pacific, China, and Southeast Asia would continue concurrently with Olympic and Coronet. Total casualties, military and civilian are just unknowable with any precision.
     
  10. mcoffee

    mcoffee Son-of-a-Gun(ner)

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  11. Markus Becker

    Markus Becker Member

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    Is it just me or does this make the decision to invade even more strange? Furthermore at the end of 1944 the Japanese had pretty much no offensive capability any more. "Bomb them and let them starve" should have been the logical way to end the war not ASAP but with a minimum of US casualties. But instead the US planned to get into a slugging match with the IJA. Something known to be costly.
     
  12. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    One of the things that might have effected this is that it was becoming obvious to US Intell that the Japanese had guessed where the landing was going to be and had been prepairing for it for some time. I'm not sure if this would have impacted the time or the date of the landing. If the weather was marginal it might have been enough to postpone the landing until Spring.

    On the casualty estimates one thing to consider is that they did not take the above into account. They also didn't take into account the number of suicide craft (including boats and subs) that the Japanese planned to utilize or the likely increase efficiency of the same due to terrain and the shift in targeting to the transports. Nor would they include casualties due to crossing irradiated areas if the atomic bombs built in after the two that were dropped were saved for that purpose as some desired.
     
  13. Carronade

    Carronade Ace Patron  

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    One other point about the a-bombs was that they led to the surrender of Japanese forces throughout the Far East. I've also considered the strategy of just leaving the home islands isolated, but I wonder if it might been complemented by operations against the rest of the Japanese empire. The British were eager to reoccupy their colonies by their own efforts. Would the considerable American ground forces and amphibious shipping simply be left idle? I could see them being used to seize key points on the Chinese coast, particularly ports and sites for airfields, then "coast-hopping" northward towards Beijing and across to Korea. This would further demonstrate the hopelessness of continued resistance, weaken the Japanese armies in China, eventually make direct contact with Chiang's forces for whatever that's worth.

    Continuation of the war would also mean continued advance of Russian and Chinese Communist forces, which could only be forestalled by American forces on the ground. There would likely be a line of demarcation established as was done in Europe.
     
  14. ickysdad

    ickysdad Member

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    what do you guys think of this review of "Hell to Pay"??/ This reviewer seems just a bit harsh on it. He seems to think M4 & M26 with grousers could negotiate rice paddies.He also seems to think that smoke screens are a magic bullet for kamikazes and would have helped around Ariake during the Downfall Operation....http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1LPZH8GTIUBMX/ref=cm_cr_pr_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B0052LJC1K

    I bought up this older article up and the reviewer states a lot of declassified stuff has came out since 1965 when this article was written that makes it dated.

    http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/war.term/olympic.html
     
  15. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    I agree. Especially reading some of his follow on comments.

    For one thing smoke would make it much harder to see and react to the surface and submarine strike craft. I would think it would cause problems in the fleet as well particuarly if it's there during all daylight hours.

    I think he's off base with respect to mobility in rice paddies as well. I'm not sure that they would have been flooded at that point in the year but if so then they are real problems to vehicle mobility. Ground pressure is hardly the only determinant factor.

    Not having read the book I'm not sure just where the 20mm AT rifles penetrating the bottom armor on a Sherman comes from. I certainly wouldn't worry too much about that if bogged down in a rice paddy. However at close range a 20mm AT rifle could be threat to most WWII tanks if firing on the flank or rear.

    The book may lack the balance he wanted or it may not but the review certainly lacks balance.
     
  16. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Read the Amazon review. First off I note that over 80 of reviews give it 4 or 5 stars (10 of 16 reviews) so this person is in the minority. I still hope to read Hell to Pay myself, as well as Downfall. The subject of this review does not dwell on most tactical weapons of Japan, or the Allies for that matter since the effectiveness of these are pretty well known.

    Japanese Army troops were divided into two broad groups, Veteran mobile (kinda) regular army formations and newly raised coastal static divisions. The plan was for the coastal formations to hold the invasion up long enough for the 'mobile' formations to reach the battle and push the American's into the sea.

    Reading between the lines even the Japanese high command had doubts about being able to move in the face of American control of the air. Further Japanese leaders knew that training, equipment and ammunition stocks for the coastal formations were well below authorized levels as of the time of the Atomic bombings, and likely would not be met by the estimated invasion date.

    On the other hand US observers who toured the Japanese defenses and the terrain behind them did find some unexpected surprises that tended to call into question the timetable for exploitation after the landing. Note they did not think they would be thrownback, but merely that they would take longer than expected to reduce some positions and building roads, airfields and supply dumps might take longer to create. Nothing they saw called into question the viability of the invasion plans.
     
  17. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    Well, Giangreco did pretty much write the definitive article on the casualty estimations in "Casualty Projections for the U.S. Invasions of Japan, 1945-1946: Planning and Policy Implications" in the Journal of Military History, 61 (July 1997): 521-82. Otherwise the notion a 39" grouser would enable an M4 or M26 to negotiate rice paddies is somewhat speculative, given insofar as I can tell they were only trialled with the M4. And there his "figure of merit" of 8 p.s.i. doesn't give confidence the Sherman would traverse paddies with impunity.

    Rich Anderson
     
  18. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    I'm reading Downfall now and read Hell to Pay earlier. It seemed to be a surprise to American leaders when they saw preparations for the invasion. The Japanese divined the location of a likely invasion and prepared for it. I'm sure they didn't expect to throw the invaders back to the sea (although it was their hope). They merely hoped to delay them and make Downfall so expensive in terms of casualties that the American public would demand a halt. The American military leadership did not seem to know that the Japanese fortified Kyushu.
     
  19. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    By August of 45 US intel was getting the impression that the Japanese expected the landing to be on Kyushu and were prepareing for it. By September this should have worked it's way up the food chain. The quesiton in that respect is would it have effected the landings?

    The post war inspections did indeed reveal the the Japanese were much better prepared than the US expected. The targeting shift from combatants to the transports was also not known until after the end of the war. That could have resulted in some very expensive surprises.
     
  20. ickysdad

    ickysdad Member

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    His response in linking to tank-net per my asking about how well a Sherman would traverse a rice paddy. I relied mainly on Kevin Estes's post about ground pressure the reviewer response was.....


    "Mr. Gray,

    Thanks for the link, but while the folks at Tank-net are usually pretty reliable, they are not in this case. I much better source.

    I have a copy of the US Army Ordnance 1,000 mile road test on the 39-inch grousers completed 8/5/1945 and approved as the following report on 9/5/1945.

    TANK ARSENAL PROVING GROUND
    UTICA, MICHIGAN
    ORDNANCE DEPARTMENT OPERATION

    DATE 9-5-45 REPORT NO. PG-61901.110
    T.A.P.G. Project No. 668
    O.D.C. No. 72 COPY 3
    TITLE: Test of Special T80 Tracks Equipped with 39" Extended Grousers"
     

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