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What if the US Navy had developed a night fighting doctrine prior to WW2?

Discussion in 'What If - Pacific and CBI' started by USS Washington, Jul 31, 2014.

  1. USS Washington

    USS Washington Active Member

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    During the Guadalcanal/Solomons campaign, the USN faced the Imperial Japanese Navy in night surface naval battles on many occasions, and during the earlier stages, came at a disadvantage as the IJN had drilled heavily in the art of night fighting, which showed in the battles of Savo Island and Tassafaronga, but as the USN became more experienced as the campaign wore on, and as they became more familiar with radar, and saw it's value in gunnery fire control, the IJN began to lose its edge in night battles, as was demonstrated in the battles of Vella gulf, Horaniu, Empress Augusta Bay, Cape St. George, and perhaps to an extant, Kula Gulf. But, what if the USN had, before the war, say in the late 20's/early 30's, established its own night fighting doctrine, much like the Royal Navy and the IJN, and used tactics that were suited to combat at night and close range, could this have made a difference in the battles of Guadalcanal, such as Tassafaronga?
     
  2. Markus Becker

    Markus Becker Member

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    Just by the way, the USN wasn't all bad at night fighting and the IJN wasn't pefect at it, as demonstrated on October 11/12 in the Battle of Cape Esperance. The November 13th battle was nothing to write home about for either side.

    The Battle of Tassafaronga was one of the few times when the IJN's torpedo doctrine worked as intended but most times it didn't as one can see here:

    http://www.navweaps.com/index_tech/tech-067.htm
     
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  3. USS Washington

    USS Washington Active Member

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    I wasn't saying the USN was bad at night fighting, and I know that as was shown at Cape Esperance and the two battles off Guadalcanal, they did beat the IJN at its own game, and they made their share of mistakes, but the Americans defeat at Tassafaronga was the result of their insistence on the linear, line-ahead tactics, which essentially set up the US ships to be taken out one at a time through torpedoes, and this makes me wonder about the possibility of the US Navy developing their own tactics suited to night time combat. Anyways I appreciate the response, and that link you gave was an informative read sir, thank you very much. :)
     
  4. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    The difference at Cape Esperance was Admiral Norman Scott. He had attempted to rectify the early shortcomings in training and he fought the US forces reasonably well in the battle. During the 12-13 November Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Admiral Daniel Callaghan (over Scott because of seniority) had been placed in command of the US cruiser force and fought them very poorly. IMO, that's a major reason they did so poorly in that fight. During the 13-14 November engagement, a huge part of the US success was the leadership and abilities of Admiral Lee. He was that damned good.
    Doctrine is only a portion of the equation. Leadership, aggressiveness, courage, spatial awareness, being able to maintain ones military bearing (i.e. remaining cool, clear headed and logical, vs confusion, panic, becoming reactionary, or indecisive) training and esprit also factor in heavily
     
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  5. Markus Becker

    Markus Becker Member

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    Speaking of torpedoes, at that time the USN did not know the speed/range characteristics of the type 93. Thus their calculations when enemy torpedoes would reach them were off. Had they known, they'd turned away after opening fire much sooner.
     
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  6. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    No accounts that I have read of the battle mention anything about seeing the Japanese launch their torpedoes. Rear Admiral C H Wright's AAR report states clearly that he only first saw three of the Japanese ships when they were abeam of Minneapolis at 2329, and as he was reaching for the TBS transmitter, the Japanese torpedoes began hitting.

    So, even had the Americans had correctly known the speed/range characteristics of the the "Long Lance", the Americans never would have known when the Japanese had launched, only that they were in the "danger area" of incoming torpedoes. Indeed, they would have known that when they first detected the enemy on radar.
     
  7. Markus Becker

    Markus Becker Member

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    Not seeing the launches but assuming torpedoes had been launched right after the moment they opened fire on the Japanese.
     
  8. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Then there is not much point in opening fire, if you are going to conduct an evasion maneuver that is going to turn you firing solution into garbage. Even more so, considering the first few salvos would be "ranging" shots to correct and/or confirm that the firing solution is a good one.
     
  9. USS Washington

    USS Washington Active Member

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    So what should the US forces at Tassafaronga have done to prevent the battle from being the serious tactical defeat that it was, the same with Savo? Just curious.
     
  10. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Hard to say really.

    There was to have been a picket destroyer that was to be 10,000 yards in front of the column, as per the operational plan, but was not followed through with. Although, to be fair, the Japanese were first detected by the TF flagship Minneapolis on radar at 23,900 yards at 2305, and the destroyers in the van detected the Japanese on radar at 2310 at 14,000 yards. So, it is not as if the Americans did not know they were there.

    Then, the van destroyers requested permission to fire their torpedoes at 2316, but approval was not given until 2321, and the destroyers began firing torpedoes at 2322. The delay meant that the range had increased to beyond the called for "intermediate speed" setting, thus the destroyers had to fire their torpedoes at the longer ranged "slow speed" setting.

    All American vessels opened gunfire on the Japanese between 2323 and 2325, with Minneapolis opening firing first at 2323, and the rest of the force then joined in. The two destroyers in the rear, apparently never properly located any Japanese targets, but they did fire of a few starshells and shells in the general direction of the enemy.

    The American cruisers did have observation planes in the air, but these did not prove to be of much use during the battle. The Japanese did report on some that flew near them, but did not spot them.

    In the end, the Japanese destroyer Takanami had the first two cruisers dead to rights. The Portland(3rd cruiser struck) was likely torpedoed because she maneuvered around the two damaged cruisers to port(closer to the enemy) and silhouetted herself to the Japanese. The Honolulu properly evaded the first two stricken cruisers by turning to starboard, thereby not presenting the Japanese with a target, and increasing to flank speed, so as to clear the "torpedo water" as quickly as possible. Finally, the Northampton, also evaded to starboard, but did not increase to flank speed, thus remaining in the danger area longer than was necessary, and as a result took two torpedoes and sank.


    But this is all "Monday Morning Quarterbacking", the Americans seemed to be having their own way up until the first Japanese torpedoes struck, and then confusion reigned. Still, For the most part, TF 67 adhered to Wright's Operation Plan, and the lack of the picket destroyer does not seem to have effects how the Americans went about fighting the battle.
     
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  11. Markus Becker

    Markus Becker Member

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    Not right away but after X minutes. X being calculated based on the known range to the targets and the assumed speed and range characteristics of Japanese torpedoes.
     
  12. Markus Becker

    Markus Becker Member

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    When it come to shortcomings of doctrine, I remembered one that had been recognized at the time.

    Too much reliance of gunfire and too little on torpedoes. US DD were torpedo heavy(12 to 16 tubes). They should have taken the lead -literally- and opened the battle with a massive torpedo salvo, backed up by cruiser gunfire. IRL it was the other way round. The DD were being used to back up the cruisers with gunfire.
     
  13. Gromit801

    Gromit801 Member

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    And then there's the loss of the USS Houston and HMAS Perth. In the beginning neither side knew the other was there till the allied ships were actually going through the Japanese invasion fleet. And even then, with the slugfest and shooting in all directions, the IJN sank more of their own ships with errant torpedo launches, then allied ships.
     
  14. Poppy

    Poppy grasshopper

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    Wondering if US torpedos were considered reliable at that time...And were they in range, considering the Long Lance had prolly twice the legs...Was radar also used for torpedo targeting?
     
  15. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Yes, the Mark 15 was unreliable at the time. The destroyers Mustin and Anderson attempted to scuttle the USS Hornet after the Battle of Santa Cruz. The two destroyers fired 9 torpedoes into the carrier, most, if not all, failed to detonate. The two American destroyers were forced to leave Hornet to the approaching Japanese naval force. The Japanese attempted to salvage the ship, but found that to be impossible, so they fired 4 Long Lances into the American carrier, sinking her.

    Yes, radar was used for targeting the torpedoes. The in battle we are discussing, Tassafaronga, The USS Fletcher and the USS Perkins, both equipped with the new SG search radar and in the American van, fired their torpedoes using their radar plot. The USS Drayton made an error in her calculations and plotted an enemy speed of zero, so she fired only 2 torpedoes instead of wasting all 10. The USS Maury, lacking the SG radar, did not identify any targets and did not fire her torpedoes. The destroyers at the rear of the American formation, USS Lamson And USS Lardner, also never identified any enemy targets and did not fire their torpedoes.
     
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  16. USS Washington

    USS Washington Active Member

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    Bolded line 1.) If the van destroyers request to engage with torpedoes been granted right away, and thus were able to set them to ''intermediate speed," allowing them to travel faster, is it possible that (Assuming at least some of the torps worked as they should) they might have been able to score some hits and incapacitate a few Japanese DDs, thus reducing the chance of the battle turning into a tactical debacle for the USN?

    Bolded line 2.) Then had Pensacola(Portland was undergoing repairs to the battering she received in the night action of Nov 13th) instead turned to the Starboard of Minneapolis and New Orleans, and if Northampton had gone to flank speed immediately, these two may not have been ko'd(And in Northamptons case, sunk :( ), and thus with at least two of the CAs still in action, might they have been able to pursue the Japanese, and perhaps result in heavier losses to Tanakas DDs?

    Btw, that detailed overview of the battle was a good read, thank you very much for it. :D
     
  17. USS Washington

    USS Washington Active Member

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    Hear hear sir, very good points.
     
  18. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    More "Monday Morning Quarterbacking"...

    Second thing first.

    The Japanese developed their torpedo tactics because their torpedo, the "Long Lance", outranged their guns(all of the 8-inch cruiser ones and even their 14-inch guns on many of their battleships). The Americans never had this "problem", as their main guns(even the destroyer ones) always outranged their torpedoes.

    As to the American destroyers being "torpedo heavy", well, you are welcome to your opinion. They were "heavy" numerically(12-16), but they could still only fire 8 to one side. So, they were no "heavier" than most Japanese destroyers that only had 8 tubes, but also carried 8 reloads, whereas the Americans carried none. The later classes(early Benson class, Fletcher class, Sumner/Gearings) initially carried 10 tubes, but all 10 could be fired to either side, giving them a larger spread over the 12-16 tube destroyers. Further, with the Americans inferior torpedo, they had to get much closer to the enemy in order to reliably hit their targets. Hence the preference of the US destroyer captains to fire their torpedoes at no less than the intermediate speed/range setting, as the knew that they had little hope of hitting their targets at the slow speed/long range setting.


    Now, first thing second.

    There was no such thing as "doctrine" for these battles. US Naval "doctrine", at the time, only applied to the large fleet actions, in which the Americans were trained thoroughly for night actions. However, the actions around Guadalcanal fell into the class of what was known as "Minor Tactics", and in this area, the US Navy took a more or less hands-off approach, and left it up to the individual squadron and task force commanders to come up with their own tactics and doctrine. This is why you see several battles where the Americans perform quite well in nighttime engagements, even early ones. Then you have the flip side of the coin, where, due to extenuating circumstances, the Americans have to use a "pick up" task force, ships that have not trained together and fought together, amd these ships, unfamiliar to each other, and some times to the task force commander, perform sub-par, or abysmally in some cases.
     
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  19. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Faster is always better.

    Still, it might not be enough to save the Minneapolis and New Orleans. Takanami began firing her torpedoes about a minute before Fletcher's torpedoes would have been arriving, so the matter is open to debate. On the other hand, the American torpedoes did disrupt the Japanese destroyers at the end of the line, including two that passed in front of the Naganami, and prevented Suzukaze from firing her torpedoes as she turned to avoid the incoming American ones.

    So, there is no clear answer, as you might be preventing one disaster, but causing another.


    That is a tough question to answer, as the Americans reported sinking or in sinking condition several Japanese ships.

    The USS Honolulu lost optical contact with the Japanese and had intermittent radar contact. Then picked up unknown contacts and headed off in pursuit. These unknown contacts turned out to be the American van destroyers that had disengaged to the north following their torpedo launch and brief gunfire battle. Then having no enemy contacts, the surviving ships would receive the report from an American scout plane of two crippled ships in the vicinity. These "crippled ships" would turn out to be previously abandoned hulks that had been beached.

    The Pensacola would have been almost useless, as she lacked the new SG radar, and was using her FC radar as a "poor man's" search radar - mostly without luck. As such, she would be unable to search for retiring Japanese destroyers, but could fire on them visually or if they were illuminated by starshells(the use of searchlights was forbidden).

    The Northampton was also less than useful in pursuit. She had the, shall we say "ancient", CXAM radar set, and all the surrounding islands were blanking out most returns. To that end she she attempted to engage the Japanese by visually spotting the splashes of other Americans ships shells and firing in the general vicinity. Her FC radar radar was performing intermittently, but did get a good lock on a Japanese destroyer, that allowed for a few salvos before she had to change course to avoid the crippled cruisers.

    So, even with the Pensacola and Northampton intact and undamaged, I cannot see any favorable outcome if the Americans continue the battle and attempt to pursue.
     
  20. USS Washington

    USS Washington Active Member

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    Bolded line 1.) Hm, didn't thank about it that way, good points.

    Bolded line 2.) So as was happening historically, Honolulu did continue to "pursue" the Japanese, only that it was TF67s vanguard DDs, well thankfully they didn't engage each other by accident, the casualties the US battlegroup took were bad enough.

    Then it would have been fruitless for the Penny and North to continue pursuing, eh, well at least with both cruisers not getting damaged/sunk, the severity of the defeat may have been less, but of course a defeat is a defeat.
     

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