3-172 Editorial Note on Japanese Naval Strategy, Spring 1942

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on Japanese Naval Strategy

Spring 1942

Japanese planners had assumed that the conquest of Malaya, the Philippines, and the Netherlands Indies would take six months. They had allowed an additional six months for consolidation of their gains before initiating another major offensive. But with easy victories, plentiful petroleum supplies, and the loss of only twenty-three minor warships since December 7, 1941, Japanese planners accelerated the pace of their operations. As part of their long-standing Basic War Plan, the Japanese anticipated occupying the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, cutting the lines of communication between Hawaii and Australia, and extending their defensive perimeter to include Midway Island. Although they originally planned to assault their first objective in March, naval leaders postponed the Tulagi Island-Port Moresby invasion until additional forces arrived to counter recent American reinforcements in the Southwest Pacific. (Samuel Eliot Morison, Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions, May 1942-August 1942, a volume in the History of United States Naval Operations in World War II [Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1949], pp. 5-6; Mitsuo Fuchida and Masatake Okumiya, Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan [Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute, 1955], pp. 20, 100.)

While naval units assembled at Truk Lagoon and Rabaul, war planners debated future strategy. With military and naval staffs engrossed in planning the initial phases of the war, they had neglected to define a definitive strategy to follow the opening offensive. Combined Fleet staff strategists, under command of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, departed from earlier Japanese defensive precepts of naval warfare to urge a major offensive against the Hawaiian Islands and the United States Pacific Fleet. Combined Fleet proposed that Japan occupy Midway, drawing Nimitz’s fleet into a decisive battle. Once victorious, Combined Fleet would mount an invasion of Hawaii later in 1942, achieving dominance in the Pacific. The Naval General Staff planners doubted the chances of Yamamoto’s bold venture. Furthermore, preoccupied with Japan’s southern defense perimeter, they first wanted to cut off Australia from the United States. In a compromise, Combined Fleet received approval for its Midway plan, after promising to shift its emphasis southward after its mid-ocean operations. Combined Fleet also diverted some of its forces to an air strike and landing on the Aleutian Islands—a move that would anchor Japan’s defense perimeter in the North Pacific. (Morison, Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions, p. 6; Fuchida and Okumiya, Midway, pp. 48-63, 78-79.)

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), p. 177.

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