Japanese Imperial Navy Essay Research Paper The

Japanese Imperial Navy Essay, Research Paper ?The key to national greatness is a strong industrial economy coupled with a powerful navy.? Introduction

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

minute loses.

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.

Ship Development

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

their own.

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?

8=5? N/A

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.?

Jon Parshall


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