Discussion in 'What If - Pacific and CBI' started by Ted, Oct 21, 2006.
If japan destroyed the Panama canal.
[ 22. October 2006, 06:36 PM: Message edited by: Ted ]
Probably the same as if the US captured the Tsugaru-Kaykio strait, but in reverse.
Could you enlighten us how would the Japanese capture the Panama canal?
I don't know how they'd pull off capturing it. But I recently watched on the Military channel. And further read up on the subject of a planned attack/destruction of the P. canal. The japanese had made the single largest submarine to date in WWII. I forget the name. It had if I remember 2 or 4 large cylinders that carried planes that folded out and could be launched via slingshot. (similar to modern aircraft carriers) (They interviewed a veteran of the japanese navy who explained much of the following.) The sub's planned operation was to go down either past New Guinea or around Austraila. Through the Indian ocean, around cape Horn. Across the Atlantic and into the Carribean Sea. Seeing as any attack on the Panama canal would be expected to come from the Pacific. It made it to Austarila by summer of 1945. But it was at sea somewhere in the Indian ocean when it recieved word of the Japanese surrender. So it never completed it's mission. It was supposed to come up off the coast of Panama. Launch its planes and destroy the locks in a kamikaze type attack. This would slow down American resupply long enough for the Japanese to do whatever the pleased (for the most part), launch offensives, or just slow down the American advance long enough to bulster more defensives. This was a pretty bold plan I think, but it was succeeding until Japan surrendered and might've succeeded. Though it is unlikely, but not impossible.
I'll try and find some info on that operation on the internet and post it for you.
I saw the same show. It was the IJNS I-400. Sounded like a ridiculous prinprick, as really the Panama Canal locks are huge, and by no means undefended.
See here for some history (or story-telling) and here for some phantasy. "Their most daring feat was the effective, but temporary disabling of the Panama Canal by 21 sub-launched bombers and the sinking of the Chilean CV Almirante Cochrane."
Dont believe that it would have played a major role, more off an inconvenience. Overall it would have just delayed the ultimate outcome. Japan was in no shape to actually be victorious over the U.S. once the U.S. was in full production.
Thats what I think. It definetly would not have lost us the war. But it would be a major setback. Until whatever was damaged was repaired we would've had to send it around the tip of S. America. That would have definetly caused some delay in our advance across the Pacific. Possibly allowing the Japanese to bulster their defensives. The Pacific war was a war of attrition. If our supply line was altered and the flow of supplies was slowed down, then naturally our advance would be too. I just saw the program about that massive sub and what its mission was. So I thought I'd post this question.
I would say its a legitimate " what if ". The problem with the pacific war is that Japan had absolutely no chance of winning the war. No matter what " what if " is mentioned.
Unless they developed radar rather thoroughly in the 30's & copied German infantry tactics instead of Banzai, & decided to be happy with Manchuria as opposed to taking "all" of China like meglomaniacs, built many more submarines & used attack tactics instead of supply missions, & um did I miss anything? I know, gave more authority to junior officers so as to be more flexible on the battlefield.
Of course all that ain't gonna happen, but for them to win, something like that would be a good start.
I don't think that japan had absolutely no chance of winning the war. At least until they attacked us. But even then they still had some chance. After Guadalcanal however, it was over for Japan. China became a stalemate for the most part; sucking japans resources dry. About half of japans resources/forces were being sent there. The japs never wanted to take the U.S.A. (from their records), but they did want everything we owned in the Pacific. The odds were actually in Japans favor until about late 1942/early 1943. They took manchuria, korea, hong kong, indochina, singapore, malaya, the solomons, central pacific, etc. and were on their way to Austraila and New Guinea. If they had not attacked us they probably would have came out on top. As Yamamoto said. But they also had to attack us to get what they wanted, from their point of view.
And Japans tactics actually had more thought involved than most think. The banzi charge's main goal was to envoke fear. When you see a 1000 japs coming down the hill towards you, bayonets at the ready, screaming bloody murder, you pretty much soil yourself. (they were mainly done at night too, so more often than not you wouldn't see them, you'd just hear them yelling "BANZI!") However, for all the fear it envoked, it was not worth the amount of troops it cost. As a whole the japanese military gave up the banzi tactics. After 1943 they didn't have enough men to do it with and couldn't launch anymore effective offensives. So they adopted a new more effective tactic. They made in depth cave pillboxes and defensives. Look at Iwo Jima, look at Tarawa, look at Okinawa, Peleliu, the list goes on. This elaborate defense strategy, while very effective at killing the opposition, slowing us down, or just plain giving us a bad day, could by no means win the war. When the japanese lost air and sea superiority, they adopted this strategy. This strategy was the strategy of an opponent who knew he was down but not out. The hopes of this elaborate defensive strategy was not to push the Americans back, but to cause such massive losses and make us pay for every inch of ground in blood. To make it so hard for us to win and to slow our speedy advance to a grueling, agonizing crawl. This would cause us to lose moral and discourage us from fighting any longer in hopes that we might sue for peace. But we didn't, we kept it up.
The japanese may not, compared to their ally germany, had the most technology advanced military in the world. Nor the best weapons. But they were by no means primitive. Their soldiers were, for the most part very well trained and excellent marksman. They were genius when it came to building defensive positions. And they had determination that was almost unrivaled. They were tenacious fighters and were not afriad to die. They had very good planes, ships, subs. And although inferior to ours, their tanks still inflicted quite a few casualties to our tanks and men.
A few points here:
First, the Panama canal is far enough from any Japanese base that simply reaching it is difficult. The planned I-400 class submarine attack would have put 9 or so float plane bombers carrying a small bombload to attempt to knock out one set of locks (the Pacific side I would suspect). Against this, the Japanese have to be concerned with the US having radar and fighter defenses (admittedly primarily P-39s but even these are more than sufficent for what the Japanese planned).
A seaborne amphibious operation faces some very stiff coastal defenses and for most of the war a full infantry division was in the canal zone.
On various other things:
The "Banzai charge" was more a tactic of desperation, and one earlier in the war borne of experiance against the Chinese, than a useful form of doctrine. Against the US I would be hard pressed to find an example of one that actually succeeded. In most cases the amount of firepower the US could bring to bear was so enormous that this was simply suicidial to even attempt.
The massive defenses the Japanese put up on many central Pacific islands were far more a reaction to early US operations than something they planned from the start. Prior to the US Mankin Atoll raid most Japanese held islands were lightly defended. The Japanese reacted only when it became apparent that the US might actually try and take those islands. Still worse, the Japanese apparently could not conceive of the possibility that Japanese soil, like Saipan, might actually be assaulted. Thus, Saipan and other Japanese islands were comparatively lightly defended and the IJA had to make a hasty and ill-prepared defense effort at the last minute in these cases.
As for offensives, the Japanese showed more luck than skill in their early operations. At Wake their first assault failed disasterously. In Malaysia the two division assault almost failed on the beaches saved only by sheer determination in the face of very modest defenses. In the Philippines the same was true to a slightly lesser degree.
Across the board, the Japanese offensive operations were very limited in size and relied far more on rapidity of action and dislocation of the enemy than through direct combat. When faced with a well emplaced determined foe the Japanese army generally folded quickly on the offensive.
Note, that on Saipan one of the largest tank supported "banzai charges" took place in late 1944. It made very slight inroads into the Marine positions before being slaughtered as regularly happened.
On radar, the Japanese did have radar developed by 1940, including some prototype systems on centimetric wavelenghts using cavity magnetrons ahead of the British. The problem was their entire radar research industry employed less than 1000 personnel evenly divided between the Army and Navy in two totally seperate programs. So, what they did have got produced in small numbers. Note, that one of the first sets captured was a 2 go 2 gata set on Guadalcanal.
While yes the banzi charge was often a last resort attack. When they knew it was over, i.e., Attu, Tinian.(Although the Attu charge was very successful for a while and the japanese penetrated deep into our lines. And the various charges on tinian were somewhat successful to a degree) And I agree that either purposely done or carefully planned, the charge was rather stupid to do in the face of overwhelming American firepower (very obvious in Guadalcanal ). I also have read that, as I said before, for the military high command, the backbone of the idea for the banzi was largely to envoke fear and uncertainty. Same with the japanese night raids behind enemy lines.
At the beginning of the war Japanese may not have thought that we'd ever make it to their soil. But intelligent japanese commanders weren't going to take any chances. And as the war moved farther along and we moved closer and closer to japan, I'm sure all japanese high command personnel knew that they would soon have to defens their own soil. Look at Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Peleliu, etc. These islands were being prepared for a possible invasion from the beginning of the war. Before we took Iwo the japanese had had 3 years to prepare. They had the largest, most complex system of tunnels and underground facilities known to man. Thousands of covered pillboxes, machine gun nests, bunkers, etc. Same with peleliu, although they had less time to prepare ans the natural terrain ahd many caves to serve as "natural" safe havens.
As far as the central pacific island defenses go. The marshalls, gilberts, etc. They were small atolls. The largest islands being the size of an international airport (with a few exceptions) and the smallest being just a sand bar with grass. Even with ample time to prepare (15+ years) atolls like eniwetok, kawajelin, makin, etc. The islands were so small that they didn't allow for in-depth defenses. So the only option was a beach line defense. These lines, while tough in all respects, were easy to over come once broken through. Also on small islands like those previously mentioned, you couldn't dig defenses into the ground cause you'd hit water a couple feet down. So you had to build above ground structures which were extremely vunerable to bombardments from the air and sea. (which was all too obvious on kawajelin and eniwetok )
However certain islands islands like betio were almost impregnable. Though this island was no bigger than its sister islands, and the japanese only had about a 1 1/2 years to prepare. It was turned into a fortress. The beach line defenses were well camoflaged and basically all but immune to artillery and bombs. Not to mention that the japanese had made in-depth defenses even with the limited space they had. With saipan, the japanese actually were very well intrenched. they had many natural caves to fire from and took considerable time to bulster their defenses.
So while overconfidence was certainly a contributing factor to the relatively poor defenses on the japanese held central pacific atolls, it wasn't the only/main factor.
P.S. this is a "what if" message board right? I realize that my "what if" question is a little farfetched. And I know the whole plan of the japanese to attack the P. canal was pretty bold (or stupid). But the P. canal was an very strategically significant structure and if it was destroyed it could have had a major effect on the war. Which is why I posted this question. So try to imagine "IF" it was destroyed what would happen, instead of telling me all the reasons why it couldn't be.
Assuming the Canal WAS put out of service for a significant time I suppose the cargo traffic passing through the Canal would have to be diverted to land, that is, demanding an expansion on the East-West raillines. Very much within the capacity of the United States. The USNavy would have to accept longer voyages over the Cape Horn for the duration.
Quite frankly I don't see much of a physical impact besides a propaganda victory.
Ok. If the Panama canal were put out of operation we first have to define the degree to which this occurs. It is also important to determine when it occurs.
If we go with Ted's original postulate using the I400 series and about a dozen aircraft carrying an equal number of bombs attacking sometime in late 1944 (the I 400's were not finished until then at the earliest) then the damage would have to be confined to the locks, and likely only the locks on the Pacific side.
I would suspect that the primary effect would be on merchant shipping with negliable effects on the US Navy. By that point movement of naval vessels between the theaters was reduced compared to very early in the war.
I would also say that unless the damage involved specific equipment that was hard to replace that between the canal workers themselves and the various Naval CB and Army engineering units available that the locks would be repaired within days at the most.
The lock doors are simply steel and could have been welded and repaired relatively easily. Pumps and power supplies could be temporarily replaced with portable equipment until permanent repairs were made.
Even then traffic might be slowed down for a few weeks at most.
The other alternative is the US diverts shipping to Texas that is enroute from the Atlantic and to California from the Pacific. These ships could then have their cargos unloaded at ports there, moved by rail to the other terminus, and then reloaded on a vessel in the other ocean.
Certainly an inconvienence but also not something that would have had any major impact on events.
Also note: There are two sets of locks on both sides of the canal. To shut down the canal totally both sets would have to be damaged in parallel. Damaging one side of a set only slows traffic. Damaging both unevenly and the repairs could be made quickly simply by substitution of parts to make one set operational again.
Given the small size of the Japanese raid and that they would get only one shot at this it is likely that even if some degree of success were made it would not have shutdown the canal for very long.
Thanks for the imput. Thats what I thought too. It certainly wouldn't have a major impact on the war. Just sort of slow progress down a little bit, for a while. Until we repaired the damage. We'd have to either transport by land over to the west coast and/or go around through the M. straits.
It is interesting to hear everyones theory about what would happen. I saw the program about the japanese I-400 subs and their mission and thought it would be an interesting "what if" question.