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The most dangerous moment of the war...

Discussion in 'The CBI Theater' started by OhneGewehr, Nov 30, 2016.

  1. OhneGewehr

    OhneGewehr New Member

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    5th April 1942, the fleets of Admiral Nagumo and Admiral Somerville nearly found each other. Two Albacores made contact with the japanese fleet, consisting of the Kido Butai (except Kaga) and all four Kongo-Class battleships. Somerville's fleet (2 modern aircraft carriers, Warspite and all 4 Revenge-Class battleships) had japanese planes several times on the radar screens.

    Churchill later described it as the most dangerous moment of the war.

    It is an almost forgotten episode of the war. But what would have happened if the fleets meet each other? Did Somerville really want to attack the japanese fleet?
    Why did the IJN abandon plans to conquer Ceylon?
     
  2. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Daylilght encounter and the British are in very deep. Night time and they have a chance. Not sure the IJN ever had much in the way of a realistic plan to take Ceylon. They really didn't have the logistics to support it.
     
  3. OhneGewehr

    OhneGewehr New Member

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    What do you expect as a result? Usually the old british battleships could not take many torpedo hits. The carriers are more modern but Ark Royal sunk after being hit by a single torpedo.
    Would Churchill survive such a desaster? In early 1942, he had almost achieved nothing.

    There were weekly meetings between the the german and the japanese Navy. In early 1942 they discussed japanese plans to conquer Ceylon and Madagascar. The Kriegsmarine wasn't happy with Madagascar, so the IJN abandoned the Indian Ocean strategy after they failed to destroy Somervilles fleet.
     
  4. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    In a daylight engagement how much of Somervilles's force survives depends a lot on time and distance. If the Japanese can launch more than one raid the British would be lucky to have a few escorts survive. Of course a night attack could see significant damage to the IJN force as well.

    I haven't studied the details of Churchill's position at the time so can't comment on it with any authority.
     
  5. OhneGewehr

    OhneGewehr New Member

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    You mean a night atack with the Albacores? I am not so sure. There is a difference between Taranto (Italians, sitting ducks as targets even illuminated to guide the anti-aircraft-fire) and the Kido Butai at High Seas (Japanese, fast moving targets).

    The IJN proved to be superior to the US Navy in night actions even after radar was introduced.

    Do you understand why the IJN didn't try harder to find Somerville's fleet after they shot down the Albacores? They knew then that there must be some british carriers in close range.
     
  6. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    First lets begin with Churchill and his comment. One of his greatest attributes was his ability to turn a phrase (FDR was pretty good as well, but Winston did it best), which is why so many are still quoted today. That being said, he could be economical with the truth on occasion when the full truth did not quite have the same ring to that a partial truth.

    This was hardly the most critical moment for the war, it was however a rather serious one for the British Empire. There was already separatist rumblings in India before the war and the constant deluge of defeats and disasters did little to improve the situation. Another major naval defeat (Force Z) would have been devastating politically, probably more than it would have been military. Sommerville had to appear to defend while not committing to a uneven battle. The situation was very different than a Midway where long risks could be taken. Basically he was to confuse and delay long enough for shipping to get to safe harbor. In this he did spectacularly and it could be argued that in real terms he 'won' the engagement.

    The potential problem for Nagumo in a night action was two fold. If Sommerville somehow got in range of the CV's it could have been disaterous. Japan simply could not afford to lose those CV's, or even have them taken out of service to fix battle damage. Loss of Shokaku and Zuikaku at the Coral Sea probably was the margin at Midway.

    Nor would a capitol ship exchange be one sided. Sommerville had 5 Battleships (granted old), Nagumo had 4 (equally old) refurbished Battlecruisers. Not a even match. When matched up against other ships in gun battles (during night engagements) they had very mixed results. Hiei was essentially taken out by Cruisers and Destroyers in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. In a follow up engagement Kirishima was devastated by the USS Washington. They were fast enough, but in boxing parlance had a glass chin when up against actual battleships. They might have 'won' such a battle, but the cost might have been too high.

    As to why Nagumo did not try 'harder', time and fuel consumption were issues. Other operations were planned and he could not pursue forever. If he bagged them quickly and easily, fine, but at its heart this was always a raid.
     
  7. OhneGewehr

    OhneGewehr New Member

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    I don't think so. You just don't sail in the Indian Ocean with all your carriers and then say: Oh no, i don't want to risk my ships. I am better off going home again. Peace on earth.

    Yes, the Kongos were still british battlecruisers from WW1, even designed prior the battle of Jutland. A pagoda mast and some improvements couldn't turn them into modern battleships. They were often overestimated:
    http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/the-indian-ocean-raid-disaster-for-the-royal-navy/

    Risking the Kongo's against the old Revenge's, which struggled in 1942 to achieve 20 knots, would be a british dream come true. The R's still had big guns and were decently protected against gunfire. And they were almost worthless, they reached the end of their career.
     
  8. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Not quite.

    Yes Japan deployed 6 carriers, but the veteran CV Kaga was absent, replaced by a CVL (Light Carrier). The reason it was only a raid lay in the fact there were no troops, shipping or land based air to exploit any victory. Put simply, Japan was not there to stay despite claims made by Britain afterwards to 'jinn' up the victory.

    In a best case situation Japan hoped that their carriers would catch significant elements of the RN, either at sea or in port and inflict a 'Pearl Harbor' like defeat on the British Indian Ocean fleet that would render any threat from that direction moot. Unfortunately for Japan after a week and a half all they had to show for their efforts was a handful of sunk enemy ships, most either elderly or merchantmen. Not much to show for so much effort.

    At this point in the war Underway replenishment was still fairly rudimentary and combat vessels could stay on station only so long before they had to return to a base to replace fuel, avgas and munitions. Japan also had to be worried with the threat of the far more formidable American Fleet Carriers missed at Pearl Harbor and with completing their conquests in the Southern Resource Area which was the primary objective.
     
  9. OhneGewehr

    OhneGewehr New Member

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    The Royal Navy withdraw their ships to Africa. Which was a success. Japanese losses were small (some aircraft), so it wasn't that bad. Avoiding action was a good choice anyway, the months of the early japanese victories were over.
     
  10. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    For what, two weeks max?

    Japan's strategy rested on inflicting enough damage on Allied fleet units early in the war to allow them time to first seize the necessary resources and to then build a defensive arc that would make their recapture too costly for the Allies to contemplate and therefore force them to negotiate.

    Despite the damage at Pearl Harbor, American forces were already piercing their incomplete defensive ring 9 months after the last bomb fell at Pearl. The Indian Ocean raid had no effect on British operations at all.
     
  11. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    The RN and the IJN both practiced night actions extensively prior to the war. By that point some of the British torpedo planes had radar and they practiced using them as formation leaders. Based on the surprise that a number of formations gained during daylight a surprise attack by the RN torpedo planes at night could have had considerable impact. Consider also that British torpedoes worked well from the beginning of the war as well. The IJN due to their formation doctrine also had some significant issues with maneuvering when surprised at night. There were collisions on a number of such occasions.

    Once the US had leaders who understood how to use radar the IJN's advantage in night actions evaporated.
     
  12. OhneGewehr

    OhneGewehr New Member

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    Yes, but we are talking about spring 1942. The Royal Navy was trained in night fighting, as they showed in the Mediterranean. A lesson they learned from the battle of Jutland.

    The night attack with torpedo bomber is interesting though. Why didn't the US Navy tried that later, when radar was improved?
    Do you know the reason for that?
    Maybe, this is just a speculation, the slow Albacores/Swordfishs were the perfect planes for such an attack.
     
  13. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    They did. Tended to be from flying boats though. Night ops from carriers were high risk operations and torpedos tended to be used less often latter in the war for a number of reasons.

    *** edit for ***
    fonts and formatting acting a bit weird this AM.
     

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