The January 1941 PlanSeptember 13 2010 at 5:38 PM
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Response to Leahy, Richardson, Stark, et al contradict this reading
Okay, lets start with the January 1941 Plan. There was a serious decision and plan made to reinforce the Asiatic Fleet There's about a 2-inch file folder in the national archives in the naval records of RG-38 about the plan and subject. As an example, Admiral Richardson penned a letter on January 9, 1941 to the c.o. of Patwing 2 (CincPac #996, file A16/038, box 99). Richardson ordered preparations to send 4 CA, 1 DL, 8 DD, 1CV, 1 AO, 4 DM, and specifically USS Wright along with VP-22 to the Asiatic Fleet. As usual, there is not alot of background information in this order as to "why" - but it does say that the ultimate base for this force was not yet determined, and that the flying boats might operate from semi-permanent stations to include those in the Dutch East Indies and Singapore.
There are at least three secondary book sources that comment on the decision to cancel this movement. B. Mitchell Simpson in his "Admiral Harold R. Stark, Architect of Victory 1939-45" on pages 78 and 81 says that this reinforecemtn was cancelled in favor of a reinforcement of the Atlantic Fleet. James Leutze in his bigraphy of Hart, "A Different Kind of Victory" also says that Hart believed the reinforcement was cancelled when the intended ships were instead sent to the Atlantic. Cordell Hull in his Memoirs (MacMillan Co. 1948) on pages 915-916 implies that the cancellation was due to concerns that such a move my incite an undue Japanese reacion.
So...I believe that, at times at least, the navy (or maybe the administration) seriously considered reinforcing the Asiatic Fleet with major surface units in the 1940-41 timeframe. That also infers to me that there was no "policy" against such a reinforcement, there simply were situational conditions (= higher priorities) that prevented it. Also note that from the three sources above, nobody says the reinforcement was cancelled because the Philippines were indefensible or that such an assigment would somehow condemn the ships.
At least some of the naval commanders of the time did believe that the major movement of modern submarines to the Philippines was indeed defined as a significant reinforcement. Harold Stark, CNO wrote a secret memo to the President on November 27, 1941 (NARA, Record Group 165, Entry 12, file 18136/125). Consider his sentence "Considerable Navy and Army reinforcements have been rushed to the Philippines but the desirable strength has not yet been reached." Unless he's just trying to manipulate FDR for morale purposes - he's telling the truth and sees at least his service's efforts as he defines them as "reinforcements". I know many of the forum participants are surfcae navy enthusiasts, but I would not belittle the effort made to send the submarines. If you count warships over 1000 tons displacement, the Asiatic fleet grew from 15 such ships on January 1, 1940 to 38 on December 8, 1941. I know I picked my own definition, but how can you say such a growth was not an impressive reinforcement? Even Hart is quoted in Leutze's book (p. 190) as saying when looking at the nest of big fleet submarines "When the war comes, those boats are going to be of great value to us. They will be able to hit the enemy hard." Yeah, I know, they were a disappointment; but you guys have to tell me how many Japanese warships are on the bottom of the sea due to the sterling performance of the American (or any of the allies) surface ships during the first Far Eastern campaign.
And finally my comment about mobile forces was said to mean that I think it is an exaggeration to characterize assignment to the Asiatic Fleet as a sure death sentence. Yes, the navy in general had the opinion that the Philippines were indefensible in the face of a major Japanese attack. Consequently they had for years planned to have the surface fleet leave the islands soon, or even prior to an attack to join forces with the Dutch and British where a more credible, and less isolated defense could be created. And what, at least 75% of the old Asiatic Fleet did indeed eventually escape the theatre? Assignment of a "modern" vessel to this fleet did not mean it would automatically be lost. That would only have been slightly true if the Navy had planned to stay in Manila Bay throughout the course of an entire campaign. Certainly the naval assets had much more of a chance to strategically move and shift with the war front than did MacArthur's poor fellow.
The 16th Naval District and the Asiatic Fleet was a remote station. It is undeniably far from American's other bases. Any navy keeps its primary strength and most modern units concentrated for potential action. (The Japanese did so too, look at the ancient, obsolete gang of ships assigned to Truk's Fourth Fleet that attacked Wake Island!). I think the reason the Asiatic Fleet wasn't significantly reinforced by surface ships was that it would cause too much or a dispersion of force, and America's fleet-in-being at Pearl Harbor become less of a counterweight to enemy intentions. That was particularly true when it had to feed growing demands for surface ships (not subs) for the Atlantic Fleet. Maybe I'm splitting hairs (which this group seems good at) but I still think the descriptor "modern" did not have any influence on the decision of assignment.