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Most epic battle of WWII?

Discussion in 'War in the Pacific' started by USMCPrice, Sep 29, 2011.

  1. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Over the years I have read just about everything published on the Guadalcanal campaign, and when I was a kid I met quite a few Guadalcanal Marines, including Marion Carl and a number of Raiders and listened to their stories. One of the first real books I ever read and one I still have is a 1943 copy of "Joe Foss, Flying Marine" given to me by my uncle and a book I still have! I have always been fascinated with the battle from all perspectives, ground, naval and air. I recently read Hornfischer's "Neptune's Inferno", after I was done I gave it to my oldest son to read, he just returned it, and just this morning I loaned it to my dad. After reading the book my interest has once again been peaked on the battle and while discussing it with my son, he stated he thought it America's most epic battle in WWII, a thought I have often had in the past. I was wondering what you rougues thought. It lacked the savagery of Tarawa, the immense casualties of Iwo, Okinawa or "the Bulge", but it was a long and at times intense struggle. Japan still had the potential to defeat us, very often the margin between victory and defeat came down to one man, one ship or one aviator. The advantages we had in all our later battles, more men, more ships, air superiority, more supplies in vast quantities were not yet a factor. We often fought from a position of parity or even inferiority. After this battle the end result of the war was never in doubt, but while it was being waged an American defeat could have had a huge impact.
    I'd be interested in discussing your views.
     
  2. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    That's a tough one. Are you limiting it to the Pacific? I have read the Hornfischer book and also about Tarawa, Okinawa, and the others. I'm a bit partial to Okinawa, only because of the depth of commitment on both sides. I can see your point about Guadalcanal, but for the sake of argument, I'll go with Okinawa.

    If you are including Europe, I might have to go with D-Day. Although it didn't last as long as the Pacific campaigns, it was a pretty close thing. Only a few changes were needed to give the Germans the victory.

    I'd be interested in what other Rogues have to say.
     
  3. Poppy

    Poppy grasshopper

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    Also feel Guadalcanal was special, probably because that's the campaign I've read most about. Particularly the day/night battles with one side ruling the light and the other darkness...Battle lines barely held from massed banzai attacks. Point blank large ship gun duels in the middle of night. Massed torpedo attacks with deadly Long Lances. Rat runs. Air battles.The precariousness of who would control the airfield. The night shelling of airfield by large caliber guns and terror/ helplessness felt by men in their trenches made the sharpest point with me.
     
  4. Biak

    Biak Adjutant Patron  

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    I've got a feeling this is going to be a great thread! I'm so far behind the 'curve' I couldn't begin to pick a "Most Epic" but look forward to reading and learning as the posts count goes up. From the major Naval battles to land or Island conflicts picking one or two is going to be very difficult. The ferocity of Iwo-Jima stands out to me but then, so does Tarawa, Guadalcanal, Battle of the Bulge and a few others.
    I'll be reading if not posting !


    edit: Just thought of something; We may come to the conclusion the most epic may not have involved us Yank's. Then we'll need another thread for THAT ! :)
     
  5. Sloniksp

    Sloniksp Ставка

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    The title of the thread doesn't help in narrowing what countrys involvement and where. ;)

    Speaking solely of the Pacific; I'm inclined to go with Okinawa as well...
     
  6. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Good question Lou, no not just the Pacific but, it needs to be a battle America was involved in.

    There are many battles we could have lost but how many others did the difference between victory and defeat hinge on a single machine gunner or a handfull of planes or an individual ship? In what other battle were we challenged in all three areas of battle, on land, at sea and in the air. In what other battle did we enjoy none of the material advantages that are so often given as the reason for U.S. sucesses? We did not have an advantage in the air, at sea or on land and often were at a disadvantage.
     
  7. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Ace

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    Based on your criteria, I'd have to go with Guadalcanal, as well. There were a lot of battles where the victory could have gone either way, but that would not, ultimately, have *really* affected the outcome of the overall campaign or lengthened the war significantly. Normandy was close, but we had a fairly decent foothold in enough places, and the option to invade France from Italy, that losing would not have affected the outcome in Europe all that much (in my opinion...and in no way trying to downplay the efforts and accomplishments of either those in Normandy, or those elsewhere). I think, had we lost Guadalcanal, our entire Pacific strategy would have been a mainly defensive strategy for another year or two, the public's faith in MacArthur would have been severely shaken ("He lost the Philippines, now Guadalcanal? What's he going to lose next?"), and the Marines would have probably stepped back and scrapped the amphib invasion tactics of the time...probably would have come back to them, but a good serious look-see would have taken place. I think the Pacific campaign's overall outcome would not have been a whole lot different, other than significantly lengthening the war by at least another year or more, and most likely another A-bomb or two to clear out pesky problem islands (Iwo Jima becomes a glowing lump of glass).
     
  8. Chrisdm4

    Chrisdm4 Member

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    Wow this is a hard one but I like it. In the picific I would have to go with Guadalcanal or Okinawa but mostly Okinawa. Just because of the scale of the battle and how brutel the fighting conditions were. But RabidAlien you make a great point about Guadlcanal, and if we would have lost it what would have been are next step?
     
  9. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Nor am I. IMO, there is no landing where the success/failure of the initial landings hung in the balance to a greater degree or for a longer time than Tarawa. There is probably not a more savage battle nor one that's sucess hinged more upon the guts and morale of the individual Marine/soldier. Okinawa and Iwo were meat grinders where the strain on the troops was probably never greater. The destroyer sailors at Samar faced the most powerful Japanese surface fleet to ever set sail and fought with amazing courage. I don't intend to take anything away from anyone that fought in any battle.

    I agree but I think it goes even further than that. If we had lost the battle for the sea or the air and the Marines had been isolated and destroyed, the American public would have clamored for more support for the Pacific. Even though we wouldn't have been able to mount another offensive until well into 1943 when the first Essex's started joining the fleet. It is quite likely that Roosevelt would have had to abandon the Europe first strategy he'd promised the British, due to political considerations. Australia would in all likelyhood have been isolated because there really was no U.S. navy left to prevent Japan from taking Espiritu Santo, Efate or Noumea. We could have possibly lost Fiji and Samoa.

    I don't think that MacArthur would have been blamed but certainly it would have hurt Halsey and Nimitz.

    I agree.
     
  10. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Naval Battles during the Guadalcanal Campaign:

    9 Aug 1942-Battle of Savo Island, 4 allied cruisers sunk, 1 allied CA and 2 DD's damaged/IJN 2 CA's damaged.

    24 Aug 1942-Battle of Eastern Solomons, IJN 1 CVL sunk, 1 CL damaged/ 1 US CV damaged (Enterprise)

    11 Oct 1942-Battle of Cape Esperance, US 1DD sunk, 1CA, 1CL and 1 DD damaged/IJN 1CA, 3 DD's sunk, 1CA damaged.

    25 Oct 1942-Battle of Santa Cruz, US 1CV (Hornet), 1 DD sunk, 1 CV(Enterprise), 1 BB, 1CA, 1 CLAA, 3 DD's damaged/IJN 2 CV's, 1CA, 4 DD's damaged.

    13 Nov 1942-1st Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 1 CLAA, 4 DD's sunk, 2 CA's, 1 CLAA (later sunk by submarine while withdrawing to Espiritu Santo),2 DD's damaged/IJN 1 BB, 2 DD's sunk, 3 DD's damaged.

    14-15 Nov 1942-2nd Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 3 DD's sunk, 1 BB, 1DD damaged/IJN 1BB, 1 DD sunk, 1 CA damaged.

    30 Nov 1942-Battle of Tassafaronga, 1 CA sunk, 3 CA's damaged/IJN 1 DD sunk.

    Some other losses 31 Aug 1942 CV Saratoga torpedoed and damaged by Japanese submarine near San Cristobal Is.; 15 Sep 1942 CV Wasp sunk, BB NC damaged and 1 DD damaged (hull buckled and she sank while sailing to west coast for repairs). There were a number of transports and destroyers lost to air or submarines supporting the two sides that I have not listed but, were not lost in the major battles.
     
  11. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    I lean toward the Battle Off Samar, if for no other reason than it should have never turned out the way it did.
     
  12. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Total naval losses (sunk) both sides (from Hornfischer) these figures do not include transports or auxillary vessels:

    US/Allied

    6 CA's
    2 CL's
    14 DD's
    2 CV's

    24 ships 160,815 total tonnage

    Japan

    2 BB's
    3 CA's
    1 CL
    11 DD's
    6 Submarines
    1 CVL

    24 ships 155,330 total tonnage
     
  13. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Some images from Guadalcanal:

    Edson's Ridge the morning after a Japanese assault. You can see Marines standing along the top of the ridge in the background. I have a better version of this picture in the book "Pacific Warriors". In it you can see that the bodies in the foreground are Japanese and American intermixed and some still hold swords and knives stuck into their adversaries bodies.


    [​IMG]
     
  14. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    USS Minneapolis after Battle of Tassafaronga

    [​IMG]
     
  15. formerjughead

    formerjughead The Cooler King

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    I am going to beat my Wake Island drum on this one; but, it's a close call. The Canal was a hard fought victory and Wake was the embodiment of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
    As far as which theater was more "epic" I am going to go with the Pacific.
     
  16. DogFather

    DogFather Member

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    To me the most Epic Battle of WW2 was Stalingrad. Had the Soviet Union lost the battle, they might have been broken
    and forced to make a seperate peace. It was clearly the turning point, of WW2, on the Eastern Front.

    Has the US lost at Guadalcanal, we would still have won the Pacific War. It may have taken longer, but the US was never
    close to braking, like the Soviets were. Guadalcanal was also our first offence action, which often is difficult for a military
    power, even the US Marines. I think Guadalcanal was the most epic battle of the Pacific War, but not for all of WW2.

    I also think if D-Day had gone bad and we were not able to establish a beach head. That would have been a bigger set back as well. In my view, Nazi Germany was a much more dangerous foe than was Imperial Japan.
     
  17. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Damn Jugs that's a good selection. We definately had no Naval, Air or material advantage. It was an epic defense.
     
  18. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    You sure opened a can of worms, Price. Each of the battles mentioned; Samar, Stalingrad, D-Day, etc., could be considered epic in its own way. I can't wait to see what others have to say.
     
  19. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Stalingrad was definately and epic battle and it along with the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Bulge were three that initially came to my mind. Stalingrad definately had a huge effect, it was a savage struggle in harsh environmental conditions but the Bismark wasn't sitting off shore throwing 15 inch rounds with the Soviet positions, while the Soviet navy was fighting their ships until their decks were awash. I don't think the Soviet supply situation was ever as accute as the supply situation was at Guadalcanal, except for the Germans in the latter stages. The Battle of Britain had the aspect of a few heroic airmen flying against the odds, but Germany wasn't contesting control of the seas, the Brits supply situation wasn't as accute, nor the environmental factors as severe and there wasn't a ground threat element. The Buldge was a heroic defense, Bastogne was cut off, but it lacked the air and naval elements, but was fought in harsh environmental conditions.

    True. Though I have also read convincing arguments that if the Soviets had lost Stalingrad, it wouldn't have effected Germany's chances to defeat Russia. Germany, like Japan had reached the limits as to what they could do militarily, materially and logistically. A loss at Guadalcanal would also, in all likelyhood, have effected the way the US allocated it's military forces globally. A heavyer shift away from resources going to Europe and Russia would have greatly effected those theaters.

    While they weren't close to breaking they did come very close to being unable to support the ground troops and once they were cut off they would have been annihilated. There was a great deal of concern among the US political and military leadership feared all was lost. At one point a heavily damaged Enterprise was the only operational carrier in the pacific, and Japanese battleships were on their way to bombard Henderson Field and eliminate the last US airpower in the battlespace.

    Elaborate please. Like Japan, Germany lacked the logistical capacity to conquer much more territory than it did.
     
  20. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    You're entirely correct (as usual Lou). I am pondering adding sub categories. Maybe something like this:

    Most epic air battle/campaign-

    Most epic land battle-Stalingrad (for numbers engaged, duration and ferocity of fighting)

    Most epic defense-Wake (what they accomplished in spite of the odds)

    Most epic tank battle-Kursk? (sheer size?)

    Most epic naval surface action-Taffy 3 at Samar (no greater disparity ever exhisted between the two fleets)

    Most epic naval air action-Midway? (Size?)

    I'll leave it up to the other posters to decide if we leave it narrow or widen the scope.
     

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