Nobutake Kondo

Nobutake Kondo

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Nobutake Kondo was born in Japan in 1886. He joined the Japanese Navy and eventually became a vice admiral and commander of the Southern Fleet. On 10th December 1941, Kondo's aircraft sunk Prince of Wales and Repulse.

In 1942 Kondo had overall responsibility for amphibious operations in the Philippines. Kondo also took part in the battle of Midway (3rd-6th June, 1942) where he commanded the 2nd Fleet.

Lieutenant General Alexander Vandegrift and the US Marines had the task of removing the stranglehold of the Japanese in the South Pacific. After the marines conducted their first successful amphibious landings at Guadalcanal on 7th August, 1942, Kondo led the Japanese effort to destroy the beachhead.

At the battle of the Eastern Solomons (23-25 August 1942) Kondo led the Japanese Navy against Frank Fletcher and Thomas Kinkaid. In October 1942 Kondo faced Kinkaid again at Santa Cruz.

Kondo led Japanese forces at the battle off Savo Island (12-13 November, 1942). Kondo's withdrawal marked the the end of the campaign for Guadalcanal.

Appointed a member of the Supreme War Council in May 1945, Nobutake Kondo died in 1953.

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As I mentioned that I would be writing about a number of watershed events this week. Today is the 74 th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Midway. As a Navy officer and having grown up in a Navy family, this battle is still something that I find fascinating. It was a battle that could have easily been lost, and with it the war in the Pacific significantly lengthened, and which had the Japanese won, forced a change in strategy that might have allowed Hitler to strengthen his grip on Europe and maybe even defeat the Soviet Union.

It was a watershed event because it was the first real defeat that the Japanese Imperial Navy sustained in the war, and it ensured that the Japanese would not be able to win the war, except by exhausting the United States.

So it still remains important even today. If you are interested in books about Midway I recommend Walter Lord’s classic “Incredible Victory” and Gordon Prange’s “Miracle at Midway.

Padre Steve+

Prelude to Battle

The Imperial Japanese Navy under the command of Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto had been humiliated. On April 18th 1942 16 B-25 bombers under the command of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle were launched from the deck of the USS Hornet and bombed Tokyo. Though the physical damage was insignificant the psychological impact was massive on the Japanese military establishment. In response to the threat, Yamamoto was directed to bring the aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy to battle and to destroy them.

Prior to the Doolittle Raid, Yamamoto and his deputy Rear Admiral Matome Ugaki had explored the possibility of attacking Midway. However, the Japanese armed forces were competing with each other to determine an overall strategy for the war effort. The Army was insistent on a China strategy while the Navy preferred expansion in the Western, South and Central Pacific. Yamamoto’s idea envisioned seizing Midway and using it as a forward base from which an invasion of Hawaii could be mounted as well as the bait to draw the carrier task forces of the U.S. Navy into battle and destroy them. Until the Doolittle Raid shocked the Japanese leadership he was unable to do this.

“I Shall Run Wild for the First Six Months”

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto

Yamamoto was one of the few Japanese military or political leaders who opposed war with the United States. He had lived in the United States, gotten to know Americans and recognized the how the massive economic and industrial power of the United States would lead to the defeat of Japan. He told Premier Konoye in 1941 “I shall run wild for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second or third years of the fighting.”

It is hard to imagine now, but in June of 1942 it seemed a good possibility that the Americans and British could be on the losing side of the Second World War.

True to Yamamoto’s words in 1942 the Japanese onslaught in the Pacific appeared nearly unstoppable. The Imperial Navy stormed across the Pacific and Indian Oceans in the months after Pearl Harbor decimating Allied Naval forces that stood in their way. The British Battleships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were sunk by land based aircraft off of Singapore. A force of Royal Navy cruisers and the Aircraft Carrier HMS Hermes were sunk by the same carriers that struck Pearl Harbor in the Indian Ocean. Darwin Australia was struck with a devastating blow on February 19th and on February 27th the Japanese annihilated the bulk of the American, British, Dutch and Australian naval forces opposing them at the Battle of the Java Sea. American forces in the Philippines surrendered on May 8th 1942 while the British in Singapore surrendered on February 15th.

In only one place had a Japanese Naval task force been prevented from its goal and that was at the Battle of the Coral Sea. Between 4-8 May the US Navy’s Task Force 11 and Task Force 17 centered on the Carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown prevented a Japanese invasion force from taking Port Moresby. Their aircraft sank the light carrier Shoho, damaged the modern carrier Shokaku and decimated the air groups of the Japanese task force. But it was the unexpected raid by US Army Air Corps B-25 Bombers launched from the USS Hornet under command of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle on April 18th 1942 which embarrassed Yamamoto so badly that he ordered the attack to take Midway and destroy the remaining US Naval power in the Pacific.

Cracking the Code

Admiral Chester Nimitz

United States Navy codebreakers had broken the Japanese diplomatic and naval codes in 1941, and in May the Navy code breakers at Pearl Harbor discovered Yamamoto’s plan to have the Imperial Navy attack Midway Island and the Aleutian Islands. Knowing the Japanese were coming, and that the occupation of Midway by Japanese forces would give them an operational base less than 1000 miles from Pearl Harbor, Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet committed the bulk of his naval power, the carriers USS Enterprise CV-6, USS Yorktown CV-5 and USS Hornet CV-8 and their 8 escorting cruisers and 15 destroyers to defend Midway. This force of 26 ships with 233 aircraft embarked to defend Midway while a force of smaller force 5 cruisers and 4 destroyers was dispatched to cover the Aleutians. The forces on the ground at Midway had a mixed Marine, Navy and Army air group of 115 aircraft which included many obsolete aircraft, 32 PBY Catalina Flying Boats and 83 fighters, dive bombers, torpedo planes and Army Air Force bombers piloted by a host of inexperienced but resolute airmen with which to defend itself. It also had a ground force of U.S. Marines, should the Japanese actually land on the island.

With the foreknowledge provided by the code breakers the US forces hurried to an intercept position northeast of Midway. They eluded the Japanese submarine scout line which the Japanese Commander Admiral Yamamoto presumed would find them when they sailed to respond to the Japanese attack on Midway. Task Force 16 with the Enterprise and Hornet sailed first under the command of Rear Admiral Raymond A Spruance in place of the ailing William “Bull” Halsey. Task Force 17 under Rear Admiral Frank “Jack” Fletcher was built around the Yorktown which had been miraculously brought into fighting condition after suffering heavy damage at Coral Sea. Fletcher assumed overall command by virtue of seniority and Admiral Nimitz instructed his commanders to apply the principle of “calculated risk” when engaging the Japanese as the loss of the US carriers would place the entire Pacific at the mercy of the Japanese Navy.

On June 3rd a PBY Catalina from Midway discovered the Japanese invasion force transport group. US long-range B-17 bombers launched attacks against these ships but inflicted no damage.

“Our hearts burn with the conviction of sure victory.”

On the night of June 3rd 1942 Nagumo’s First Carrier Strike Force sailed east toward the tiny Midway Atoll. Nagumo had seen many of the risks involved in the plan and considered it an “impossible and pointless operation” before the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, but even the reluctant Nagumo fell in line as Yamamoto relentlessly lobbied for the operation.

As the First Carrier strike force closed within 300 miles of Midway on the night of June 3rd 1942 Nagumo and his staff prepared for the battle that they and many others believed would be the decisive battle. Aircraft received their final preparations, bombs were loaded and as night faded into early morning air crew arose, ate their breakfast and went to their aircraft. The ships had been observing radio silence since they departed their bases and anchorages in Japan the previous week. Honed to a fine edge the crews of the ships and the veteran aircrews anticipated victory.

The crews of the ships of the task force and the air groups embarked on the great aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryuand Hiryuas well as their escorts were confident. They had since the war began known nothing but victory. They had devastated the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and roamed far and wide raiding allied targets and sinking allied shipping across the Pacific and deep into the Indian Ocean. Commander Magotaro Koga of the destroyer Nowaki wrote in his diary “Our hearts burn with the conviction of sure victory.

Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo

However, Nagumo and his sailors had no idea that most of what they knew about their American opponents was wrong. Nagumo and Yamamoto were confident that the Americans could field no more than two operational carriers to defend Midway. They had no idea that the Yorktown, which they believed had been sunk at Coral Sea was operational and her air group reinforced by the aircraft of the damaged Saratoga which was being repaired on the West Coast. Unknown to the Japanese the Yorktown and her escorts had joined Enterprise and Hornet northeast of Midway.

The Japanese were going into battle blind. They had planned to get aerial surveillance of US Fleet dispositions at Pearl Harbor, but that had been cancelled because the atoll at French Frigate Shoals that the Japanese flying boats would operate from had been occupied by a small US force. Likewise a line of Japanese submarines arrived on station a day too late, after the US carrier task forces had passed by them. Those aboard the First Carrier Strike Force, including Nagumo or his senior commanders and staff had no idea that the Americans not only knew of their approach but were already deployed in anticipation of their strike.

Within a day all of the Japanese carriers would be sunk or sinking. Thousands of Japanese sailors would be dead and the vaunted air groups which had wreaked havoc on the Allies would be decimated, every aircraft lost and the majority of pilots and aircrew dead. It would be a most unexpected and devastating defeat stolen out of the hands of what appeared to be certain victory.

There is a lesson to be learned from the Japanese who sailed into the night on June 3rd 1942 and saw the sunrise of June 4th. There is no battle, campaign or war that goes according to plan. Thousands of Japanese sailors and airmen went to bed on the night of the 3rd expecting that the following night, or within the next few days they would be celebrating a decisive victory. Thousands of those sailors would be dead by the night of the 4th of June 1942, and as their ships slid beneath the waves, the ambitions of Imperial of Japan to defeat the United States Navy and end the war were dealt a decisive defeat from which they never recovered.

Hawks at Angles Twelve

One of the more overlooked aspects of the Battle of Midway is the sacrifice of Marine Fighter Squadron 221 on the morning of June 4th 1942. The Marine aviators flying a mix of 21 obsolescent Brewster F2A-3 Buffalos and 7 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats engaged a vastly superior force of Japanese Navy aircraft as they vectored toward the atoll to begin softening it up for the planned invasion.

Led by Major Floyd Parks the squadron had arrived at Midway on Christmas day 1941 being delivered by the USS Saratoga after the aborted attempt to relieve Wake Island. The squadron along with Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 241 (VMSB 241) formed Marine Air Group 22. They fighter pilots of VMF-221 scored their first victory shooting down a Japanese Kawanishi H8K2 “Emily” flying boat. The squadron which initially was composed of just 14 aircraft, all F2A-3’s was augmented by 7 more F2A-3s and 7 of the more advanced F4F-3s before the battle.

When the Japanese First Carrier Striking Group was spotted in the wee hours of June 4th the Marines and other aircrew aboard Midway scrambled to meet them. The 18 SBD-2 Dauntless’ and 12 Vought SB2-U3 Vindicator dive bombers of VMSB-241, the 6 TBF Avengers of the Navy Torpedo Eight detachment, 4 Army Air Corps B-26 Marauders and 15 B-17 Flying Fortresses flew out to attack the Japanese carriers while the fighters rose to intercept the 108 aircraft heading toward Midway. The 72 strike aircraft, 36 Aichi 99 Val Dive Bombers and 36 Nakajima B5N Torpedo/ High Level Bombers were protected by 36 AM6-2 Zeros which thoroughly outclassed the Marine opponents in speed, maneuverability and in the combat experience of their pilots.

The Marine fighters audaciously attacked the far superior Japanese force, throwing themselves against the Japanese phalanx with unmatched courage. Despite their courage the Marine fighters were decimated by the Japanese Zeros. The Marines shot down 4 Val dive bombers and at least three Zeros but lost 13 Buffalos and 3 Wildcats during the battle. Of the surviving aircraft only three Buffalos and three Wildcats were in commission at the end of the day. Among the casualties killed was Major Parks. Of the surviving pilots of VMF-221, two became “Aces” during the war. Lieutenant Charles M. Kunz would later fly in VMF-224, adding six victories to end the war with 8 victories. Capt. Marion E. Carl would later fly in VMF-223 raising his score to 18.5 Japanese aircraft shot down. Other pilots like 2nd Lieutenant Clayton M. Canfield shot down two additional aircraft while flying with VMF-223. 2nd Lieutenant Walter W. Swansberger won the Medal of Honor at Guadalcanal.

The last remaining Marine fighter pilot of VMF-221 from the battle of Midway, Williams Brooks died in January 2010 and was buried with full military honors, in Bellview, Nebraska. Brooks in his after action report described his part in the battle:

I was pilot of F2A-3, Bureau number 01523, Our division under Capt. Armistead was on standby duty at he end of the runway on the morning of June 4, 1942, from 0415 until 0615. At about 0600, the alarm sounded and we took off. My division climbed rapidly, and I was having a hard time keeping up. I discovered afterwards that although my wheels indicator and hydraulic pressure indicator both registered “wheels up”, they were in reality about 1/3 of the way down. We sighted the enemy at about 14,000 feet, I would say that there were 40 to 50 planes. At this time Lt. Sandoval was also dropping back. My radio was at this time putting out no volume, so I could not get the message from Zed. At 17,000 feet, Capt. Armistead led the attack followed closely by Capt. Humberd. They went down the left of the Vee , leaving two planes burning. Lt. Sandoval went down the right side of the formation and I followed. One of us got a plane from the right side of the Vee. At this time, I had completely lost sight of my division. As I started to pull up for another run on the bombers, I was attacked by two fighters. Because my wheels being jammed 1/3 way down, I could not out dive these planes, but managed to dodge them and fire a burst or so into them as they went past me and as I headed for the water. As I circled the island, the anti-aircraft fire drove them away. My tabs, instruments and cockpit were shot up to quite an extent at this time and I was intending to come in for a landing.

It was at this time that I noticed that a important feature in their fighting. I saw two planes dog-fighting over in the east, and decided to go help my friend if at all possible. My plane was working very poorly, and my climb was slow. As I neared the fight both planes turned on me. It was then that I realized I had been tricked in a sham battle put on by two Japs and I failed to recognize this because of the sun in my eyes. Then I say I was out-numbered, I turned and made a fast retreat for the island, collecting a goodly number of bullets on the way. After one of these planes had been shaken, I managed to get a good burst into another as we passed head-on when I turned into him. I don’t believe this ship could have gotten back to his carrier, because he immediately turned away and started north and down. I again decided to land, but as I circled the island I saw two Japs on a Brewster. Three of my guns were jammed, but I cut across the island, firing as I went with one gun. But I could not get there in time to help the American flier and as soon as the Brewster had gone into the water I came in for a landing at approximately 0715 (estimated).

As for VMF-221 it was re-equipped with the F4F-4 and later with the F4U Corsair during the course of two more deployments overseas. VMF-221 finished the war with a score of 155 victories, 21 damaged and 16 probable kills, the second highest total of any Marine Corps Squadron during the war.

Their bomber counterparts of VMSB 241 attacked the Japanese task force on the morning of June 4th and scored no hits while losing 8 aircraft. The survivors were again in action later in the day as well as the following day where they helped sink the Japanese Heavy Cruiser Mikuma with their squadron leader Major Henderson diving his mortally wounded aircraft into the cruiser’s number 4 8” gun turret. While the Marines’ actions are not as well known or as successful as those of their Navy counterparts they were brave. Fighter pilots had to engage some of the most experienced pilots flying superior machines while the bomber crews had little to no experience before being thrown into combat.

Into the Valley of Death: The Last Ride of the Torpedo Bombers

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote in the Charge of the Light Brigadesomething that echoes to this day when we talk or write about men who charge the gates of death against superior enemies.

Half a league half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred:

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns’ he said:

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

They were not six hundred and they were not mounted on horses, but the Naval Aviators of Torpedo Squadrons 3, 6 and 8 and their aerial steeds 42 Douglas TBD Devastators and 6 TBF Avengers wrote a chapter of courage and sacrifice seldom equaled in the history of Naval Aviation. Commanded by veteran Naval Aviators, LCDR Lance “Lem” Massey, LCDR Eugene Lindsey and LCDR John Waldron the squadrons embarked aboard the carriers flew the obsolete TBD Devastators. The young pilots of the Midway based Torpedo 8 detachment under the command of LT Langdon Fieberling flew in the new TBF Avengers.

he TBD which first flew in 1935 entered service in 1937 and was possibly the most modern naval aircraft in the world when it entered service. It was a revolutionary aircraft. It was the first monoplane widely used on carriers and was first all-metal naval aircraft. It was the first naval aircraft with a totally enclosed cockpit, the first with hydraulic powered folding wings. The TBD had crew of three and had a maximum speed of 206 miles an hour and carried a torpedo or up to 1500 pounds of bombs (3 x 500) or a 1000 pound bomb. 129 were built and served in all pre-war torpedo bombing squadrons based aboard the Lexington, Saratoga, Ranger, Yorktown, Enterpriseand Hornetwith a limited number embarked aboard Wasp.

The Devastator saw extensive service prior to the war which pushed many airframes to the end of their useful service life and by 1940 only about 100 were operational by the beginning of the war. They were still in service in 1942 as their replacement the TBF Avenger was not available for service in large enough numbers to replace them before Midway. The TBDs performed adequately against minor opposition at Coral Sea and in strikes against the Marshalls but the squadrons embarked on Yorktown (VT3), Enterprise (VT-6)and Hornet (VT-8)were annihilated at Midway with only 6 of 41 aircraft surviving their uncoordinated attacks against the Japanese Carrier Strike Force. They were too slow, had poor maneuverability, insufficient armor and defensive armament.

The Torpedo squadrons attacked independently of each other between 0920 and 1030 on June 4th 1942. The Japanese Combat Air Patrol ripped into the slow, cumbersome and under armed TBD Devastators as they came in low to launch their torpedoes. Torpedo Eight from Hornet under the command of LCDR John C Waldron pressed the attack hard but all 15 of the Devastators were shot down. Only Ensign George Gay’s aircraft was able to launch its torpedo before being shot down and Gay would be the sole survivor of the squadron to be picked up later by a PBY Catalina patrol plane.

Torpedo Six from the Enterprise under the command of LCDR Eugene Lindsey suffered heavy casualties losing 10 of 14 aircraft with Lindsey being one of the casualties. The last group of Devastators to attack was Torpedo Three from the Yorktown under the command of LCDR Lem Massey losing 11 of 13 aircraft with Massey a casualty last being seen standing on the wing of his burning aircraft as it went down. These aircraft were also decimated and Massey killed but they had drawn the Japanese Combat Air Patrol down to the deck leaving the task force exposed to the Dive Bombers of the Enterprise and Yorktown. The six aircraft of the Torpedo Eight detachment from Midway under the command of LT Fieberling lost 5 of their 6 aircraft while pressing their attacks. Only Ensign Bert Earnest and his aircraft survived the battle landing in a badly damaged state on Midway. Four U.S. Army B-26 Marauder Medium Bombers were pressed into service as torpedo bombers of which 2 were lost. No torpedo bomber scored a hit on the Japanese Task force even those torpedoes launched at close range failed to score and it is believe that this was in large part due to the poor performance of the Mark 13 aircraft torpedoes.

Despite the enormous losses of the torpedo squadrons their sacrifice was not in vain. Their attacks served to confuse the Japanese command and delay the rearmament of aircraft following the Japanese strikes on Midway. They also took the Japanese Combat Air Patrol down to sea level and opened the way for American Dive Bombers to strike the Japanese with impunity fatally damaging the Akagi, Kaga and Soryuin the space of 5 minutes.

After Midway the remaining TBDs were withdrawn from active service and no example survives today. The TBF became the most effective torpedo bomber of the war and some remained in service in a civilian capacity to fight forest fires until 2012.

The Provence of Chance: Five Minutes that Changed the War

The land based aircraft from Midway attacked the Japanese carrier force taking heavy casualties and failed to damage the Japanese task force. When the results of the first strike of the Japanese bombers that hit Midway was analyzed Nagumo readied his second wave.

As this was happening the American carriers launched their strike groups at the Japanese fleet leaving enough aircraft behind as for Combat Air Patrol and Anti-submarine patrol missions. As the Americans winged toward the Japanese fleet the Japanese were in a state of confusion. The confusion was caused when a scout plane from the Heavy Cruiser Tone that had been delayed at launch discovered US ships but did not identify a carrier among them until later into the patrol. The carrier was the Yorktown and TF 17, but for Nagumo who first expected no American naval forces, then received a report of surface ships without a carrier followed by the report of a carrier the reports were unsettling.

Aboard the Japanese ships, orders and counter-orders were issued as the Japanese attempted to recover their strike aircraft and prepare for a second strike on the island, but when the Yorktown task force was discovered, orders were changed and air crews unloaded ground attack ordnance in favor of aerial torpedoes and armor piercing bombs. In their haste to get their aircraft ready to strike the Americans, the hard working Japanese aircrews did not have time to stow the ordnance removed from the aircraft. But due to their hard work at 1020 they had the Japanese strike group ready to launch against the US carriers. Aircraft and their crews awaited the order to launch, their aircraft fully armed and fully fueled.

There had been confusion among the Americans as to the exact location of the Japanese Carriers. Bombing 8 and Scouting 8 from Hornetmade a wrong turn and not find the Japanese carriers. The squadrons had to return due to a lack of fuel and a number of bombers and their fighter escort had to ditch in the ocean and wait for rescue. The Enterprise group composed of Bombing-6 and Scouting 6 under CDR Wade McClusky was perilously low on fuel when they spotted the wake of a Japanese destroyer steaming at high speed to catch up with the Japanese carriers. Taking a chance, McClusky followed it straight to the Japanese Task Force arriving about 1020. The Yorktown’s group under LCDR Max Leslie arrived about the same time.

When the American dive bombers arrived over the Japanese Carrier Strike Force they found the skies empty of Japanese aircraft. Below, aboard the Japanese ships there was a sense of exhilaration as each succeeding group of attackers was brought down and with their own aircraft ready to launch and deal a fatal blow to the American carrier wondered how big their victory would be. The war would soon be decided.

At 1020 the first Zero of the Japanese attack group began rolling down the flight deck of the flagship Akagi, aboard Kaga aircraft were warming up as they were on the Soryu. The unsuspecting Japanese were finally alerted to the threat of the American dive bombers when lookouts screamed “helldivers.” The Japanese fighters assigned to the combat air patrol were flying too low as the mopped up the last of the doomed torpedo bombers and were not in a position to intercept the Americans.

Wade McClusky’s aircraft lined up over the Akagiand Kagapushing into their dives at 1022. There was a bit of confusion when the bulk of Scouting 6 joined the attack of Bombing 6 on the Kaga. That unprepared ship was struck by four 1000 pound bombs which exploded on her flight deck and hangar deck igniting the fully fueled and armed aircraft of her strike group and the ordnance littered about the hangar deck. Massive fires and explosions wracked the ship and in minutes the proud ship was reduced to an infernal hell with fires burning uncontrollably. She was abandoned and would sink at 1925 taking 800 of her crew with her.

LT Dick Best of Scouting 6 peeled off from the attack on Kaga and shifted to the Japanese flagship Akagi. On board Akagi were two of Japan’s legendary pilots CDR Mitsuo Fuchida leader of and CDR Minoru Genda the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack and subsequent string of Japanese victories. Both officers were on the sick list and had come up from sick bay to watch as the fleet was attacked. Seeing Kaga burst into flames they stood mesmerized until Akagi’s lookouts screamed out the warning “helldivers” at 1026.

Best’s few aircraft hit with deadly precision landing two of their bombs on Akagi’s flight deck creating havoc among the loaded aircraft and starting fires and igniting secondary explosions which turned the ship into a witch’s cauldron. By 1046 Admiral Nagumo and his staff were forced to transfer the flag to the cruiser Nagara as Akagi’s crew tried to bring the flames under control. They would do so into the night until nothing more could be done and abandoned ship at 2000. Admiral Yamamoto ordered her scuttled and at 0500 on June 5th the pride of the Japanese carrier force was scuttled.

VB-3 under LCDR Max Leslie from the Yorktown stuck the Soryu with 17 aircraft, however only 13 of the aircraft had bombs due to an electronic arming device malfunction on 4 of the aircraft, including that of Commander Leslie. Despite this Leslie led the squadron as it dove on the Soryu at 1025 hitting that ship with 3 and maybe as many as 5 bombs. Soryu like her companions burst into flames as the ready aircraft and ordnance exploded about her deck. She was ordered abandoned at 1055 and would sink at 1915 taking 718 of her crew with her. A few hours later Hiryu, which had succeeded in launching strikes that seriously damaged Yorktown met the fate of her sisters. Yorktown would be sunk by a Japanese submarine, along with the destroyer Hamman a few days later as her crew attempted to get her to Pearl Harbor. In five pivotal minutes the course of the war in the Pacific was changed.

A Final Ignominy

Admiral Yamamoto was still attempting to digest the calamity that had befallen Admiral Nagumo’s carrier task force. In the shocked atmosphere of the mighty Super Battleship Yamato’s command center the Staff of the Combined Fleet was hastily attempting to arrive at a solution which might reverse the disaster and bring victory. Admiral Ugaki, Yamamoto’s Chief of Staff, despite strong personal doubts, ordered Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo to prepare for a night surface engagement with the US Fleet and dispatched a strong surface force to bombard Midway in order to prevent the Americans from reinforcing it and to prevent its further use against his forces should the invasion move forward. Kondo then organized his fleet to attempt to find the American carriers and bring them to battle before dawn.

Kondo detached Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s Close Support Group composed of Cruiser Seven, the fastest and most modern cruisers in the Imperial Navy proceed at full speed to attack Midway. Kurita’s cruisers, the Kumano, Suzuya, Mikuma and Mogamiwere each armed with 10 8” guns and were escorted by the two destroyers.

Kurita’s force was 80 miles from Midway when Yamamoto realizing that his plan was unrealistic ordered Kondo’s forces to retreat and rendezvous with his main force shortly after midnight. The order was met with a measure of relief by most officers in the force and the force turned northwest and steamed at 28 knots to meet the Main Body. At 0215 lookouts on Kumano sighted a submarine on the surface which turned out to be the USS Tambor which had been shadowing the group, and made a signal for the force to make a emergency 45 degree turn to port.

During the process Mogami’s Navigator took over from the watch to oversee the tricky maneuver. In doing so he thought that there was too much distance between him and the ship ahead, the Mikuma. So he adjusted his course to starboard and then realized his mistake. The ship he thought was Mikuma was actually Suzuya and Mikuma was directly ahead. As soon as he recognized his mistake Mogami’s Navigator ordered a hard turn to port and reversed the engines but it was too late. Mogami’s bow crashed into Mikuma’s port quarter. The impact caused minimal damage to Mikuma but Mogami was heavily damaged. She lost 40 feet of her bow and everything else was bent back to port at right angles to her number one turret.

Mogami’s damage control teams isolated the damage and worked the ship up to 12 knots. This was not fast enough for Kurita to make his rendezvous so he left Mikuma and the destroyers to escort Mogami while he steamed ahead with Kumano and Suzuya.

Tambor’s skipper LCDR John W Murphy sent a contact report at 0300 reporting “many unidentified ships.” He followed this with more detailed information and the Americans on Midway began to launch its remaining serviceable aircraft to attack the threat. A flight of B-17 Bombers launched at 0430 could not find the Japanese ships but at 0630 a PBY Catalina found the Japanese and radioed Midway “two Japanese battleships streaming oil.” The remaining 12 aircraft of VSMB-241 under command of Captain Marshall Tyler a mix of SBD Dauntless and SB2U Vindicators took off at 0700. His force attacked at 0808 scoring no hits. However, Marine Captain Richard Fleming, his Vindicator on fire dropped his bomb and then crashed his aircraft into Mikuma’s after turret. Sailors aboard Mogami were impressed, the American had sacrificed himself in a suicide attack worthy of the Samurai. The fire was sucked down air intakes into the starboard engine room with disastrous results. The Mikuma’sengineers were suffocated by the smoke and fumes and Mikuma was greatly reduced in speed.

The two ships limped northwest at 12 knots escorted by the destroyers and were unmolested through much of the day with the exception of an ineffective attack by the B-17s at 0830. The following morning the Dive Bombers of Enterprise and Hornet were at work and found the crippled Japanese ships. Waves over US Dive Bombers attacked the cruisers throughout the morning and into the afternoon. Mikuma was hit at least 5 times and secondary explosions of ammunition and torpedoes doomed the ship. Mogami was also heavily damaged but remained afloat while both destroyers received bomb damage. At sunset the tough cruiser rolled over to port and sank into the Pacific. Mogami whose damage control teams had performed miracles to keep their ship afloat helped the destroyers rescue survivors from Mikuma. Only 240 were rescued with 650 officers and sailors going down with the ship.

The action against the cruisers ended the combat operations at Midway. The Japanese ships were doomed by Yamamoto’s decision to try to salvage victory from defeat and the error of Mogami’sNavigator during the emergency turn when Kumano sighted Tambor. The only thing that kept the result from being total was the efficacy of Mogami’s damage control teams. Mogami was out of the war for 10 months following repairs and conversion to an Aircraft Cruiser in which her aft turrets were removed to increase the number of float plane scouts that the ship could carry. She rejoined the fleet in April 1943 and was sunk following the Battle of the Surigao Strait on 25 October 1944.

The Mogami and Mikuma proved to be tough ships to sink. Unprotected by friendly aircraft they fought hard against the unopposed American Dive Bombers. They suffered massive damage from 500 and 1000 pound bombs, both direct hits and near misses. Mogami was saved by the skill of her damage control teams and the foresight of her Damage Control Officer to jettison her torpedoes so that they did not explode and compound the damage wrought by the American bombs.

At Midway a distinctly smaller force defeated a vastly superior fleet in terms of experience, training and equipment. At the very moment that it appeared to the Japanese that they would advance to victory their vision disappeared. In a span of less than 5 minutes what looked like the certain defeat of the US Navy became one of the most incredible and even miraculous victories in the history of Naval warfare. In those 5 minutes history was changed in a breathtaking way. While the war would drag on and the Japanese still inflict painful losses and defeats on the US Navy in the waters around Guadalcanal the tide had turned and the Japanese lost the initiative in the Pacific never to regain it.

The Japanese government hid the defeat from the Japanese people instead proclaiming a great victory. The American government could not fully publicize the victory for fear of revealing the intelligence that led to the ability of the US Navy to be at the right place at the right time and defeat the Imperial Navy.

The American victory at Midway changed the course of the war in the Pacific. The Battle of Midway established the aircraft carrier and the fast carrier task force as the dominant force in naval warfare which some would argue it still remains. Finally those five minutes ushered in an era of US Navy dominance of the high seas which at least as of yet has not ended as the successors to the Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown ply the oceans of the world and the descendants of those valiant carrier air groups ensure air superiority over battlefields around the world today.

Nobutake Kondo - History

Imperial Japanese Navy in World War 2


A Note on the Japanese award for Gallantry

The Order was instituted in 1890 and conferred for bravery, leadership or command in battle. There were seven grades as follows:

General and Flag officers: 1st - 3rd grade

Officers: 2nd - 4th grade

Junior officers: 3rd - 5th grade

Non-commissioned officers: 4th - 6th grade

Soldiers and Sailors: 5th - 7th grade

A total of 1,067,492 were awarded until its official abolition in 1947. Only 41 of the 1st Grade and 201 of the 2nd Grade were awarded to all arms through the period 1890 to 1947. Of the grand total, approximately 630,000 relate to World War 2 or the Pacific war. The numbers awarded to the Navy between 1941 and 1945 are not known but include those listed in the right column.

Although Japanese military and naval culture was very different from that of most other belligerents in World War 2, it is of interest to investigate how the top Japanese award for gallantry compares with those of other nations.

Gordon Smith, Naval-History.Net.

Sources: All the contents of this page have been obtained from the Internet by searching for: Imperial Japanese Navy, Order of the Golden Kite. I am particularly grateful to those who prepared the relevant items in the following sites:

Vice Adm Nobutake Kondo, commander 2nd Fleet, took part in invasions of Malaya, Philippines and Dutch East Indies, Cover Force Midway operation, Battles of Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz and First Guadalcanal when battleship ‘Kirishima’ was sunk.

Adm of the Fleet Isoroku Yamamoto, C-in-C Imperial Japanese Navy, on South Pacific inspection tour, ambushed and shot down by USAAF Lightning fighters 18th April 1943

Vice Adm Takeo Takagi, took part in invasion of the Philippines, Battles of Java Sea and Coral Sea. Reported killed during US invasion of Saipan in 1944

Adm Isoroku Yamamoto (above)

Vice Adm Nobutake Kondo (above)

Adm Osami Nagano, Chief of the Naval General Staff. Arraigned as war criminal for ordering attack on Pearl Harbor. Died in 1947 during trial.

Vice Adm Chuichi Nagumo took part in attacks on Pearl Harbor and Darwin and Battles of Midway, Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz. Commited suicide at time of US capture of Saipan

Chief Petty Officer Kazuo Tanaka, Kamikaze pilot, killed 6th April 1945, posthumously promoted to Ensign

Note: Japanese first names normally follow their surname. The Western convention of first name first and surname last is followed above.

Torpedo Junction

Robert Lee Shaw was asleep when mayhem struck. It was near midnight, July 25, 1942, and Shaw was serving with an American guard detachment aboard the Dutch steamer Tjinegara. The ship had been home ported in Batavia—now Jakarta—until the Netherlands East Indies fell to Japanese invaders. Now the freighter’s owners, the Java-China-Japan Line, were leasing the 9,200-ton vessel to the U.S. Army as an animal transport. Tjinegara was bound from Australia to the French colonial port of Nouméa, New Caledonia, with a load of 477 horses, a road grader, and 2,000 cases of beer. The Southern Cross dominated the night sky. Tjinegara would not see the dawn.

Watching through his periscope, Lieutenant Commander Katsuji Watanabe of the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-169 was determined to sink the enemy vessel. Eight months earlier, Watanabe and I-169 had been waiting off Pearl Harbor, prepared to recover crews of the midget submarines assigned to attack the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Watanabe had seen the flames towering in the harbor, but none of the midget sub crews reached his sub-marine. Lingering too long, the I-169 had been depth-charged and caught in antisubmarine nets and damaged, and had failed in an attack on a cargo vessel near Hawaii. A few months later, Watanabe and I-169 had been posted on the sea-lane connecting Hawaii to Australia, but found nothing. Now he was scouting for targets off New Caledonia and the New Hebrides, with the division commander aboard looking over his shoulder. Watanabe fired torpedoes. One hit.

Startled by the explosion, Seaman Shaw bounced out of bed and ran toward Tjinegara’s bow. He smelled gunpowder and heard the abandon ship order. Shaw had left $5 at his bunk and his lifeboat station lay below the bridge, so he went back for his money and his suitcase. On the way he saw a gaping hole in the hull. Tjinegara’s captain was ahead of him into the lifeboat. They rowed to the freighter’s opposite side, where they found one of the horses had broken loose and was thrashing in the water. The men feared the frightened animal might try to climb into their boat, but they refrained from shooting it blood would attract sharks. Just then the captain glimpsed a periscope. The attacking submarine had also circled the stricken ship, and fired another torpedo.

The Dutch freighter was done for. Shaw survived because an American destroyer rescued him and the captain the next night. By then the Japanese submarine was long gone.

Captain Watanabe’s mission was a reflection of the Imperial Navy’s keen interest in the South Pacific, where the Japanese had taken over the Solomon Islands and were building an airfield on Guadalcanal. The Allies were interested, too: by August 15, when I-169 reached the Japanese base at Truk, American forces had been on Guadalcanal for a week.

To stay alive, Allied invaders needed seaborne supply from their nearest bases: the New Hebrides island of Espíritu Santo, about 400 miles southeast of Guadalcanal, and Nouméa, another 450 miles south. A motley fleet ranging from fast destroyer-transports to cargo vessels—even ocean tugs—was laboring to support the 10,000 American troops on and around Guadalcanal. From Espíritu, a fast ship could reach the island in a day and a half. A merchant vessel on the Nouméa-Guadalcanal run needed almost four days—and a naval escort.

To beat back or blunt the first Allied offensive in the Pacific, Japan needed to cut that lifeline. While Japanese battleships, cruisers, carriers, and other vessels fought on the surface to hold the Solomons, the Imperial Navy tried to starve Guadalcanal with airpower and submarines.

The resulting aerial and surface battles are famous. But far less is known about the underwater offensive the Japanese waged in the Guadalcanal supply corridor that became known as Torpedo Junction, and undeservedly so. Careful analysis shows Japanese submariners to have been as effective there as the empire’s surface navy—that is, until Japan’s submarine campaign foundered on the empire’s rigid naval doctrine.

As soon as U.S. Marines landed on Guadalcanal , Japanese admirals at Rabaul, the empire’s main base in the Solomons, ordered submarines to those waters—a move that effectively suspended the underwater war on merchant ships like the Tjinegara off Australia until late January 1943.

Based at Rabaul, 570 miles away, and commanded from there by Rear Admiral Setsuzo Yoshitome, the boats of Submarine Squadron 7 were to operate in the immediate vicinity of Guadalcanal. Submarine Squadron 3, which had been hunting freighters off Australia under Rear Admiral Chimaki Kono, would come from Truk, 2,000 miles from Nouméa and 1,140 from Guadalcanal. In Japan, Rear Admiral Shigeaki Yamazaki was poised to take Submarine Squadron 1 to the Indian Ocean instead, Yamazaki was ordered south. He boarded I-9, and on August 15 sailed with four more I-boats. Japanese Combined Fleet commander Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto assigned Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo-, his advance force leader, as the overall submarine commander.

Kono, Yamazaki, and Kondo- each had strengths, though only Yamazaki was a full-fledged underwater man. Kondo-, 56, was academically brilliant. At the top of his class in the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy, he taught at and later headed the Imperial Navy’s war college. But he knew little about subs. Yamazaki, 49, was a torpedo specialist with nearly 30 years of navy service. Thin-faced, with a prominent lower lip, Yamazaki was leading a division of subs as early as 1934, and by 1940 was a squadron commander. He had had a major role in submarine operations around Pearl Harbor, and later took his boats to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Kono, 50, was a radio expert who had a great deal of time as a staff officer—including assignments with the Combined Fleet and the Navy Ministry—and had captained battleships and cruisers. But before taking command of an I-boat squadron he had never served aboard a submarine.

Kondo- designated a corridor between San Cristobal in the Solomons and Ndeni in the Santa Cruz Islands, effectively creating Torpedo Junction. He detailed Yamazaki’s six subs and Kono’s Squadron 3 to patrol a line within that corridor, and would issue instructions as the battle evolved. In essence, Kondo- treated subs like surface ships. But submarines on the surface sat too low to be practical for scouting—and were even less useful for that purpose at periscope depth. Subs were more effective stationed at choke points where enemy essels had to pass.

By August 23, Yamazaki and his I-boats lay east of Malaita Island, by the lower Solomons, about 250 miles from their destination. That day, aircraft from the American carrier Enterprise caught Lieutenant Commander Takakazu Kinashi’s I-19 on the surface, forcing the sub to crash-dive to escape bombs. The next day an Enterprise plane unsuccessfully pursued Lieutenant Commander Hakue Harada’s I-17. By the next night, August 24, the subs reached their destination. The six boats set up a blockade line roughly 150 miles wide.

Early on August 25, Commander Nobuo Ishikawa in I-15 saw an enemy fleet, and identified the carrier Enterprise and the battleship North Carolina. He tried unsuccessfully to signal nearby I-17, sending Morse code by hydrophone. Haphazard attacks by Allied destroyers kept I-15 submerged, but eventually Ishikawa was able to surface and pursue the carrier. Yamazaki ordered I-17 to assist, but even working together the crews lost contact in the predawn darkness.

Also on August 25, in an attempt to maneuver the subs to catch the Allied fleet, the Japanese command ordered its subs to a line bearing southwest from Ndeni. At midday, a destroyer in the U.S. carrier Saratoga’s screen spotted the I-9. Three escorts joined together for five hours of depth charging. When the attackers finally saw bubbles and an oil slick, they moved on.

The Americans had fallen for a classic ruse. The captain of Yamazaki’s command vessel, Lieutenant Commander Akiyoshi Fujii, dumped fuel and belched air from a torpedo tube, faking the I-9’s demise and slipping away. Meanwhile, aboard the I-19 Kinashi had sighted two enemy ships but could not close. More subs, working as a group west and south of Guadalcanal, reached position south of the Indispensable Reefs, a series of atolls at the western edge of the corridor that Japanese subs often used to refuel long-range scout bombers.

The Japanese lacked the submarine strength needed to saturate Torpedo Junction and trap American vessels. On August 26, Kinashi’s hydrophones detected a surface force—which happened to include the American carrier Wasp—but the Allied vessels easily outran his submerged vessel. On August 28 the I-15 spotted another American carrier, which several subs pursued without success. Such results made the Battle of the Eastern Solomons a disappointment for the undersea force.

Yamazaki, tired and perhaps dispirited from his trial by depth charge five days earlier, arrived at Truk on August 30 and tied up I-9 for repair. One by one, other I-boats straggled in. A few days later, accompanied by the Sixth Fleet chief of staff, Rear Admiral Hisashi Mito, Yamazaki went to the Combined Fleet flagship, the superbattleship Yamato.

The Sixth Fleet had been Japan’s top submarine command since 1940, and Mito, like Yamazaki, was a true submariner. Yamazaki had commanded his first boat in 1920 the 50-year-old Mito had received his first sub command in 1923. Aboard Yamato the men met with Combined Fleet chief of staff Rear Admiral Matome Ugaki to discuss the subs’ recent experience.

Yamazaki said the Allies’ precautionary measures had been good and their sound detection excellent—analysis that Mito seconded. Ugaki drew the correct conclusion: “If a chase is difficult and an underwater movement dangerous, the only thing we can do is lie in wait with many submarines.”

These were not fresh insights. The I-boats’ meager results reflected the difficulties inherent in this kind of operation. A spring 1941 exercise by Squadron 2 that ranged from Japanese waters to Micronesia had shown the subs to be too slow for pursuit and too few to monitor broad ocean expanses. To avoid detection, subs had to remain distant from enemy harbors, which allowed foes to sortie without warning. Even when stationed right off enemy bases, subs had trouble engaging high-speed surface fleets. At Torpedo Junction, Allied task forces sped across the submarine patrol line, offering the undersea boats scant opportunity to maneuver. Placing subs under a surface officer like Kondo- brought other problems. Assumptions were critical in this hide-and-seek contest, and commanders unfamiliar with underwater combat tended to make the wrong ones.

The Imperial Navy’s fleet-centered operational concept dictated that subs remain in a line rather than patrol an area. As seen at Midway and now at the Eastern Solomons, this stiffness negated many of the advantages of group operations—but at least the repeated cruises familiarized Japanese sub skippers with Torpedo Junction and the behavior of the Allied forces crossing it. And while the Allies evaded the I-boats at the Eastern Solomons, Torpedo Junction featured a steady stream of American interlopers trying to outsmart their foes, which constantly presented the Japanese with fresh opportunities made challenging by the Imperial Navy’s perceived wisdom.

For example, on the night of August 24, the I-boat group occupied exactly the waters from which the American carriers had fought that day—arriving roughly 12 hours late. When Yamazaki’s subs reached their August 25 positions, they were behind every American except the Wasp, which had gone to refuel and then steered north. By then, most enemy targets were headed home, not obliged to maintain position to do battle.

The subs had done as ordered and hewed to Imperial Navy doctrine, which was both visionary and constraining. Japan intended its I-boats to act in conjunction with the navy’s advance force, whittling down foes before decisive battles. The navy was ahead of its American and German counterparts, and in the 1930s had developed the group assault tactics for use against warships that Germany would make famous with its convoy-hunting wolf packs. Japan had even built specialized command boats to lead formations into battle. Its regular subs had range and endurance—16,000 miles and 90 days, compared with the 11,000 miles and 75 days of America’s mainstay Gato-class subs. Japan had also developed a submarine-based floatplane along with a number of subs with facilities for storing, launching, and retrieving them, which enabled subs to scout remotely.

But Japan’s sub command had serious flaws. While Sixth Fleet staff chief Mito was a true submariner, his boss, Vice Admiral Teruhisa Komatsu, was not. Komatsu, 54, once led a sub squadron, but the only warship he had skippered was a cruiser and he had never driven an undersea boat. Komatsu, who had also taught at the naval academy and the navy war college, was drafted into the submarine command in early 1942 when the previous Sixth Fleet boss was wounded. Now Komatsu was being called upon to oversee the subs at and around Guadalcanal.

On the night of August 31, Lieutenant Commander Minoru Yokota’s I-26 was running on the surface northwest of Espíritu Santo, charging its batteries, when a lookout spotted lights. Diving cost Yokota contact, but hours later he regained it—and discovered that the lights belonged to the Saratoga’s task force. At periscope depth I-26 could not keep up, but a zigzag put the carrier right in front of the sub. A torpedo broached Saratoga’s aftermost fire room and compromised its electrical circuits. Destroyers responded, but I-26 disappeared.

The temporary loss of the Saratoga sapped Allied strength and stoked concern about submarines. Fearing the Japanese might penetrate their harbors, Allied commanders ordered Espíritu’s minefields augmented. A key passageway called Segond Channel was liberally seeded. (In August an American destroyer had blundered into the field and been sunk the same fate awaited the transport President Coolidge in October.) Off Nouméa, the Allies mounted a 24-destroyer watch at Amedee Light, where the barrier reef opened to the sea. When a fleet or convoy departed, escort vessels first cleared the approaches. And Allied ships routinely went to battle stations at sunset and dawn, when the light favored subs but surface sailors might be tired after a long day or not quite ready for a new one. The rest of the time the surface vessels generally remained at the ready.

By early September the Japanese had eight subs cruising Torpedo Junction and several more off Guadalcanal. On September 6, off Espíritu, I-11 got inside the carrier Hornet’s screen. It might have done some damage but for an alert patrol plane crew. The airmen dropped bombs whose explosion diverted I-11’s torpedoes. The counterattack was fierce. Aircraft damaged I-11 so badly that the sub had to leave Torpedo Junction on the surface, barely making Truk. Since I-11 was Kono’s command ship, his role in Squadron 3 was compromised. So on September 8, the day after Yamamoto ordered Guadalcanal blockaded, the Sixth Fleet transferred control of all subs in Torpedo Junction to Yamazaki. Kondo- followed with particular instructions for the blockade.

On September 13, a Japanese flying boat sighted another American carrier, prompting Yamazaki to order the patrol line to shift south 100 miles. On September 15, I-19 skipper Kinashi spotted Allied warships. The enemy sped away but, as in the Saratoga incident, zigzagged right to I-19. Kinashi launched a full spread of six torpedoes, sinking the carrier Wasp and the destroyer O’Brien, and damaging the battleship North Carolina—the most successful Japanese sub attack of the war.

On the blockade, submarine patrol strength remained problematic. By September 23, a dozen I-boats were on station, with seven in port for service. On September 29, I-4 damaged the 7,400-ton merchant ship Alhena on its return from Guadalcanal.

In October, illness forced the warhorse Yamazaki to leave Truk Mito replaced him as head of Squadron 1. In one respect the change reduced difficulties: with Yamazaki gone, Kono, the other submarine squadron commander, became the key man. Kono still lacked sub savvy, but his deep radio expertise made him well equipped to handle the chronic radio problems that underwater crews experienced in the tropics.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Combined Fleet was readying a major operation to reinforce Guadalcanal, overwhelm the Americans there, and cripple any fleet the Allies sent to save them. Subs would have a key role. In early October, Komatsu took direct control of four I-boats to put floatplane scouts over key Allied bases. Nine other subs were undergoing upkeep at Truk and Rabaul. Only five subs were patrolling Torpedo Junction one, I-22, was apparently lost on October 6 to an American PBY’s bombs. At mid-month, when the Japanese surface fleet went on the move, the blockade force surged. Kono suddenly put 16 I-boats, divided into two forces, into Torpedo Junction waters, continually adjusting their patrol lines.

The payoff came October 20. Aboard the I-176, Lieutenant Commander Yahachi Tanabe thought he spied a battleship, but what he torpedoed amidships was the heavy cruiser Chester, which limped back to Espíritu with 11 dead and 12 wounded.

The carrier battle of the Santa Cruz Islands began on October 25, northwest of Guadalcanal. As Allied vessels withdrew, I-boats gave chase, with the usual detection and pursuit problems. Lieutenant Commander Kanji Matsumura’s I-21 fired at the American battleship Washington, but his torpedo exploded in the ship’s wake. In the melee, the battleship South Dakota and the destroyer Mahan collided, badly damaging each other. Except for the Chester, Japanese subs drew scant blood.

Even so, the running scorecard for Torpedo Junction was clear: the Imperial Navy had lost I-22, and other subs had suffered damage. But thanks to the Japanese submariners the Allies had lost a carrier and a destroyer, and had a carrier, a battleship, and a heavy cruiser damaged—not counting the vessels damaged in minefield accidents and scrambles to avoid I-boats. And since the Enterprise, badly damaged by Japanese aircraft at Santa Cruz, had withdrawn to Nouméa, the Allies in the South Pacific had no combat-ready carrier. A significant portion of American losses was thus the work, direct or indirect, of Japanese subs.

After the Battle of Santa Cruz ended on October 27 , the Japanese sub commanders wasted no time on the next move: a special mission conceived by Mito against Espíritu Santo and Nouméa, codenamed Button and Poppy. As with the creation of Komatsu’s special reconnaissance force before Santa Cruz, Mito’s plan was shaped by the Japanese thinking strategically rather than woodenly following procedure.

The raid was sure to be non-standard: its leader was Captain Hankyu Sasaki, and if the Imperial Navy had a commando submariner, he was it. Sasaki, 46, had led the midget subs at Pearl Harbor, and a May 1942 midget raid on the port at Sydney, Australia. Well-connected—he and Ugaki were naval academy classmates—Sasaki had helmed subs since 1920, and had led Submarine Division 3 since 1939. On October 28, Mito created the independent E Force under Sasaki and sent it to Nouméa.

The timing was ideal. September through October is Nouméa’s dry season, averaging only nine rainy days a month with temperatures in the 70s. November is slightly warmer and wetter, but with almost identical sunshine—optimal conditions for deploying floatplanes and scout submarines off ports. The Japanese had thought of hitting the Allied bases—they even discussed an October raid on Nouméa using naval infantry inserted by submarine—but the intended boat was diverted and preparations for Santa Cruz occupied most subs. The three-vessel E Force mission seemed more practical.

Sasaki sailed aboard I-21, commanded by Matsumura, a veteran of a patrol off Nouméa and among the top-scoring sub captains. The second boat, I-9, was captained by Fujii, the lieutenant commander who had evaded American destroyers with his oil-and-air trick. A scouting maven, Fujii had launched floatplanes against Pearl Harbor and in the Aleutians. He and Matsumura were both from one of Kono’s forces. The trio’s third sub, Kinashi’s I-19, came from Komatsu’s recon force. Kinashi had killed the Wasp, and E Force was after the Enterprise.

Fujii began the mission by reconnoitering Nouméa on October 31, the day after the Enterprise anchored there. An outside I-boat, I-8, did likewise at Espíritu two days later. At dawn on November 4, Fujii sent his floatplane over Nouméa. The pilot reported one carrier, several cruisers, and other ships.

Sasaki was having the problems near Allied bases that the spring 1941 exercises had exposed. Under ordinary circumstances he would not have dared let subs get too close to an enemy harbor, but this situation was special. Perhaps Sasaki intended to raid directly into the harbors, as U-boat skipper Günther Prien famously did at Scapa Flow, Britain’s main naval base, in 1939. However, there is no record and Sasaki, Fujii, and Kinashi did not live to write postwar memoirs. Sasaki’s scouting pattern suggests he was angling for some kind of attack on the harbor at Nouméa, but could not get past the destroyer patrols at Amedee Light.

In any event the subs held off, while inside Nouméa’s harbor American sailors swarmed the Enterprise around the clock, along with every engineer and repair specialist the U.S. Navy could find. Men from the repair ship Vulcan and Seabees labored alongside the carrier’s damage control people. Assayers said repairs would take three weeks the work was done in 11 days. Enterprise crewmen were recalled from liberty—pulled out of downtown bars where a can of beer was 15 cents and whiskey was a quarter a slug.

As E Force circled, Japan’s Combined Fleet was readying a fresh naval offensive against Guadalcanal that demanded more floatplane reconnaissance. However, the floatplane on Komatsu’s I-7 was too damaged to scout Espíritu Santo. The admirals ordered Sasaki to detach I-9 from E Force so its plane could replace I-7?’s. That took Sasaki’s best scout boat away from the Enterprise’s lair. Off Espíritu, I-9 would be too distant to play a role at Nouméa.

The climax came on November 9. Enterprise, refurbished enough to get under way, left Nouméa with two battleships for company and repair crews still toiling on board. From both Nouméa and Espíritu, cruisers and destroyers departed to convoy half a dozen transports to Guadalcanal.

The Japanese learned their quarry had exited that day, when I-21’s floatplane overflew Nouméa. At sunset on November 11, Fujii’s airmen reconnoitered Espíritu, reporting that harbor empty as well. The subs had been too far from the enemy bases to detect ship movements or attack Allied vessels. Nor had it dawned on the submariners to attack the U.S. escort carrier Kitty Hawk, then nearing Espíritu with a load of planes for Guadalcanal.

After Enterprise fled, the Japanese got a small consolation prize. Off Nouméa, I-21 spied Liberty ship Edgar Allen Poe inbound. Matsumura lined up. His torpedo ran true. The Poe’s crew abandoned ship. Matsumura wanted to finish the transport with his cannon, but Poe’s guards had a deck gun. The I-boat dived.

Escorts arriving to rescue Poe’s crew found the ship afloat, decks buckled but bulkheads intact. After repairs at Nouméa, the Poe became a sort of ocean-going barge until Japan’s surrender, dispensing supplies from a towline. I-21 was credited erroneously for sinking it, an ironic coda to an ambitious raid.

The denouement at Torpedo Junction came quickly. With Japanese surface ships bearing down on Guadalcanal, Sasaki was ordered to patrol. But his and other I-boats from Truk saw no game. After its scout mission at Espíritu Santo, I-9 received orders to harbor at Shortland Island, a Japanese base northwest of Guadalcanal. The I-19 followed. Sasaki remained at sea with I-21 until he returned to Truk. Midget subs at Guadalcanal succeeded only in damaging one Allied ship. Kondo-’s advance force lost the epic November 12–15 surface fight known as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, but I-26 did pick off the crippled light cruiser Juneau, costing the Americans 687 men, including the five Sullivan brothers.

After the big fight, the Imperial Navy suddenly demoted I-boats to supply duty—a step with no precedent, taken in desperation to succor starving Japanese soldiers on Guadalcanal. Subs occasionally hauled supplies, but the November order made that their primary task. Submarine skippers protested. Komatsu overrode all objections, and the supply order effectively ended the Torpedo Junction blockade. Pulling I-boats from combat patrol amounted to virtual attrition—Japanese warships taken out of play without direct Allied action.

From Shortland, I-19 and I-9 began supplying Guadalcanal. Soon I-boats were provisioning New Guinea. In time, Imperial General Headquarters formally assigned submarines and destroyers to supply Japan’s endangered garrisons.

After November 1942 the Japanese occasionally patrolled Torpedo Junction, sinking transports as late as summer 1943. But the sub squadrons’ heyday was done. The Guadalcanal blockade had failed, the war in the Pacific had passed Torpedo Junction by, and despite a respectable record against American warships, Japan’s submarines had—by its navy’s own hand—been scuttled to the status of underwater delivery wagons.

Nobutake Kondō

Kondō valmistui keisarillisesta laivastoakatemiasta vuonna 1907 ja laivaston esikuntakoulusta vuonna 1919. Hän opiskeli 1920-luvun alussa muutaman vuoden Saksassa ja häntä pidettiin myöhemmin mielipiteiltään saksalaismielisenä ja brittiläisvastaisena. Vuosina 1924–1926 Kondō oli kruununprinssi Hirohiton adjutanttina ja sen jälkeen pääasiassa esikunta- ja opetustehtävissä. Lisäksi hän oli vuosina 1929–1930 risteilijä Kakon ja 1932–1933 taistelulaiva Kongōn päällikkönä. Hänet ylennettiin 1933 kontra-amiraaliksi ja 1937 vara-amiraaliksi. Kondō oli 1938–1939 Japanin 5. laivaston komentajana, 1939–1941 laivaston pääesikunnan apulaispäällikkönä ja syyskuusta 1941 alkaen 2. laivaston komentajana, missä tehtävässä hän jatkoi Tyynenmeren sodan puhjettua. Hän oli Isoroku Yamamoton tavoin sitä mieltä, että Japanin ei pitäisi ryhtyä sotaan Yhdysvaltoja vastaan. [1]

Kondōn laivasto tuki Malaijan valtausta joulukuussa 1941. [1] Hänen lentokoneensa upottivat 10. joulukuuta 1941 brittien sotalaivat Prince of Walesin ja Repulsen. [2] Hän osallistui keväällä 1942 Chūichi Nagumon komentamaan hyökkäykseen Intian valtamerelle. Kondō osallistui kesäkuun 1942 alussa tappiolliseen Midwayn taisteluun, jossa hänen oli tarkoitus suojata maihinnousua Midwaylle. Hän piti itse operaatiota varomattomasti suunniteltuna. [1] Elokuussa 1942 hän johti Japanin ensimmäistä vastahyökkäystä Guadalcanalilla ja osallistui Itäisten Salomonsaarten taisteluun. Lokakuussa 1942 hän kohtasi uudelleen Thomas C. Kinkaidin yhdysvaltalaisen laivaston Santa Cruzin saarten taistelussa. Kondō johti japanilaisten hyökkäystä marraskuussa 1942 Guadalcanalin meritaistelussa, jossa hän menetti lippulaivansa Kirishiman ja joutui perääntymään, mikä osaltaan ratkaisi kamppailun Guadalcanalin saaresta Yhdysvaltain hyväksi. [1] [2]

Kondō ylennettiin huhtikuussa 1943 amiraaliksi ja hänet nimitettiin elokuussa ylimmän sotaneuvoston jäseneksi. Hän oli joulukuusta 1943 toukokuuhun 1945 Japanin Kiinan-alueen laivaston komentajana ja sen jälkeen taas sotaneuvostossa. Hän jätti palveluksen sodan päätyttyä syyskuussa 1945. Sodan jälkeen Kondō toimi liike-elämässä. [1]


Early life and career

Kondō was a native of Osaka. He graduated at the head of his class of 172 cadets from the 35th session of the Imperial Japanese Navy Academy in 1907. As a midshipman he served on the cruiser Itsukushima and battleship Mikasa. After his commissioning as ensign, he as assigned to the cruiser Aso, destroyer Kisaragi and battleship Kongō. From 1912-1913, he was a naval attaché to the United Kingdom. After his return to Japan, he served briefly on the Fusō, then in a number of staff positions throughout World War I. From 1916-1917, he was chief Gunnery Officer on Akitsushima.

After the end of the war, Kondō attended the Naval Staff College, and was promoted to lieutenant commander on 1 December 1919.

From 1920-1923, Kondō was stationed in Germany, as part of the Japanese delegation to confirm Germany's adherence to the provision of the Treaty of Versailles. On his return to Japan, he was stationed for six months on the battleship Mutsu, and promoted to commander on 1 December 1923. From 1924-1925, he was an aide-de-camp to Crown Prince Hirohito. On completion of this task, he became an instructor at the Imperial Japanese Navy Academy and was promoted to captain. He subsequently served in a number of positions on the Imperial Japanese Navy General Staff. He was captain of the Kako from 1929–1930 and of the battleship Kongō from 1932-1933.

Kondō was promoted to rear admiral on 15 November 1933, Chief of Staff of the Combined Fleet in 1935, and vice admiral on 15 November 1937.

World War II

After the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Kondō commanded the IJN 5th Fleet in the Hainan Island Operation and Swatow Operation off of southern China.

At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Kondō commanded the IJN 2nd Fleet, participating in the invasions of Malaya, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. [ 3 ] He was overall commander for the Indian Ocean Raid. [ 3 ] During the Battle of Midway, he commanded the Midway Occupation Force and Covering Group. [ 3 ] Subsequently, his forces played a leading role during the Guadalcanal campaign, seeing combat in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons (23–25 August 1942) and the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands (26–27 October ). Kondō also led Japanese forces at the Battle off Savo Island (12–13 November 1942).

After the first Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (15 November 1942), Kondō personally led the battleship Kirishima along with cruisers Atago, Nagara, Sendai, and Takao, in what was to have been a decisive attack to eliminate the threat from Henderson Field through a massive nocturnal shelling. Instead, Kondō was confronted by an American task force with battleships Washington and South Dakota, and was defeated, losing Kirishima. This defeat marked a turning point of the entire Guadalcanal campaign. [ 3 ]

Kondō was apparently tainted by the Guadalcanal failures, and was soon removed from sea-going commands, or indeed any positions of real authority. Yamamoto's demotion of Kondō was nonetheless less harsh than that of his predecessor, Hiroaki Abe, due to Imperial Navy culture and politics. Kondō, who also held the position of second in command of the Combined Fleet, was a member of the upper staff and "battleship clique" of the Imperial Navy while Abe was a career destroyer specialist. Admiral Kondo was not reprimanded or reassigned but instead was left in command of one of the large ship fleets based at Truk. [ 4 ]

Kondō was appointed Deputy Commander of the Combined Fleet in October 1942 and was promoted to full admiral on 29 April 1943. He became Commander in Chief of the China Area Fleet from December 1943 until May 1945, when it was appointed to the Supreme War Council (Japan).


Early life and career

Kondō was a native of Osaka. He graduated at the head of his class of 172 cadets from the 35th session of the Imperial Japanese Navy Academy in 1907. As a midshipman he served on the cruiser Itsukushima and battleship Mikasa. After his commissioning as ensign, he was assigned to the cruiser Aso, destroyer Kisaragi and battleship Kongō. From 1912-1913, he was a naval attaché to the United Kingdom. After his return to Japan, he served briefly on the Fusō, then in a number of staff positions throughout World War I. From 1916-1917, he was chief Gunnery Officer on Akitsushima.

After the end of the war, Kondō attended the Naval Staff College, and was promoted to lieutenant commander on 1 December 1919.

From 1920-1923, Kondō was stationed in Germany, as part of the Japanese delegation to confirm Germany's adherence to the provision of the Treaty of Versailles. On his return to Japan, he was stationed for six months on the battleship Mutsu, and promoted to commander on 1 December 1923. From 1924-1925, he was an aide-de-camp to Crown Prince Hirohito. On completion of this task, he became an instructor at the Imperial Japanese Navy Academy and was promoted to captain. He subsequently served in a number of positions on the Imperial Japanese Navy General Staff. He was captain of the Kako from 1929–1930 and of the battleship Kongō from 1932-1933.

Kondō was promoted to rear admiral on 15 November 1933, Chief of Staff of the Combined Fleet in 1935, and vice admiral on 15 November 1937.

World War II

After the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Kondō commanded the IJN 5th Fleet in the Hainan Island Operation and Swatow Operation off of southern China.

At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Kondō commanded the IJN 2nd Fleet , participating in the invasions of Malaya, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. [ 3 ] He was overall commander for the Indian Ocean Raid. [ 3 ] During the Battle of Midway, he commanded the Midway Occupation Force and Covering Group. [ 3 ] Subsequently, his forces played a leading role during the Guadalcanal campaign, seeing combat in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons (23–25 August 1942) and the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands (26–27 October). Kondō also led Japanese forces at the Battle off Savo Island (12–13 November 1942).

After the first Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (15 November 1942), Kondō personally led the battleship Kirishima along with cruisers Atago, Nagara, Sendai, and Takao, in what was to have been a decisive attack to eliminate the threat from Henderson Field through a massive nocturnal shelling. Instead, Kondō was confronted by an American task force with battleships USS Washington and USS South Dakota, and was defeated, losing Kirishima. This defeat marked a turning point of the entire Guadalcanal campaign. [ 3 ]

Kondō was apparently tainted by the Guadalcanal failures, and was soon removed from seagoing commands, or indeed any positions of real authority. Yamamoto's demotion of Kondō was nonetheless less harsh than that of his predecessor, Hiroaki Abe, due to Imperial Navy culture and politics. Kondō, who also held the position of second in command of the Combined Fleet, was a member of the upper staff and "battleship clique" of the Imperial Navy while Abe was a career destroyer specialist. Admiral Kondo was not reprimanded or reassigned but instead was left in command of one of the large ship fleets based at Truk. [ 4 ]

Kondō was appointed Deputy Commander of the Combined Fleet in October 1942 and was promoted to full admiral on 29 April 1943. He became Commander in Chief of the China Area Fleet from December 1943 until May 1945, when it was appointed to the Supreme War Council (Japan).

Kondo Nobutake (1886-1953)

Kondo Nobutake was born in Osaka prefecture and graduated from the Japanese naval academy in 1907 and from the Naval Staff College in 1919. Recognized early in his career as a future admiral, he served in an unusual number of staff positions. He also traveled extensively abroad, and studied in Germany. Though he became pro-German, and was considered anti-British, he shared Yamamoto’s belief that Japan could not successfully wage war against the United States. His anti-British attitude seems ironic, given that he was described as a “British gentleman officer type” and that he played the British commander in the war games preceding the attack on Pearl Harbor.

When the Japanese considered turning against Russia in support of the German blitzkrieg of June 1941, Kondo argued against the plan, claiming that it would cost a hundred submarines. It is unclear what basis he had for this claim, particularly since Japan did not have nearly that number of submarines in commission.

Kondo was commander of 2 Fleet at the start of the Pacific War, and led the escort forces for the Malaya invasion. He joined Nagumo for the raid into the Indian Ocean in early 1942, and commanded the forces that unsuccessfully pursued Halsey’s task force after it had launched the Doolittle Raid.

Kondo was a critic of the Midway operation, arguing unsuccessfully that the invasion forces should assemble in Truk rather than Saipan, so that they would be better masked against signals intelligence. Nevertheless, he dutifully led the invasion covering force. He fought in the Solomons campaign, including the battles of the Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz, but lost his flagship (the Kirishima) in November 1942 when it was sunk by a deadly volley from the Washington under Willis Lee. Thereafter he was reposted to command of China Area Fleet in 1943. In the immediate postwar period, he operated under the British against Viet Minh guerrillas in French Indochina.

Kondo was apparently a very likeable officer, always willing to hear out a subordinate and adept at winning over former enemies. He was an efficient commander and capable bureaucrat. He survived the war to become a successful businessman.

This Was America's Secret Surprise During the Battle for Guadalcanal

Key point: Washington was ready for this fight. America had several new technologies to use as well.

Rear Admiral Willis Augustus Lee has been called, among other things, “one of the best brains in the Navy.” Although his critics and detractors had any number of unkind things to say about him, Admiral Lee had the ability to make quick decisions under the stress of battle and was certainly more technically minded than most officers of his age group.

Lee had been director of fleet training between the wars and had been a major advocate of upgrading and modernizing U.S. warships. His special interest was in radar and the use of radar at sea. It was said that Admiral Lee “knew more about radar than the radar operators.” This knowledge, as well as his faith in the still largely untried and mysterious device, would prove to be indispensable on the night of November 14-15, 1942, in the waters north of Guadalcanal.

Admiral Lee and a six-ship task force had been sent to Guadalcanal by Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, overall commander of the South Pacific area, to block another Japanese effort to put Henderson Field out of operation. A task group of cruisers and destroyers under Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan had prevented Japanese cruisers and battleships from bombarding the airfield on November 13. The ensuing battle, the first phase of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, left Admiral Callaghan dead and six of his ships sunk. The survivors of this group were in no condition to stop another Japanese task force. Admiral Lee was given the job of stopping the latest enemy bombardment force with two battleships, Washington and South Dakota, along with four screening destroyers, a unit that had been designated Task Force 64.

During the afternoon of November 14, a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft discovered Task Force 64 steaming on a northerly course about 100 miles south of Guadalcanal. The pilot incorrectly identified Washington and South Dakota as cruisers accompanied by destroyers. At about the same time, a Japanese force under Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo was discovered steaming south toward Guadalcanal. The American submarine Flying Fish came across Kondo’s force at about 4:30 pm and fired several torpedoes at the cruiser Atago. All of the torpedoes missed, but Flying Fish sent a plain language report regarding Admiral Kondo’s task group to Fourth Fleet intelligence. Admiral Kondo’s group consisted of the battleship Kirishimawith an escort of four cruisers and nine destroyers.

Thanks to the information from Flying Fish, Admiral Lee knew that he would be up against a large Japanese force. His own task force was approaching Guadalcanal’s western shoreline when he received the report. His six-ship column was led by four destroyers—Walke, Benham, Preston, and Gwin, in that order—followed by the battleships Washington, which was Admiral Lee’s flagship, and South Dakota. Admiral Halsey had given Lee permission to maneuver and position his ships as he saw fit. Admiral Lee decided to situate his task force just off the northwestern coast of Guadalcanal between Cape Esperance and Savo Island, where it would be able to intercept any Japanese force coming from the northwest.

Telltale smoke trails mark the end of two Japanese aircraft, shot down during a raid against American ships off Guadalcanal on November 12, 1942. In the distance the attack cargo ship USS Betelguese is making smoke to help conceal the ships from further attack.

Lee’s important advantage, gained by having been alerted that a Japanese force was approaching, was offset by the problem of never having worked with any of the accompanying ships in his task force before. The four destroyers were from four different divisions and had no division commander. The only reason that these particular destroyers had been assigned to Task Force 64 was that they had more fuel than any others in the area. And the two battleships had never operated together before, either. The six warships had only sailed together for the past 36 hours, during their run to Guadalcanal. To prevent any accidents during their first operational sortie, Lee ordered an interval of 5,000 yards between the destroyers and the two battleships. A collision in the restricted waters of Guadalcanal was the last thing he needed.

At about 9 pm on November 14, Lee ordered a 90-degree change of course, which would put his task force past Savo Island and into Ironbottom Sound. Before the war, that stretch of water was known as Savo Sound that was the name given on all the charts. But sailors decided that so many ships had been sunk in this narrow strait since the invasion of Guadalcanal in August that its bottom must be lined with iron.

Admiral Lee knew that the enemy was on his way, but he badly needed more recent, and more specific, intelligence. His task force had departed the naval base at Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, in such haste that it had not been given a radio call sign. When Lee tried to contact Guadalcanal—call sign “Cactus” —for any up-to-date information, he signed the communiqué with his last name. In response, he received the curt reply, “We do not recognize you!” The admiral decided to try again with another signal: “Cactus this is Lee. Tell your big boss Ching Lee is here and wants the latest information.” The “big boss” in question was General Alexander Vandegrift, commander of the 1st Marine Division and a friend of Lee’s since their Naval Academy days. “Ching Lee” was the admiral’s nickname when he was at the Academy (class of 1908).

Smoke rises from the cruiser USS San Francisco in the distance after a Japanese plane has crashed into its aft superstructure in another photo taken during the action in the photo above. Antiaircraft fire dots the sky as well while the transport USS President Jackson is also under attack in the foreground.

Before General Vandegrift could be located, radio operators aboard Washington picked up some frightening talk between three nearby torpedo boats regarding Lee’s two battleships: “There go two big ones, but I don’t know whose they are!” The admiral thought it imperative to send some sort of message as quickly as possible, something containing some personal information that his friend Vandegrift would know, before the three PT boats fired their torpedoes at him. He decided to send another “Ching Lee” communiqué, which he knew Vandegrift would recognize immediately.

There are at least three versions of Lee’s signal to Vandegrift. The first, sent in a rhymed couplet, is the most colourful: “This is Chung Ching Lee—you mustn’t fire fish at me!” The second is an interchange between the admiral and the PT boats. “This is Lee,” he broadcast. “Who’s Lee?” came the response. “Tell your boss this is Ching Lee.” The PT boat’s response to this is not on record. Version number three is the most straightforward: “Refer your big boss about Ching Lee Chinese, catchee? Call off your boys!”

The admiral’s colorful messages achieved at least one of their goals: they convinced the PT boats that the two “big ones” were not Japanese, and no fish were fired at Chung Ching Lee. But his requests did not supply him with any additional information regarding Admiral Kondo’s approaching force. Sometime after 10:30, “Cactus” responded, “The boss has no additional information.” For all of his lively radio messages with Guadalcanal, Lee was no better informed than he had been before.

The presence of SG radar aboard the battleship USS Washington was a key factor in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. This image of the Washington’s forward director tower shows the SG apparatus.

While Lee was busy communicating with “Cactus,” Kondo split his 14 ships into three separate units. The light cruiser Nagara headed a six-destroyer column made up of Shirayuki, Hatsuyuki, Samidare, Inazuma, Asagumo, and Teruzuki. A column of three destroyers, Uranami, Shikinami, and Ayanami, along with the light cruiser Sendai, was sent off on a course that would take it east of Savo Island. The main bombardment group, which had been assigned to attack Henderson Field, consisted of the battleship Kirishima and the heavy cruisers Atago, which was Admiral Kondo’s flagship, and her sister Takao. Four troop transports, along with a screen of nine destroyers, were also approaching Guadalcanal. According to Kondo’s plan, the transports would land reinforcements for the Japanese garrison on Guadalcanal while Kirishima and the bombardment group shelled Henderson Field. The other two groups of cruisers and destroyers would deal with any American warships that came out to interfere with either the bombardment group or the landing of reinforcements. It was a plan that looked good on paper.

Sendai made first contact with Lee’s force at 10:10. Her radio reported, “Two enemy cruisers and four destroyers” northeast of Savo, heading toward Ironbottom Sound. Sendai and Shikinami changed course to pursue Admiral Lee’s force, and Admiral Kondo issued an immediate order to attack the American ships. Nagara and four of her escorting destroyers were also sent toward Ironbottom Sound at full speed. While his cruisers and destroyers were taking on the enemy, Kondo would bring Kirishima and his two heavy cruisers to the vicinity of Henderson Field to carry out their bombardment assignment.

Japan's Capture of Java Was a Military Disaster for the Allies in World War II

The capture of Java by the Japanese was the culmination of a long series of disasters for the Allied nations in the Pacific.

The other Allied ground forces on Java in February and March 1942 consisted of several diverse elements. First, there were five British “regiments” (actually battalions) of British air defense artillery (ADA), mainly armed with 40mm Bofors guns. However, only three of these units had their guns and, along with those lacking them, had been dispersed to guard airfields across the island. Those air defenders without cannons were armed to serve as infantry. Their capacity to fill that new role, one in which they had received very little training, was predictably low. A single squadron of the 3rd Hussar Tank Regiment numbering 25 Vickers light tanks was also available. The commander of all British troops on Java was Maj. Gen. Sir Hervey D.W. Sitwell. Altogether, 5,500 British military personnel were on the island when the Japanese struck.

The largest non-Dutch force on Java was the 3,000-man Australian brigade-size task group known as Blackforce (named after its commander, Lt. Col. Arthur S. Blackburn), which arrived on February 18, 1942. The most capable military contingent on the island, its backbone was the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion, 3rd Machine Gun Regiment (2/3) and the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Pioneer Regiment (2/2). Both units were part of the 7th Australian Infantry Division. The Australians, though lacking much of their authorized logistical support, constituted the one force on the island able to maneuver against a modern enemy. Most of the Australian troops were veterans of the fighting in North Africa and Syria, where they had acquitted themselves well.

Blackforce, however, was critically short of communications equipment, especially radios and field telephones. This meant that units that had no time to train together (within Blackforce or attached to it) had to be thrown into the fight without adequate communications, inevitably reducing the unit’s battlefield performance.

The only other Allied ground unit on the island was the American 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery Regiment (2/131) of the Texas National Guard. Its 558 men crewed three artillery batteries of four 75mm guns under the command of Lt. Col. Blucher S. Tharp. This unit had been on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and had subsequently been shipped first to Australia and then to Java, arriving there on January 11. Unfortunately, the Americans, British, and Dutch all had different artillery, small arms, and machine-gun ammunition, requiring each army to handle its own supplies without being able to share with its allies. As a result, the U.S. artillery unit had only 100 rounds per gun when operations against the Japanese began.

On February 26, the 2/131 was directed to attach one battery to the Dutch defenders at Surabaya and move the rest of the unit to western Java to join Blackforce. The Americans were the only artillery supporting Blackforce and, in terms of training to conduct actual maneuver fire support, the only effective Allied field artillery on Java.

The Allied air forces on the island were the remnants of what had escaped from Singapore, Sumatra, and the Philippines. By late February there were less than 40 shot-up fighters remaining on Java, divided between the airfield at Kalidjati (British Hawker Hurricanes) and Blimbang (American Curtiss P-40s, Dutch Brewster Buffalos, Hurricanes, and a few Curtiss P-36s). Making an already bad situation worse, many of the Dutch aircraft were flown by inexperienced pilots.

The bomber force consisted of a few American B-17s that had not been evacuated to Australia. The rest of the Allied airpower consisted of U.S. Army Air Corps Douglas A-24 dive bombers, six British Bristol Blenheim and six Australian Hudson bombers along with nine ancient Dutch Vildebeste torpedo planes reconfigured to drop bombs. All the air assets were in need of repair.

The Japanese committed the 16th Army, under Lt. Gen. Hitoshi Imamura, to the conquest of Java. It included Lt. Gen. Masao Maruyama’s 2nd and Maj. Gen. Yuitsu Tsuchihashi’s 48th Infantry Divisions with more than 15,000 men in each formation. Also assigned were two independent combined arms (infantry, artillery, armor, engineer, antiaircraft guns, and transport) brigade-size groups. These latter units were the 3,500-man Shoji Detachment under Colonel Shoji Toshishige from the 38th Infantry Division and Maj. Gen. Sakaguchi Shizuo’s 5,500-man Sakaguchi Detachment from the 56th Infantry Division. These units were made up of highly trained and motivated veterans who had seen earlier combat in China, Hong Kong, the East Indies, and the Philippines.

To support their ground troops, the Japanese assembled close to 400 combat aircraft based out of Kendari in the Celebes, Borneo, Sumatra, and Mindanao in the Philippines. Most of the planes belonged to the Naval Air Force’s 11th Air Fleet, consisting of the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd Air Flotillas.

To carry the invasion force, which was split into eastern and western attack groups, 97 transport ships escorted by seven cruisers, one light aircraft carrier, and 24 destroyers were mustered into service. The invasion armada was under the command Vice Admiral Ibo Takahashi. In addition, two powerful strike forces led by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo with four aircraft carriers, two cruisers, and a flotilla of destroyers and Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo with four battleships and four carriers sailed for the Indian Ocean in late February to cut off the Allied escape route south of Java.

As the Japanese armada headed for Java, Allied ground forces prepared to repel the invaders. General Poorten expected the Japanese to simultaneously attack both ends of the island, near Surabaya in the east and Sunda Strait in the west. Allied bombers were to attack enemy transports as far out to sea as possible. The main elements of the ABDA fleet were to engage the opposing naval force when it appeared. On the island itself, General Ilgen’s eastern sector, which included the naval base at Surabaya and the rest of the island to the east, was garrisoned by an infantry regiment, a small Dutch Marine battalion, several reserve battalions, and some antiaircraft and artillery battalions. Ilgen also had Battery E, 2nd Battalion, 131st Artillery Regiment attached to his command. His mission was to protect Surabaya and its environs.

Cox’s central sector was responsible for defending the middle part of the island and providing the operational reserve force for all of Java. He commanded the 2nd East Indies Division (in reality a brigade size element) and two cavalry battalions.

The western sector held the bulk of the island’s defenders where the main enemy landings were anticipated. General Schilling was in charge there, and he oversaw the deployment of the 1st DEI Infantry Division made up of the 1st and 2nd DEI Infantry Regiments, one artillery regiment, a small Dutch mechanized detachment, and various antiaircraft and service units. Schilling’s most potent formation was Blackforce. He also had a few British air defense units.

The Allied ground forces on Java were spread widely across the island, which assured that they would engage the Japanese piecemeal. In the east, Ilgen hoped to delay any enemy advance on Surabaya long enough to allow demolition of the naval base there. In the center, Cox was concerned with keeping the roads to the port town of Tjilatjap, on Java’s south coast, open. In the west, Schilling’s men were arrayed to protect the towns of Batavia and Bandoeng. Last stands by the defenders were to be made at Bandoeng in the west and the Malang Plateau in the east.

Only in the west did an opportunity exist for Allied offensive action against the Japanese landings. General Schilling and Colonel Blackburn came up with a scheme of maneuver that had Blackforce and one DEI infantry regiment attacking the opposing force’s right flank and rear as it advanced on Batavia from projected landing sites at Bantum Bay west of the town. They envisioned the Dutch holding the foe at the Tanjarang River while Blackforce used the southern road from Bandoeng to Djasinga to attack the Japanese right. It was a reasonable plan and could have succeeded if the Japanese had come ashore at Bantum Bay and did not threaten Batavia from any other direction.

Other than the offensive operation concocted by Schilling and Blackburn, there were no other strategies for the coordinated defense of the island. Poorten’s one chance—a slim one at best—was to concentrate his forces and assault the Japanese landing beaches one at a time before they could coordinate their efforts. Instead, he pinned his hopes of survival on holding the three main population centers on Java (Batavia, Bandoeng, and Surabaya) as long as possible. In reality, the Allied dispositions could scarcely have been better suited to ensure their speedy defeat.

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