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on splitting hairs AND the Asiatic Fleet's assets

September 14 2010 at 7:46 PM
Nelson  (no login)

Response to The January 1941 Plan


Although I appreciate your attempt to clarify and correct possible (even probable) misinterpretations, my suspicion is that your take, too, may be more black & white than things actually were. By coincidence, I've been perusing Kemp Tolley's Cruise of the Lanikai, and although Tolley writes an engaging tale, he does insert his own biases and likely not a little hearsay.

1. Yes, prewar plans did assume the withdrawal of the Asiatic Fleet south to the Malay Barrier, and yes the fleet did so within days of the Japanese attacks on the Philippines. Nonetheless, I'm not certain that such intention was unwavering in the prewar years. During the late period of General MacArthur's euphoric determination to augment the army garrison in the islands, he apparently persuaded Admiral Hart--certainly not among Mac's greatest admirers--to go along with the notion for a stronger naval defense of the P.I. According to Kemp, Hart wrote to Washington on October 27, 1941, to ask permission to fight from Manila Bay, but in the nearly one month that Washington (= Stark?) pondered the request and ultimately nixed the notion, Hart may have been guilty of failing to move "thousands of tons" of fuel, torpedoes, and spare parts south to safer climes. Read Tolley, page 54, who claims that Washington dallied in replying, but clearly the responsibility for not moving the materiel in the interim, if true, lies with Hart. That is almost comparable to Mac's having many of the necessary caches of ammo, spares, medicine, and food moved from their intended location on the Bataan peninsula to other sites in Luzon, because Mac was determined to defend the entire island (that intention was short-lived once the IJA was ashore, but those necessary caches had been lost to the battlin' bastards on Bataan). Hart claims to have warned Mac of the intention to move the Asiatic Fleet; Mac claims to have been taken utterly by surprise by the move (although one is reminded that Mac was never a good listener), and complained of Hart's and/or the navy's being craven; the navy had been suspicious of the capability of FEAF, and those fears were certainly borne out. Who knows where the truth lies or what promises and predictions were made but not kept or not borne out Out There? "After all, Jake, it's Chinatown."

2. Tolley also writes (pp. 41-42, 50) that Hart was taken aback when, during Admiral Tom Phillips's visit to discuss mutual war plans, he learned for the first time ever that he was bound to provide armed naval support for the Royal Navy in and around Singapore if any one of a number of eventualities came to pass. Until he receive a clarification to his immediate query on the matter (apparently he never did), he demurred on Phillips's request to send two of his three destroyer divisions to Singapore posthaste. Upon the outbreak of war, Hart did relent and send a single division there (with Black Hawk supporting from Soerabaja), which arrived too late, finding only the wreckage of Prince of Wales and Repulse on the sea. You'll readily grasp the point that there were a lotta commitments to be satisfied every-bloody-where, hardly possible with the size of Hart's surface fleet.

3. Cannot dispute your remarks on the potential of the AF's submarine force, or its ultimately disappointing performance (Clay Blair in Silent Victory offers some possible explanations).

4. MTB Squadron 3 in the P.I., of six boats, was of course but half the standard deployment of 12. Whether Squadron 3 later seeing service in SWPac may be looked upon as the other half or as the squadron resurrected I leave to your judgment. [Yeah, yeah, admittedly an opportunity for me to do some serious hair-splitting.]

Careful study, I think, discloses that despite the addition of those modern subs to the AF, the navy was not overly enthusiastic about sending its newest and best stuff to that distant outpost, virtually on the front porch of the Japanese military and naval juggernaut. I'm certain you know that Houston was sent out in 1940 with only one new 1.1-inch AA quad mount installed, and it would appear that a number of other such mounts were belatedly and perhaps even grudgingly sent out to Cavite to complete Houston's complement and either to provide the two scheduled for Marblehead or a spare for Houston. The numbers don't match up, and there is some chat in the correspondence about one mount (but which one?) having a faulty base plate, so 'tis not clear what was going on there. In the end, the army did receive one (but which one?) for mounting atop Malinta Hill at Fort Mills, Corregidor. Admittedly a microcosm, but a microcosm of events nonetheless. Like all other services and government agencies, the navy was divided among its higher and middle ranks about what should be done with the Asiatic Fleet. The one option NOT open was the fleet's cutting and running.

Have a care about reading official letters. If the correspondence was going up the ladder, you can be sure its contents were intended to reflect the belief of the recipient and to keep him happy. If going down the ladder, the contents were most often instructional and doctrinaire. Either way, these letters hardly resound with frank honesty about a lot of issues. Cannot come with a quickie naval example, but here's a relevant one from the army's perspective.

Likely you've never heard of the Buffington-Crozier disappearing carriage (DCLF) for use with our large-sized seacoast guns, first developed in the late 1880s, and perfected during the 1890s and the first decade or so following the turn of the century. To make a very long story short(er), large guns mounted on the Buffington-Crozier DCLF fired at only a fraction of their potential range because of the Achilles heel of these carriages: the carriage's recoil geometry when the gun fired did not permit a gun elevation of more than 15 degrees (20 degrees with a Rube Goldberg device called a kickdown buffer, basically a hydraulic cylinder, added to the base of the elevating arm). The upshot of such paltry ranges for these otherwise powerful guns--such that contemporary enemy capital ships would soon outrange American heavy harbor defense batteries--was a violation of the concept of harbor defense: hiding and protecting the guns versus effectively defending the port or naval anchorage. How is that relevant you sensibly ask. Actually in two ways. Captain, soon Brigadier General, William Crozier, not by coincidence one of the co-developers of this wizard device, was shortly appointed as the U.S. Army's chief of ordnance, a position he retained for many years. During his tenure, the successive annual reports from his office positively glow--best thing since sliced bread!--on the value of the Buffington-Crozier DCLF....eons after all the other industrialized nations of the world had given up the notion of the disappearing coastal gun as impractical. When World War I came along, Crozier was transferred from this position to one more suitable to his capability, energy, and outlook on modern ordnance. Should I mention that the annual reports ceased forthwith any favorable comments on this meshugenah nonsense, which had long outlived its 1890s value? The other relevance is that the heavy harbor defense batteries of three of the four insular forts in Manila Bay were equipped with 12- and 14-inch guns mounted on Buffington-Crozier DCLFs, which in their totally open gun emplacements, along with 12-inch seacoast mortars, also in open pits, were relentlessly put out of effective action by Japanese counter-battery fire. You gonna defend your most important harbor in the Far East? Don't rely on ordnance technology of the Spanish-American War or shortly thereafter.

And accusations about hair-splitting in this forum? O bite thy tongue, knave and assassin!


P.S. Upon reading your screen nom de plume, Tastyfind, I was reminded of the last time I saw that name: donkey's years ago just outside Astoria, OR. I can see the sign now in bright, bold letters: Tastyfind Chili Dogs....on second thought that may have been Tasty Find Chilidogs....but whatever. Did I mention the stand was just a few miles outside of Astoria? Which puts it a looong way from Portland. See....when a road map is consulted....

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