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Battleship vs Aircraft Carrier : Who Won World War 2’s Pacific Theater?

Battleship Vs Aircraft Carrier

Battleship vs Aircraft Carrier. When it comes to US victory in the Pacific, the question of Battleships vs Aircraft Carriers arises.

Naval historians have long debated the question of what mistakes the Imperial Japanese Navy made. And what caused their defeat in the Pacific theater. Why did Japan lose WWII?

When the US was attacked on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese were unsuccessful not only because they failed to destroy our battleships. Since our carrier fleet was out to sea. But also because it united the U.S. to build a dominant naval armada. 

But the US still had one of the world’s largest navies around the globe and immediately after the attack on Pearl, Chief of Naval Operations, Ernest King dispatched his fleet of ships to ready for the Pacific theater, of course after gaining George Marshall’s approval, the 15th Chief of Staff of the United States Army, who was in charge of Naval assets at the time. 

Had the Japanese only attacked British and Dutch assets. The US might not have declared war and might have stayed out of WWII as a passive observer. 

Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor

The Japanese fleet failed to give the deathly blow that it intended. 

Only three out of the 8 US Navy battleships present at Pearl Harbor were permanently sunk. This includes the USS Arizona and the USS Oklahoma. 

In fact most of the US battleships were restored and returned to service in the war. 

General David Petraeus on Dunkirk, Churchill & Leadership

Moreover, there remained around half a dozen battleships stationed elsewhere.

These battleships turned out to be essential carrier escorts, allowing the US to go on a rampage across the Pacific.

Even Isoroku Yamamoto, the Japanese Marshal Admiral of the Imperial Navy, declared that, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

Yamamoto apparently said. “In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain. I will run wild and win victory upon victory.”

This  failure to take out America’s battleship fleet would haunt the Imperial Navy for the rest of the war, as the US battleship group consistently overpowered that of the Japanese.

But, there were significant gains made by the Japanese from their attack on the American base at Pearl Harbor.

Most importantly the Japanese surprise attack was successful in preventing the US forces from disrupting Japan’s conquest of the Southern Resource Zone. 

Japanese Aircraft Carrier Akagi

Japan faced a constant threat to its route in the Southern Resource Zone. 

The Southern Resource Zone was a vital shipping zone. That was created by the Japanese during WWII to transport raw materials back to the homeland for war production.

Nanshin-ron - Wikipedia

The island of Japan lacks many of the raw goods that Russia and the United States have in abundance, such as steel and oil. For instance Japan could only produce 2.7 million barrels of domestic crude annually, which was the equivalent of one day’s worth of US crude production. 

The problem for the Japanese empire was the Philippines. 

The Japanese could allow the Philippines to remain in Allied hands as that would have resulted in the bases of the Philippines being reinforced until they were an impregnable fortress. 

Strategically Japan could not allow this to occur. 

In 1942 the Japanese felt strategically that they were forced to take the Philippines while the Allies were weak and unprepared. 

For the Japanese, leaving the Philippines alone meant giving the Allies time to build its bases there into an impregnable fortress. 

Instead, in 1942, Japan decided to take the Philippines from the Americans while the Allies were weak and unprepared, aiming to prevent a US thrust. 

With the Philippines out of Allied hands, the Japanese were able to operate their Pacific Empire for two years uninterrupted, as the fighting in the South Pacific did not interrupt the shipments of resources to Japan’s Home Islands. 

Without these vital shipments of raw materials that were able to flow unencumbered due to the Philippines seizure, Japan would never have lasted as long as they did. 

Luckily for the allies, the Japanese were stymied during the battles of Guadalcanal and the Coral Sea which happened before the battle of Midway. This was able to curtail the expansion of Japan in the south Pacific and the possible seizure of the east coast of Australia in 1942

Guadalcanal campaign - Wikipedia
Guadalcanal US operations

The Chief of Naval Operations, Ernest King dispatched ships that George Marshall had approved, eventually ordering older battleships to return to Pearl Harbor. Furthermore the US Navy had 7 fleet carriers and 1 escort carrier, the famous USS Langley (CV-1).

The Japanese were in danger of defeat. 

Though the US Navy’s Pacific theater opened on December 7, 1941, the ‘The Central Pacific Drive’ aka the march across the Pacific to Japan didn’t get underway until 1943 when sufficient new carriers were available to escort the battleships. The Japanese did not take advantage of this time window to build ample reinforcements and train new pilots to replace lost ones. 

The Japanese simply did not have the industrial base or the population reserves to produce enough manpower & equipment.

How come the Japanese Army and Navy was so inefficient against the US in  WWII despite having put so much effort into their armed forces? - Quora

Throughout the island hopping campaign of the Pacific, the Carriers effectively eliminated enemy air attack in support of the island invasions and the battleship’s bombardments. The Japanese were helpless to defeat the US battle after battle. 

Other historians point to a more passive fighting strategy among the Japanese admirals vs the more aggressive US.

For instance, their greatest battleship Yamato was barely used and spent most of WWII in port at the homeland.

1) Dreadnought, 2) Nagato, 3) Colorado, 4) Hood, 5) Nelson, 6) Vittorio Veneto, 7) Richelieu, 8) Tirpitz, 9) Yamato, 10) Missouri, and 11) Vanguard
The remains of a World War II aircraft carrier, unseen for 75 years, have  been found - CNN
the US Naval Armada
Comparison of Carriers

The battle of Midway might have been the greatest example of passivity. When despite losing multiple aircraft carriers to the US. The Japanese still had more fighting power left on the ocean than the US. 

Yet, the Japanese retreated!

Furthermore, why did they wait so long to take Midway?

Of course the US had a sizable advantage in breaking the Japanese codes. And having knowledge of Midway ahead of time. 

Moreover, the US sent a fake message about faulty water on the island which was then passed around the Japanese. As a result, this allowed the US to be confident of their counterintelligence on the Imperial Navy. 

A Story of America’s First Aircraft Carrier USS Langley

The US Aircraft Carriers were raiders. And defenders of invasions. And occasionally the eliminators of enemy carriers. But the Pacific can’t be called a carrier war. And the Japanese did not lose because of American Aircraft Carriers.

In particular, consider the relative value to the marines of Carrier air strikes and battleship pre-invasion bombardment. 

However, many historians argue that the Pacific was, in fact, a carrier’s environment. 

The carriers enabled force projection and protection. Had the marines gone to the bitter yards to regain the islands without air power, they would probably have failed and the Japanese might have been able to repel the US. 

The US defense department decided to build as many carriers as possible, so it was a strategic decision that Battleships would become carrier escorts and thus the war in the Pacific would become a Carrier’s war.

Some of the Japanese bunkers would survive the constant pre-invasion bombardment by the Battleships. And the surgical strikes carrier aircraft made were an enormous contribution. 

Naval surface fire destroyed and took out many of the combat obstacles. So one could argue that a combination of the two turned out to be the ideal approach to the Pacific war. 

One piece of evidence pointing to the importance of US battleship bombardments vs a need of carriers to beat the Japanese in the Pacific Island hopping campaign is the fact that the actual use of the battleship increased in each successive island invasion. 

The Carrier’s primary task was to eliminate enemy air opposition and fly combat air patrol over the fleet. They performed an excellent service in this supporting role of the US bombardment. The United States just had a much greater fighting force at every turn.

At Iwo Jima (below), the Japanese faced an American advantage of nearly 6 to 1. Even at Guadalcanal, early in the war the US had a 2 to 1 advantage.

Battle of Iwo Jima - Wikipedia

The victory in WWII in the Pacific was more than just the emergence of the carrier over the battleship, it was an eventual domination by a much larger entity with infinitely more supplies and reserves. 

In conclusion, in the same manner in which the North overwhelmed the South in the US Civil War, the US’ endless resources, supplies and replacements were just too much for the Empire of Japan to keep up with.

Battleship vs Aircraft Carrier

Written by Tianyi Li, Zachary Ostrow, Hantong Wu, Calvin Ma, Gihyen Eom

Battleship vs Aircraft Carrier