Best Mechanics will Win if U.S. Fights Japan (May, 1932)

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Best Mechanics will Win if U.S. Fights Japan

War clouds brewing in the Pacific point to the day when America may become involved in battle with Japan. Nobody is eager for such a war, but if it ever comes the result will be decided by war machines built by American and Japanese mechanics—two fundamentally different types of genius. Read this keen analysis from the pen of a noted naval expert.

by LIEUT. JOHN EDWIN HOGG
U. S. Naval Reserve

AS THESE lines are written international diplomats are gathered together at Geneva. They are assembled at the world’s first general disarmament conference, ostensibly to work out a plan for preventing armed conflicts between nations. The God of War looks down from a neighboring planet upon a world bristling with every possible device for killing the greatest number of people with the least effort. And in Shanghai war rages between Japanese and Chinese troops.

Japanese Have Efficient War Machine Japan is today the most disturbing element in any consideration for world peace. She is the world’s last, great, militarist monarchy. Monarchies have always been, and always will be a threat to peace-loving, democratic neighbor nations. Japan now possesses the best, most efficient, and most highly organized war machine that the world has seen since the great German war engine of 1914.

She is ruled by a small group of war lords, who by systematic propaganda and a subsidized public press, may at any time hoodwink the Japanese population into any military conquest the leaders may see fit to dictate. Already the Japanese military aggression in China threatens to involve Soviet Russia. International treaties are in jeopardy. The Policy of the Open Door in China, to which the United States is as definitely committed as we are to the Monroe Doctrine, may easily become a mere scrap of paper.

The whole situation is one of grave uncertainty that may easily lead to world-wide complications. Just as a great forest fire usually starts from a single match, the embers of Shanghai may light the fuse to plunge the United States into another foreign conflict. Such is the possibility, unless the Japanese statesmen are correct in their apparent belief that the rest of the world is too busy with its own troubles to take any notice of what Japan does to China.

Japanese Expansion Requires More Land There is, of course, a Japanese side to the story. The Island Empire consists of a land area of 261,832 square miles, or slightly less than our state of Texas. Less than one-fifth of Japan is arable land, and largely poor, volcanic soil at that. Yet she must feed and clothe a population of nearly ninety millions of people. Japan is appallingly over-populated. She cannot begin to provide food for her multitudes. Yet the rest of the world has slammed the door in the face of every Japanese attempt to colonize elsewhere.

How Japanese and U. S. Interests Clash Territory acquired by Japan since 1865, the year in which Commander Perry of the American navy opened up the country to western civilization and dreams of Pacific dominance, includes the island of Formosa, half the island of Saghalien, Korea, and lately Manchuria, richest prize of all. Most recently Japan launched her attack on Shanghai, ostensibly to protect Japanese interests in China, and to inform the world that Japan courts no competition in China.

Japan is admirably situated to nose American industry out of Chinese markets. She could sink our commercial ships and ten us to take our commerce off the Pacific ocean, and about all we could do about it for at least two years would be to write notes of protest. If Japan were to declare war upon us today we wouldn’t have a Chinaman’s chance of holding the Philippines or the Island of Guam. This is for the reason that those two strategic positions have been rendered practically defenseless under the terms of the London Naval Treaty. Our navy, weakened far beyond our needs by the same treaty, would be wholly inadequate to avenge any insult or injustice that Japan might see fit to heap upon us. The accompanying charts of the naval strength of the United States and Japan tell the whole story. But here, we cannot even compute sea power in mere terms of comparative tonnage without being led to false conclusions. There are a lot of other factors entering into the situation that tend to discount what naval strength we still possess.

Losing Guam and the Philippines would only be part of our misfortune if we were to become involved in a war with Japan. We would also probably lose the Aleutian Islands, and would see them taken over by the enemy as bases from which to raid our Pacific commerce with aircraft and submarines. We’d be fortunate indeed if we didn’t lose the whole of Alaska during the first two weeks of such a war, and with Alaska in the hands of the Japanese we’d probably see air raids carried out upon such American cities as Seattle, Portland, Spokane, Butte, and Anaconda. (The latter two cities are our major sources of copper.) The Japanese battle line of nine capital ships would not be a serious menace to the present American sea forces if the combined battle fleets of the two nations might come together early in the war to fight a decisive battle. If this were to happen it is entirely possible that the American fleet might destroy the Japanese fleet. Such a circumstance would lay Japan wide open to every form of attack, and would speedily force her to sue for peace. But here another consideration creates a disturbing factor.

The exigencies of the situation would certainly demand that we carry our campaign into the western Pacific. We would have to re-capture Guam and the Philippines. In -attempting to do all this we would have no naval bases nearer the scene of action than Hawaii. Thus, the value of Japan’s navy would become very similar to that of the German navy during the World war. As long as Japanese fighting craft could operate unchallenged in the western Pacific, they could effectively throttle our trans-Pacific commerce.

In that event the conflict would simmer down to a long, drawn-out campaign of “steam and hunt,” with an occasional bat- tle between a few ships until one side or the other would suffer defeat. The average American who has lived his life in an inland state probably has no conception of the enormity of such a task. But ponder the fact that the Pacific Ocean consists of 97 million square miles of water—nearly half the surface of the entire earth, and we have an idea of the job.

7000 Miles Across Pacific The re-capture of Guam and the Philippines would involve sending our battle forces on a 7000-mile drag across the Pacific, encumbered with a huge train of slow-moving transports, supply ships, oil tankers, etc. This would be a gigantic enterprise —beyond the scope of any overseas naval offensive in history. The task of keeping the lines of communication open and of protecting the huge convoy against enemy submarines, cruisers, and aircraft, would be but another detail of the situation facing the American Commander-in-Chief.

He’d also have miscellaneous other worries such as protecting the Hawaiian Islands, keeping the enemy away from our home shores, and guarding the Panama Canal. Obviously, our present navy would be so hopelessly inadequate for such a task that the first two years of a possible war with Japan is sickening to contemplate. Distance Complicates Naval Strategy These considerations, however, would not be the worst of it. As the American convoys advance across the Pacific the danger from raids by enemy submarines, cruisers, and aircraft, would become increasingly great. Then, if our fleet and land forces succeeded in re-capturing Guam and the Philippines our troubles would just be getting nicely started.

Due to our having been so badly worsted in previous “disarmament conferences” there isn’t a dry dock west of Hawaii (ex- cept in enemy territory) that could accommodate a damaged battleship or airplane carrier. Our fleet, if based on Manila Bay would be within striking distance of air raids from the Japanese mainland. And, to make the situation still worse, both our land and sea forces would still be dependent upon the shores of California, 7000 miles away, for supplies of fuel, ammunition, and the bulk of its provisions.

If such a war were to break out today we’d be fortunate indeed if our present forces might be able to keep the Panama Canal open and the enemy off our home shores. Our one and only great good fortune would lie in the fact that Hawaii is under the American flag and is our strongest outpost of naval defense in the Pacific. The Island of Oahu upon which our principal naval establishment is located is considered virtually impregnable.

Mechanical Resources Will Decide There is, howTever, another side to the dismal picture of a possible war with Japan that would ultimately spell defeat for the Mikado’s Empire and victory for America. This, of course, is assuming that the enemy didn’t catch us napping to knock us out during the first few weeks of the war. The next war will be a war of machinery, and the nation possessing the best mechanics will win. America has the mechanics. We also have the necessary natural resources, and no other nation possesses both in similar abundance.

If we could stave off defeat temporarily in a war with Japan, and we undoubtedly could, our military and naval strength would immediately begin to increase. In the course of 18 months or 2 years we could throw a force against the enemy to overwhelm any nation or alliance of nations foolish enough to invite such a disaster upon themselves.

Mechanical Genius Concentrated in U. S. By far the vast bulk of the world’s best mechanical and scientific genius is now assembled in America. Not all of it is native born. America has been importing such talent for many years from every other nation that could produce it. Let any other nation produce a great inventor, an extraordinary chemist, or a skilled technician in any line—and what happens? American industry usually gets him. He finds a better market for his talent here. We hire him and soon convert him into an American citizen. The list of inventions and scientific discoveries originating in other countries is not very impressive. To be sure, there have been some, mostly of German, British, or French origin, but they are few and relatively unimportant compared with the contributions to human progress made by Americans, or by men of foreign birth who are now American citizens. This constant hiring of the best brains of Europe, and of every other country by America has long been cause for alarm among European statesmen, but apparently there is nothing they can do about it. American money talks to the man who has brains for sale, and all the fine appeals to his patriotism don’t lift the curse of poverty for him!

Japanese Copy Western Progress In this respect Japan is tremendously handicapped. Her entire civilization is a composite counterfeit of the most progressive ways of Europe and America. We may scan the list of great inventions, great scientific discoveries, and the like, and not one do we find of Japanese origin. The germ cells of men like Fulton, Edison, Steinmetz, Marconi, the Wright Brothers, Maxim, Colt, Holland, Millikan, and a list of Americans or naturalized Americans that reads like a city directory, were apparently bred out of the Japanese people during their centuries of feudalism, if they ever existed.

Give the Japanese a fine Swiss watch and they’ll make you a cheap imitation of it. Give them an American automobile and they 11 build an automobile that looks exactly like the original, but not as good. Let them get their hands upon anything and they’ll counterfeit that article. They’ll work like bees at any task they undertake, but when it comes to originality of thought along mechanical or scientific lines—there apparently isn’t a brain cell working in the whole of Japan!

Japs Lack Mechanical “Feel”

To us they are a strange people—brilliant, industrious, thrifty, cunningly clever in many respects—and tremendously backward in others. Only about one Japanese in ten thousand can ever be taught to fly an airplane. It often takes years to make a very poor automobile driver out of an average Japanese citizen. Their patriotic devotion is a form of fanaticism not even approached in some forms of religion.

If we are forced into a war with Japan, the President, upon the very day war is declared, will undoubtedly be empowered to draft manpower, labor, and capital. The entire nation would be speedily drafted to the sole task of winning the war. Civilian armies would be drafted to grow the crops, and every industrial plant capable of conversion for the production of war equipment would be commandeered by the government. Motor truck factories would soon be turning out tanks. Automobile factories would begin building airplanes. A thousand small machine shops would turn out small arms and munitions. Chemical plants would concentrate upon the manufacture of explosives and poison gas. Every shipyard would be turning out battleships, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, transports, and supply ships.

If our present armed forces might be capable of holding the enemy at bay for a period of 18 months or two years, we’d be in position to mop up the earth with Japan. A short and decisive land campaign would drive the Japanese out of Korea and Manchuria. This would cut Japan off from her present supplies of coal and iron.

With the recaptured Philippines as our base of naval operations we’d merely have to throw a blockade around the Japanese islands. With her commerce throttled she would be cut off from essential supplies of war materials, and starved into submission within three months after the blockade became effective.

Proof of the dependence of the Japanese on the brains of foreign mechanics may be graphically proven by one of the photographs accompanying this article, snowing a fleet of Japanese battle planes. The significant fact here is that practically all the planes are of British manufacture. Japan, in other words, has built up her air fleet by purchase from foreigners—few of her planes are built by Japanese mechanics, and practically none of them show these touches of refined ingenuity which are constantly apparent in the latest additions to Uncle Sam’s fleet.

Jap Plane Carriers Are Novel In the construction of airplane carriers Japan has achieved her one claim to distinction. In contrast with American and British practice of mounting the smoke stacks in a mast projecting vertically from the extreme side of the ship, the Japanese have strung their smoke stacks lengthwise of the vessel, leaving the top deck entirely free from all encumbrance.

The theory of this presumably is to keep vital control units protected inside the ship, and to eliminate obstructions on deck in case of inexpert landing. Unique as this method appears, it has its disadvantages. There is a real reason for tall masts on a battleship. Observers in the crow’s nest can cover an infinitely greater area of the sea than a man can from a low deck. Defense and attack fire can be directed much more efficiently.

Prevailing features of battleship design are principally of British and American origin. Battleships are armored much more heavily beneath the water line than above, for the reason that this is the principal region of vulnerability. Whereas above water six-inch armor plate is usually standard, below the water line it may vary from 12 to 22 inches in thickness.

To be effective, a shell must penetrate this armor and explode inside the vitals of the ship, wrecking boilers and machinery. Numerous bulkheads keep a battleship afloat, even though it may be shell-riddled and filling with water. Longitudinal bulkheads divide a battleship in two. There are at least two power plants, one on either side of the ship, so that if one is destroyed the other still functions. Four separate drive shafts are usually employed on battleships.

Airplane carriers are particularly important in any consideration of possible war with Japan, because our air fleet would be a vital element in deciding the conflict, and our three plane carriers are the only means we have of transporting planes overseas.

In one phase of air defense the United States navy is without a peer—that is in the use of dirigibles. The common conception of a dirigible, such as the Los Angeles or the new Akron, is of a highly vulnerable mechanism which would be immediately destroyed if it tried to make itself useful in time of war.

Dirigibles Unrivaled as Scouts But there are good reasons why the navy refuses to abandon the dirigible. Experience has proved conclusively that it meets an invaluable naval requirement that can be met by no other type of aircraft. It is a powerful auxiliary to a navy of battleships, destroyers, airplanes, and submarines. Its field of operations is far out at sea beyond the striking range of airplanes.

No airplane has yet been built that can operate in all weather. Rain, sleet, snow, hail, fog, and lowering clouds, still put our airplanes on the ground. The dirigible has nothing to fear from such weather. High wind is its only weather enemy, and even that bugaboo is apparently due to disappear by reason of recent structural improvements.

The modern dirigible has a load-carrying capacity that is equivalent to a whole fleet of large bombing planes. It can remain in the air for days at a time. Its cruising radius is hundreds—thousands of ¦ miles at sea completely independent of land or floating bases of operation. The discovery of helium and its production in sufficient quantity eliminated the cause of most previous airship disasters. Helium has, also, rid the dirigible of its former major element of military vulnerability.

The invaluable function in the dirigible is its ability as a scout. Thousands of miles at sea, beyond the operating radius of airplanes, and at high altitudes not feasible for airplanes, an airship such as the U. S. S. Akron is capable of operating for days at a time, and at twice the speed of the fastest surface ships. It is the only aircraft that offers inhabitability to men during such protracted voyages, and the only aerial vehicle capable of carrying a powerful and dependable radio equipment on such long flights.

Airships Mostly Defensive Weapons Thus, for deep sea scouting purposes the airship meets a naval requirement that is highly important to the United States navy. And to all these advantages must be added the airship’s ability to cruise at slow speed, to hover over any spot for detailed observations, the capacity for making photographic records and developing them immediately, and the ability to communicate by radio with our war department at any and all times. If necessary, the airship can carry substantial loads of ammunition, stores, and supplies.

In no sense does the American navy look upon the airship as an instrument of offensive warfare. It is a scout, a repeller of naval attack against our seacoasts, and a destroyer of enemy submarines and merchant shipping. Nothing more is claimed for it, yet in these roles there is every reason to believe that a large fleet of dirigibles such as the U. S. S. Akron would render the United States immune from naval attack —hence, immune from having war waged on us.

What 100 Akrons Could Do For Us Let us suppose, for example, that we have a fleet of one hundred airships such as the U. S. S. Akron. Then let us assume that Japan declared war upon us. We could logically expect the enemy to attempt a surprise attack upon our seacoast. He would, also, undoubtedly try to seize the Panama Canal.

Under such circumstances our airship fleet would immediately put to sea. We could assign 40 airships to scout duty in the Atlantic to completely frustrate any possibility of surprise attack. Those 40 airships would establish a patrol, beyond the striking range of airplanes, from Canada to South America. The other sixty airships would be assigned to the greater water area from the west coast of South America to Hawaii, and from Hawaii to Alaska.

These airships on patrol duty would fly at an average speed of 60 miles per hour, and with normal visibility extending 20 miles on each side of the ship, a single airship would be capable of scouting 57,600 square miles of ocean every 24 hours. This is an area equivalent to the combined area of all the New England states, through which not a whale or a school of porpoises could swim without being sighted. A fat chance the enemy would have to get at us with battle fleet, aircraft, or submarines!

But the dirigible is of great size and highly vulnerable to gun fire, claim the critics of the navy’s faith in the airship. Quite right. The navy knows it. But that does not help the enemy after an airship has done it’s work and spoiled his chances for success. Such an airship fleet would “spot” any Japanese fleet attempting to make a sneak upon us while it is still many hundreds of miles at sea. The position of the enemy fleet, together with highly important information regarding the nature of his attacking force, would immediately be radioed from the discovering airship to our war department Our battle fleet would immediately steam out to meet the enemy on the high seas.

It is entirely possible that we might stand to lose the airship discovering the enemy fleet at sea. The airship would probably be brought down by gun fire from the enemy’s battleships. By that time, however, the airship would have completed her all-important mission. Her officers and crew would parachute out with life preservers to be picked out of the sea as prisoners of war. We would have lost a crew of about a hundred highly-trained officers and men, and a $4,000,000 airship. That would be a nominal price for the information that would frustrate a naval attack upon the Panama Canal, or upon some seacoast city such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.

Airships Defend Against Submarines In addition to its value as a scout the dirigible is a veritable hell-hound for enemy submarines and merchant shipping. From an airship slowly cruising at an altitude of 500 or 1,000 feet a submarine has about the privacy of a fish in an aquarium. And once discovered by the airship—there is no escape for the sub! The airship can hover right over the submarine to let down a depth bomb with deadly accuracy.

It has often been said that the airship is cursed with great size and vulnerability. Theoretically this is true. Nevertheless, a dirigible such as the U. S. S. Akron coming in contact with an enemy battle fleet isn’t quite the fat pig in the slaughter pen that it appears to be. A few tracer bullets fired through the U. S. S. Akron would do little or no damage, and since the helium is carried in numerous cells it would be necessary to virtually riddle the ship before she could be brought down.

The vulnerability of the airship to airplane attack is unquestionably much over-rated in the public mind. The aviator attempting to attack an airship such as the U. S. S. Akron would discover to his sorrow that such a raid lacks much of being an old-fashioned, World War balloon busting sport! Our modern dirigible carries its own fighting planes which can be released and taken aboard again while the airship is in flight The aviator trying to attack the airship would have these fighting planes to reckon with.

8 comments
  1. Eamon says: January 17, 20094:52 am

    It seems like a lot of articles about Japan and other nonwhite countries from the 30′s follow a weird pattern; strong, reasonable assessment and fairly accurate predictions before taking a hard right turn into racism.

    I remember reading about US military leaders dismissing reports about the Zero’s capability because the Japanese couldn’t possibly be ahead of whites.

    I also like how the author loses focus and starts talking about airships.

  2. Jari says: January 17, 20091:30 pm

    True. On the lighter side, the guy in the Startling Detective ad looks like Mandrake on drugs.

  3. Eamon says: January 17, 20092:16 pm

    Nice catch Jari, I didn’t even notice that. “The Skeleton Harvest of Maple Hill Farm” is my new favorite book title.

  4. slim says: January 17, 20094:07 pm

    Fascinating article, a peek into U.S. thinking in 1932. In some ways prescient, in others naive.
    Hawaii is impregnable. Battleships don’t need much armor topside.

  5. StanFlouride says: January 17, 20099:08 pm

    LIEUT. JOHN EDWIN HOGG has two other articles here, one of which is from two years later and criticizes the US Navy’s readiness. The other discusses how navy inventions lead to civilian applications.

    At the time this was written long-range observation aircraft were not available except as blimps and dirigibles. The ability of the US Navy to find and attack the Japanese fleets was due, in part to the Catalina Flying Boat which had a huge range.

  6. K!P says: January 18, 20097:06 am

    i read an article once that basicly stated taht japanese coulnd not be good pilots because they have narrow eyes, hence they lack 3d view.

  7. Zyzzyva says: December 15, 20091:48 am

    Definitely have to agree with Eamon here. The first seven pages are surprisingly reasonable – he gets the Pacific Theatre down amazingly well: the difficulty in fighting so close to enemy fleet bases, the probable loss of the Philippines (“and the Aleutians”), island hopping, forcing victory via the US’s overwhelming industrial base and by massive island-based bombing raids on the Home Islands. Even the invariable racist dig (the Japanese “have not succeeded in copying the Prussian brains that developed the model. The Japanese fight fanatically, but lack imagination”) is a aimed at the IJA’s real, and pretty horrendous, problems with training and professionalism.

    Then the magic words “cheap imitation” show up and the article goes off the rails. “Only one in ten thousand can be taught to fly an airplane”? American land campaigns in Manchuria and Korea? Two whole pages on the (admittedly kinda cool, but still) USS Akron? What the heck happened to the author?

  8. Bob says: January 9, 20108:09 pm

    Something for the people who think the longwinded section on airships is silly to consider:

    Note the date of this article: 1932

    One year before the P-2Y entered service.

    Four years before the PBY entered service.

    Two years before radar was more than a pipe dream.

    Several years before it was a truly practical and useful device.

    Finally, a nearly a decade before the war actually happened.

    All in all, when taken in that context it appears that LT. Hogg was an incredibly insightful man, with much of what he said becoming absolutely true due course, a decade after he said it would happen.

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