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The Naval War in Asia and the Pacific

By Edited Mar 7, 2016 0 0

The naval war in the Pacific, otherwise the Pacific War, was one that began in 1941 and was all but over by 1944. The naval war was largely dominated by the U.S. Navy and Imperial Japanese Navy, which had a considerable assortment of warships. However, other Allied navies did provide additional naval support. Although a naval war, it was in fact largely won in the air.

On December 7, 1941 Japanese aircraft bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. It was there that their planes ravaged most of the battleships of Battle Row and U.S. aircraft at nearby airfields. After the raid some of the battleships were salvaged and repaired during 1941 and 1942. Whilst under repair they could not provide any surface fleet support for remaining U.S. aircraft carriers, which were not present at Pearl Harbor during the raid.

Four U.S. aircraft carriers emerged as the front line of the Allied naval fleet. All the more so after Japanese planes bombed Royal Navy battleships such as the HMS Prince of Wales out of the water during the Malaya Campaign. At the Battle of Java Sea IJN warships wiped out an ABDA fleet consisting of cruisers and destroyers. That much left the door to Java open for Japanese troops during the Dutch East Indies Campaign.

Then the IJN was winning the naval war in the Pacific. Allied surface fleet warships were falling by the wayside in the Pacific. Their battleships, cruisers and destroyers were not a great match for the more advanced Japanese alternatives such as the Yamato. Whilst the Yamato remained largely in port during the period, as a battleship that eclipsed 70,000 tons it was the world's largest.

But at the Battle of Coral Sea U.S. aircraft carriers had greater impact. The Japanese advance towards Port Moresby was thrown back by a couple of Allied aircraft carriers. Their aircraft blitzed the Japanese alternatives that withdrew from the battle. Even though one of the Allied carriers was lost, they still held Moresby.

Soon after that battle in 1942, Admiral Yamamoto dispatched a fleet of four Japanese aircraft carriers for Midway Island. The plan was for the Japanese troops to invade and occupy Midway Island, where they could establish an airfield. The IJN sent the fleet to wipe out any U.S. Navy aircraft carriers that moved within their range. Behind them a variety of surface fleet warships were also sent, but they were too distant to provide any notable naval support.

The plan was no secret as U.S. code breakers duly informed Admiral Nimitz of the approaching Japanese fleets. To intercept them Nimitz sent three fleet aircraft carriers to Point Luck, a few hundred miles from Midway. Their scout planes located the first Japanese ships approaching Midway. At Midway Island U.S. planes took off before the first Japanese planes arrived, but when they did most were still wiped out by A6Ms. Some remaining U.S. planes targeted the Japanese aircraft carriers, but had little impact.

However, the U.S. aircraft carriers arrived before Japanese troops could invade Midway. Whilst the Japanese planes were rearming the orders were given for a U.S. sortie. During that sortie further U.S. aircrafts were lost, but a group of SBD dive-bombers were left clear for a precise bombing run that set three IJN fleet carriers ablaze. They could not be salvaged, and later the fourth was also wiped out during the battle.

The USS Yorktown was also bombed by Japanese aircraft, but remained afloat. Salvage teams were sent before the arrival of one Japanese submarine. That submarine rose within striking distance of the USS Yorktown, and fired off a few torpedoes before slipping beneath the sea. That was enough to ensure the Yorktown was lost during the Battle of Midway[1].

Midway was still a great victory for the U.S. Navy. Four Japanese aircraft carriers, and hundreds of their planes, had been lost for one of their own. A turning point perhaps, but the naval war in the Pacific was far from over.

During 1943 the IJN constructed further aircraft carriers for their fleets, and other ships, as did the Allies. There weren't many notable naval battles after the Guadalcanal Campaign, although the Allies stepped up their submarine blockade. With submarines they targeted Japanese merchant ship supplies, and troop transport ships, to cut their supply lines. Despite the impact of the Allied blockades the Japanese submarines were not widely deployed during the war, nor did they establish any notable convoy support for the supply ships.

In 1944, the Allies approached the Marianas after an airstrike at the Truk naval base, which wiped out further Japanese warships. They approached with Task Force 38 and thousands of troops. The Japanese had a garrison at Saipan, but Allied submarine blockades limited supplies and reinforcements for the Mariana Islands. Their troops alone could not hold the islands, so the IJN sent an aircraft carrier fleet to defeat Task Force 38 and the Allied landings.

That fleet intercepted them at the Battle of the Philippine Sea. During the battle hundreds of outdated Japanese planes flew toward the U.S. carriers, but were wiped out from the skies. U.S. carrier aircraft dominated the battle, whilst their submarines provided additional support. U.S. submarines torpedoed two Japanese aircraft carriers from below the water. A third Japanese aircraft carrier was also later intercepted and wiped out by U.S. aircrafts. Having lost three of their carriers, and most of their planes, the IJN fleet withdrew from the battle. Then the U.S. troops took the Marianas.

It was there that the Allies won the naval war. Remaining Japanese aircraft carriers had few planes left, and those were antiquated models that could not match the F6F. The U.S. Navy had wiped out the IJN aircraft carrier fleets.

However, the IJN still had a considerable assortment of battleships, such as the Musashi and Yamato, which outmatched the Allied alternatives. As U.S. Marines stormed the beaches of Leyte, in 1944, the IJN sent four further fleets to defeat the Philippines Campaign before it got started. Their aircraft carrier fleet was primarily a decoy, whilst the Center Force included both of the Yamato-class battleships with which to intercept the U.S. invasion ships.

The plan almost came off when the Third Fleet moved northwards away from Taffy 3. This left the way clear for the Center Force to strike at lightweight U.S. aircraft carriers and other surface fleet warships. The USS Gambier Bay was one taken out at Samar, alongside a couple of U.S. destroyers. However, the Japanese fleet still withdrew from the battle. U.S. Marines poured into and occupied Leyte, before advancing further in the Philippines.

After that battle the IJN had lost most of its remaining warships such as the Musashi and Zuikaku aircraft carrier. What remained of their navy was left in port as fuel shortages greatly increased when the Allies closed in on the home islands in 1945. The war at sea was lost, and at Iwo Jima the outnumbered Japanese troops had no naval support. However, surface fleet battleships, and other warships, were still required by the Allies to provide coastal bombardments before the amphibious landings.

During the Battle of Okinawa the IJN still had the Yamato battleship. The IJN sent the Yamato into battle to provide naval support for Japanese troops as a beached shore battery at Okinawa. But without any air cover the battleship could not reach Okinawa. Task Force 58 aircraft intercepted it, but the Yamato downed only a small number of planes with its greatly expanded assortment of anti-aircraft guns. U.S. planes bombed the battleship, and the Yamato eventually sank as it flooded with water.

The Pacific War ended soon after the fall of Okinawa. Then there was little left of the IJN which had been among the foremost navies in 1941. The defeat of the IJN was essential to the Allied victory in the Pacific War, and it was their naval planes which wiped out many of the Japanese warships.



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  1. "Battle of Midway." WW2 Database. 12/03/2015 <Web >

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