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Pearl Harbor vs. open seas

Discussion in 'What If - Pacific and CBI' started by sPzAbt 503, Jan 29, 2010.

  1. sPzAbt 503

    sPzAbt 503 Member

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    If this has already been brought up, I apologize in advance… I am way too lazy to read through all possible threads…
    Anyway, I was watching bits and pieces of an excellent History Channel documentary on the history of the Japanese Navy, from ancient times to the present. Of course, they touched on the attack on Pearl Harbor. It got me thinking… Of course, we know that the surprise attack (I will use the term “sneak attack” here for a specific reason) galvanized the American people, forcing America’s entry into the war, and resulted in a horrifically savage war – comparable in its’ barbarity possibly only to the Eastern front. America basically burned Japanese cities to the ground, killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Japanese civilians, and the island-hopping campaign saw little mercy on either side. Unconditional Surrender was non-negotiable, and a fair portion of the American military and civilian population wanted nothing less than the extermination of the Japanese people.
    The basic Japanese strategy was never to “beat” the United States, but merely to win a “negotiated peace” that ensured them maximum gains in the Pacific. My question is this:
    Suppose that instead of a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had instead declared war in the traditional sense, and met the US Fleet in the open seas and defeated them? This supposes that the Japanese elected to fight such a battle as primarily a carrier force, while the US was primarily a battleship force. Let’s pretend the results are the same. A well-trained, relatively new weapon (carrier planes) defeats a traditional battleship fleet, but does so in a more “honorable” way, on the open seas – in essence a “fair” (my term) fight. No sneak attack, no “Day Which Will Live in Infamy”. Is the US more likely to be less angered as a nation, and more open to a negotiated settlement? As brilliant as Pearl Harbor was tactically, would it have been better strategically to have gone the more conventional battle route? Would America have pursued the Japanese with such vengeance and abandon had it not been a “sneak attack”
    I am looking forward to the responses, particularly from people from other countries! WWII tends to be viewed through an American prism here in the States, and that often distorts the picture. Sorry for the long-winded dissertation!
     
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  2. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    The Japanese wouldn't have had nearly the success against a fully aware and maneuvering US fleet.
     
  3. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    This is an Alternative History Thread and will be moved to that forum.

    Please create all What Ifs in the Alternative Hx forum, as they have to be approved for discussion first.
     
  4. John Dudek

    John Dudek Member

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    Exactly. The Pacific Fleet's battleships would have been at General Quarters, with all anti-aircraft guns fully manned, armed and with their ammunition train to the ship's magazines fully functional. The ship's would be at Condition Zed, with full watertight integrity set and manuevering at maximum speed, with destroyer and cruiser escorts close at hand. Even old battleships moving and zig-zagging at 21 knots would be difficult to hit by Japanese torpedo planes, especially when having to dodge the anti-aircraft fire the battleships, cruisers and destroyers would be throwing at them. Lastly, the radar on the USS West Virginia would see the Japanese coming from a long way off, making any surprise attack impossible.
     
  5. Glenn239

    Glenn239 Member

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    The best defense that being at sea offered was the prospect of avoiding an attack altogether. Were this to materialize in the form of two waves the size of the Pearl Harbor attack force, then Kimmel's battlewagons would be heavily handled.
     
  6. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    There would have been 3-5 gun barrels for every plane in the total attack. All manned, ready and open for business. Include the CAP and the attackers would have a tough time.
     
  7. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    The Japanese wound have had a lot more attacking planes, AFAIK no plane from Shokaku or Zuikaku attacked the ships as the "less well trained" crews from those ships were directed at the airfields as were also a few shotai from the other carriers. I see no reason the USN would have fared much better than PoW and Repulse. Naval combat is never a sure thing but the odds are badly against the USN, 1941 US AA fire was a far different proposition than 1943 and later.
     
  8. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    Tom Thumb's forces didn't have air cover. And there were only two of them. How many destroyers would the US fleet have at that battle? And at least three carriers, maybe five. I don't see one side having a crushing advantage over the other, or even a significant edge.
     
  9. brndirt1

    brndirt1 Saddle Tramp

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    I dunno about that part concerning the PoW and Repulse. They had NO air cover since the carrier had been taken out of the task force after running aground and staying behind for repairs. The Brits didn't have any land-based air to send either AFAIK to cover them.

    The USN however would be travelling in its then untried "task force" set-up with carriers, and if this had been the "plan" the Saratoga would be either NOT sent to the West Coast for upgrading, or the Fleet wouldn't have launched without her.

    I don't think it would have been a "cake-walk" for the USN by any stretch, but perhaps we would have fared better than the RN did without any air cover.
     
  10. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    If you assume a 20 knots combined carrier slow battleships fleet I really don't know if you will get the best or the worse of both weapon systems. It must be assumed that if carriers are present they will be the priority target of any air strike, so we will have no JNAF vs battlewagons at sea scenario at first, if the US looses the carrier engagement the battlewagons will risk the fate of Musashi. But the result of 6 vs 5 CV mixup is likely to be a Coral Sea style pirric victory for the Japanese or a Midway like defeat.

    AFAIK PoW and Repulse did have some land based fighter support but it arrived too late.
     
  11. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    The battle would not likely be lines of battleships interspersed with carriers. The CVs would be on the far side of the battleline.

    I am afraid I'm not psychic enough to see how any battle would come out, I've only ever learned how they come out.
     
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  12. brndirt1

    brndirt1 Saddle Tramp

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    Do you have access to the standard "task force" deployment tactics of the USN for the pre-Pearl time frame. I would assume it altered to focus on the carrier later, but wasn't it set up with the carriers protecting the BBs originally?

    Instead of the other-way 'round? If that is the case the Cruisers, Destroyers, Submarines and Carriers would be devoted BB protectors would they not?

    Just curious if you know the "battle plan" for fleet action pre-Pearl.
     
  13. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    If the US fleet was at sea it is unlikely all of it would have been present for some WW 2 version of Jutland. Even if the Japanese met some porton of it given the US AA capacity of the time the Kido Butai would still end up within a few months toothless due to losses.
    We can see this from the historical record.

    In a surface action the US is also likely to do better with battleships where the Long Lance is less of a threat due to range. The US proved far better at long range gunnery duels than the Japanese. This is in part technological and in part due to the USN's "gun club" having a greater degree of presitge than the Japanese gave their ships.

    Overall, I think it is unlikely that the US would have engaged their battleline in any case. Admiral Pye had a considerable fleet of old battleships available as early as Midway (nine as I recall, forming a defense line between Midway and Hawaii for that battle). That many battleships could have been thrown into the Midway operation for the US but, what would that have accomplished?
     
  14. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    I also somehow mislaid my crystal ball, all we can do is look at similar happenings, that's why I quoted force Z and Musashi as examples of fully alerted battleship task forces succesfully attacked. But naval history is full of very similar setups turning out very differently, why did Java sea turn into a disaster and Kommandorsky no? in both instances an allied cruiser/destroyer force engaged in a protracted long range duel with an on paper superior Japanese similar force. Al we can say is that if something similar did happen it could happen again.

    I think this a badly formed what-if, we are missing the reason for the US battlefleet putting to sea. I think the original poster's intention was more exploring what would be the the US pubblic support and "war climate" to a no "day of infamy" scenario but as he fails to provide us with an alernate casus belli it's difficult to elaborate on.

    I would very much like to continue to elaborate on the possible formation for a sortie, assuming an undamaged Pacific Fleet had a reason to sail how would it go about it? What was the current doctrine? no force Z yet so the "aircraft can't sink battleships" school is still likely to be strong. But it would be a different thread.
     
  15. Glenn239

    Glenn239 Member

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    Manned and firing as they were within minutes of opening of the historical air raid, where 3” and 5” gun fired an average of about 45-50 rounds. Anti-aircraft at this stage of the war wasn’t going to accomplish much - USN A/A was poor until the introduction in mass of the 20mm cannon in mid-1942.
    USAF CAP at this point have no idea how to tackle Zeros. Given the mass of attacking fighters, they will accept dogfights, be swarmed, and negated without accomplishing much.

    The Brit pair were evading at about 28kt. The USN line at 20kt or so. The volume of sea area the faster ships could occupy after the torpedo had run to the target might have been almost twice as great as with the slower tubs (3.1415*r^2).
    Assuming that 5th CAR DIV has hit the airfields and 1st and 2nd CAR DIV the battle line at sea, then there are 90 torpedo bombers. Hit rates on Force Z on Wiki - 11 for 49 (22%). 1st and 2nd CAR DIV were the best trained formations in the Japanese fleet. Translate that to 30% for the slower ships and we’re looking at around 27 torpedo hits on 90 drops. 81 dive bombers should be good for about 24 direct hits. (Nevada would have been sunk by 5 direct hits, if not for beaching).
    OTOH, the entire Pacific Fleet firing every gun it had at the second wave shot down only about 9 planes.
    The numbers say that this attack would be a slaughter.

    It’s 7 USN BB’s (Pennsylvania is in drydock) at sea, with 2 USN CV groups also in the area.

    Arguably, Musashi alone had more anti-aircraft firepower when sunk than Kimmel’s entire battle line had on December 7th 1941. USN battleships had a handful of 50-cal MG’s and heavier A-A batteries that couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn door at that time.
     
  16. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    "Manned and firing as they were within minutes of opening of the historical air raid, where 3” and 5” gun fired an average of about 45-50 rounds. Anti-aircraft at this stage of the war wasn’t going to accomplish much - USN A/A was poor until the introduction in mass of the 20mm cannon in mid-1942."

    Most of the IJN plane losses were in the second wave at Pearl, after the guns were manned and ready. With coordinated and controlled AAA the results would probably have been better. It's not a good idea to discount the USN gunners out of hand.

    "It’s 7 USN BB’s (Pennsylvania is in drydock) at sea, with 2 USN CV groups also in the area. "

    Yes, at that time and that place. Saratoga had just come out of overhaul at Seattle. But if the USN was going to engage the Japanese at sea they would have probably mustered all possible strength. There were also 27, IIRC, US subs in the Pacific. Even dud torpedoes would have gotten the enemy's attention and caused them to react to the threat. And the confusion when they realized the torps were hitting and not going off (with the resulting wondering as to what the heck was going on with that) would have been an issue the IJN would have had to deal with.
     
  17. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    I'm not at all sure that argument is supportable. Indeed the Japanese themselves commented on the heavy flak during the second wave at PH and it saw a lot of planes damaged as well as a number falling to AAA.
    There purpose isn't to handle the Zeroes and historically they ended up makeing at least one pass at the bombers in most cases I'm familiar with. That's enough to dirupt the attack to some extent as well as cause some casualties.
    They also had no CAP and very light AAA as did their rather meager escorts. That wouldn't be the case with the USN.

    Now subtract quite a bit for facing AAA and CAP indeed to get to the BBs they've got to penetrate the US formation which is desinged to provide overlapping AA fire. This is particularly hard on torpedo bombers.
    From dive bombers?
    It wasn't firing at any torpedo bombers nor was it maneuvering. You are also ignoring the number of damaged planes and the effects of the raid being disrupted.
    I'd like to see that argument but of course it's not just the battle line that the Japanese would be facing.
     
  18. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    I think it would be a serious mistake to try to correlate the performance of a fleet at anchor in peacetime with a battle formation out for bear. Not a very good idea.
     
  19. brndirt1

    brndirt1 Saddle Tramp

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    I think our radar on the ships might have made a much larger difference in the proposed "confrontation". But I am still at a loss as to when and why this deep sea battle would take place.

    The "XAF", an experimental radar that resulted from several years' technical progress by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), was constructed in 1938, following a late February decision to install a radar set on a major warship. Operating at 200 megacycles (1.5 meter wavelength) at a power of 15 kilowatts, the XAF featured a "bedspring"-like antenna about 17 feet square. This was mounted in a rotating yoke that allowed it to scan around the horizon, and to elevate for what was hoped would be improved aircraft detection. This large antenna and yoke had to be strong enough for sea service, while remaining as light as possible to avoid excessive topside weight.

    Accordingly, the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation (then also building the Navy's first monoplane shipboard fighter, the F2A "Buffalo"), was given the job of fabricating a suitable duralumin structure. The XAF's transmitter, receiver and other equipment were made by NRL.

    When development and construction were complete, the XAF was installed on the battleship New York. This work, with the antenna mounted atop the pilothouse (where it displaced a large rangefinder -- moved to the top of the ship's Number Two 14-inch gun turret) was completed in December 1938. During nearly three months of constant operation, averaging almost twenty hours daily as New York participated in winter maneuvers and battle practice in the Caribbean, the XAF's performance and reliability exceeded expectations. It detected aircraft up to 100 nautical miles (nm) away and ships out to 15 nm. The radar was also employed for navigation and in gunnery practice, spotting the fall of shot and even tracking projectiles in flight.

    At the conclusion of these tests, New York's Commanding Officer recommended installation of radar in all aircraft carriers (whose vulnerability to surprise air attack was very well-understood), while the Commander of the Atlantic Squadron commented "The XAF equipment is one of the most important military developments since the advent of radio ...". Later in 1939, the XAF was reengineered and placed in production by the Radio Corporation of America. Designated CXAM, six of these production models were delivered in 1940 and installed on an aircraft carrier, a battleship and four cruisers. An improved version, CXAM-1, with a simplified antenna, was produced in greater numbers. By the time the United States entered World War II in December 1941, the use of radar in the U.S. Navy was rapidly expanding.


    See:

    Weapons & Sensors -- Radar -- U.S. Navy XAF Radar

    The Japanese pre-Pearl had no such early warning ability.
     
  20. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    This isn't true. The US 5"/38 combined with the Mk 28, 33 or 34 director system was the best heavy AA gun system in any navy in the world at that time. The 5"/38 was the early war killer for the US in AA fire. Mid war it was the 40mm. With VT fusing the 5" regained that position. The 20mm proved as numerous studies showed, the least effective weapon at shooting down aircraft. It was the most effective early and mid war at keeping enemy aircraft at bay and in driving off less than determined attacks.

    The US has another advantage to. If their fleet was expecting air attack they would be steaming in an antiaircraft formation using a circular sector formation with the escorts in the outer ring. Given that US destroyers and cruisers also have very effective AA batteries compared to the RN or IJN of the same period they too would have made air attacks more difficult.
    In the case of PoW and Repulse, their escorts had essentially zero AA capacity and added nothing to the defense. The two RN ships each maneuvered independently too. This made their AA fire less effective by cutting down their ability to mutually support each other.


    USN CAP would have proved a very different deal. The USN pilots had as much or more experiance and flying time on average as did the Japanese ones. The USN pilots also had a more effective flying formation and were trained in deflection shooting. The results of early WW 2 Pacific combat show this very clearly. The Zero versus the USN is no great advantage. Now, the USAAC had alot to learn in this respect, but they wouldn't be the ones defending the fleet at sea.


    Speed is no big advantage in avoiding attack for larger ships. Radical maneuver helps some but, proper formation makes the real difference. Unlike the British the US would have had a ring formation and the Japanese would have had to fly under constant heavy AA fire for about 5 to 8 minutes (say, 100 to 150 aimed rounds per gun in range) to close with the battleships and then attack them. The historical results from carrier battles show that the Japanese indeed would have taken heavy losses to deliver their attacks.
    In addition, unlike Pearl Harbor where the AA sky arcs are limited by terrain at sea this isn't the case.
    Also, the Japanese will have to score between 4 and 6 torpedo hits minimum on any but the older US BB to effectively stop them. The older ones will take between 3 and 5 to effectively cripple. Sinking them outright will require even more hits. The rate of strikes will be significantly lower than at Pearl Harbor also. 20% would be a good figure for a basis among the surviving aircraft.


    The US 5'/38 gun and associated director system was the finest naval AA system on the planet at the time. It operated until the end of the war virtually unchanged and proved highly.... very highly effective.
    Japanese AA fire by comparison was crippled by a combination of bad choices. The first was the use of the Sanshiki incendary shell for larger guns. The lack of an intermediate AA gun was also a serious deficency. In 1941 the IJN is no better prepared materially for air defense than any other navy. Their 25mm is really a rather pathetic gun based on a Hotchkiss design. It lacked any director system (even the US 1.1" had a director system) and had a low kill rate historically. Their ships generally also have fewer AA guns than their US equivalents.
    In addition, the Japanese have no specific doctrine for air attack defense in terms of formation and cooperation between ships. Independent maneuvering and self-defense is the current state for them.
     

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