Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Listened to: "Retribution" by Max Hastings

Does a good job covering both the strategic planning and the people. Neat coverage of both the ranks and ranking officers; the hazards of combat and the personal conflicts and egos of the upper ranks.

Notes as I listen to this:

Production numbers astonishing. No way the Japanese could keep up. Same as Germans.

Disparity in numbers between ETO and PTO. So many troops in Europe but MacArthur, even with a grand title and rank, commanded just a portion of soldiers that European Generals commanded. MacArthur surrounded himself with sycophants and chose new staff based on looks and obsequiousness. MacArthur seems to have spent so much time on publicizing himself it's a wonder anything got done. His staff would ignore intelligence reports and repeatedly underestimate the enemy while their press releases would crow success.

The clashes of personalities and egos affected outcomes. The Philippines naval battle where where a task force commander chased after empty aircraft carriers rather than then support his other ships were caught by surprise by a great Jap force. Fog of war involved there as well as how the Jap force cut off its chase of US ships and the sure chance of the US ships' destruction.

The popularity of kamikaze pilots in Jap society. There was no problem in recruiting pilots. Many more attacks would have been carried out except for lack of planes and pilots never making it to the theater through a gauntlet of US defenses. Did not realize how many there were and how effective they were. Many missed or did not make it into a ship but could cause massive damage. Especially from the fires that would start on carriers after the airplane fuel started on fire. Massive burn injuries and deaths from ship fires.

Hatred and anger engendered by the institutionalization of kamikaze attacks. Started to despise the Japs even more than before. Refusal to assist surviving Jap sailors in the water. Praise in the West for men who would sacrifice themselves in battle - award of MOH or VC as recognition - but the bizarre thought of training and purposefully killing yourself.

The eternal problems of getting infantry to close with the enemy. In the Philippines soldiers would do the rational thing and stay put when shot at. Infantry would wait for tanks, air, or artillery to eliminate a threat. Unit success depended on the commanders' ability to drive the men into action. Units would claim to be pinned down. Pinned down is defined by Hastings a having several casualties and unable to maneuver without incurring more or worse casualties. But, units would - again, rationally - not move and claim to be pinned down.

Battle of Manila. Incredibly vicious and brutal. Systematic and institutionalized brutality, torture, rape and murder by the Japanese. Mostly Jap Naval forces were left behind with plenty of ammo and multiple hard-points in a city built to withstand earthquakes. Japs would round up people and center them to make killing easier. Directions from on high instructed them to use as little ammunition as possible and bayonets were used as a result. The Jap defensive tactics were fantastic but fortunately they never could get larger units coordinated and the counterattacks almost always failed.
Discussion on whether Manila should have been bypassed in lieu of capturing airfields and naval bases to continue the path to Japan. Because tens of thousands of a Filipinos were murdered by the Japs but the US killed almost at many with artillery and air attack. I understand the argument but even with MacArthur ignoring intelligence reports and showboating there was no way to know the result. Bypassing would have still left the civilians open to atrocities and criticism would center on leaving the civilians to suffer instead of liberating them.
The Philippines campaign was a mistake overall and unnecessary. The campaign of Luzon Island and then sending out landing units to all the other archipelago islands was a waste of lives and resources. MacArthur let his personal egos get in the way and ignored the Joint Chiefs. He would promote his incompetent subordinates to make himself look better.

Iwo Jima: "hand wringing" over carrier operations carried against the Jap islands rather than used against Iwo. Author's view that the deep, rock fortresses and caves of Iwo withstood the three day naval bombardment with no trouble and extra artillery attacks would not have helped. The real mistake was not invading sooner; if the US invaded in 1944 the defenses would not have been finished. The Japanese were absolute experts in defensive warfare.

Submarine warfare: The US Navy was very successful in shutting down Jap shipping. The figures Hastings quoted are surprising (not that I remember them). Submarine service required very aggressive boat commanders and a lot of captains were canned from their jobs unless they came back from patrol after sinking enemy.
The faceless nature of naval warfare is more pronounced when under water. Submariners rarely saw the destruction they wrought. But, they certainly heard and felt it, especially when hitting ammunition ships. Attacks by depth chargers were awful to endure. Crew would have to check for leaks to make sure oil or air were not leaking from the hull and alerting the enemy.
Submariners whose ship was sunk were often executed by the Japanese naval and merchant crewmen who suffered under their attacks.

USAAF attacks on Japan: The B-29 Super Fortress was a mess. They cost $0.5 M each and had multiple technological and mechanical problems. Multiple per mission would be lost due to engine failures and other problems. The would crash on takeoff and landing and be ditched in the ocean mid-mission.
The B-29s bombing ability was poor too. Inexperienced air crews would get 2% of the bombs on target. Radar would be used to identify ground targets but was still not accurate. Navigation by sextant required constant measurements by the navigator. Hastings used survivors' stories to tell the story of the March 9, 1945 incendiary attack on Tokyo. The resulting carnage was horrifying to listen to. The wooden and thatch houses of Tokyo quickly caught fire and the firestorm's winds and heat killed 100,000 people. "Crinkled" bodies littered the resulting wasteland with the only standing structures the few brick buildings, upright pipes, and iron safes.
General LeMay comes in for a lot of modern criticism for the firebombing of Japan. Hastings points out that the real blame lies with LeMay's superiors from the President on down who never expressed concern of ordered him to stop. LeMay used what he had: breaking B-29s and incendiary carpet bombing since pinpoint bombing never worked.

Several chapters covering China. China was a clusterfuck with the Nationalists and Coomunists both ineffective except for one division or regiment trained entirely by Americans. Mostall communist units were light infantry with nothing more than rifles - if they had those. The one good thing about China is that it tied up so many Japanese troops. They were left in the concquered territory and not fighting the real threat from the US.

Okinawa: another deadly island battle with fanatical resistance. The US estimates on battle casualties for an attack on Japan were welll founded. There were 1900 kamikaze fatalities by the Japanese. It must have seemed like a never ending flood of suicidal pilots. I was struck by the similiatirties to the current war's suicidal attacks. Both sides are or were supported by family and "government". The Japanese were defeatred and their crazy militaristic governance and ideals changed.

The End: A US General referred to the Japanese physically brave but "moral cowards". he got that right. Privately they would acknowledge that the war was lost and must accept surrender. Publicly they pledged to fight on. The upper military officers feared the eager majors and Colonels on their staffs who wanted to fight on. Meanwhile, while the cabinet and military dithered and dallied under the delusion on continuing the fight, enlisting Russia to their side, or demanding terms, more soldiers and civilians died.

I don' think I ever knew about Russia's invasion of Mongolia in 1945. The Soviets collected a fairly massive invasion force to include new divisions and combat-proven divisions shifted over from Germany. The Soviet invasion against the Japanese Army in Mongolia was one of the last nails in the coffin and shortened the war up. The Japanese could not rely on those troops anymore and hope to bring them back home to fight.

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