Japanese Perpective of the Battle of Britain

Discussion in 'WWII Books' started by Glider, Jul 8, 2007.

  1. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    #1 Glider, Jul 8, 2007
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2010
    Battle of Britain from a Japanese perspective.

    These notes are derived from a chapter in the book the Burning Blue. The detail came from a member of the Japanese Embassy in the UK plus comments some discussion he had with the Japanese Embassy in Berlin.

    I have split the posting into various stages and there is a bit more to go on but that will have to be done later. Please be patient and I hope you find it of interest.

    Pre War
    In 1936 the Japanese signed up to the Anti-Comintern pact allying itself to Italy and Germany in a number of areas. The Ambassador in Britain Yoshida Shigeru argued that this could only lead to disaster.
    His argument was that Japan had overestimated the military Power of Germany. That only 20 years after the end of WW1 in which Germany had been comprehensively beaten and economically weakened, no matter how great a nation Germany was, it could not be considered the equal of the UK or USA.
    He appealed to his political masters that the Military leaders who said the pact was only to stop communism were not being completely honest about the detail of the pact.
    Mr Shigeru urged that Japan should sign an alliance with the Anglo American alliance and show diplomatic flexibility re the issues of Indo-china. The political leaders were also reminded that the Military leaders had led to the conflict with Russia in Nomonhan and at a cost of 20,000 casualties could show no gains. It was also implied that if the Military leaders couldn’t gain over a small conflict against a ravaged, politically unstable, Russia, should their views be given such a hearing when talking about Britain and the USA.

    In view of the above you will not be surprised to hear that he was removed from his office and sent back to Japan in disgrace. In the end he did have the last word as post war he became a very important Japanese Prime Minister who had much to do with the rise of Japan from the ashes of war.
    Had he been listened to, its safe to say the war would have taken a very different path.

    Watching the War
    Japanese Imperial General Headquarters demanded analyses of the strategic situation from their attaches in Europe. After several months of war a summary or round up was requested. The Attaché in Britain Colonel Tatsumi Ei’ichi and Berlin, Okamoto Kiyotomi agreed to meet in Brussels in May 1940 and much to their surprise the British agreed to let Tatsumi make the trip. Thy met on 9th May had dinner and went back to the hotel. That night the Germans started their invasion and Okamoto was furious as the Germans had assured him that it was safe to travel. No doubt this was a co incidence but the Japanese took it badly, considering it a loss of face.

    On May 17th despite his workload Churchill had lunch at the embassy and the Japanese were most impressed. His self evident authority, strong nerves, determination, humour and detailed knowledge greatly impressed the Japanese and was compared favourably by those who had met them, with the German leadership.

    As you would expect, the British didn’t give the Japanese any assistance with understanding the military state of affairs, but the Japanese did what they could.
    Most of their information came from observing things themselves and questioning civilians.

    Post Dunkirk
    This was the only time the Japanese in Britain thought that the islands were open for invasion. They saw the troops arriving at the railway stations and considered them pitiful with torn uniforms and almost no weapons. The troops didn’t hide their happiness at being home.
    What did impress them was the urgency and organisation with which the British were reorganising things. Camps were set up to retrain and reorganise the troops and in some cases help them recover to face the Army and civilians. This was unheard of in the Japanese forces.

    Watching the Air Battle
    The travel limitations put on the Japanese made this more difficult than you might imagine.
    They were aware of the battles of course and soon felt that the British were able to defeat the more numeric German forces.

    An urgent report was prepared for transmission home which identified three key areas for this confidence.
    1) The Spitfire
    As an interceptor they considered it to have no equal. Its Speed, Climb, Manoeuvrability and firepower were ideal characteristics, they were very impressed.
    2) Co-Ordinated Attacks
    It was clear to the Japanese that the British had a defensive information system capable of tracking incoming raids enabling them to take advantage of any weakness.
    3) Aircraft production
    The rapid increase in aircraft production was a major surprise in particular of the Spitfire with its complex construction.

    The Bombing
    The Japanese embassy was first hit on the 7th September by two incendiary bombs which did no damage and were easily put out.
    On the 16th October it was hit again by a 500KG bomb that didn’t explode. The building was evacuated in case of a delayed fuse and a bomb disposal team arrived to deal with the bomb. His words are interesting:-
    They first removed the fuse and then dug out the bomb itself. They were quite splendid, calm and brave. When they removed bombs one by one they would put up a rope to keep the civilians away but they wanted to see these scary things, so they crowded around. These units were in good humour and would respond with banter to the civilians around. I was impressed by how humorous they were.

    Report Home.
    In late autumn the Military Attaché sent an analysis of the situation to the Japanese General Staff. Its main summary was: -

    The Luftwaffe had failed to establish any preconditions for an invasion. Daytime facility bombing of the British Airforce ended in failure due to the hard struggle of the British fighter command units and Germany was unable to achieve control of the air.

    It was noted that the victory in the air battles had improved the fighting spirit of the British people and despite hardships they, were demonstrating their will to fight on. We estimate that an invasion of the British Homeland by Germany whilst not absolutely impossible will be extremely difficult.

    As you would expect, this negative report shortly after Japan signed a military alliance with Germany didn’t go down well.
    Okamoto, who had in the meantime been promoted from Berlin Attaché to Head of the Second Department of the General Staff, even questioned the resolve of the British Attaché, almost accusing him of cowardice. Tatsumi the attaché in London was enraged but insisted that judgements made in London should be passed to the General Staff even if it risked his career.
    Indeed, his view was that if the Japanese were to find itself at war with Britain it was even more important that Japan should be aware of why the Blitz had failed. Quoting If Japan was going to fight, we had to determine what were the conditions for victory. When war should be begun, or be avoided, we had to clarify this situation. Located at the very site of the battle between Britain and Germany and being attacked by Germany in the Capital of Britain, we were naturally sending information that had a different perspective from the information available from the Germans who were attacking.

    What the book doesn't say is if this honest review was passed to the High Command.
     
  2. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    Interesting post. Where did you get the info? Is there a book on the subject. It would be a great read. Give the perspective of a third party observer.
     
  3. RAGMAN

    RAGMAN Member

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    interesting,never thought that an embassy would be hit...especially an ally of Germany.
     
  4. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    #4 Glider, Jul 15, 2007
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2010
    The Air Battle
    In March 1939 Lt Cd Genda Minoru arrived in London as the Special Air Attahce but officially as an Assistant Naval Attache. Genda was one of Japans most senior and influential air war experts and had spent some time in Germany being briefed bythe Luftwaffe before coming to Britain. So its fair to say he was well prepared for his task and current on the German forces and aircraft.

    He outlined his mission as understanding the real capabilities of the British Air Force. He spent a lot of time visiting the British airfields and although not allowed in, he was able to observe a fair amount from surrounding fields.

    During the Battle he observed the combatants in action and reported that the British Fighters and capability of the British Fighter Command to be less than the Imperial Japanese Navy, but that the Luftwaffe fighters to be less capable than the British. As with previous reports, this didn’t go down well with his superiors due to the implied criticism of Japans German Allies. However, Genda stuck to his guns and insisted that the report was forwarded.

    As he reported ‘my conclusion was considered to be self-righteous and was criticised, but I was confident in it. It is my view that the early results of the Pacific War bore out my assessment.’

    In September 1940 he was called home for a personal report and debriefing. In summary he made the following points:-

    1) The Germans have an overwhelmingly large number of aircraft and are succeeding in carrying out their bombing raids.
    2) Germany’s method of bombing was more effective than that used by the Japanese bombers. The German bombers tried to destroy every facility of an airbase making it difficult if not impossible to quickly rebuild it. The Japanese bombers (in his words) were casting a net with incomplete preparations limiting effectiveness.
    3) The air war is in progress but he did not believe that the British would scream out. The reason being that the air battle is over British territory. Also, despite the overwhelming number of German forces being deployed, he believed the ability of Fighter Command is greater than the German forces. Thus for this reason, the German Airforces raids over Britain may well collapse.
    4) It is generally assumed in the Japanese Navy that Aircraft and Carriers are only offensive weapons and for this reason it is almost unthinkable to provide them with defence. The European conflict shows otherwise. German aircraft he observes are well protected, with good protection for the pilots and even the fuel tanks. So German planes have durability even if caught in disadvantageous situations ( I love that phrase). He recommended that the Japanese Navy should review this, reflect on it and consider adopting better protection.
    5) Genda also recommended that this point be applied to Aircraft Carriers. He points out that British Carriers have a well armoured flight deck which had proven beneficial on a number of occasions. It is natural to defend a carrier with planes and guns but it is impossible to ensure 100% security against air attack.
    6) He observed that up until now the combat situation has been advantageous to the Axis forces and that many assume that the Axis will win. However, when the British characteristic of Tenacity is considered, he did not believe that Britain would collapse. Had Germany been able to invade immediately after Dunkirk then they would have had a chance. Now however, all the beaches have defensive positions which are being improved all the time. The seas around the coast are under the control of the Royal Navy and the British have control of the skies. In these conditions it is too early to assume a British Defeat, it is also too early to assume a British Victory. It was Genda’s belief that the outcome of this conflict will come from some other factor.

    Once again his report wasn’t well received and it was said of him that ‘if you listened to Genda, you would think that the British would win the air war over England.’

    Later he wrote ‘One of the lessons I learned was that the domination of the enemy air by fighters was imperative for inflicting a fatal aerial blow upon the opponent. One of the main reasons for the Germans failure was their lack of this idea.

    Genda spoke a lot of sense and by and large he was right in a number of key ways. Had the Japanes put more protection into the Zero from day one then life could certainly have been more difficult for the Allies.
    Japan I think we can say forgave him as he was one of the senior planners for Pearl Harbour, not a task they would give to someone who was deemed a failure.

    The Book is the Burning Blue ISBN 0-7126-6475-0 and most of it is very dissapointing. The only two chapters that are of interest are this one and one on the American Perspective which I will cover next.
     
  5. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    Good work Glider. Interesting stuff.
     
  6. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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    Yep, interesting reading.
     
  7. Heinz

    Heinz Active Member

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    Certainly a point of view I had't read about before, thanks.
     
  8. The Basket

    The Basket Well-Known Member

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    Interesting points raised.

    One is the idea of a purely offensive military without defence. This is proven with the fact that the aircraft carriers at Midway were so easily destroyed and that the Zero had no armour. What a stupid doctrine.

    The second is that anyone who can argue against the grain is a defeatist and removed from office. Even if totally correct. Although doesn't only happen in Japan.
     
  9. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for your comments. Before I move to the American Perspective there is a section on the Immediate Aftermath of the BOB.

    From the Japanese view the first impact of the BOB was that supplies to China which had stopped in July 1940 resumed along the Burma Road. In Europe the Japanese believed that the threat of an invasion was reducing and there was some speculation as to what was going to happen next.
    Japanese attaches and other intelligence sources predicted that an onslaught on Russia was looming but the Japanese Foreign Minister Matsuoka Yosuke believed that after discussion with Germany that a landing on Britain was most likely and had received assurances on this. Lt Gen Oshima Hiroshi the Ambassador also believed this to be the case.
    Lt Gen Hiroshi discussed this with Goering who allowed Japanese landing specialists headed by Major Sakurai to review the preparations. Their report was briefly summerised.
    ‘Despite outward impressions they are totally ill prepared as a force for large scale operations. I did not see and eagerness amongst the actual units involved for such an operation’.
     
  10. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    Man, that says a lot.
     
  11. Gametheorist

    Gametheorist New Member

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    Hi Glider:

    This is is fascinating stuff. I would like to quote some of Genda's statements in a paper I am writing on cross-cultural biases in diplomatic cables. Do you have a citation from
    the direct source that you could provide me with?

    Thanks!

    Game Theorist
     
  12. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    Your best bet would be to buy the book and get the detail direct from the writer via publisher. If you can wait until later in the week I will have time to review it in detail and let you have what I find
     
  13. Jenisch

    Jenisch Active Member

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    As I have already posted some times here, I'm with the militarists regarding Nomonhan. The Japanese were not fully commited to fight the Russians there, while the latter were.
     
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