Our War Effort to Date
PROBLEMS OF OFFENSIVE WARFARE
By VICE ADMIRAL J. W. GREENSLADE, U.S.N., Commandant, Twelfth Naval District
Delivered before the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, Calif., January 8, 1943
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 283-286.
RISING from your midst to address you today, am mindful of the saying about the prophet in his own country. However, with an open mind—the personal characteristic of which I feel free to boast—and with a background of over 47 years of naval experience, which eventually led into the fields of national and naval policy, of strategy and high command, I have succumbed to the impulse to join in the club's work of crystallizing public opinion out of the boiling pot of debate.
My subject today may appear a bit too comprehensive for the contribution which I'll deliver; but, perhaps, others may take it on in an effort to round it out in completer detail and more definite conclusion.
We out here are particularly interested, of course, in problems of the Pacific. And being proud of our relations and record in regard to the Philippines, we may look forward to a leading part in the evolutionary development of democratic relationships among all the peoples of the Pacific—the establishment of a new Old Order of Christ, based on respect for the neighbor and peace to men of good will.
Our war with Japan did not start with the dawn attack upon Hawaii one year ago. It began in 1898. At that time, with Spain defeated, all Spanish Micronesia—the key to the Pacific—was ours to take. America, then, had a far-reaching choice to make. We thought in our innocence that this choice was one of isolationist democracy or imperialism. Actually, it was a choice between war and peace in 1941.
But we backed and filled. We compromised, while adhering to an old belief that no territory should be acquired which would require a Navy to defend. Retaining the Philippines and Guam, we turned the rest of Micronesia back to Spain. A vast chain of fourteen hundred islands—hundreds of potential but undreamed-of landing fields, directly athwart our trade routes—was left to await Japanese gun emplacements and air squadrons.
Ownership of Micronesia passed eventually by sale from Spain to Germany. These possessions were a part of Germany's imperialistic dreams and a spur to broad naval development—a great factor in the background of World War I.
At the conclusion of that war, the League of Nations mandated these spoils of battle to Japan, recognizing a secret pact exacted from Great Britain by Japan as a price for entry into World War I. Thus Guam and the Philippines were cut off by a Japanese empire stretching from the Equator to Bering Sea. The battle lines for war in the Pacific were taking final shape. It may even be said, with scant exaggeration, that Corregidor, the Dutch East Indies and Singapore fell that day over twenty years ago.
Having mentioned the League of Nations, we may note in passing its weaknesses, particularly its political attitude of expediency toward economic and military sanctions. This tended to foster rather than prevent the rise of ambitious, internationally unscrupulous gangsterism. I would note also that our failure to join the League removed its only chance of success. We alone could have supplied the unselfish morality and strength to enable it to stand upright.
We still might have averted war, perhaps, if we had been sufficiently realistic and alert,—if we had served notice—and lived up to it—that America was prepared to meet force with force. But our record in the inter-war decades is one of myopic economy and complacence. Congress rejected the National Defense Act of 1920. We accepted as a diplomatic victory the 5-5-3 naval tonnage ratio of the treaty of 1922. We blew hot and cold over the Manchuria Incident and Japan's subsequent withdrawal from the League in 1935. As late as 1940 we failed to authorize adequate defenses for our Pacific bastions . . . Remember? We didn't want to antagonize our sensitive little friends, the Nipponese. When I first joined you in San Francisco only a year and a half ago there were always several tables of them at every luncheon group listening to and strengthening what they considered platitudinous, front-softening altruism.
There is small comfort, I confess, in recalling what might have been. But I wish to point out—and not at all defensively—that the rising tide of Japanese ambition was long recognized for what it was by our own ranking Navy men. Moreover, Japan's intentions and general strategy were foreseen, although we had no reliable information concerning her secret armaments.
America had kept full faith, of course, with respect to the Limitations of Arms agreement. When that agreement was abrogated, public opinion remained callous to the pressing need for more ships and bases to meet the inevitable, but deliberately ignored, attack. It was contrary to nationalpolicy to implement Guam and Wake and the Philippines for war. Navy budgets were criticized and slashed. Naval leaders were called hard names: jingoes, chauvinists, brass hats and bureaucrats.
To put it bluntly, the Lend-Lease program saved our national bacon. Faced with the self-evident need of aiding Britain, our facilities expanded. Our production speeded up. We were preparing for war—as well as a democracy ever prepares—when Japan struck so viciously on December 7, 1941.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a disaster, without question. The full magnitude of it and the reason why disclosure thereof could not previously be made were contained in the recent press release of December 6. But I sometimes wonder if this Japanese attack was not also, in a way of speaking, a blessing in disguise; a revealing and saving preview of Japan's underrated strength and determination, which that nation failed to appreciate and follow-up at the time—a golden opportunity forever gone. As it was Japan, prepared and ready to the utmost as to plans, material, opportunity and time, shot her selected bolt and failed to inflict a deadly wound.
Caution was imposed upon us while we made replacements and repairs. In the interim we gained experience and knowledge of the enemy, his ships, material and methods of attack. If the initial move had been left to us, without such information, one all-embracing disaster might easily have lost us our Pacific Fleet, Pearl Harbor and Alaska; it might have opened our Pacific Coast and Panama to all-out assault.
This is speculation, I admit. But it is speculation supported by no little evidence. The battleship has come back, among other reasons, because it is a better battleship than it was a year ago in defense against air and sub-surface attack. Our planes shoot down Zero fighters because they have become better planes, manned by more expert personnel, and because we now have them increasingly in dominating numbers. Our Fortresses are so effective on defense, in addition to their other admirable characteristics, that attack on them is almost suicide. Our submarines have approached perfection in technique and tactics. We have developed peace-time projects into practical, workable realities of the material, the physical and the spiritual. Our tactical operations have become a matter of assured doctrine and easy habit instead of tentative and experimental exercises—the life-and death responsibility of war versus the sporting chance of peace-time maneuver.
Japan's plan of conquest, as it has been pursued thus far, has been logical and predictable. Our long supply lines and lack of advance bases resulted inevitably in the loss of Singapore, the East Indies and the Philippines. At the same time, Japan's strong outposts in the Marshall and Caroline Islands—built contrary to pledges to the League of Nations, but never checked by the League—made possible new enemy footholds in New Guinea and the Solomons. The threat to Australia and our supply lines thereto necessitated diversion of our forces. Until very recently a counter-offensive could not have been sustained.
It is true that we were misled to some extent concerning the magnitude of Japan's war preparations. However, the wool was really pulled over our eyes only with respect to airplane carriers. It would now appear that, in relation to their building capacity, the Japanese did sacrifice capital ship tonnage in favor of carriers and, possibly, large cruisers which have not yet appeared in the arena. They used that carrier advantage to the limit at Pearl Harbor, but they lost it irretrievably at Midway.
Unquestionably there was a lag in improvising the protection of our earlier battleships against planes. But now that this protection has become so improved, events may demonstrate that our continuing reliance on capital ships may have its compensations. We know that some of our latest type are operating in areas from which the more vulnerable carriers have been driven by damage and sinkings.
The full value and effectiveness of these battleships was revealed only this week in the Navy Department's report on the action of Tom Gatch's battleship, in company with other types, including a carrier, last October 26th. Within an hour and 18 minutes the ship repelled three air attacks, which included at least 84 dive and torpedo bombers, sustaining one hit which inflicted superficial damage only. In the first attack wave all 20 of the attacking planes were shot down. . . . This is the type of action in which the Repulse and the Prince of Wales were sunk.
Less than three weeks later another task force, which included this ship, in a night engagement sank a Japanese battleship (or heavy cruiser), three cruisers and one destroyer, as well as inflicting damage to other vessels. Our air arm completed the good job the following forenoon.
At the outset of the war, then, Japan had an advantage in carriers and a probable equality in battleships, surface types and submarines in the Pacific. But it was soon established that we had kept abreast of all important advances in the science of naval warfare and were in position to use them. We were well aware of air requirements. Our developments toward air war at sea were entirely comprehensive. Our technical and tactical developments embraced the air-cooled engine, dive bombers, torpedo planes and naval long-range patrol planes and unquestioned superiority in carrier technique and efficiency. We were well advanced in communications, electrical equipment, fire control and all the various devices and methods involved in modern sea warfare. The United States Navy had been operating task forces three years before the commencement of hostilities.
And I suspect that our enemies have been considerably embarrassed by our skill in amphibious warfare. The Navy had anticipated that specialized forces and equipment would be required in this field. In close collaboration with the Marines, training operations were conducted in California and the Caribbean. The results of this careful preparation have been demonstrated in the Solomons and North Africa. Working in harmony with the Army and Marines, our objectives have been taken. The areas taken have been held.
Our basic war plans, including logistic support of our naval forces, had been well outlined in full cooperation of the Navy and War departments. Our best minds, our finest tacticians, armed with the best information procurable, had labored for years in the consideration of the possibilities which might develop in war in the Pacific.
Plans, however, must be tailored to fit the rapidly changing conditions of modern, total war. They must be flexible enough to be capable of meeting variations of situation. Therefore, of necessity, the fullest cooperation must exist between all elements—air, land and sea. Especially is this demanded in the type of amphibian—(we soon may be saying "omnibian")—warfare required to bring us to "grips" in his homeland with the enemy across the Pacific. While the conditions in the Atlantic and European theatres are different, they still require the closest cooperation of all branches of our forces by true unity of command.
When such full coordination does become essential, it is absolutely necessary that a commander be exactly that. In order to effect the complicated, precisely-timed maneuvers and operations requisite to victory, he must have complete authority over all branches of our armed forces in a given battle area or action threater. He must also thoroughly
understand and be able to use those forces in the best and most effective manner. It matters little whether the commander be of the Army, Navy or Marines so long as he is cognizant of the other services as well as of his own.
And here I must give general concurrence to the debated existing state of command in the South and Southwest Pacific areas. You will recall that the threat against our lines of communication with New Zealand and Australia, and thence to India, was one of the pressing factors in the seizure of Guadalcanal and the holding of Port Moresby, New Guinea. A study of the map shows that there is a threater of amphibian warfare, primarily naval, covering the Pacific area generally east and north of Australia and New Guinea. But Australia and New Guinea constitute an area where the paramount interest will involve movement of land forces. Through it may develop the ultimate road to victory over large land masses—from Australia and New Guinea, via Java and Sumatra, also Celebes and Borneo, to the mainland and China.
Our present command set-up in the Pacific seems to me to represent a logical solution of this problem and the best that can be made. Our recent successes should assure the American people that this leadership is worthy of the splendid morale and courage displayed by our men in action. The related victories in New Guinea and the Solomons were not accidental. These are the result of careful planning and collaboration by our commanders. And they are the result of the unity of command and mutual cooperation of which I speak.
Our unity of command principles are developing constructively. But perhaps it will be found wise for this nation to take further steps into the field of high command and even eventually to coordinate the armed forces within one department. Certainly one would be better than decentralization into three or more.
Therein all the services could be trained to think, plan and fight in terms of united forces. For it is by no means enough that an officer merely be given the authority to command. He must also have the knowledge and experience properly to employ the forces placed at his disposal. There are rapid changes in the methods and requisites of modern war. Air, submarine, ground and sea surface tactics—land, sea, amphibian, "omnibian" warfare—all these impose new and shifting considerations upon the commander in the field. He must think in terms of unity. At the least, officers of promise and capacity for high command should be given education, training and experience through appropriate stages of their careers to fit them for that highest stage of command.
One Department of Warfare (there seems no better term) would not only combine all of our forces. It would also blend our commanders through cooperation and coeducation. Forgetting personal and professional pride and loyalties, our commanders must understand that the national welfare is supreme. Nelson's "band of brothers" must be expanded to include all fighting and all supporting elements. Lessons we have learned at the cost of American men and ships must be utilized to the utmost for national security here and beyond the visible horizon of our destiny.
Amphibious warfare, such as we now are waging in the Pacific, particularly necessitates this unity of command. The Army, Navy, and Marines—with all their included arms and branches—are already functioning smoothly and aggressively there under centralized authority.
We have seen this same coordination of forces operating in the invasion of North Africa. Our Navy, in fullest cooperation with Allied units, successfully escorted a vast invasion fleet of 550 vessels into the Mediterranean and will continue to support and cooperate with the land forces. Ourfighting ships, operating with our Allies, are keeping open the supply lines to England and Russia, Suez and India. Thus cooperation and unity of command become international, as they must if the United Nations are to crush the Axis. We may improve the method, but the principles are immutable.
I believe this audience of students of past and current affairs and of leaders toward the future has clearly in mind the details of recent events and an over-all picture of the war's progress. Nevertheless, a brief review of the naval effort to date is pertinent prior to conclusion. As we know, before the dastardly, inhuman assault on the evolutionary progress of mankind by the Japanese barbarians, we had seen fit to support the forces warring against the equally barbaric dictatorships of the Nazis and Fascists. This support was in the form of the release, escort and protection of Lend-Lease materials.
The previous situation was one of peril—a stalemate: France prostrate . . . Russia retiring . . . Britain at bay, holding only superiority at sea . . . China awaiting succor and the possible exhaustion of the Japanese.
With the attack at Pearl Harbor, World War II became world-wide in fact. Thereafter, America took the defensive in the Pacific until the superiority held before Pearl Harbor could be restored,—meanwhile gradually planning and building up for an advance upon Japan. In the Atlantic, bases were established by agreement with the British and material support of the Allies was enhanced.
Submarine warfare to date has taken over 500 of our ships, with a continued and parallel destruction of Allied tonnage. But new construction now has surpassed losses. Air developments also have reached a stage of potential superiority, and armed land forces have been prepared ready for invasion.
In the Pacific, we have secured Hawaii and Midway. We have reduced Japanese forces to inferiority through engagements at Midway, in the Coral Sea and in the Solomons. We have stalled an enemy advance toward Alaska. Though this advance and seizure of the outer Aleutians was possibly designed only to separate us from Siberia, failure on our part at Midway would have made a greater advance possible. We have supported the defense of Australia, New Zealand and our remaining insular possessions, at the same time protecting our line of communications.
And now the invasion of French North Africa is making available bases for action against south Europe, while providing better facilities for the support of Egypt, India, and Russia.
At present the Axis is held on all fronts, and we seem to be in a position of advantage and initiative against Japan; though to be sure, a cynic might say that Japan has advanced so far that she has exhausted her initiative and may be content to sit tight. But the most remote and previously unthinkable arena in the world—the Solomons area—has brought together the naval powers of Japan and the United States. And while in the beginning it appeared that the United States was severely handicapped, recent events have indicated that the Solomons are now a baited trap—a trap where the Japanese "face" has been caught and the naval carcass must inevitably follow and be pinioned. The whole fate of Japan, along with the fate of her fleet and air power, may be determined in the Solomons unless "face" and all that the Japanese military gangsters stand for are abandoned. When they retire from that arena they will indeed be "faceless men."
The way to victory in the Pacific lies clearly ahead, though it would be idle to speculate here on the major line or lines of advance. The direct route through the Mandate Islands, the one from Australia that I've already mentioned, and that by way of the Aleutians and Siberia must be kept in the picture of opportunity. We will use the best one or all as the future situation admits or demands.
Names such as Rabaul, Truk, Palau, the Bonins and Yokohama will one day succeed Guadalcanal and Buna in your news headlines. That sea theater may guard a route from Moresby and Darwin which will take us past Singapore, through Burma, Hong Kong and Shanghai, to Kure and Osaka. And looking eastward we may also anticipate that sea and air force will escort land forces from North Africa to Toulon, Genoa and Salonika; that Germany's frontiers will crumble before the advance of the joint forces of the United Nations and submit to occupation . . . and that the ruined and violated countries now occupied will arise and become headstones over World Domination.
But in order to attain these goals, we still have a war to implement and to keep implemented, a war to fight, and a war to win. New and greater sacrifices are in store for all of us. A long and uncertain road to victory lies ahead.
At best, we must always bear in mind that an offensive in global warfare is not merely a matter of assembling efficient armament and large forces of ready, well-trained men. The oceans that once guarded our shores from attack have now, conversely, become barriers impeding our offensive plans. You have read of the tremendous logistic problems involved in the invasion of North Africa, where the centers of anticipated resistance were relatively few. Seven tons of shipping was the initial requirement for each man. One and one-half tons per month thereafter is necessary for the maintenance of that fighting man.
Now turn to the Pacific. It is not necessary to quote statistics to establish the fact that we have a vastly more complex logistic problem there. Distances are multiplied. The land mass of the whole United States, if dropped bodily into this battle area, would occupy only one corner of it. Materiel and men cannot be unloaded at debarkation points and shuttled to and from action centers by rail or motor truck. All commerce and all traffic—in the earlier stages of our advance, certainly—must be seaborne and sustained by sea.
Our fighting men in the Pacific may require no more than normal monthly sustenance. But a cargo ship will take from three to four months to make such delivery and return to the nearest mainland port. In other words, to insure the arrival of one ton of supplies each month will require the permanent allocation of three or more tons of cargo space. Consider this, together with the many associated factors, and you must realize that Japan cannot be defeated finally by force of arms for long months to come.
We may, however, take encouragement from these undoubted facts: Our national anaemia of recent years has been largely cured. Our Pearl Harbor losses have been restored to service or replaced. We are preventing the spoils of war in conquered territory from flowing to Japan to fill her vital industrial needs. We are building surely toward naval superiority, which should be fully attained before mid-1943.
We have, in short, weathered the most critical year in all our history. The gradual emergence of American war production and fighting power have definitely established the second phase of World War II. We can now hope without undue optimism, I think, that a third and decisive phase is taking shape. As Prime Minister Churchill has said, we are now "at the end of the beginning."
If we proceed with industry and faith and courage, another year will bring us victoriously to the beginning of the end.