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what if........The 5 aircraft carriers were based in Pearl Harbor and Japan sunk them

Discussion in 'What If - Pacific and CBI' started by Sloniksp, Sep 11, 2006.

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  1. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    In the historical battle, most of the Island's defensive fighters were Marine F2A Buffalos. The USN had no fighter units present, these being on the carriers. The F2As were initially successful as their fighter controllers used radar to allow them to bounce the first incoming wave. The Japanese lost a number of dive bombers and special attack planes in the Marine's first pass. After that, the Marines were hammered by the escort.
    The Japanese bombing was marginally effective. It destroyed few aircraft and did not render the airfield inoperable. The Japanese strike commanders recommended a second strike (hence the land bombs / torpedo issue).
    With no carriers, the US could have brought in several squadrons of F4F fighters manned by Navy pilots. If the US put up say, just 20 F4F (less than two carriers at Santa Cruz or Eastern Solomons) they would have likely shot down 50 to 70% of the strike leaving the Japanese in a real dilemmia.
    Now, the Kido Butai is facing a "Coral Sea" situation. They can launch a second strike and likely suffer more heavy losses (a likely course of action) but then have little left to support the landings or, they can close on Midway and try and cover the landings themselves.

    The Japanese were planning on landing a reinforced regiment initially. It would have been slaughtered in the attempt. A second wave might have been attempted but it too almost certainly would have failed. The problem at Midway is with or without carriers the Japanese were attempting to land an inadequite force with inadequite support in an inadequite manner using inadequite equipment.
    One need only look at other opposed Japanese landings early in WW 2 to see the truth in this.

    The Japanese have no way to keep their carriers on station off Guadalcanal. The best one can give them is that when the US shows up and lands they put their carriers to sea to attack the US landing force. Given the original conditions, the US is going to get ashore in huge numbers. Once that happens all they have to do is keep the airfield operational and the Japanese eventually lose. The US can fly in aircraft via Espiritu Santo as available. If the USAAF makes even just a bit more effort to put P-38s there the Japanese are finished.


    Not necessarily. The worst case large vessels, battleships, at Pearl took about two years to raise and refirbish. Cruisers, similiar to carriers in complexity, took less than six months. The Helena is a good example. She fought in the Guadalcanal campaign after being torpedoed at Pearl.
     
  2. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    Welcome to the wonderful world of the "What If?" forum LOL. It has been stated many times in the many threads here that a "What If?" should have some basis in reality. :D
     
  3. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    Well, I'm willing to accept that two carriers, rather than one, or none, might have been at Pearl Harbor on December 7 because in actuality one almost was there and two were within a thousand miles of Oahu. But there were only three in the entire Pacific. If one starts making massive changes to historical circumstances, it becomes less and less likely that any useful conjecture or discussion will result. It doesn't take any huge historical change to postulate two carriers at Pearl Harbor, but five badly distorts the whole historical reality of the USN force structure in December, 1941.

    That's the problem with a lot of "what-if" questions; they just don't reflect a rational reality.
     
  4. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    Five is at least within the realm of the possible. It is highly implausable, but not impossible. The US could have shifted Yorktown and Wasp from the Atlantic Fleet prior to the war. This would have placed five active carriers in the Pacific and all could have been at Pearl Harbor on 7 December.
    Now, is this likely? No. In fact, it is very, very unlikely. But, I can accept that it is within the realm of the possible so I've stuck to the presented scenario.
     
  5. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    Did Pearl have the docking facilities to accomodate 5 carriers at one time?
     
  6. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    Yes, Pearl could have easily accomidated five. Two to four could tie up at 10-10 pier where the Helena and Oglala were tied up. In fact, the Japanese attacked the Helena specifically because they thought she was a carrier as this was the normal berth of at least one in port.

    The berths on the East side of Ford Island could also have been utilized with the ships either doubling up or in individual berths there. Of course, they could also anchor out in the East Loch too.
     
  7. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    I'm not so sure PH could have "easily" accommodated five carriers, although I'm sure berthing space could have been found or created, but that was not the real issue. When a USN carrier entered a port or base for any length of time, the carrier's airgroup would be flown off to a shore base or airfield in order to continue pilot and aircrew training. This was necessary in order to keep the pilots from getting rusty. Five carriers would add somewhere in the neighborhood of 300-350 planes to Oahu's already congested airfields. For that reason alone it is extremely unlikely that five carriers would ever be in Pearl Harbor at any one time. Even later in the war, when large carrier task forces were the norm, the Navy tried to avoid having more than a handful of carriers at Pearl. Often the carriers anchored in Lahaina Roads awaiting the departure of other carriers from PH.




    Of course, anything is possible. You could speculate that a rouge wave strikes Kido Butai and all six of Nagumo's carriers go to the bottom. Possible? Yes. Worth entertaining as a serious alternative scenario? No way. Wasp and Yorktown were busy in the Atlantic on "neutrality patrol" (anything but neutral) and watching French warships in the Caribbean. Both of these tasks were considered very important by the Roosevelt administration. Yorktown was transferred to the Pacific fairly quickly after Pearl Harbor, Wasp wasn't.

    In my opinion, the likelihood of any US Atlantic carriers being transferred to the Pacific prior to Pearl Harbor is so unlikely as to be not worth considering. Therefore, my contention remains that two US carriers sunk or damaged at PH is a reasonable scenario; five is out of the question.

    That's my $.02 worth.
     
  8. john1761

    john1761 Member

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    I have been reading this post and I notice many saying that the US would use land based fighters to replace the loss of carriers. My question is how does the US get these fighters to the places people say . I thought the carries OTL were used to deliver planes to places like Midway prior to Pearl Harbor . So if the carriers are sunk ,how does the US supply these far off bases with planes? Do they send unescorted convoys? Most fighters OTL don't have the range to reach these areas.
     
  9. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    You answered your own question. Planes can be partially disassembled and transported in a cargo ship.

    As for the contention of two or five carriers, I accept the point that five carriers in Pearl is unlikely, but NOT impossible. I find that by being open to alternative possibilities, one can sometimes find nuggets that we never knew even existed.
     
  10. von_noobie

    von_noobie Member

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    5 carriers being located at PH is unlikely, But not impossible, Totally agree. How about i give a possible solution to why 5 carriers may be located there.

    USN is pretty much there main strike force until airforce and army is built up, So is it not possible, With full scale war already raging in the Atlantic, And a very real threat from Japan, That the USN decides to conduct a large scale naval exercise using as many ships as they can muster, Including all 5 carriers mentioned in this 'what-if'. Would also mean airgroups still on the ships, Munitions and fuel lines exposed etc, but does not mean the crews would be on full alert.
     
  11. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    You better make it good. I have thought of some scenarios to justify the carriers being there but I scratched each one after some checking. I hope you can do better than me. I look forward to seeing your idea.
     
  12. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    Even more unlikely. With most of the Atlantic a war zone, and war about to break out in the Pacific, the USN isn't going to be scheduling any large scale exercises. The annual fleet exercise known as Fleet Problem XXII, scheduled for the Spring of 1941, was canceled for exactly this reason. Even many badly need refits/rebuilds of major ships were postponed in 1941 because of the threat of imminent war. If in the extremely unlikely event the USN considered a fleet exercise necessary for some desperately compelling reason, it would be held in the Caribbean for security reasons. The Atlantic was out of the question because of the U-boat war raging there, and the Pacific, particularly the area around Hawaii, was known to be under observation by Japanese submarines. Some small gunnery exercises were held, in 1941, for battleships and cruisers off the southern California coast with the ships in question temporarily based at San Pedro, but no large scale fleet exercises were held anywhere near Hawaii after 1940. Even shakedown cruises of newly commissioned ships were conducted off the East Coast or in the Caribbean, except for those few vessels built on the West Coast.
     
  13. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    As someone else has pointed out, short-ranged, land-based planes could be, and were, delivered to remote islands disassembled and packed in crates. Any kind of cargo ship could accomplish this, often the crates were carried as deck cargo. The disadvantage of this method is that the planes have to be reassembled and tested before they can be used. This requires skilled mechanics and the necessary tools, but these can also be delivered by the same types of ships. The assembly process and testing routinely took 2-3 days, but could be accomplished in 24 hours if necessary.

    Assembled and flyable aircraft, to be used immediately, required a flight deck to be flown off of. But if berthing facilities were available and equipped with cranes of the required capacity, the ship might come alongside a pier or dock and have the planes lifted off the flight deck and transferred to the dock. Many small islands had no such facilities and the preferred method was to have the planes flown off and land directly on the airfield where they were to be based.

    Even if the US lost all it's fleet carriers, it would still have two aircraft transports in commission in December, 1941, the Langley and the Long island, which could deliver assembled fighter aircraft to island bases. The Langley's flight deck had been partially dismantled in compliance with provisions of the Washington Treaty, but it could have easily and quickly been restored upon the outbreak of war. The Long Island was the prototype CVE and actually was used for delivering fighters and other planes to Guadalcanal in 1942. Fleet carriers were also used for such duties at times, notably the Wasp and the Ranger in the Atlantic.
     
  14. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    One other possibility that hasn't been mentioned is that the US gets one or more carriers on loan from the Royal Navy. This was actually discussed during the early part of the Pacific War. The USN eventually decided not to take a British carrier because they felt that the smaller air wing, differences in equipment, and lower performance of the ship in general were not worth putting one in US service. In a more desperate situation I could see the US taking this option up.
     
  15. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    I guess you haven't heard of the "USS Robin". This was the codename for HMS Victorious during the time she served with the US Pacific Fleet in the Spring of 1943. In the late fall of 1942, the USN was down to one operational carrier, the Saratoga, in the Pacific. A request was made of the RN to loan the USN a flattop until the Enterprise could be repaired and the Essex, commissioned on the last day of 1942, could complete it's workup. The RN duly detached Victorious and sent it to the US for a refit to allow it to work alongside the Saratoga. This refit took so long that it wasn't until May, 1943, that the "USS Robin" (Victorious) was ready. By this time, the Enterprise had been repaired and the Essex was deemed battle worthy, but the "USS Robin" did participate along with Saratoga in the New Georgia invasion operations(Operation "Cartwheel"), giving air cover to the invasion forces. During the operation, Saratoga operated as a "strike" carrier, and the smaller Victorious carried mostly US fighter aircraft (F4F's) for defense of the task force. The USN was not impressed with the Victorious, even though she was an armored carrier, and in September, 1943, she returned to service with the RN in the Atlantic.

    HMS Victorious, British fleet aircraft carrier, WW2
     
  16. skunk works

    skunk works Ace

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    Carriers to transport "one way Charlies"..How a bout that....who'd a figured.

    USS Philippine Sea
     
  17. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    The USN could also have quickly grabbed the French carrier Bearn at Martinique and referbished her as an additional aircraft transport and escort carrier if the situation demanded it.
     
  18. john1761

    john1761 Member

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    If the US carries are sunk won't the Japanese be more aggressive as some have pointed out? Would this not also make it harder for the US to ship aircraft through hostile waters?As has been said the US navy would probably have to pull back to the west coast leaving most of the western pacific outposts undefended until they rebuilt their fleet.
     
  19. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    More aggressive in what way? The Japanese used their carriers primarily in hit and run raids against Allied strong points, sometimes in conjunction with invasion operations. But the Japanese had a number of problems to overcome before they could attempt any more operations than they actually did. The first and probably most important is the severe shortage of logistical shipping. The Japanese historically employed the equivalent of about 11 divisions in the first six months of the war in the Pacific, and this was pretty much the limit that their combined military and and merchant marine logistical shipping could support. If they wanted to seize more territory and hold it, they would have had to come up with more logistical capacity (which was impossible) or eliminate operations elsewhere.

    Secondly, Kido Butai, itself was limited in what it could do. Kido Butai could not remain at sea for more than about 15 consecutive days (including traveling between their base and an operational area) and historically never exceeded this limit. That was not enough to project Japanese power very far into the eastern Pacific; The Japanese carriers could hit and run, but they couldn't stay and provide sea control. Additionally, the Japanese carriers began to feel the strain as the war progressed, crews and aircrew, as well as ships couldn't be run indefinitely without rest, refit and training. Most importantly, the carrier airgroups were becoming seriously diminished both in aircraft and trained, experienced pilots; at the time of Midway, IJN airgroups were significantly below pre-war levels and the Japanese aircraft industry wasn't turning out enough aircraft to replace even the modest losses suffered up to that point in time. The Nagumo Report makes interesting reading in this regard.

    The USN wasn't going to "pull back to the West Coast" no matter what happened; Hawaii was identified as being part of "the strategic triangle", crucial to the defense of North America. As I have pointed out before, the defense of Hawaii had priority over even the "Europe First" policy. Had every single carrier the USN possessed been somehow lost, Hawaii would still have been reinforced, particularly with aircraft, to a level that would have precluded any Japanese attack. This would have been done by flying large planes in from the San Francisco area, and shipping crated fighters and short-range attack aircraft by freighter. The convoys would be fought through, if necessary, but the IJN did not have the capability to effect a sea blockade of Hawaii.

    The sea lanes to Australia would have been more problematical, but as a casual perusal of a globe will reveal, it would be impossible for the IJN to blockade Australia, as well; the Japanese just didn't have enough ships and planes to blockade an entire continent, although they could make it difficult to continue the buildup of forces there. One has to understand that the Japanese were seriously over-extended even before Coral Sea and Midway and the more territory they captured, the weaker they became. They couldn't keep all their garrisons supplied with even the basics, let alone what it would take to hurl back an Allied offensive. The proof of this is that very soon after the Allied invasion of Guadalcanal, the Japanese gave the island a new name; "Starvation Island".

    As I have argued, it is extremely unlikely that the USN would ever lose more than two carriers at one time (historically, it never lost more than one carrier in any single battle), but assuming it did lose two carriers at Pearl Harbor, it still has five fleet carriers which it can operate in the Pacific. Historically, the USN was often down to only one or two fleet carriers, yet it held the IJN to a checkmate throughout the first year of the war.
     
  20. mac_bolan00

    mac_bolan00 Member

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    without hardly any naval aviation and battleships to oppose them, the japanese could have consolidated their hold on the islands and even invade australia. granting the US production could erase that loss within two years, the bombing campaign over japan would have been deferred to maybe 1946. that's four years of peaceful skies above japanese factories.

    given the luxury of at least two years before the US can launch a counter-offensive, could japan have stockpiled enough petroleum, built enough capital and support ships, and most importantly, modernized its air arm to a point that it can take on third fleet when the time came?
     
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