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What if USS Enterprise and USS Hornet had been committed to the Coral sea instead of being sent on t

Discussion in 'What If - Pacific and CBI' started by USS Washington, May 13, 2014.

  1. Gromit801

    Gromit801 Member

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    What happened at Midway was luck to a huge degree, and excellent code breaking.

    The Japanese also had land based aviation sources to draw from during Coral Sea, adding an extra carrier if you will.

    Four US carriers would likely have been discovered earlier by the IJN, who had more, and longer ranged search assets. History shows the IJN was very good at finding ships.

    Considering the Japanese aircraft generally had better range then their US counterparts save for the Val, which still out ranged the F4F, the IJN could have been launching strikes well before the US could. The F4F had very short legs, and had the IJN discovered the US first, which is entirely reasonable, the USN would either have to send off strikes unescorted, to lose a lot of assets, or fight their way to within combat range of the F4Fs.

    The USN at that point was very bad at strike coordination, and there's no reason to believe they would have scored anymore than they did originally. The USN also did not employ CAP well at all, never enough numbers, and usually tied to their own ship.

    If Midway taught anything, numbers don't always carry the day.
     
  2. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    But it worked both ways and just how much is a matter for some debate. Indeed the authors of Shattered Sword make a fairly compelling case for Midway being a very broken plan.

    But those forces were present historically and they aren't augmented in this scenario while the USN carrier force is doubled. It's also worth noteing that the US had land based AC in the area as well.

    I see little reason for them to be discovered earlier than they were historically. And even if there was there's also a greater chance of scout reports getting confused.

    Historically I beleive the IJN did discover the US first the initial sorties by both sides were still at very short ranges.

    Of course there is plenty of reason to think that the USN would have scored more hits than historically. They are almost guaranteed to get in a 4 strikes rather than the historical 2. If they come in stagered then the last one is almost sure to be seeing some of the Japanese ships already crippled and their CAP depleted of they com in together then they are likely to overwhelm the IJN defences. Historically from what I've read USN CAP was actually better than IJN CAP.
    One would have to be very careful trying to take that lesson away from Midway. While the US only had 3 carriers to the Japanese 4 the total number of planes envolved was pretty close to the same with a possible edge to the USN.
     
  3. USS Washington

    USS Washington Active Member

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    I feel you are not giving the USN enough credit, Gromit, with 4 carriers and their air wings to commit, this gives the Americans the edge in numbers and striking power to throw at the Japanese, and even if they weren't aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the A6M at the time, the fact that USN pilots were equal if not better than their Japanese counterparts, and the advantage of being equipped with radios, which allows the use of team tactics enables them to hold their own, and I should point out that the Japanese suffered heavier losses in aircraft during the battle historically, with the presence of 2 more American carriers and their air wings, however, will most certainly allow more damage to be inflicted upon the IJN.
     
  4. Gromit801

    Gromit801 Member

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    I give credit where credit is due. The USN would not have had all four carriers in one battle group. They didn't have the ability yet to coordinate more than two at a time. The Doolittle Raid, Coral Sea, Midway only had two carriers per group. So four carries would likely be split into two groups. This makes them easier to detect.

    The US had no land based air assets with the range to reach the Japanese with the possible exception of PBYs, which would have been scout only. The Japanese had land based attack aircraft capable of reaching the USN, historically proven at Coral Sea.

    At this stage, the USN simply had no experience coordinating attacks from multiple decks, and the IJN did. You're reasoning that four compliments of US aircraft would swamp IJN defenses. I maintain that the USN strike would be attacking the IJN piecemeal, and hurt badly by the Japanese CAP.

    As to radios, that didn't help the US one bit at Midway, no reason to believe it would make a difference at Coral Sea. What you seem to want, is TF58 goes back in time to Coral Sea.
     
  5. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    I agree that the USN would have been in two battlegroups. That doesn't mean that the reason for doing so was the inabiity to coordinate more than two. It would indeed make them easier to detect although not twice as easy. It could also produce more confusion and end up with strikes spread over two groups that were intended to hit one. Since there would also be twice as many USN planes flying searches it would come close to doubleing the probabilty that the USN would find the Japanese as well. Overall it looks like it would improve the odds that the US would have better intel than the IJN to me.

    That explains this then
    From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Coral_Sea
    It shoud be pointed out that it was also IJN float planes that first spotted the USN carriers. It is interesting that you make a big deal about the impact of detection based on the US being in two battlegroups but ignore the impact of having twice as many scouts and down play the impact of land based air scouting the two sides.
    That isn't what happened historically though is it? The USN CAP did a pretty good job of shooting up the IJN attacks and it will be stronger in this case. Likewise the IJN CAP didn't do a great job in the USN strikes. If the IJN looses a flight deck early on then the follow on attacks will be even more leathal. During this period when equal numbers of carriers dueled they tended to significantly attrit each other. Having a two to one edge is going to make a significant difference.
    The lack of good radios certainly did hurt the IJN at Midway and from what I've read helped the USN.

    That's rather uncalled for. You haven't produced a very strong case for your position trying to ridcule the positions of others to hide that isn't a very good or honest debating technique.
     
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  6. USS Washington

    USS Washington Active Member

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    I am aware that the Enterprise and Hornet would have been in a separate group from Yorktown and Lexington, I also know that the USN operated their carriers in separate task forces during that stage of the war. The US had 17 B-17s from the 19th Bombardment Group, which did conduct strikes on the Japanese Port Moresby invasion group, and reported their position to Fletcher, and the Dauntless dive-bombers(Which was also used as a scout plane) had a range of 1,115 miles, which isn't that short, especially when both combatants carrier groups were only 70 miles from each other, so I do not believe that range would have been a problem for the American SBDs, and with extra recon aircraft from Enterprise and Hornet, and thus more ground that can be covered, there is strong chance that the Japanese carriers will be sighted sooner, perhaps even before the American carriers are spotted, thus allowing them to the strike first.

    To be honest, the Japanese CAP really didn't inflict that many losses on the US strike, while their attacks on the American carriers suffered heavy losses, and they certainly didn'y prevent us from hitting the Shokaku, while Zuikaku was unscathed only because she had the fortune to be under overcast, while her sister ship and both US carriers were under clear blue skies, if she hadn't, then she would have been hit as well, which is even more likely with additional planes from Enterprise and Hornet. And by attacking piecemeal, the American strikes would gradually wear down the Japanese CAP through attrition and exhausting their ammo and fuel with each successive strike, enabling the later attacks to get through without much resistance.

    Actually no, I didn't intend for my scenario to include using time travel to bring TF58 back to the Battle of the Coral sea, I just wanted to discuss how the battle may have turned out if the USN had committed Enterprise and Hornet to the engagement(Which would have been of better use for them, imo) instead of being sent on the Doolittle raid, so you can refrain from throwing jabs at me.
     
  7. USS Washington

    USS Washington Active Member

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    What also needs to be mentioned is in addition to the USNs advantage in radios, the American carriers also benefited from radar, as this enabled them to detect the Japanese air strikes from far off, giving much needed time to launch their CAP to intercept them at distances up to 60 miles from the carriers, and the use of radios allowed them to direct the fighters to the Japanese strike force, not to mention it omitted the need to keep up a constant fighter patrol, thus saving gas until they are needed. The Japanese, on the other hand, had to keep up constant CAP cover as they lacked radar, and they intercepted the US air strikes closer to their carriers, giving the Americans a greater chance at getting through, and the lack of radios in their fighters meant that the lookouts couldn't direct their fighter patrols to intercept the US attack wave(s), so it was these two advantages that enabled the US CAP to inflict great damage to the Japanese.
     
  8. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    In Shattered Sword I believe they mention one of the IJN cruisers trying to direct the CAP by firing their main battery. This would seem to indicate a significant lack of communication capability to me.
     
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  9. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    Having four carriers instead of two may be a decisive advantage, but I'm not convinced, TF coordination was in it's infancy then and the Japanese made a number of blunders, IIRC a lot of the Japanese plane losses at Coral Sea fall under the "own goal" category.
    With evenly matched pilot skills and planes carrier battles can go either way, numbers of planes and decks count a lot less than just plain luck.

    One problem with the IJN at the time was overconfidence, sending a light carrier with an incomplete air wing in harm's way is good recipe for losing a carrier, and overconfidence played a large part in the Midway debacle as well. The IJN learning a bit more caution when the four most experienced air groups were still available, and the force historically sent to the Aleutians could be used to beef up the numbers, may turn out bad for the USN.
     
  10. Gromit801

    Gromit801 Member

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    As far as US radios go, just look at what happened at Midway. Three strikes went off in different directions, fighters all lost touch with their charges, nobody seemed to be able to talk to anyone.
     
  11. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    US coordination and radio discipline was indeed far from perfect. However if you look at the historical result double the number of attackers hitting the IJN carriers is going to likely mean that either the damaged one is sunk or they are both damaged. Conversely it likely means that the US has two undamaged carriers to launch a follow up strike.

    The point about being more cautious if they lost two carriers at Coral Sea is valid but I would think there would be some dependency on what damage they thought they did. If they had reports that they had sunk 2 or more likely 3 or even 4 US carriers what impact would it have?
     
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  12. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Are we not also forgetting that the all three Japanese airgroups were some of the least experienced in the IJN? Shoho was recently added to the fleet and Shokaku & Zuikaku were considered fairly green for Pearl Harbor, so much so they were given less taxing targets. While their pilots might have been slightly more skilled than US pilots, the difference was not that great as proven by the battle itself.
     
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  13. USS Washington

    USS Washington Active Member

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    And with the USN having a 2:1 advantage in carriers in this scenario, whatever advantage in skills the Japanese may have will be rendered irrelevant.
     
  14. SymphonicPoet

    SymphonicPoet Member

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    Given that the longest range and most effective scouting on both sides was land based, I'm not sure the extra flattops make that much of a difference to who sees who when, save in being additional targets to detect. They will quite probably lead to additional IJN confusion about USN numbers and locations, since scouting reports could confuse the two groups with one another. I don't think it will make much of a difference to the individual strikes. US strikes will, as noted, be uncoordinated, and IJN strikes will be coordinated against one group. (So far as I can recall they always hit one group at a time, even if there were two known and detected.) US CAP coordination between isolated groups wasn't terribly effective at that point in the war, though it was attempted several times, so IJN attacks will likely face about the same CAP as they did historically, and IJN CAP will face similar strikes of similar size and composition. The only real difference might well be the number of such strikes. This will no doubt make some difference, but it won't necessarily be decisive.

    I don't believe that's quite true. A quick examination of First Team suggests US air losses were fairly significant, and US bomber losses would have been primarily to IJN CAP. (There were some SBDs used as "IAP," or Intermediate Air Patrol, since it was believed they could be effective against enemy torpedo planes. They were not. One or more were shot down for the trouble.) Losses to all causes, excluding aircraft lost aboard Lexington appear to have totaled 14 SBDs, 7 F4Fs, and 1 TBD. This includes aircraft shot down, missing in action, and ditched. The SBDs were hit particularly hard by IJN CAP . . . which led to the decision at Midway to send the escorts at high altitude with the dive bombers, rather than divide them up and escort both groups directly, as had been done at Coral Sea.

    It's difficult to say exactly how many aircraft were actually shot down by CAP, as the strike groups became separated and lost in the overcast on the way home. Some of the missing planes were surely just that; missing. Lundstrom gives actual combat losses from the two strikes over target area as 3 F4Fs and 2 SBDs. Some of those who survived the attack probably succumbed to wounds (including CLAG Bill Ault, who gave a farewell radio transmission) or damage on the return trip, and should reasonably be counted among the losses to CAP or AA. He gives Japanese losses over target to CAP as 4 D3As and 4 B5Ns. He credits AA with three more B5Ns and a D3A, and states that the strike also lost 7 aircraft to ditchings, making for a total 15 aircraft lost from the strike group to all causes plus 2 CAP A6Ms lost during the US attacks. This does not count aircraft from either side recovered but too damaged for further use.

    Thus total aerial losses that day appear to have been USN:22 (7VF. 1VT, 14VB), IJN: 24 (3VF, 8 VT, 13VB). Further, the IJN scored more hits against the US and managed to hit both targets. And all of this was the IJN B-team. In terms of percentages the A-team was MUCH better. (I won't go into that here, but if my recollection is correct, CarDivs 1 and 2 scored about a 30% hit rate against warships underway in the open sea. We didn't even come close to that in early 1942.)

    Another measure of the effectiveness would be serviceable aircraft available for battle the next day: Zuikaku reported as operational 24 A6Ms, 9 D3As, and 6 B5Ns, plus an additional A6M, 8 D3As, and 4 B5Ns were stored below as spares that could be reassembled in a day or so. Thus 25 VF, 15 VB, and 10 VT could be available in short order. (Not counting whatever aircraft might be marooned on Shokaku.) Against that Yorktown had operational 13 F4Fs, 29 SBDs, amd 8 TBDs. That is quite literally 50/50. Japanese aviation losses were a little higher, but quite close. Both sides had a lot of wrecks aboard. This does not seem to me like the aftermath of an overwhelming US CAP victory. Looks like a draw according to the numbers, but one that favors the Japanese since Fletcher's running darn short of VF by the end of the day and Hara is not.



    I'd quite strongly disagree with you. If you want your attack to get through it's much better to overwhelm the other guy with numbers. While fighting successive waves of small attacks does wear a unit down, if the same unit had to fight the same attackers all at once it's quite likely they would be less able to counter them all. First, the same number of fighters will have to face the same number of bombers in a shorter period of time. Second, the fighters will be less able to bring numbers to bear on the bombers. The numerical advantage will play to the attacking bombers better if they attack all at once. Even if the fighters have no time to rearm and refuel between waves the advantage is still to attack all at once. (Same amount of ammo per bomber.) And in reality the Japanese were able to rotate CAP between waves at Both Coral Sea and Midway, thus the ammo/fuel argument carries no water. The later attack at Coral Sea suffered heavier losses. The later attack at Midway succeeded because it wasn't detected in time, not for lack of fuel or ammunition. The IJN CAP had plenty of fresh fighters aloft with both.

    Further, there was a contention somewhere that the IJN had no radios. While some pilots left their radios behind on a weight saving measure in the Guadalcanal campaign, A6Ms had radios, They weren't perfectly reliable, but whose radios ever are? If you've ever used them you know that there are frustratingly many times when distance, interference, and bad radio etiquette render transmissions unintelligible, even with modern equipment. IJN used radios to vector CAP. I believe they also placed pickets far to the extremes of formations to try to spot incoming aircraft. (A little like our radar pickets.) If you're aboard a tincan not normally tasked with talking to pilots aloft, perhaps it's quicker to fire off a few rounds of something obvious and smokey to get someone's attention while you fiddle with the equipment to try to find the right frequency to talk to the right people.

    To get back to the original question: I'd guess that the presence of TF-16 would result in greater damage to the IJN, but probably not less to the USN. The extra carriers no doubt mean additional strikes against CarDiv 5, which would likely result in either the loss of Shokaku, or damage to Zuikaku, or perhaps even the loss of both, though not probably not before CarDiv 5 gets off a parting shot, which probably means more damage to the USN as well. Thus I'm forced to conclude that TF-16 at Coral Sea likely means the IJN does better at Midway. The USN will have fewer and more taxed resources available. The IJN forces will be unaltered. Even if Lexington survives the fight, which isn't at all clear, she'll still be damaged. I'd guess the end would probably look something like this: Day 1 - 4 small strikes against CarDiv 5 with about twice the damage to the IJN (Could be either 1 lost or two damaged) vs. 1 large strike against a US TF with likely two damaged CVs (and quite possibly one or more lost). Having seen damage photos of Shokaku, I'd say damage was really about equivalent to Yorktown or actually slightly less. The fire was impressive, but there's nothing there that say sinking. All damage was above the main deck. The fire was contained forward. Lots of splinter damage, but little of consequence other than the forward elevator. Day 2 would likely see the IJN attempting to withdraw with the US pursuing with about half its forces. 2 small strikes versus 1 small strike. The likelihood seems to be fairly great that the USN will do better now, but there's still a risk of damage or loss to USN forces so long as the Japanese can still field planes, which seems likely.

    Pretty straightforward, really. TF-16 at Coral Sea probably means a clear US victory at Coral Sea, but no fresh troops for the big show a few weeks later, and thus a much dimmer prospect of a US victory at Midway. (I think I'd just let the IJN take Midway at that point and try to build up troops for a battle later.) What it really boils down to is this: historically the Japanese were somewhat lucky at Coral Sea: Lex really should have made it out. (Though in no shape to give battle at Midway.) At Midway the USN was really quite fortunate to catch the Japanese at their most vulnerable. I think of Midway as being a bit like Jutland, but with a much more slender British numerical advantage and enormous German reinforcements looming on the horizon. The Japanese loss really amounts to a similar sloppy handling of munitions and materials by an otherwise equally professional navy. And the American designs were likewise slightly more durable, all in all. (Though the Shokakus were almost certainly the exceptions to that.)

    Eh, who knows. I may be full of hot air. Interesting question, just the same.
     
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  15. Gromit801

    Gromit801 Member

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    First class reasoning.
     
  16. USS Washington

    USS Washington Active Member

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    With the absence of the 'Doolittle Raid', Hornet' airgroups would now have some time to work themselves up unlike historically, which might make a difference for them in their combat performance if Hornet had participated at Coral sea.
     

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