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What if the US lost in Guadalcanal?

Discussion in 'What If - Pacific and CBI' started by Falcon Jun, Oct 12, 2007.

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  1. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    I just read a thread on Guadalcanal that was posted three years ago in this forum.

    The thread discussed the mistakes the Japanese did and the lucky breaks of the Marines. And it got me thinking. What if the Japanese got their acts together, made the right moves and dislodged the Marines from Guadalcanal? The US was still building up its strength in the Southwest Pacific at that time.

    Gen. Vandegrift, commander of the Marine division in Guadalcanal, wrote in his memoirs that his constant fear was that his defense of the island would turn into another Bataan. Washing Machine Charlie (the Japanese night bomber) was giving the Marines no rest at night and often Japanese ships and submarines would lob a few salvoes during the day. There was even a point when the Japanese had more fresh troops and supplies on the island while many Marines (including valuable pilots) were down because of malaria, giving them a numerical advantage.

    The conditions did exist for a Japanese victory. So what if Japan did win in Guadalcanal? I have my own views on how the Japanese would exploit this but I'd like to find out what everybody else would do.
     
  2. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    I doubt that the Japanese could win. At their strongest they had barely reached parity in numbers of troops on the island and had a deficency in firepower. The naval war off shore was going to eventually go against them no matter how well they did in individual actions as the US simply had too much of a superiority in numbers and ability to replace losses.
    In the air the same situation holds true. So long as New Caledonia and Esprito Santo remain in US hands the US could continue to funnel in new aircraft and pilots to the island. All the US had to do is continue to force losses equal or greater than their own on the Japanese to eventually win the air war; and they were doing this right from the start.
    Disease and privation were far more severe for the Japanese than the US at every point in the campaign. The US had far more engineering assets on the island to support their operations than the Japanese. With Tulagi harbor the US could also run in fast destroyer transports to deliver supplies regularly. The US was also flying in critical supplies as they held the air field. Certainly, the Japanese could be annoying but they lacked the resources to push the US off the island and had no way of delivering them.
    To put the 2nd Division ashore they Japanese beached their freighters, losing all of them in the process. This was something they could ill-afford to do given their already critical levels of shipping and inability to replace it.
     
  3. chocapic

    chocapic Member

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    What if the US lost in Guadalcanal?

    August 45, boom Hiroshima, boom Nagasaki, end of the story. ;)
     
  4. Sloniksp

    Sloniksp Ставка

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    I agree with TA on this one, at no time would I ever consider the Japanese able to defeat the United States in a prolonged conflict.

    Small arms and tanks were all but inferior by the time Japan faced the US and failed to improve them. Leadership was also questionable ( on the ground ). There tactics on the other hand were not. They were the true human wave assault.....

    Bonsai!
     
  5. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    All true, sir. In desperation, the Japanese even resorted to using barges to try to get fresh troops and supplies to the island.

    The US did fare better eventually. But based on Gen. Vandegrift's book, there were moments he felt that the situation on the island was so fluid, it could've went either way. In one battle, the Japanese had three separate prongs to attack the Marines entrenched on the ridge, river and around the air field. This attacks could've succeeded in taking the air field but for faulty coordination due to lack of reliable communications. The result was a massacre for the Japanese because their offensive became piece meal. After this, things generally went downhill for the Japanese. To make a long story short, The Marines used Guadalcanal to suck Japanese troops, planes and ships into a bottomless pit.

    But I respectfully disagree that a Japanese victory on the island is doubtful. If the Japanese attack on Edson Ridge had succeeded, the Marines would've lost Henderson Field. Without the air strip, Zeroes from Rabaul would've lorded it over the Marines, even if the Zeroes had to take a 1,800-km round trip.

    If I remember correctly, (I have to find that book again!) at the beginning of the campaign, the US Navy had to leave the Marines without unloading all the Division's supplies (including a bulldozer to complete the airstrip) because of the threat of air and sea attack. Fortunately, the Marines were able to subsist on the captured Japanese stocks, and use the Japanese bulldozer and construction gear. But the Marines had only enough food for roughly two to three weeks, and that only by cutting rations by a third.

    ONe point to remember, the Japanese had constructed the air strip by beginning on two ends. The air strip was unfinished at the middle. Without the captured Japanese bulldozer, the US wouldn't have been able to complete the airstrip.

    That's in Vandegrift's book. I also had a talk with a US vet who was in Guadalcanal. (After the war, this vet also settled in the Philippines. I met him through his youngest son, a buddy of mine in college.) He worked and defended the air strip. That's what he said, too (aside from the rats when the Japanese had successfully hit a food dump with artillery.)

    To get back on track, the US actually had an iffy position at the beginning of the campaign. For instance, if the Japanese naval force under Mikawa had known that the US Navy had left the Marines transport ships unprotected, the Marines would've been in deep trouble. ONly as the campaign lenghtened did Japanese strength waned. So if the Japanese had succeeded in taking out the transports during the first few days of the Marine landings or neutralizing Henderson Field during the attack on Edson Ridge, the Marines would've lost in Guadalcanal. Witout that Japanese bulldozer, the airstrip couldn't be completed. Just to cite a few instances. That's why I think a Japanese victory there was possible.
     
  6. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    True. The Japanese wouldn't win against the US in a prolonged conflict. But the operative word is "prolonged."

    IN Guadalcanal, during the beginning of the campaign, the Marines lacked supplies, didn't have a complete defensive perimeter, and did not enjoy air superiority. At one point of the campaign, the Japanese succeeded in destroying the entire aviation fuel supply of the Cactus Air Force. I don't think these are conditions that assure the US a won battle. That's why I don't consider it impossible for the Japanese to win the Battle of Guadalcanal.
     
  7. tikilal

    tikilal Ace

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    While a loss at Guadalcanal would ahve been a setback in US strategy, it might have spured a more direct aproach to Japan. This migh also have made action against the alutians more tempting. Though the time line would have been changed, it might have been for the better. Interesting thought though.
     
  8. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    I certainly agree with you, sir. The timeline would've changed but in the long run, Imperial Japan didn't have the resources for a sustained war.

    Another point, it was fortunate that the US and Philippine troops in Bataan and Corregidor held out as long as they did. Had the siege been shorter, Japan would've had more troops on hand for the Solomons area. In fact, when the Marines landed, the Japanese had to transport troops from the Philippines to Rabaul then to Guadalcanal. That was time spent that the Japanese could ill afford. Now this gives me an idea for another what if . . . thanks.
     
  9. Carl W Schwamberger

    Carl W Schwamberger Ace

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    The battle on the island was only a fragment of the laarger campaign that was going on in the South Pacific. The other land battle was on New Guinea, however the two gorund fights were the anchors around which the critical air and naval battles revolved.

    Over a five to six month campaign the Japanese air and naval offensive power was wrecked. The attrition of IJN aircraft and pilots greatly exceeded the single battle at Midway, the cumalative loss in naval surface power was critical. By the end of the campaign the Japanese Navy had lost its offensive edge and the stratigic intitiative.

    Had the Japanese captured the airfield and forced the US to withdraw the overall campaign would have continued. There was still the Australian corps fighting for New Guinea, and the US had prepared other air and naval bases further est and south of the Solomons. While the Japanese would have had a tactical or opertional advntage with its airfield on Guadacannal, exploiting this would have required further offensive action against the other Allied island bases to the south and east. Thus the attritional battles would have continued. The Japanese lines of communication would have been streatched further and rendered more vulnerable to USN raids.

    To have won the 'Guadacannal' battle the Japanese Navy would have had to consistently win nearly every naval & air engagement of the summer & autum of 1942. Just capturing the island was not enough. They had to retian a constintly high and favorable attrition rate vs the USN and Allied airforces inthe South Pacific. This would include securing all of New Guinea as well.

    It is possible for the Japanese Army to capture Henderson Field and the Japanese navy to lose the campaign and the war if the aircraft and naval losses are still excessive. The Army garrison on Guadacannal would then become another isolated post slowly dying from malnutrition and disease, much like the 110,000 soldiers on Rabul, or the many other bypassed garrisons.

    Conversely it was also possible for the Japanese Navay to win this campaign even if the Army does not overrun the airfield. Yamamoto hestated to throw the full weight of the Japanese Navy into the Solomons campaign early on. There were many issues of supply, and replacing losses of the Coral Sea and Midway battles. So he took half measures. Had his staff sucessfully resolved the logistics problems it is possible the Allied Guadacannal & Port Morsby defenders would be isolated, starving, and ineffective instead.

    Tikilal's remark about a change in US strategy is valid. Had there been further setbacks in the South Pacific MacAurthers claims for his strategy would have been discredited. King may have then prevailed on Roosevelt to order the concentration of resources in the Central Pacific.
     
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  10. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    Never thought to really look at that angle before. Macarthur finally getting discredited was not an event that I considered could happen if US had lost Guadalcanal and Japan prevailed in the Solomons campaign. One learns something new everyday. Thanks.

    Well, as history records that Macarthur is a survivor. Of all the US commanders who were caught with their pants down on Dec. 7, 1941 (Dec. 8, 1941 in Philippine time) Macarthur and Admiral Hart came out smelling like roses. Kimmel and Short had their careers cut short.
     
  11. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    The question that this thread generates is: What does a Japanese win on Guadalcanal gain them? Guadalcanal would still be vulnerable to air strikes from Espirto Santo by B17 and B24 aircraft and could even be escorted by P38's. So, their position is still vulnerable, they would have to invest a good deal of resources to maintain the island, and would not be gaining any strategic value from having Guadalcanal.
    On the whole, even if the Japanese win they lose.
     
  12. Roddoss72

    Roddoss72 Member

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    Well if the US lost Gaudalcanal, well then the Japanese would certainly move into occupy the Solomons and if Japanese had the momentum they would certainly have gone after the New Hebrides, Fiji and Tonga, this would isolate both New Zealand and Australia from the U.S and with that isolation our galant troops (Australian) would not have carried the day on the Kokoda Track (ironically the first time the Japanese tasted their first land defeat and never gets any credit from America or Americans), Japanese forces would certainly have captured Port Moresby and then launch an invasion of Australia and would have triumphed, i mean we would put one hell of a defense but would eventually have surrendered.

    So without doubt, i would be speaking Japanese now, konichiwa.
     
  13. John Dudek

    John Dudek Member

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    The Japanese had long since overstepped their ability to supply their far flung, island garrisons and the Solomon's occupation would have proved no exception. They would have been able to "threaten" Fiji, the New Hebrides and etc. but little else, for they had reached the end of their logistical support and supply chain. Their days of of lightly and ineptly opposed strategic offensives had come to an end.
     
  14. skunk works

    skunk works Ace

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    This is speaking of Midway, but goes pretty much the same for Guadalcanal.
    "The defects in this strategy were numerous. The Japanese fleet could not reasonably expect either to hold Midway or operate aircraft from its runways inasmuch as the U.S, Seventh Air Force in Hawaii could easily destroy the exposed site with one high level raid by B-17 Flying Fortresses. And Yamamotos belief that the Japanese carriers could again close on Hawaii - now defended by constant long range patrolling, early warning radars, and an immense concentration of land based fighters and fighter-bombers - betrayed not only another sorry feature of Japanese military intelligence, but also the admiral's inability to make reasoned strategic calculations.
    ........
    The most optimistic prewar Japanese policy envisioned a violent series of successful early blows followed by a negotiated compromise with Britain and the U.S.- by early April 42 the foreign minister, worried that the Japanese forces were overextended, began to urge the Germans to negotiate a settlement with the Soviet Union so as to allow the Axis to concentrate against the English speaking Allies.
    ........
    The Naval General Staff was locked in a struggle with Admiral Yamamoto, who proposed another daring thrust by the combined fleet into the Eastern Pacific, to assault the Hawaii - Midway line. At the height of Japans power, none of these authorities made a move to exploit their military success and explore a negotiated settlement - one more lapse in Tokyo's conduct of the war.
    .......
    Rather than exploit strength either via diplomacy or by adopting a more robust defensive strategy, Japans leaders chose to mount two risky offensives.

    Which became Coral Sea & Midway.

    War in the Pacific, Daniel Marston
     
  15. Carl W Schwamberger

    Carl W Schwamberger Ace

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    I wonder if they were waiting for the Allies to come begging to them? Perhaps smeone thought that initiating a call for a cease fire would be a loss of "face" or honor?
     
  16. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    The problem for the Japanese in all of this is that their expectations of how the Pacific war would be fought was based on their capacity for and doctrines of combat. That is, they had no clue that the US would send as an initial landing force over 20,000 troops to Guadalcanal. Instead, their thinking was that this was another Mankin Atoll raid. In their view the later incident was within their expected norms of warfare, Guadalcanal wasn't.
    Hence, when the Japanese first responded to Guadalcanal it was with the expectation of meeting a small US force of say, no more than 1000 men at most. This explains why they sent just the 900 man Ickihi Detachment along with a few cruisers and destroyers to soften up the island a bit. It simply was beyond their own thinking that the US would have landed such a large force and would be able to supply it.

    The same thinking went into many of their island defense systems prior to Mankin Atoll. The Japanese never thought the US would be capable of actually landing on and taking a defended island. Again, they based their assumptions on their own amphibious capacity. They assumed the US, as they themselves had at Wake, would be landing small units with limited support against the defenders.
    Instead, they got the shock of Guadalcanal and Tarawa where the US showed up with massive firepower and overwhelming numbers.
     
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  17. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    I have to admit that I never thought to look at the Guadalcanal situation that way. Your post clearly gives an explanation on why the Japanese sent reinforcements in a piecemeal fashion.
    Going by your explanation, it indicates that had the Japanese reacted more efficiently during the early stage of the Guadalcanal campaign before the Marines had fully dug in, the Japanese could have given the US a knockout punch.
    So a new question crops up. Did the Japanese have the available resources to mount a massive reinforcement convoy to Guadalcanal at the moment of the Marines' vulnerability?
    I think it's possible because the Navy did leave the Marines vulnerable for a period of time.
     
  18. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    Yes, the Japanese did have the means at their disposal to land a viable force to counter the US landings at Guadalcanal. This is shown by their later ability to land a reinforced division on the island along with portions of second one. Had they, for example, assembled a 15 to 20 ship task force at Rabaul with two full divisions on board along with support equipment and sent it to Guadalcanal escorted by carriers and a fleet the US would have been in a very poor position to counter it.
    First, the relative handful of aircraft the US had on Guadalcanal could not have stood up to a combination of land and carrier based strikes made over a 2 or 3 day period. This is even more true if it is followed up by a bombardment of the airfield by the landing force escorts and a mass landing of the two divisions.
    If the Japanese also maintained a strong naval presence off Guadalcanal after the landings the US is in the position of having to engage them before they can reinforce the island themselves. Looking at the early surface actions off Guadalcanal this does not bode well for the US being successful. The US also cannot maintain a land based air presence if the airfield on the island is under attack.
    While it is not a certainty the Japanese could succeed their chances are much better than their original peicemeal committments were.
     
  19. Shadow Master

    Shadow Master Member

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    I remember reading "The Guadalcanal Diary", as well as "The Grim Reapers". Both gave the impression that initially, the Japanese resistance was weak, but was thereafter gradually built up.

    One quote I remember from the book was when an American was interviewed about the Japanese reinforcement effort, his reply kinda summed it all up: "If the Japs can keep from crying, we'll do our best too keep them from laughing"

    Interesting thread.
     
  20. skunk works

    skunk works Ace

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    I remember reading one of those books or another telling of GI's never knowing who won the air-battle above, only knowing it was over because the "hot" shell casings stopped falling in their "fox-holes".
     
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