World War II Naval Campaigns: Ocean Areas

World War II naval campaigns
Figure 1.--The Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into World War II. America was, however, unprepared for the War. Neither the Army or the Air Force had the capability of engaging the Axis with substantial force. America's first year of war was largely carried by the Navy, despite the battering at Pearl Harbor. The Navy with still limited resources engaged the German U-boats in the North Atlantic and the Imperial Navy in the South Pacific. And this is what the American public read about during the first year of the War. The U.S. Navy was the only Allied military force to achieve victory over superior Axis forces. The U.S. Pacific Fleet was unable to relieve the Americans on Batan and Corregidor. The Japanese swept through the South Pacific was only relieved by U.S. Navy carriers which carried Jimmy Dolittle's bombers to within range of Tokyo (April 1942). American carriers turned a Japanese invasion fleet back in the Coral Sea (May 1942). The first major American success was the decisive naval victory at Midway (June 1942). The first American offensive was the Navy's Marine Corps seizure of Guadacanal (August 1942). All this was accomplished in the face of superior Japanese forces. The outgunned, overstreached U.S. Navy managed to buy America a year to mobilize its considerable resources for global war. The Navy successfully carried out the Torch landings (November 1942). Only then did the Army and Air Force begin to engage Axis forces. Here these Boys Scouts in Baltimore are showing their support for the Navy.

World War II began in Europe with the NAZI and Soviuet invasion of Poland (September 1939). German U-boats immediatedly opened the Battle of the Atlantic, arguably the most important campaign of the War. Neither the British Royal Navy or the German Kreigsmarine were prepared for the War. Neither had expected the U-boat to bevso effective, but the Germans quickly realized they possessed a formidable weapon and expanded production of improied types. The fall of France provided Atlantic bases that made the U-boats even more deadly. For Britain, defeating the the U-boats was more than a matter if winning the War, it was a matter of national survival. And the U.S. Navy would join the Royal Navy in the North Atlantic even before America entered the War. Failure here woukld have cut iff Britain from America and the Dominions. The Japanese carrier attack opened the Pacific War. It would be the most titanic naval war in history fought out in the virtually limitless expanse of ocean. And the carrier would revolutionize naval warfare. The magnificent Japanse First Air Fleet was decimasted at Midway obly 6 months after Pealr Harbor. The Americans and British decided at the onset to give primority to the fight asgainst Germany. Even so, shipos and supplies from America arrived at a level that the Japanese could not match. The Allies launched two Paciic campasi\ns. One by the Army in the South Pcific and the other by the Navy in the Central Pacific. The conquest of the Matinas (June 1944) brought the Japanese Home Islands in the range of American bombers. A few months late the U.S. Navy in the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 1944) fought the largest battle in the history of naval warfare, virtully destroying what was left of the Imperial Navy.

The Arctic

The Arctic Ocean for the first time became a theater of operations. Naval oprrations there were limited, but they did occur. The Arctic was important for two major reasons. First the geography of meterology meant that Arctic weather stations provided militaryplnners advanced warnings of weather fronts that would affect European weather. The most famous such warning affected Genrral Eisenhower's D-Day timing. As the Allies dominated the the Arctic area (Canada, Greenland, and Icelnd) they generally had a few days advanced waening of major weather events. The second importantance of the Arctic was after the German invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941), the Allied effort to supply the Red Army. The northern or Arctic Murmansk route was the most direct route. It was also the most dangerous. German U-boars, surface units, and Lufwaffe planes, not to mention the weather, made this the most deadly route. Some of the convoys were devestated. The most important naval actiin was the Royal Navy sinking of Sharnhost. After Japan entered the War, they attacked Dutch Harbor and seized ttu and Kisku as a diversion associated with the Midway operation (June 1941). Although south of the Arctic Circle, the Japanese allowed American supplies to reach Vladisvostock in the North Pacific. This infuriated Hitler. He expected Japan to declare war on the Soviet Union fter he declared war on America. When they did not, he did not make an issue of it, but was enraged that they did not at least cut the flow of American Lend Lease supplies in the North Pacific.

The Atlantic

Most of the major naval engagements of World War II were fought in the Pacific between the Imperial Japanese Navy and the U.S. Navy, including the largest naval battles in history. Even so, the most important naval battle of the War, possibly the most important battle overall, was the campaign in the North Atlantic to defeat the German U-boats and their effort to cut off Britain's life line to America. While there were relatively few surface engagements because of the small German surface fleet, the campaign between U-boats and convoy escorts largely determined the outcome of the War. The Americas and British set on a Germany first doctrine even before America entered the War. The Allied victory in the North Atlantic made D-Day and the liberation of Western Europe possible as well as the strategic bombing campaign that destroyed Germany's ability to make War. While the naval campaign in the North Atlantic did not by itself defeat Germany, it did mean that the Allies could prevent the Soviet Union from accomplishing what Stalin set out to do in 1939 with the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (1939), gain control not only of Eastern Europe, but Western Europeas well.

The Pacific

It was the Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into the War. The Japanese Imperial Fleet was a superbly trained force with modern, well designed vessels. Many did not fully appreciate the effectivness of the Imperial Navy. The lack of radar, however, proved a huge disadvantage. Allied radar and many other technical advances were the result of close cooperation between American and British scientists anf joint development projects that began even before America entered the War. There was no comparable Axis technical cooperation or even coordination of military campaigns. The Kriegsmarine had very effective radar on its surface ships like Bismarck yet advanced German technology like radar, jet engines, and other equipment was not provided to the Japanese until very late in the War, too late to be of any effectiveuse to the Japanese war effort. While Pearl Harbor was a stunning tactical victory, it was a strategic blunder by the Japanese of incaluable proportions. The Jpanes were able to seize much of Southeast Asia, but the stunning American carrier victory at Midway, significantly reduced the strike capability of the Imperial Navy. This provided the time for American industrial capacity to reated a naval force with which Japan's limited industrial capacity could not cope. While the German submarine campaign in the North Atlantic failed, the American submarine campaign in the Pacific proved spectacularly successful. The Japanese merchant marine was almost completely destroying, cutting the country's war industries off from supplies and bringing the country close to starvation. Amercan industrial strength enabled America to build a naval force capable of leap froging from island to island. The Navy by 1944 had seized islands from which the Japanese Home Island could be bombed. The Navy also enabled the Army to retake New Guinea (1943-44) and the Philippines (1944-45) and Okinawa (1945). Naval and Army forces were preparing for a full-scale amphibious invasion of the Home Islands when the U.S. Air Forces dropped two atomic bombs (August 1945). The air campaign and rthe Soviet declaration of war finally forced Japan to surrender (September 1945).

Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean was not a major World War II combat area, but there was some combat activity. Some German U-boats and surface raidrs operated there. Control of the Indian Ocean was crucial after the fall of France because the Royal Navy could not supply the Desert Army in Egypt through the Mediterranean and had to send convoys around the Cape of Good Hope. Vichy Indian Ocean colonies were of some concern to the British. In addition the Indian Army units and supplies played a major role in the Middle East. Contact between Germany and Japan had to be conducted through the Indian Ocean, but were very limited because after Pearl Harbor had to be conducted by submarine. Submarines through the Indian Ocean was one of the few ways the two Axis partners could exchnge material and personnel. The most significant combat occurred at the onset of the Pacific War. The Jappanese sent a carrier force into the Indian Ocean and wreaked havoc as far west as Ceylon (Sri Lanka) (March 1942). The British wisely withdrew the older Royal Navy fleet unit deployed there west and did not give battle. This was despite the damage done a serious misuse of Imperial Navy resources on the part of the Japanese. At this stahe of the War, the vital objective was to destroy what was left of the United States Pacific Fleet. The Indian Ocean diversion gave the the battered U.S. Navy precious time to prepare for the coming showdown in the Pacific. The Doolottle Raid we focused the naval commanders (Aoril 1942). The final showdown occurred at Midway (June 1942). The PU.,S. Pacific fleet had not yet fully mastered fleet carrier operations, but the 7 months of carrier operation after Perarl Harbor had emensely improved the effectiveness of the U.S. carriers and air groups. A few Japanese submarines operated along the coast of East Africa, but were primarily focused on naval vessels rather than the vital convoys to the British Desert in Egypt. Here even a modest commitment of Japan's substantial submarine force could have played enormous dividens, but is one of many examples of the failure of the Axis parners to work together. After Midway, the Japanese no longer had the capability to seriously contest the Indian Ocean, although some submarines operated there. The Japanee allowed the Kreigsmarine to open a U-boat base at Penang, but were supsicious of German intentions. A very small number of U-boats were involved. The Indian Ocean was also crucial in getting American Lend Lease supplies to the Soviet Red Army. The southern Indian Ocean route proved to be the most important route.









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Created: 6:24 AM 2/19/2011
Last updated: 5:35 PM 5/25/2012