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Posted: 1/27/2002 4:47:04 PM EDT
The Battle of the Bulge and Pearl Harbor discussions prompted me to post some stuff on other military disasters, not limited to the US military. Most of the following on the Battle of Savo Island is from "Guadalcanal" by Richard B. Frank. The US Marines had just invaded Guadalcanal, a Japanese held island with a partially complete airstrip, on 7 August 1942. The USN was joined by a few Austrailian navy ships for a total of 6 heavy cruisers 2 light cruisers 8 destroyers These were split into a northern group, a southern group, an eastern group, and 2 destroyers on patrol to the west. All were in the vicinity between Guadalcanal and Tulagi (also invaded on 7 August) Additional destroyers were in the immediate area of the transports unloading the USMC units and supplies. In a daring move, a Jap navy force under one Vice Admiral Mikawa steamed into the area with 5 heavy cruisers 2 light cruisers 1 destroyer In terms of firepower, the USN and allies had USN: heavy cruiser 52 x 8" guns Jap 34 x 8" guns USN: light cruiser 8 x 6" guns Jap 10 x 5.5" USN: all ships 80 x 5" guns 20 x 4" guns Jap 24 x 4.7" USN: torpedo tubes 144 x 21" Jap 70 x all sizes One of the picket destroyers sent a radio warning at 2345 "WARNING! WARNING! PLANE OVER SAVO HEADED EAST" when a Jap float plane flew over the area. Despite this, a series of errors and misunderstandings followed that ensured that almost none of the US and allied warships got the word. Most kept sailing in their preplanned squares which was one step above anchored and motionless.
Link Posted: 1/27/2002 4:56:00 PM EDT
To make a long battle description short, the Jap task force sank 5 ships and damaged 2 more and got away with extremely light casualties despite the advantage on paper of the US/allied forces. Jap losses were 129 killed and 85 wounded. 86 of these casualties were from one of the Jap cruisers being torpedoed by a US submarine a day after the battle. US/Allied losses were 1077 killed and 700 wounded. About the only good news of the battle was that the Jap task force didn't press their advantage to attack/sink the transports offloading Marines and their supplies. Of course, the next morning the transports up-anchored and vamoosed pronto while the Marines on shore watched most of their supplies and heavy equipment sail away. (they got used to eating a lot of captured Japanese food for a while)
Link Posted: 1/27/2002 5:22:02 PM EDT
The Battle of Savo Island prompted a special investigation similar to Pearl Harbor's aftermath. The USN Admiral over the inquiry board stated in his report: "The primary cause of this defeat must be ascribed generally to the complete surprise achieved by the enemy." Reasons for this: -An inadequate state of readiness on all ships to meet a sudden night attack. -The failure to recognize the implications of the presence of enemy planes in the vicinity prior to the attack -Misplaced confidence in the capability of the radar pickets -Communications failures which resulted in the lack of the timely receipt of vital enemy contact information -A lapse in both communications and doctrine to timely warn that practically no effective reconnaissance had been flown covering the enemy approach during the day of August 8. Adm Nimitz added his thoughts to the list of causes: -communications weaknesses -failures of the various air search plans -failure of the search planes that saw Mikawa to track him (his task force was spotted by 2 separate patrol planes and a US submarine on their way to Guadalcanal!) -erroneous estimate of the enemy's intentions -overdependence on radar -failure to repond to the presence of enemy planes -lack of flag officers in the cruiser force engaged -"probability that our Force was not psychologically prepared for battle" Admiral Turner's thoughts on the battle: "The Navy was still obsessed with a strong feeling of technical and mental superiority over the enemy. In spite of ample evidence as to enemy capabilities, most of our officers and men despised the enemy and felt themselves sure victors in all encounters under any circumstances. "The net result of all this was a fatal lethargy of mind which induced a confidence without readiness, and a routine acceptance of outworn peacetime standards of conduct. I believe that this psychological factor as a cause of this defeat, was even more important than the element of surprise." Edmund comment: depressing to see that 9 months after Pearl Harbor some lessons still weren't learned!
Link Posted: 1/27/2002 5:30:31 PM EDT
I was privileged to receive the following as forwarded email some time ago. Lest we think that military disasters are only a US phenomena, I present the following: ******************** Submitted by John Farnam 18 July 01 Britain's own "Pearl Harbor," Singapore and the Malay Peninsula, 1941-1942 Churchill characterized it as, "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history." It is no wonder that virtually every anti-colonial revolt in the postwar era drew its inspiration from the victory of a numerically inferior Japanese force over the vaunted British Army and Navy at Singapore. In November of 1941, with the monsoon rainy season in full force, no one in Singapore believed the Japanese would or could launch an attack. Singapore, sitting on the southern shore of a tiny island at the very southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, boasted fifteen-inch shore batteries, capable of sinking any kind of ship. They would surely repel an attempted amphibious landing, and the only other conceivable avenue of attack, down the Malay Peninsula, would have to wait until spring. One can imagine everyone's astonishment when a large Japanese invasion force, under General Tomoyuki Yamashita, oblivious of the rain, landed at Kota Bharu on the Malay Peninsula on 8 December 1941, the very next day after the Japanese air attack at Pearl Harbor! In his Singapore headquarters, Air Chief Marshall Sir Robert Brook-Popham immediately called a Council of War. The two major players, other than Brook-Popham himself, were Sir Arthur Percival, the ground commander, and Admiral Thomas Phillips, commander of "Force Z," consisting of two capital ships and four destroyers, which had been sent to Singapore as a deterrent. The British battleship Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser Repulse constituted the centerpiece. Before their meeting was even concluded, Japanese aircraft appeared over the city and started bombing. All of Singapore was stunned and panicked. An indecisive Phillips, aboard the Prince of Wales, immediately set sail northward for Kota Bharu with his two capital ships, while he left his destroyers in Singapore harbor. Halfway there, he decided to turn back and return to Singapore. No sooner had he turned around, than he decided to turn around again, this time heading for Kuantan, where he had learned of another Japanese landing. He arrived but found nothing, so he ordered his two ships further away from shore while he contemplated the situation. Phillips' ships were being shadowed by Japanese reconnaissance aircraft the entire time he was at sea, but he never radioed for air cover, which was available at Singapore in the form of a squadron of (obsolete, but still functional) "Buffalo" fighters. (continued)
Link Posted: 1/27/2002 5:34:16 PM EDT
On the morning of 10 December 1941, over eighty Japanese bombers suddenly appeared in the sky above the two British ships and attacked in open water. A fierce battle ensued. Torpedo bombers arrived a short time later. Phillips still did not ask for air support! He apparently thought he could hold them off with indigenous AAA. Only after both ships were grievously damaged were fighter aircraft finally dispatched. By the time British aircraft arrived, both ships had been sunk, and the Japanese planes were long gone. Destroyers, arriving shortly thereafter, picked up survivors in the water. Phillips himself was not among the survivors, and his body was never found. The entire British admiralty had disdainfully chided the Americans about their unpreparedness at Pearl Harbor. They spoke too soon! Here, only three days later, this time with a British admiral in charge, the British, too, were outsmarted by the Japanese. No one expected Japanese to fly well, sail well, fight well, or plan well. British competence and Japanese incompetence had both been substantially overestimated! Percival was now worried! In a single battle, Force Z had been largely destroyed, and it was now obvious that the Japanese would not attempt an amphibious landing at Singapore. They would, instead, attack down the Malay Peninsula and hit the city from the north. His worry intensified when he learned that the vaunted, fifteen-inch Singapore shore guns could not be turned around and fired to the north. They were useless! The Malay Peninsula was the main source of rubber and tin (critical military commodities) for both the British and the Americans. Churchill therefore instructed that Singapore and the entire Peninsula be held (although he knew full well that they couldn't be). Percival had at his disposal nearly 100,000 soldiers. He was confident that he could hold off the Japanese, trading space for time, until a rescue fleet arrived from Britain. Like MacArthur in the Philippines, Percival was foolish enough to believe his superiors when they "assured" him he would not be abandoned. Like so many field commanders, both Percival and MacArthur had been lied to. No rescue fleet would be sent to either location, by the British or the Americans, nor had either Roosevelt or Churchill ever intended to send one, despite their flowery speeches to the contrary. General Yamashita's troops, after fighting in China for ten years and never suffering a significant defeat, were confident. They pushed south with a vengeance, quickly bypassing pockets of resistance and leapfrogging obstacles, via well planned, multiple amphibious landings. Japanese tanks, against which the British had fielded no effective weapons, smashed through strong points unhindered. Japanese aircraft and extremely accurate AAA prevented British aircraft from effectively attacking Japanese ships or ground formations. (continued)
Link Posted: 1/27/2002 5:36:46 PM EDT
British defenders were so overwhelmed that they neglected to destroy critical supplies and facilities before abandoning them. Japanese troops captured storehouses, fuel, and equipment in tact. Worse yet, hastily abandoned airfields were not cratered by exiting British troops, so Japanese planes were able to use them immediately. Bridges were not blown in time, so Japanese soldiers followed right on the heels of retreating British units, capturing many and scattering the rest. In fact, the entire British "defense" was so poorly coordinated that it hastily deteriorated into a full-scale rout. There were some bright spots, and several British and Australian units held out courageously, but dithering and panicked Percival could not get any kind of organized defense synthesized, and the Japanese pushed forward relentlessly, oblivious of losses (which were substantial). Percival had waited too long before organizing, equipping, and training his forces. He and his forces were woefully unprepared, and it showed! By the end of January, the entire Malay Peninsula had been captured by Japanese forces, leaving only Singapore Island still in British hands. Percival's retreating forces were badly shot up but still fully capable of putting up a credible fight. Without hesitation, the Japanese invaded the island and pressed their attack on the City of Singapore itself. Unknown to Percival (due to inadequate intelligence), by now Yamashita's forces had long since run out of food, were nearly out of ammunition and fuel, and were badly attrited. In fact, Yamashita's entire offensive had sputtered and stalled! British lines were finally holding firm, and there were even several successful counterattacks. Yamashita had already concluded that he would have to withdraw from the island, regroup, and wait for resupply before continuing. He was therefore understandably (albeit pleasantly) shocked when Percival, on the 15th of February, sheepishly pleaded for a truce. Without even waiting for a reply, Percival ordered a cease fire! Later that day, he met with Yamashita and unilaterally surrendered all his troops and the entire civilian population. (continued)
Link Posted: 1/27/2002 5:37:18 PM EDT
Percival had literally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory! His forces had turned the tide of battle (despite his inept leadership), but Percival himself was already defeated in his mind, and no amount of good news could persuade him to think any other way. Years later, Percival would excuse his dismal performance by insisting that the Japanese vastly outnumbered him and, in addition, were expert jungle fighters. Both contentions are nonsense. Japanese soldiers were no more familiar with the Malay jungle than were the British, and Japanese forces were actually outnumbered by British forces! What led to Percival's ignominious defeat was indecision, poor planning, poor coordination, and arrogant thinking which continuously discounted Japanese capabilities, in spite of obvious and ample evidence to the contrary! Another notable Japanese capability was brutality! In the wake of the surrender, wounded prisoners (and many others, including women and children) were summarily executed, most by bayoneting and beheading. This pattern would be shortly repeated with MacArthur's captured forces in the Philippines. Women were brutally raped and then murdered. Universal slave labor and forced prostitution were the realities of Japanese occupation, as the Chinese had discovered earlier and as Filipinos would discover shortly. Slaughter and butchery were everywhere! Prisoners, along with dependents, were herded into makeshift prison camps without food, medicine, or sanitation. They died by the thousands. Native Malayans who had resented British "oppressors," were soon begging for the British to return! The twin disasters at Pearl Harbor and Singapore assured that it would be a long war. Eventually, Japanese soldiers and civilians would pay dearly for their brutality, but it would take several years. Lessons: "High morale," is largely meaningless when it has no legitimate foundation and is, in fact, based on fraud and wishful thinking. Under such circumstances, "high morale" is little more than mass self deception. It will predictably fall apart when the first shots are fired! Any time politicians "assure" you of something, assume they are lying. Weapons and other critical equipment must be continuously in the hands of the people who need it, so they can train with it and have it handy when it is required. Percival has ample quantities of antitank mines and antitank guns, but, when they were critically needed, they were still in warehouses, gathering dust. No one had ever used them or trained with them. No matter how bad things look, it may be even worse for your opponent! Never give up, lest you lose your only opportunity to be victorious. In warfare, death is usually better than captivity. /John Farnam (posted by Edmund Rowe)
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