Why Japan’s Air Force failed

 

Aircraft carrier IJN Kasagi, 1945

Aircraft carrier IJN Kasagi, 1945

From an article written by Shahan Russell

According to Osamu Tagaya, Japan was doomed to lose WWII.  A writer for the Smithsonian, Tagaya’s father was an officer in the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), so he should know.

Like the other Axis powers, Japan wasn’t prepared for a long war. But just as Germany became overconfident because of the Spanish Civil War, so Japan felt the same because of victories against Russia and China.

What both lacked, however, was the superior manpower, greater industrial capacities, and vast resources that the US and Britain had. The Japanese government knew this, but had gambled on a short war and had badly underestimated the Allied response to their aggression.

Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero

Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero

Tagaya takes it a step further by pointing out the tactical and political weaknesses that doomed Japan. The government didn’t control the Armed Forces, so couldn’t effectively unite them.  The result was a schism that drained the country’s limited resources and overly-extended industrial capacities.

The Army saw the Soviet Union as its enemy, while the Navy looked to the US.  So while Japan was among the first to develop combat aircraft, they were mostly designed for a land war against the Soviets, not for long range operations in the South Pacific.

Not that it stopped them from occupying parts of Southeast Asia. But it made them overconfident, which was why they were slow to develop aerial technologies. Their occupation of the Pacific was another drain since the region was under-developed – forcing them to build landing fields and communications equipment.

Though Japan had contributed to radar technology, they failed to maximize its potential. Their weakness in detecting enemy craft, combined with cramped airfields where planes parked close together, made it easier for the Allies to take more out in a single raid.

And while Japan was the first to develop aircraft carriers, their focus was on combat missions. They therefore failed to understand the strategic value of taking out supply lines, giving the Allies an edge.

Finally, they didn’t have an effective training program for pilots. As more experienced ones died out, that left inexperienced ones who were forced to do kamikaze missions.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – From: Kunihiko Hisa’s cartoon album “Zero Fighter 1940-1945

imagenes_divertidas_de_la_segunda_guerra_mundial10

imagenes_divertidas_de_la_segunda_guerra_mundial

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Farewell Salutes – 

In memorandum, today would have been Smitty’s 102nd Birthday – Everett Smith – Broad Channel, NY; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, HQ/187/11th Airborne Division

Carson Grady Bird – Newnan, GA; US Air Force, Captain (Ret.), Afghanistan, communications

David Coates – Toronto, CAN; RC Air Force, WWII, Lancaster bomber navigator

Daniel Davenport – Dayton, OH; US Army, WWIIth-jpg1

Maurice Hanson – TX & FL; US Air Force, Medical Corps, Captain

Michael Irish – brn: Lancaster, ENG; R Air Force, pilot

Robert Jones – Albany, NY; US Navy, WWII, PTO

Ronald McLennan – Wallsend, AUS; RA Army, Vietnam

Merrill D. Pack – Louisa, KY; US Army, Korea, 187th RCT

Frederick Schroeder – Newark, NJ; US Army, Korea & Vietnam, 5/1st Cavalry, (Ret.), Purple Heart

Vivian Alda Williams – Alpharetta, GA; US Army WAAC, WWII

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on December 12, 2016, in WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 84 Comments.

  1. An interesting analysis. But it’s easy to be an armchair quarterback some 70 years afterward… that conflict between the Japanese armed forces was known to me; the weird bit of new info was their army thinking that Russia was the main foe, not the U.S.

    As far as “armchair quarterbacking” goes, I always wondered why they didn’t listen to those who saw that they couldn’t win a long term confrontation with the U.S.
    Given the internal politics here at home, they could have left us alone, and captured the other islands, apart from the Philippines. We would have remained unwilling to take any action against them because we were so unprepared for war ourselves.
    BTW – after this presentation, note the window on “the Battle of Britain”; his thoughts on that conflict were way off the mark in my humble viewpoint.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The video explanation of Why Japan’s Air Force failed is very fascinating. It brought up facts I never knew, so this was most informative!

    An interesting sidebar to this is a book written in the 1920s by a British journalist who covered military topics, Hector Bywater. Bywater predicted that Japan would launch a war in the Pacific and would strike the U.S. at Pearl Harbor. At the time, Pearl Harbor was not the well-developed base it had become by December, 1941. It was little more than an outpost and many poo-pooed Bywater’s predictions. But the IJN took Bywater seriously and his book about the coming Pacific war was required reading of the IJN staff. The attack – and even the timing of the attack – on Pearl unfolded almost precisely as Bywater predicted. A fascinating aspect of Bywater’s book is that he predicted that the U.S. would roll Japan back to the home islands with an island-hopping campaign. This is exactly what Admiral Nimitz did. Nimitz knew of Bywater’s book, but I’ve not found any confirmation that he used it in his campaign against Japan. What is amazing is that even with Bywater’s book being required reading for the IJN staff and officers, they completely failed to anticipate that Nimitz would roll them back to their home islands using Bywater’s suggested strategy.

    Bywater died of “mysterious circumstances” in his London apartment during one of the worst Luftwaffe raids on London. The coroner’s office was so overwhelmed with victims of the Blitz that an autopsy was not performed on Bywater, but it is highly probable that he had been poisoned by Japanese agents in London. Lending credence to this is that one of Bywater’s fellow journalists was in Japan at the time of Bywater’s death. This man was arrested by Japanese military police, questioned and beaten. He “committed suicide” by falling from a window high up in the building where he had been detained. All of this is in the book “Visions of Infamy” by William Honan.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Very interesting, I will definitely look into all this and I appreciate you taking the time to bring it to us! The Cartwheel Operation was concocted by a ‘meeting of the minds’ whereby, not only Nimitz, but MacArthur, Halsey, and King were involved.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Had the aircraft carriers stayed in Pearl Harbor to be bombed, it would have taken longer. A similar list of US mistakes would not end with ignoring indications of the coming attack.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I firmly believe FDR needed to get into the war one way or another. He had completely overstepped his role by giving much more to the UK in Lend-Lease than Congress ever knew about. Germany wasn’t taking the bait to declare war, so he imposed sanctions on Japan. If Pearl Harbor had occurred on any other day than a Sunday, many, many more would have died too. As far as I can see, Japan needed land and resources of Asia and to attack Pearl was to put our Navy out of commission as they did that. They missed the carriers, and why they weren’t at Pearl is a mystery to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent piece of observation by Tagaya gp, he certainly nailed one of the reasons Japan was doomed to failure due to greater industrial capacities, and vast resources that the US and Britain had.
    Good to see the tribute to Smitty, 102 years and seen and done a lot in his lifetime, be proud of you gp.
    Wishing you a great Merry Christmas Mate.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very informative…I don’t know much about the pacific war theater so it came as a surprise the disjunction or lack of coordination among Japanese arm forces.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Aha, Japan had several weaknesses, it seems. Well documented, GP!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Excellent analysis of the weakness of the Rising Sun Empire, thank you! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great insights…always learning…thank you very much for sharing!!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Good information in this excellent post.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Seems like due to Japan’s weakness to prepare their Air Force thoroughly, they basically defeated themselves. You find such interesting background that I’ve never before heard. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Wow what an awesome blog! I saw your comment on Paul’s photo today and saw what you were talking about! I love this post and your blog is such a beautiful tribute! 🙂 I’m following you now! Blessings to you! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I always appreciate the thoughtful analysis behind the history, that you bring to the table here. This is hard to understand, but it makes sense.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Our difficulty in understanding their side is the same trouble the Allies had in WWII. That was partially what made MacArthur valuable. He had lived there so long, he understood where they were coming from.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. An excellent and extremely interesting post. I would add that the hierarchy’s lack of regard for the welfare of their soldiers and airmen caused them losses way higher than they needed to be.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Might I suggest another reason why they failed, GP? Their culture was all wrapped around a strange martial quasi religious reason for warfare, so it made it hard for them to surrender or make a sensible decision to retreat.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Do you take recommendations for the farewell salutes? If so, here’s a navy man who passed away recently: http://www.alamosanews.com/v2_news_articles.php?heading=0&page=73&story_id=43923

    Liked by 2 people

    • I most certainly do at that, A.L. If a person served for the freedom we are privileged to have every day – I am honored to post them here. I am sorry for your and the world’s loss.

      Like

  16. Quite eye-opening. It sounds so logical. Who would think they could win framed that way. Well, there is the ‘that’s why they play the game’ factor.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Well, we’re looking back with 20/20 hindsight, but at the time – it might have seemed like a good idea, even if it wasn’t thought through.

      Like

    • One also has to take into account the fact that, for whatever reason, the Japanese were simply too slow to procure new aircraft. Even when it became clear that designs like the Zero and the Oscar were outdated compared to designs like the Hellcat and the Corsair, such aircraft still made up the bulk of the IJNAS and IJAAF fighter forces, while newer designs such as the J2M Raiden (“Jack”) and the Ki-84 “Frank” were never available in sufficient numbers due to, protracted development, the bombing of aircraft factories, fuel shortages, etc.

      Also, Japanese radio equipment was sub-par and spare parts were difficult to come by (keep in mind this is before Sony was founded), making it very difficult for ships to maintain combat air patrol. Apparently, some pilots simply flew without their radios to save weight.

      With regards to training, I remember reading somewhere that the program for IJN pilots was rather rigorous before the war. The end result was that by the time of Pearl Harbor, they had an experienced and well-trained cadre of pilots. The problem, however, was that when the IJN realized they needed more pilots, they streamlined the training program, resulting in heavily inexperienced replacements who, to quote Saburo Sakai, “would not have qualified to even refuel my plane.”

      Interesting, though, that the IJA viewed the Soviet Union as the primary threat. You’d think they’d have learned from the disaster at Khalkin Gol.

      Honestly, as fascinating as it is to read about WWII Japan for me, the short-sightedness of its military leadership is just astonishing. Considering that Yamamoto had warned them of America’s superior industrial capacity and how Japan couldn’t hope to win a war of attrition with the US, one has to wonder what their rationale behind the ultimate decision was.

      I found another interesting article on the subject: http://www.historynet.com/japans-fatally-flawed-air-forces-in-world-war-ii-2.htm

      Thanks again for another great post!

      Liked by 3 people

  17. Good job that the Japanese war machine had these weaknesses. Glad we are now friends.
    All the best. Chris.

    Liked by 4 people

  18. I can see that they really did expect a short war. They really did underestimate!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. The hideous and evil stupidity of both Japanese and German leadership is mind boggling. Not only the simple reality that they could never really win such campaigns, but how it subjected their own people to long term miseries. (Never discount that evil and it’s willing partners exist in this world). I’ve often looked at the Japanese attack on the US wondered “WHAT were they thinking?” How could they ever conceive that they could prevail in such a war? The A Bomb was actually a blessing to them because it ended their ongoing long term destruction and death. Incredible.

    Men and some leaders just love to War I guess. ??? Because it never stops and they don’t seem to have a care how it affects millions of people.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Outstanding post … Bravo! The information flow was awesome!
    Thanks for sharing
    g

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Really interesting stuff! I’ve read that when Japan’s officers ran “kriegsspiels” or wargames, prior to Pearl Harbor, their empire consistently lost. So they simply tweaked the game, until it produced wins. It’s a good lesson for our current time, and our “post-truth” avoidance of reality. Thank you sir for an interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I think the cartoon of a 17th century soldier with his sword and matchlock musket in the cockpit of Zero sums it up nicely, GP. A modern war, fought by the Japanese using centuries-old values and tactics.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Happy Birthday Smitty. Thank you for your wonderful service to our country’s freedom

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Another informative post, thanks. The timing is good too, last night I just happen to read that December 20th will be the 75th Anniversary of the Flying Tigers first combat mission. They spanked the Japanese bad!

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Reblogged this on Floyd, Times Are Changin and commented:
    Awesome story here. Appreciate and what you do here.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Just before Pearl Harbor, the late Admiral Yamamoto had said that the Japanese navy would run amok for six months or a year, but that the weight of American arms would be too much. Even then the Japanese were acutely aware of their limitations. They had hoped to destroy the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl, and force the US to the negotiating table. When they failed to destroy the US navy’s carriers, the war – it can be argued was already lost. Thanks for the post GP.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yamamoto knew that Japan could not sustain a long war – they had to move fast and hard – which they did. But they also took on too much territory, far too much to control, supply, and man. My pleasure, I’m glad you found it interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  27. When I was growing up, I’d always heard that the Japanese Zero was a much better combat plane than anything we had. So it surprises me to hear about how many we shot down. But maybe it’s because of what you mentioned in this article–ineffective training for the pilots.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. I need to come back and watch the video – started it – but I am on my way out – but wanted to say -that the “overconfidence” part was my fav takeaway of today’s post:

    “Like the other Axis powers, Japan wasn’t prepared for a long war. But just as Germany became overconfident because of the Spanish Civil War, so Japan felt the same because of victories against Russia and China.”

    Liked by 3 people

  29. Fascinating analysis! It seems obvious now, though it shows how ideologues can obstruct an objective look at the bigger picture and contribute to the loss of a war.

    Liked by 3 people

  30. Thank you. It is all interrelated.

    Like

  31. Thank you for choosing this.

    Like

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