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Post More Thoughts on Honor in War; US Provocations to the Axis, pre-1941
Created by John Eipper on 12/27/14 8:40 AM

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More Thoughts on Honor in War; US Provocations to the Axis, pre-1941 (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 12/27/14 8:40 am)

I agree with Tor Guimaraes's 26 December post, and apologize for my hypothetical scenario of the Soviets escaping from Hanoi in helicopters. I did not mean to suggest that the Soviet diplomats would not have had respectful protection from the arriving US forces in this counterfactual version of events.

But about wars that were started based on a lie, it seems that the US is very unfortunate. This applies not only to the recent wars in the Balkans, Middle East, and Libya, but also in the past. The Mexican war in April 1846 started following an alleged offense to the US envoy Slidell.

Of course it is better not even to mention the various Indians wars.

The war with Spain of 1898 started with the very unfortunate USS Maine incident, but who was the culprit? WWI was declared for flimsy reasons, after two events:  a passenger ship full of ammunition (contrary to the law) was sunk, plus a cable was intercepted in which Germany seemed to look for a potential ally (Mexico) if attacked by the US.

To enter WWII was really very difficult. Poor FDR tried his best to provoke the Axis powers, and these damned fools were swallowing all the provocations and never rising to the casus belli.

Let's have a look at some casus belli:

September 1939: Extension of security at sea from 250 to 1250 miles.  In such areas the Axis powers could not operate.

February 1940: Sumner Welles in Rome presents unrealistic and arrogant requests.

April 1940: An oil embargo on Japan.

September 1940: 50 destroyers sent to the UK.

November 1940: The US becomes the arsenal of the democracies.  Half of its military production goes to the UK.

March 1941: Lend-Lease Law.

April 1941: Occupation of Greenland.

July 1941: Occupation of Iceland.

26 July: Freezing of all Japanese assets.  Japan is practically strangled.

August 1941: Offshore Newfoundland meeting between FDR and Churchill. Returning from the meeting, the latter declares that the obtained accords are the new Crusade of the Good against the Devil.

September 1941: US Navy ships attack Axis submarines.  George Crocker in his book The Stalinist Roosevelt writes that when the Japanese asked for a meeting with FDR, he answered that it would have been possible only if the Japanese premier would assure that he will sign any condition imposed on him.

Then the closing of all Italian and German Consulates and the seizure of all Italian and German Ships in US ports.  The crews become the first POWs (?) in an officially neutral country.

Anyway, FDR in order to win the election of 1940 declared to the people of the US from Boston: I will not send your sons to fight in foreign wars. The victory was with the 54.7% of the vote.

On the 1 December 1941, the Secretary of Defense Henry Stimson wrote:  In these days the question is how to compel the Japanese to fire the first shot.

Finally on 7 December 1941, only obsolete ships remain in port in Hawaii as sitting ducks for the Day of Infamy, and finally the of course the US has its honorable war.

JE comments:  My first thought is that schoolyard bullies have "provocations" too.  It's hard for me to be objective here, but Eugenio Battaglia's list deserves careful attention.  For starters, were the ships at Pearl Harbor all obsolete?  This is the first time I've heard such an interpretation.

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  • Were US Ships at Pearl Harbor "Obsolete"? (Michael Sullivan, USA 12/28/14 4:07 AM)
    Eugenio Battaglia (27 December) is terribly mistaken if he thinks only obsolete ships were in Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. The only thing absent were the aircraft carriers on maneuvers. This information below summarizes the losses:

    Ships and Aircraft:

    350 aircraft were destroyed or damaged.

    All 8 battleships of the US Pacific Fleet were sunk or badly damaged - including the USS Arizona.

    And yet all of America's aircraft carriers remained unscathed.


    USS Arizona (BB-39) - sunk, total loss, lies at bottom of Pearl Harbor See History

    USS Oklahoma (BB-37) - capsized, total loss

    USS West Virginia (BB-48) - sunk, later raised, repaired and rejoined fleet July 1944

    USS California (BB-44) - sunk, later raised, repaired and rejoined fleet May 1944

    USS Nevada (BB-36) - heavily damaged, grounded, repaired and rejoined fleet December 1942

    USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) - was in drydock - slightly damaged, repaired and rejoined fleet August 1942

    USS Maryland (BB-46) - damaged, repaired and rejoined fleet February 1942

    USS Tennessee (BB-43) - damaged, repaired and rejoined fleet March 1942.


    USS Helena (CL-50) - heavily damaged, repaired and rejoined fleet June 1942

    USS Honolulu (CL-48) - damaged, repaired and rejoined fleet January 1942

    USS Raleigh (CL-7) - heavily damaged, repaired and rejoined fleet July 1942


    USS Cassin (DD-372) - was in drydock - heavily damaged, rebuilt and rejoined fleet February 1944

    USS Downes (DD-375) - was in drydock - heavily damaged rebuilt and rejoined fleet November 1943

    USS Helm (DD-388) - damaged, continued on patrol, repaired and rejoined fleet January 1942

    USS Shaw (DD-373) - in floating drydock - severely damaged and repaired


    USS Oglala (CM-4) - sunk, raised, repaired and rejoined fleet February 1944

    Aircraft losses summarized:

    US Navy - 92 lost, 31 damaged

    US Army - 77 lost, 128 damaged

    Japanese - 9 fighters, 15 dive bombers, 5 torpedo bombers

    Yes, the Coast Guard was there also.

    JE comments:  Eugenio Battaglia wrote back to argue that all large surface ships were obsolete by 1941, with the exception of aircraft carriers and their escorts.  I'll let Eugenio explain (next).

    Speaking of WWII in the Pacific, last night we saw the new movie Unbroken, the story of US Olympian Louis Zamperini's experience as Japan's prisoner of war.  Reactions among our group were mixed:  I found the film to be an excellent depiction of the brutal POW camps; my companions found the film too earnest and conventional, with almost no psychological depth.  For what it's worth, the film was directed by Angelina Jolie, which struck me as strange, as it's a "boy film" in every sense of the word.

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  • Were US Ships at Pearl Harbor "Obsolete"? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/28/14 4:50 AM)

    To respond to John E's question (27 December), for a modern (in 1941 terms) war at sea in the Pacific, only the aircraft carriers and their escorts were necessary to win and not old battleships, like the glorious USS Arizona launched in 1916. So the necessary ships had been wisely sent to the open sea for safety, to be then used for revenge.

    JE comments:  Subsequent events proved Eugenio Battaglia correct:  battleships and large cruisers would have little impact on the Pacific war.  Japan's Yamato-class behemoths turned out to be nothing but resource-sucking liabilities, and spent most of the war bottled up in port.

    But did naval thinkers realize this in 1941?  I'm doubtful--and especially skeptical of the idea that the US might have deliberately left its "obsolete" ships at Pearl Harbor as bait.

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    • Were Capital Ships Obsolete in WWII? (Edward Jajko, USA 01/08/15 5:32 AM)
      Responding to Eugenio Battaglia's posting of 28 December 2014 about the obsolescence of US battleships, and to JE's comments to his posting: Eugenio is correct to think of the battleships of WWII as obsolete, if one is thinking in terms of ships of the line and of duels between ships, with the craft blasting away at each other with broadsides or with longer-distance cannon (with, of course, the obvious exception of the British battle with the Bismarck).

      Eugenio says that for a 1940s Pacific sea war, only aircraft carriers and their escorts were needed, not "old battleships," and JE agreed, saying that "battleships and large cruisers would have little impact on the Pacific war." I disagree. The main function of the US battleships in the Pacific was projection of power, to serve as transportable cannon platforms from which to systematically bombard Japanese-held islands, one after the other, prior to invasion by Marines and soldiers. And, of course, when it comes to the contribution of heavy cruisers, let us not forget the ill-fated USS Indianapolis.

      JE comments: My apologies to Ed Jajko, who sent this comment over a week ago. It somehow got misplaced in the hubbub of New Year's posts.

      Weren't the Allies' capital warships also useful for "softening up" targets before the Normandy landing?  Might we generalize, and say that the Axis battleships were of little to no benefit to their cause?  I'm thinking not only of Germany's Bismarck, but also the largest of them all, the Japanese Yamato.

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      • Were Capital Ships Obsolete in WWII? Homer Lea (Timothy Brown, USA 01/09/15 6:48 AM)

        This discussion (most recently, Ed Jajko on 8 January) reminds me of Homer Lea's The Valor of Ignorance. Long before either took place, Lea foretold WWs I and II. (As an aside, the foreword to my edition of The Valor of Ignorance
        was written by Claire Boothe before she became Claire Boothe Luce.)

        Lea included several maps that are particularly fascinating, both drawn prior to World War I (not II). One of them is a map of a Japanese
        invasion of the US West Coast, including schematics of amphibious landings in California. Another map describes the Japanese invasion of Luzon in the Philippines. The former was, in essence, his main
        message for the United States--that our Pacific coast was vulnerable to an invasion because we were, at the time, a two-ocean country with a one-ocean navy. The latter proved to be extraordinarily prescient,
        from their initial landing in northern Luzon to the final battle at Corregidor. The second did not, because Lea did not foretell two key strategic things that did not even exist before WWI. One was the development
        of a Pacific fleet by the US before WWI. The other was the addition of aircraft carriers to both our Pacific and Atlantic fleets that proved decisive in the Pacific but not in the Atlantic, where they were useful but not decisive.

        I myself had two experiences with battleships, the first in Vietnam when the Iowa fired a mission in my district that cleared deep forest landing zones we were then able to use to deploy sufficient forces by helicopter
        to challenge VC control of a mountainous area. (mentioned on pp. 191-193 of my book, Diplomarine). The second, decades later, took place in Martinique when, post-Grenada, the French asked for some gestures of support for
        their presence in the Caribbean and CINCLANT sent me.  Although I was retired from the Armed Forces, this suddenly morphed into a combat mission when, while it was still in Fort de France, it received orders to sail to Lebanon at flank speed, where it became a major
        player in our landing Marines there. In my opinion, thanks to the addition of long-range missiles to their arsenals, ships of the line of all sizes have once again become valuable, both for their deterrence effect and firepower when needed.

        As for the value of battleships in the Pacific during WWII, I'm a former Marine. 'nuf said.

        JE comments:  One of my very earliest memories is of going with my parents to San Francisco bay to watch the New Jersey cross through the Golden Gate, headed for Vietnam.  I'd guess the year was 1968.

        Let's face it, battleships are cool in a macho sense.  This was probably the main motivator behind Pres. Reagan re-commissioning the Iowa-class "Mothball Fleet" in the 1980s.  It made America feel tough.  But I'd like some dispassionate appraisals of the strategic value of this move:  did the re-introduction of battleships play a significant role in ending the Cold War?  I'm referring to the intimidation factor.

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        • Off the Shore of Lebanon, 1958; The UAR (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/09/15 4:23 PM)
          An excellent post from Timothy Brown (9 January), which reminds me of my life at sea.

          On 15 July 1958 I was second mate on the steam tanker Olympic Games of Onassis, proceeding toward Lebanon for loading and then discharging at Bremen. During the night suddenly we were illuminated as if it were daylight by a plane that has arrived from nowhere.

          It circled for a while over us, and then went away. In the morning we arrived at the loading port near Tripoli and could see not far from us some US ships disembarking Marines and tanks.

          It was so strange loading crude oil while nearby some kind of war situation was going on.

          It was the time of Lebanese President Camille Chamoun, a strong supporter of the West, and it was also the time in which Nasser seemed to be expanding his lay socialist Arab Nation all over the Middle East. With hindsight, what a beautiful time it was compared to the present.

          JE comments: WAIS isn't supposed to do counterfactual historical speculation, but it's also so irresistible.  Given the current mess in the Middle East, doesn't the idea of a secular UAR comprising Egypt, Syria, and (possibly) Iraq seem, to borrow Eugenio's word, "beautiful"?

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