Japanese Imperial Navy Essay, Research Paper
?The key to national greatness is a strong industrial economy coupled with
a powerful navy.?
It was 8 AM at in the Pacific on December 7, 1941, and a harbor filled with a
few warships was being bombed. It wasn?t uncommon for a harbor bombing during
the times of World War II. What was uncommon was the fact that the harbor
belonged to the United States, a country that wasn?t involved in the war yet,
and the country bombing it was Japan, a country that had come out of isolation
just eighty years earlier and whose economy was just one seventh the size of the
United States. A few months later one may think that Japan, being as small and
new as it was that it would have been obliterated, yet it wasn?t. In fact,
after five months Japan had created an almost perfect record for its name. With
the attack on Pearl Harbor, the sinking of two Royal Navy ships, the Prince Of
Wales and Repulse, four separate engagements around Java, and operations in the
Indian Ocean in April, the Japanese had inflicted heavy loses on the Allies and
destroyed most of the Allied opposition around Japan itself with exceptionally
How could a country that has only been mingling with other countries for
eighty years attack with great skill another country that was at the time, one
of the most powerful countries in the world? Simple, Japan had been preparing
for a war just like this one for since they came out of isolation in the early
1860?s. Although the war wasn?t planned against the United States and was in
fact against Russia and China, the knowledge that they had acquired in new
technologies, ship building, aviation, training, and tactics was all put to use
when they did.
Why Japan Attacked
Imperialist Japan in the 1920?s and 1930?s was surviving on imports from
other countries, especially from the United States. Imports such as iron and oil
made up 90% of what Japan used in a year. The Japanese saw this, and because
they had wanted to become more of a self-sufficient country, saw the need for
expansion to lessen this gap. Japans government saw the perfect place in China
that could feed a going economy with all of the raw materials that it needed. It
planned and invasion on the northern parts of China and proceeded to do so with
The United States saw what was happening and warned Japan that they didn?t
like what they were seeing. They had had not intervened and Japan did not take
our warning as it should have. It continued to invade parts of China, and soon
seized all of French Indochina. The United States, replying to a request made by
the French, placed an embargo on Japan. Japan, who received most of its imports
from them was trapped and saw the only way out was to start a war with them. Not
a war in the sense that they would land troops on the coast of California and
invade the United States, but one that would be small and unpopular in the
United States. What they hoped would happen was the United States would receive
enough disapproval from its citizens and would grow tiered of the war and would
negotiate a treaty with Japan, given them what they wanted.
Although the Japanese Imperial Navy was inferior to the United States Navy in
the number of ships that were war ready and the aggregate tonnage, there wasn?t
any other country in the world that surpassed the Japanese on a combat ship to
combat ship basis (Greene 10). The Japanese warship designs emphasized speed and
offensive firepower while placing less importance on structural strength,
stability, protection, and range. All of their ships were combat ready for night
actions and were up to date on most technologies. It should be noted that this
was almost impossible to accomplish without breaking most of the pre-war naval
treaties that Japan had signed, but it should be noted the Japan wasn?t alone.
Germany, Italy, the Soviet Union, and France also did break these treaties.
The Imperial Navy was formed in the middle of the 1860?s and was shaped
after the British. Even the naval academy Etajma was designed after the British
academies. In the beginning of the formation of the Imperial Navy, the Japanese
bought their warships from prominent British shipyards. Of those British
shipyards was Vickers and Yarrow. The Japanese then began importing large
quantities of foreign naval material and soon developed an ability to support
their own naval ambitions. Japan had help from some of its own large
corporations by giving industries that directly helped support the navy,
government financial support. These industries quickly developed the capability
to not only replicate that of western designs, but also develop and produce
In 1911, the launch of the battlecruiser Kong? by Vickers was the last
capital ship built by a foreign supplier. Japanese shipyards produced all of
Kong?s three sister ships. Japan essentially became self sufficient in the
production of naval power plants, armor plating, heavy ordnance, fire-control
systems, and optics. In 1921, a British missionary showed the Japanese the
latest aviation technology, including aircraft carriers. With this new
information, the Japanese set out to design and build there own, and in 1922
they constructed their first aircraft carrier, the H?s?. Five years later they
would add to the fleet their first large aircraft carrier, the Akagi.
Of the ten aircraft carriers that Japan had at the start of the war, six of
these were large fleet carriers with four more under construction. The large
fleet carriers were able to carry 70-90 airplanes per ship and travel at 30 or
more knots. These ships weighed on average 15,300 tons and had unarmored decks
leaving them vulnerable to air strikes. In 1941, Japan established the First Air
Fleet, first ever unit of its kind in the world, with six of its large fleet
carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, S?ry?, Hiry?, Sh?kaku, and the Zuikaku.
The Japanese had ten battleships from World War I. These ships were heavily
rearmored and equipped with the latest technologies in turrets and fire-control
systems. Of these ships, four were from the Kong? class and were originally
built as battlecruisers. They traveled at 30 knots and each one equipped with
eight 14-inch guns. These ships were clearly superior to any of the United
States? heavy cruisers. The other six battleships could travel at 26 knots and
individually not superior to most of the United States? heavy cruisers (Greene
11). The Japanese had designed their battleships to be bigger and a larger
caliber main battery. After the signing of the
Type Of Ship No. Constructed During War Tons Each Guns Torpedoes
Aircraft Carriers 10 4 15,297 N/A N/A
Battleship 10 N/A 30,140 8 14? N/A
Destroyers 163 12 2,000 6=5? Unknown
Heavy Cruisers 18 N/A 12,000 10=8?
Light Cruisers 20 4 4,940 4=5.5? 40=24?
Submarines 65 29 N/A N/A N/A
Super Battleships 0 2 64,000 9=18? N/A
Washington Naval Treaty in 1922, the Japanese along with most other countries
stopped all construction on any normal battleships. Instead they were replaced
with heavy cruisers.
The Japanese had eighteen heavy cruisers at the start of the war weighing in
at 12,700 tons and they could travel at a fast pace of 35.5 knots. Each one was
very well armored and had up to ten 8-inch guns and up to eight 5-inch guns. The
heavy cruisers also had sixteen torpedo tubes that could launch 24-inch
There existed twenty light cruisers, of which two older cruisers, the Oi and
the Kitakami, were reconstructed. Four others were also built during the war.
The force of light cruisers was built in the 1920?s and was smaller than most
ships the United States had. They were fast and weighed 4,940 tons apiece. The
Oi and Kitakami weighed 5,000 tons and could travel at 36 knots. They were armed
with four 5.5 inch guns and carried 40 long lance torpedoes. The four built
during the war weighed 11,200 tons. A light cruiser was usually assigned as a
flagship to a destroyer squadron.
Of one hundred seventy five destroyers Japan had all together, only a maximum
of one hundred thirty were in the war at once and one hundred twenty nine were
destroyed. At 2,000 tons and each having six 5 inch guns, they excelled in ship
to ship combat and were usually larger and more heavily gunned then what the
United States had. A normal United States destroyer weighed 1,500-1,800 tons
with four or five 4.7 inch or 5 inch guns. The Japanese also had the secret long
lance 24-inch torpedoes, which were installed on all ships made after 1935, and
a larger warhead then most allied warheads. Japans warhead weighed 1,080 pounds
compared to the allied warhead of 810 pounds. In 1928, Japan created the Fubuki
class destroyers, larger and faster destroyers with their 5-inch guns in weather
proof, power operated mounts. At the time of there creation, they were the most
powerful destroyers in the world. All of the destroyers were adequate for
antiaircraft but lacked the mass of weapons that characterized the allied
The Japanese had three different types of submarines. The long range with
which there consisted seven, the RO, which was used for coastal work, and the
standard I-boat, which cooperated with the main fleet. The I-boat was the most
important of these three. It had a long range, a high speed of 8.5 knots
submerged and 20 knots surfaced one 4.7-inch gun and six 21-inch torpedoes, and
good seakeeping qualities. The most advanced submarines carried a floatplane,
had a 5-inch and two 25-mm guns, and had a range of 14,000 miles at 16 knots.
Several submarines also carried midget submarines. They weighed 46 tons and
traveled at 19 knots submerged. Each was armed with 18-inch torpedoes.
Japan also started construction at the start of the war of four Yamato-class
battleships or super battleships. These battleships had nine 18-inch guns
capable of sending a 3,220 pound shell more than 25 miles. Each ship weighed
64,000 tons and could travel at 27 knots. These ships were designed to be bigger
and more powerful then any other ship in the world and it took 49 months to
build a single ship. These ships could easily fire over the horizon at a ship
with the help of spotter planes. Of the four super battleships started, two, the
Yamato and Mushushi would be completed, one, the Shinano, was completed as an
aircraft carrier, and the other would be cancelled after work started in March
Japans Imperial Army and Imperial Navy each had there own airforce, all
though an army airplane wasn?t seen by the Allies until 1943. Japans aircraft
were par with any other great power at the start of the war. They were fast,
well-armed, and Japanese companies were able to mass-produce these planes. Yet,
until the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Allies viewed the aircraft as ?poor
copies of absolute Allied aircraft?? (Parshall Interview).
When the British missionary showed the Japanese the latest in aviation
technology in 1921, they soon realized how outdated their planes where and soon
began to design and build new ones. By then Japans leading aircraft companies
were all well established. These companies included Nakajima, Mitsubishi,
Kawasaki, and Aichi. In the early 1930?s, the outcome of ten years of design
produced the A6MZ ?Zero? fighter, which at the beginning of the war gained a
reputation of being almost invincible. In the later part of the decade Japan
also saw the production of the G4M ?Betty? bomber and the D3A ?Val?
dive-bomber, two more equally good planes.
Japans naval airforce consisted of 3,000 planes. Of these 3,000 planes, 1,400
were frontline combat aircraft. 503 planes were assigned to the 11th Koku Kantai
(Air Fleet). The 11th Air Fleet was a land based naval support fleet that
consisted of three air flotillas, the 21st, 22nd, and the 23rd. The rest of
Japans naval airpower belonged to the elite 1st Air Fleet; a sea based air fleet
made up of six large aircraft carriers. The 1st Air Fleet was the best-trained
air force unit in the world. This air force unit was the same unit that attacked
Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
After the Japanese learned how to design and produce their own ship designs,
they also become self sufficient in the building of naval power plants, armor
plating, heavy ordnance, fire-control systems, and optics. They also designed
their own hangers and hanger operations, arresting gear, and landing lights
without the help of other countries. The overall quality of Japanese technology
was good. The Japanese had mastered torpedoes, optics, and flashless gunpowder
and were up to date on naval guns, propulsion systems, and aircraft. Radar,
sonar, combat information center, and supercharged aircraft engines, was what
the Japanese did lag behind in.
An item that Japan had that no other country had was oxygen-powered
torpedoes. The British had been trying to develop this new technology for years
but had given up. Just after the British had given up, they gave a tour of a
British fleet to a Japanese ambassador. The oxygen equipment had not been taken
off the ships yet and the ambassador assumed that they had discovered how to do
it. When the ambassador told Japan of this, they immediately poured money into
it, and to the regret of every other country, formed a world class torpedo
propulsion system (Greene 13 ). The first use of the torpedo, the 24-inch long
lance, was during the battle of the Java Sea on the R.N.N. Kortenaer. It was
suspected at the time that the ship sank because of a mine, but the Allies found
out at the end of the war that it was do to Japans secret weapon.
The average Japanese naval crewman and aviator was one of the best-trained
personnel in the war. The Japanese often sent their crews to the northern seas
where they could practice in harsher climates out of sight of other countries
and most of the personnel would only receive up to three days off a month. Their
naval aviators, especially ones from the 1st Air Fleet, could not be matched
with any others in the abilities of a pilot. This was achieved not only through
rigorous training, but also the diligence of the Japanese. Crewmen sometimes
would practice so hard the they would actually believe that they where there
fighting and would become mentally lost.
The navy focused on achieving the very highest standards of professionalism
and they did this by training for what they knew they were going to face. When
training for a war against the United States and the Allies, the Japanese knew
that they would be outnumbered and therefore tried to develop a tactic to solve
this problem. What they came up with was a use of mass torpedo attacks at night
against the main fleet of ships, and during the day they would rely on
long-range heavy gunfire on the remnants of the fleet. Many of Japans naval
aviators had gained previous experiences with operations in China in 1937 and
onward. Japan also added on this information and trained its airforces to do
carrier born torpedo and dive-bombing against ships, level bombing against land
based objects, dogfighting, night attacks, and long range shoot-outs.
With this sufficient training and the strong development of new technologies,
it shouldn?t have been that much of a surprise to the Allies that Japan was
such a strong foe and yet it was. To them, it would have been a miracle for a
country, new to the modern world, to set an almost unbeaten streak the first
four months that they were in the war. Unfortunately, the Allies weren?t aware
of all of Japans capabilities and work that they were putting into the training
and development for just such a war, and to their dismay, were knocked out of
their chairs when a country they had looked down their nose upon showed greater
skill and ability then they would have ever thought of this small country.
Why Japan Lost
Even with all of the training and development of new technologies, it is hard
to believe that Japan lost, but, to their regret, they did so by making a few
mistakes in what they prepared for and in the battles that they fought. A few of
the major mistakes that they had made was in all of the planning that went into
the development of the planned attacks. What Japan had initially planned for a
war was something small that they could drag out for awhile and hope that the
Americans would tire of. What Japan forgot was its own economical ability to
fight a war over an extended amount of time. Japan did not have the ability to
absorb loses over such an amount of time, and failed to realize that with the
size of the United States? economy, they would be able to quickly buy more
materials and replace ships faster then the Japanese. Japans shipyards were not
large enough to handle such a big demand to accommodate a war.
More faults can be found in the initial design, production, and use of its
aircraft and submarines. Their aircraft industry was able to mass-produce planes
but was unable to adopt new and better plane designs as the war continued and
therefore their aircraft quickly became outdated. Another fault with the planes
was that the fuel tanks were not protected enough. The Allies had developed self
sealing tanks, therefore, no matter how good the Japanese were, the Allies could
take a much bigger beating and survive then they themselves could. The Japanese
submarines lacked a lot of new technology, their hulls were vulnerable to sonar,
they had slow diving times do to their large size, were pour at maneuvering when
submerged, and when surfaced, their large conning towers could be picked up on
radar. Last, the Japanese had kept all of their units on the frontline longer
then the Allies, who brought back home its pilots to train more after a certain
amount of time while the more experienced Japanese units died out.
While they did do well towards the beginning of the war, some mistakes were
made in a few key battles. In Midway, a Japanese fleet of four carriers
preparing for an attack when they were stumbled upon by three carriers belonging
to the United States. If the Japanese had the six ships that were planned to be
there, one could bet that because of the unfair advantage they would have had,
they would have won the battle. But because the choice was made earlier to leave
two carriers behind at the Coral Sea, 3 vs. 4 was doable by the United States.
Also, the Japanese needed to add a few more Anti-Aircraft weapons on their
ships, the little they did have proved non-effective against the number of
planes the United States sent out.
The break that occurred between the Solomon Island Campaign and the Battle of
the Philippine Sea was a big mistake made by the Japanese. It allowed for a the
United States to play catch-up on their ships while Japanese ships sat broken in
shipyards that had become full in the beginning of the war. At the Battle of
Leyte Gulf, the Japanese had hoped to attack the shore. To do this the needed to
lure a fleet of ships guarding it away and they chose to do so with their
carriers. As they did this, cruisers would head for shore. Well, it might have
worked if the United States didn?t leave behind a few guard ships that
stumbled upon the advancing cruisers. This was the start of the greatest naval
battle in history in which Japan would lose and start on its way losing the war
against the United States.
??By failing to recognize that attacking the U.S. meant not just fighting
a single decisive battle, but waging total war, Japan doomed itself to a
conflict it could not win in the long term.?
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