A 'different' strategy for the early SE Asian campaign?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by oldcrowcv63, Jun 16, 2012.

  1. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    #1 oldcrowcv63, Jun 16, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2012
    One of the signiifcant events that occurred in 1941 was the arrival in the PI on June 24 of 96 recent flight school graduates without more than a few hours in any advanced types (P-40s). Their absorption into the already fully-staffed, three existing FEAF fighter squadrons, disrupted these unit's ability to become war-ready and effectively converted them into training squadrons during the run-up to December 8. The training process also evidently severely taxed the condition of the FEAFs approximately 50 P-35s so that when the war finally started these aircraft were worn out and unable to make a significant contribution, even considering their relative obsolescence, to the defense of the PI. IMHO the infusion of these additional poorly trained pilots crippled FEAF's ability to make an effective defense of the PI.

    In terms of numbers, each squadron already had 30+ pilots on its roster to operate 18 fighters. IIUC, that's a pretty typical level of staffing of a PS. having 60+ pilots on hand to fly 18 fighters seems to me to be utterly wasted talent especially if they were fully trained.

    I don't know why they were sent. Was it essentially to satisfy Big Mac's insatiable appetite for more of everything? Was it a deployment mistake?

    When these 96 new pilots arrived in the PI, FEAF had only 31 P-40Bs to equip one squadron (25 to the 20th Pursuit Squadron) leaving a few for senior pilot familiarization in the other two squadrons. The crated P-40s had arrived May 17, been assembled by mid June but lack of Prestone coolant prevented their use. The coolant became available by about July 7 and allowed the pilot transition and familiarization in that type to begin.

    On July 24, IJ forces were landed in Indonesia to set up and occupy forward bases there transparently in preparation for future offensives in the area. September 29 saw the arrival in the PI of an additional 50 P-40Es, enough to replace the P-35s being flown by two FEAF squadrons with the advanced type. By years end, significant movements of pilots, ground maintenance personnel and equipment were underway to the PI to reinforce FEAF. These assumed-to-be-premptive moves to bolster FEAF were of little value once fighting started and were essentially too late to make a difference anywhere.

    What if, a different, non-Big Mac, non-PI centered strategy had been implemented? What if from about mid-June it was decided that the best way to bolster FEAF was to secure its communications and supply lines to Australia and resources to accomplish the objective were directed there instead of to the PI. To start, the 96 inadequately trained supernumeraries sent to the PI were instead sent to Oz to continue their training, probably in borrowed CAC Wirraways, awaiting the arrival of P-40s, 24 of which could have arrived around November 12 having been sent to Brisbane along with the established 21st and 34rth rump squadrons instead of Manilla which would form the nucleus of what would be a Replacement Air Group training squadron to create units staffed by better trained pilots able to be deployed with more P-40s into Java and further North, perhaps a month to six weeks earlier than the deployment of the 17th Provisional Pursuit Squadron to Java which began January 23.

    This what-if doesn't suggest anything that didn't happen historically, but rather inquires about the effects of a different, non-BigMac, non-PI-centered strategy whose objective was a perfectly (in hindsight) legitimate approach to responding to IJ moves in the region. Yes, the deletion of 24 FEAF P-40s is a significant reduction in its available resources on December 8, but the level of training of the remaining three PI Based P-40 equiped squadrons, having been significantly improved, by the absence of the 96 rookies, might have somewhat offset that loss. P-35s would likely have been in better condition and available for training and operation by Phillipine National Army pilots who struggled to make a contribution in their USAAC castoff P-26s.

    It seems to me this would be a scenario worth gaming. Parsifal any opinion or experience in doing this?
     
  2. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    This is the classic dilemma that faced the allies on all fronts really. They started generally with less well trained aircrews, faced a stiff attrition rate at the beginning, but also needed to expand their air forces if they wanted to maintain the pressure on the enemy. Later, as the emergency receded a little, there was time to put a bit of spit and polish on the hours flown and the flying skills of new recruits.

    Elitist air forces dont win wars, as both the germans and the japanese found. Its harder to expand these sorts of forces, because they rely on high quality leaders, that if lost are very hard to replace. Particularly true for the japanese, but also true for the Germans. The Germans did add some very good pilots from their wartime recruitment (thinking of men like hartman) but as a generalization, not nearly as many as the allies. The allies were masses of mediocity, in the end that strategy paid off, because at the very end, it became masses of elite pilots

    one further point....the entire FEAF was one gigantic bluff, like the british deployment in Malaya. designed to gain time and act as a deterrent to discourage the japanese from attacking. once the japs did attack, the game was up.
     
  3. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Several hundred additional P-39 and P-40 fighter aircraft were enroute to the Philippines along with a multitude of aircraft support units. They would have been formed into additional fighter groups after arrival.

    The U.S. Army also planned to form units on site. During 1941 the Philippine Division was still a square formation with 4 infantry regiments. One regiment was to be removed. The Philippine division regiment was to be combined with 34th Infantry Regiment and 161th Infantry Regiment plus a field artillery regiment to form a new infantry division. Two artillery regiments departed San Francisco for the Philippines 24 Nov 1941 as part of the Pensacola convoy. The two infantry regiments departed San Francisco for the Philippines 16 Dec 1941.

    With all the war warnings the USA should have sent fully formed and trained units to the Philippines that could commence combat operations upon arrival. But that didn't happen even for the Guadalcanal invasion or Operation Torch.
     
  4. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    #4 oldcrowcv63, Jun 16, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2012
    I don't think I made myself clear on my description of the proposed scenaro: It was not primarily about training the 96 new pilots but about unloading that unnecssary responsibility from FEAF operational units. The scenario is essentially proposing a redistribution of fighter units and changed objectives which may or may not directly impact the PI campaign but would be intended to slow the speed of advance of the IJ forces through the Sulu Sea and NEI area and thereby maintain the possibility of a line of supply and comm. to the PI.

    I believe over 300 P-40s were either enroute to the PI or about to depart for that destination most were ultimately diverted to Australia:

    The proposal is that as of Mid June, 1941, the intended destination is no longer the PI but rather Australia with the intent of securing the southern flank of the PI with defensive fighter squadrons deployed out of Oz to forward bases at some or all of: Koepang, Amboina, Makassar, Balikpapan, Tarakan, and Jolo. It is evident that the plan is vulnerable on its Western and eastern flanks, especially to carrier attack since there are really not enough fighters at any one point to counter an IJN carrier attack.

    The shipments of aircraft consisted of

    20 on the Ludington (which returned to the US after December 7), 55 on the USAT President Polk

    Dec. 22, 18 x P-40Es arrive Brisbane (minus one shipped without a rudder) aboard the Admiral Halstead
    Jan. 13, 55 x P-40Es arrive Brisbane aboard President Polk
    Jan. 20, 67 x P-40Es arrive Brisbane aboard the Mormacsun
    Feb. 01, 51 x P-40s arrive Melbourne aboard Mariposa and President Coolidge.
    Feb. 04, 120 x P-40s arrive in Brisbane aboard AKV-2 USS Hammondsport

    To these are added the early arrivals (dates extrapolated):

    November 12, 24 x P-40Es arrive Brisbane (aicraft of the 34th PS about half (28 ) of whose pilots actually went to the PI) This is the enabling group from which all subsequent benefit, if any, flows. In addition, on
    December 28, 20 x P-40Es arrive Brisbane (on freighter SS Ludington, which in reality returned to the US)

    This amounts to over 300 P-40s or about 12 fully equiped squadrons of P-40s at 25 aircraft each. (I don't have any information on P-400s or P-39s enroute to Australia, although they evidently arrived some time that spring as did more P-40s.)

    In terms of pilots:
    I believe About 20 were flown in from the PI in late December.
    The Pensacola Convoy brought 46 (23 pilots each of the 21st ad 34th PS) on the Republic.
    The President Polk brought 55 pilots.
    An unknown number of pilots in squadron strength (including future Mustang ace George Preddy) arrived on the Mariposa but there were still insufficient qualified pilots to assign to all the arriving aircraft. Serious consideration was given to retraining A-24 pilots to assign to the excess P-40s.

    Five squadrons were eventually created from the aircraft and pilots sent to Australia which were then committed to the belated defense of Java: 3rd, 13th, 17th, 20th and the 33rd. It was too little too late.

    Had the 96 pilots sent to the PI in June 41 been placed in Australia there would have sufficient numbers to staff another three P-40 squadrons. Another squadron could be created from the 28 pilots of the 21st and 34th PS redirected with their 24 aircraft to Australia arriving on or about November 12th.

    I woud guess there were over 300 P-40s with roughly the same number of qualified pilots to fly them. That suggests there were enough planes and pilots to operate perhaps 11-12 P-40 squadrons in the first two months of the war in Australia to forward deploy to protect the NEI and thereby at least contest the lines of communicaiton between Oz and the PI.
     
  5. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    So that's the reason for the actual shortfall in the number of pilots present in Australia (they were all previously sent to the PI) and why the numbers seem to work out if we assume they were prepositioned in Australia. Thanks Dave.
     
  6. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    oceania_pol01.jpg


    Australians are perfectly capable of securing their own continent.

    If you want to secure the Philippine supply line then you need to secure the Gilbert Islands, Solomon Islands, New Britain, Timor, Ambon and the western tip of New Guinea. Ideally you should also have 1st Marine Division seize Palau during December 1941. All of these places except Palau are free for the taking prior to January 1942. The US Army and USN just need to get the lead out. We had plenty of shipping in the Pacific and Army units such as 41st Infantry division were sitting at San Francisco waiting for the USN to assemble a convoy.
     
  7. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    #7 oldcrowcv63, Jun 17, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2012
    I think it's been argued here in another thread that Australia and its aviation industry was in its infancy and needed a big brother to help boostrap its development to become sufficiently mature to defend itself with home grown assets. If I've understood correctly, the suddent infision of US materiel and expansion of existing bases and facilities was a boon to the country and would have been even better if it had started earler. Ozians, please comment if this isn't correct.

    Perhaps I am too rooted in the history as it occurred, but I think there were good reasons why the scenario you describe didn't appear as an option. The lslands themselves may not have been heavily defended as later in the war but as I have said elsewhere, the USN may have had a fair number of ships but it had a problem with resupply and would only have been able to mount a sea borne offensive with the greatest difficulty. if it had come to a showdown with the IJN in mid pacific, I believe the outcome would have been very bad for the USA. It's pretty much what the IJN was hoping would happen. Since Oz was essential as a staging area for Mac's ultimate offensive, why not jump start that process while considering other benfits that may thereby accrue.

    Having said that I must admit, there was indeed a lot of maritime movement of men and equipment during the ealy war months as the allies attempted to establish their own defensive ribbon of island bases.

    Nice map by the way.
     
  8. JoeB

    JoeB Member

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    The Australians had next to zero fighter capability in Australia at the start of the Pacific War and for months after. Just because they lacked that doesn't mean the Japanese would have been capable of, or had any intention to, conquer Australia. But the fast growing supply of USAAF fighters in Australia from early '42 were the only Allied fighters around. The Australian Wirraways weren't real fighters and the only two 'Kittyhawk' units stood up in Australia after the war began were actually equipped in part with P-40's from among those shipped there for the USAAF, not all with export Kitthawks. The RAAF had experienced fighter units in the Med/North African theater at the time...but that's where they were, not in Australia. It's a different what if of overall British Empire strategy to have had fewer Empire (Australian or other) forces in the Med and more in the Far East. But IMO the basic British approach of leaving inadequate second string forces in the FE was the correct one, humiliating and perhaps surprising (though shouldn't have been) as the results were. Losing to the Germans in the Mid East would have been a bigger problem.

    As far as the overall idea, once actual war broke out, and as long as the USN (and/or RN) would/could not mount a quick strong effort to re-establish sea control to and around the PI, any defensive effort there was doomed. And the FEAF showed so little ability to inflict loss on the Japanese given the overall state of US training, readiness and intel (ie dangerously little knowledge of the Japanese) I find it hard to believe any moderate adjustment such as pilot rosters would change that much. The best thing militarily would have been to have as little and low quality air resources there as possible politically, to lose as little as possible in the inevitable debacle, given the inability/unwillingness to quickly seek and win a decisive sea battle allowing sea resupply of forces in the PI.

    However as mentioned, prior to actual war the Allies seemed to believe that the Japanese couuld be deterred with shows of 'strength'. And, in US case in PI especially, the political dynamic between colony and ruler, with independence coming soon, put more pressure on the US to show it was serious in defending the PI.

    Joe
     
  9. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Japan had next to zero capability to bomb Australia and they certainly didn't have enough available ground troops to mount an invasion. So why flood Australia with U.S. Army units that could do a lot more good in places like Rabaul and Ambon?
     
  10. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    Or just contribute to the Japanese POW problem?
    It may be one thing to land some troops and guns on some these Islands. It is quite another to to keep them supplied or create defensive works of more the a "field nature" without supply. The Japanese, for good or ill control the seas at this point and can choose when and were to attack. Spreading out the available allied troops in dribbs and drabs in late December or January is inviting defeat in detail. In a way it can slow the Japanese advance but you are spending the late spring/summer/fall counter attack force to do it.
     
  11. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Not after December 7th 1941. All IJA units were already committed to an existing operation. Most of the IJN was committed to escorting the various transport fleets. That doesn't change until after the surrender of Malaya, East Indies and the Philippines. For about 4 months (mid Dec 1941 to mid April 1942) only the U.S. had significant uncommitted resources available. We could move entire army divisions and fighter groups anywhere in the South Pacific escorted by multiple aircraft carriers and the large cruiser fleet based at Pearl Harbor. But we had to get moving as the window of opportunity lasted ony about 4 months.
     
  12. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    #12 oldcrowcv63, Jun 17, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2012
    That's what I have been trying to say. We couldn't move those transports at will. The logistical train for such operations didn't exist yet. Yes, you can move transports in relatively peaceful areas, because they go slow and don't use much fuel. But the fuel appetite of a task group is ravenous in comparison. That's why the Neosho was lost in the vicinity of Fletcher's Yorktown Lex Task force. King told Nmitz to use the old battleships based on the west coast and he uncharacteristically ignored him. Nimitz knew that was impossible and would have limited his options. In terms of fuel consumption, they were worse than CV task forces. The carrier's logistic train could never be far away and there were an extremely limited numbers of tankers available for such duty. It didn't matter whether the IJN came to the USN or vice versa. There were insufficient tankers to support both a large task group likely to engage in battle and an invasion force. That problam persisted to some extent right up to Guadacanal.

    However, I do think your point about strongly opposing IJN ambitions at Rabaul or Ambon resonates with the proposed strategy. With up to 5-6 fighter squadrons deployable by January-February and the same number coming on line in February March there may have been enough to deploy squadrons to Java, Rabaul and Ambon. How would the 109 IJN CV based aircraft attacking Rabaul have done against two P-40 squadrons (36 fighters) instead of 8 CAC Wirraways? Based upon the PI and Java experience, I would expect it to be a pretty tough air battle with many allied losses but it might just have inflicted enough damage on the IJN CV's airwing to delay the fall of Rabaul until more squadrons could be deployed and appropriate attack aircraft. What if there were 6 deployable squadrons by January instead of just one (PPS-17 to Java) and then an equal number within about a month thereafter?

    Trouble is, this is all hindsight even in gaming such a hypothetical scenario. It can't be made real because of the foreknowledge of the events. It's one thing to have deployable assets it's another to know where and when to deploy them. I am curious to know whether such knowledge could be gleaned simply from the geography, which I expect to be the case and whether it might have been transparent to elements of the professional military leadership at the time. We know what Mac wanted to do based on his reading of the situation and the histrcial record. I really wonder if there were any dissenting voices in DC or London or in the South Pacific and what course they might have proposed. Australia is an awfuly big bit of english speaking geography to ignore.
     
  13. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    AS has been pointed out, refuel these fleets how?

    Why do the Japanese have to follow their Historical plans if the allies change theirs?

    Why can't the Japanese shift an Invasion fleet 600-1000 miles east or west of where it struck Historically?

    You want to move US assets 3-7000 miles in the same time. It is 7292 air miles from LA to Manila.

    Those "fighter groups" are brand new are they not? and they have to be moved by ship as deck cargo in crates unless you want your carriers to to be out of action while they play aircraft ferry. There are THREE US carriers in the Pacific in early Dec 1941.

    11 oilers as of Dec 7th and some of those are WW I left overs with a TOP speed of 12 kts. A few others had a top speed of 10.5 kts and were not fitted for underway replenishment. A few of these were in the Philippines and were lost, Even if you could have gotten them away at 8-9 knts they would have take weeks to get to Hawaii and been near useless for supporting a fast moving task force.

    The US simply did not have the Logistics to support this idea in the first few months of 1942.
     
  14. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    #14 oldcrowcv63, Jun 17, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2012
    Good points SR,

    The Oz based fighter groups would be a mixed bag. In the scenario as proposed there were some pilots with roughly 200 or more hours in type and organizations that had existed for years prior to the war. Others would have been quite new, although I expect that the more seasoned (not vets to be sure but with high time in type) would be among the first to stand up. I believe Preddy's unit arrived on the Mariposa Feb 1, and did pretty well in defence of Darwin through the Spring if I understand correctly.
     
  15. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Most merchant ships have long range. They routinely crossed the Pacific and Indian Oceans without refueling. That was true even during WWI.
     
  16. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    #16 oldcrowcv63, Jun 18, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2012
    The merchants weren't the problem. It was the combatant including invasion force escorts and the CV task groups that would not be tied to the slow movers but operating somewhat independently. You aren't going to send transports into enemy territory (wherever enemy combatants or associated aircraft might be operating, unescorted or without being covered by a CV task group. Trouble was as pointed out earlier, intelligence was very flawed and knowledge of enemy movements pretty uncertain.

    Check out Lundstrom, Hornfischer or Frank for greater details on the situation.
     
  17. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    This isn't an invasion. Prior to late January 1942 merchant ships could carry 41st Infantry division into Rabual harbor and unload at the piers. The same holds true for Ambon and Timor.

    There's only one catch - the USN need to get the lead out. They cannot sit immobilized staring sadly at sunken battleships while the Japanese seize strategic territory with a single infantry regiment.
     
  18. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    The problem is speed. Doubling the speed on some ships can quadruple the fuel consumption. Not the slow movers so much as the carriers and cruisers and destroyers. 1 hour at 30 knts is worth 4 hours at 15 kts. The carriers run at about 30 kts when engaged in flying operations and at least some of the escorts have to keep up. The destroyers also have less endurance to begin with and at times have to use for speed to maintain formation or do a bit more zig zaging than the main group. depending on class a destroyer might be good for 16 days at 15 knots. even 24 hours of high speed running in that time cuts the endurance to 13 days.

    The 2nd problem is once you cross the ocean were do you refuel? a commercial freighter/tanker may take 1000 tons or less. Refueling even a small task force requires 10s of thousand of tons of fuel oil. A big carrier can take over 5,000tons, a cruiser 2-3,000tons and so on. A couple of carriers, 5-6 cruisers and a dozen destroyers might wipe out the fuel stocks of a small Asian port. Or take the entire contents of 3-4 good sized tankers of the time.
     
  19. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    #19 Shortround6, Jun 18, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2012
    Is this the same 41st Infantry division that was deployed to defend the coastline of Washington and Oregon after Peal Harbor?

    Ok, round them up, load them on ships and set sail for Rabual when?

    It is about 26 days sailing in a 10kt ship from San Francisco to Rabual. To get there before the Japanese you have to leave the west coast before the end of December. Ambon and Timor take even more time. You have 3 weeks to move the infantry, load the ships (one or two won't do) and loading men on unconverted freighters for 3 1/2 weeks is a joke. Anything left behind may not get there in time.

    And, of course, you have arranged for refueling of the merchant ships so they can actual leave Rabual and get to another port?
     
  20. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    #20 oldcrowcv63, Jun 18, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2012
    There were troops aboard ships in the Pensacola convoy. I think Dave gave a detailed list of troops in motion at the start of the war in another thread. I don't recall from that if there were other forces converging on the PI at the war's start. For example:

    Pensacola Convoy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Looks like 4 battalions of National Guard field artillery made up of 2,000 troops and 20 x 75 mm pack howitzers in addition to the 17 x P-40 (+1 partial) and 87 pilots (not the 46 I previously cited) some experienced and some recent flight school grads.

    It just strkes me as so clear that a pre-WW2 developed and equipment stocked Australia would be such a great force multiplier in any future Conflict with Japan that somebody must have discussed it. The famous quote by Nimitz in this regard suggests pre-war gaming may have included such an exercise.

    "During the war, the war with Japan had been re-enacted in the game rooms here (at the naval war colllege) by so many people and in so many different ways that nothing that happened during the war a surprise—absolutely nothing except the kamikaze tactics towards the end of the war; we had not visualized those."

    This doesn't strike me as simply 20/20 hindsight. I suspect the war gaming Nimitz was referring to was a more parochial version looking at strictly naval engagements. There was probably no counterpart to USNWC at Newport's annual Global War Game that now takes a very expansive look at the larger theater with a very purple persective and an eye primarily focused on logistics .
     
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