[Mail Call] 2017/05/28 – Memorial Day & Silent Service Commentary

No special art this time because we’ve got our hands full. This is what we did for last year.


An excerpt from an ancient book on U.S. Submarines, written by a former officer in the submarine service describing the challenges the U.S. navy faced. In this day, 1942, victory was far from certain.

Before he left Washington for Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz realized he was facing an unparalleled defense problem.

Months would pass before the Pacific Fleet could be strongly reinforced. With its surface arm broken and its air arm badly wounded, it could only retreat before the Japanese juggernaut.

Retreat how far? The Japanese must not be permitted to break through the central Pacific or the island chains flanking Australia. Nor could they be allowed to gain a foothold in the Aleutians. A line drawn from Dutch Harbor to Midway, to Samoa, to New Caledonia, to Australia marked the frontier to be held by American and Allied forces.

This is an axiom of warfare. Where concealment is equally available to both sides, it favors the inferior force.

The Philippines invasion supplied naval strategies with notable demonstrations of the axiom. It gave American submarines a narrow margin which enabled them to operate in enemy-infested seas and carry out their primary mission – the destruction of Japanese shipping.

The Imperial Navy did not lose a single major unit during the Philippines invasion. But as the Japanese moved down the Malay barrier they began to lose merchant ships here and there. And with the advent of the New Year, ships started going down the Coasts of Japan. American submarines were beginning the war of attrition.

Submarine forces in the Pacific “got in there” and fought. The Manila boats diverted the enemy’s naval vanguard and impeded the drive on the Netherlands East Indies. Pearl Harbor submarines joined battle in the Central Pacific, patrolled the line extending from Australia to the Aleutians, drove over to the East China Sea and cut the shipping lanes to Japan.

With Mid-Pacific bases lost – with Asiatic bases lost – with air cover lost – the Pacific Fleet immobilized – supplies cut off – spare parts lost – Manila torpedoes captured – with all these disadvantages, the submarines entered the conflict and kept on going.

They kept on going, despite the fact that the enemy had the initiative. The fact that the S-boats were old and the enemy destroyers new – that Japanese bombs were known to contain an explosive charge greater than any at the time developed by the Allies. Loss of forward bases, fleet support, repair facilities, stores – these never imperiled the submarines as did torpedo failure. For almost two years American submarines went into action handicapped by a defective torpedo.

In spite of all this and all other handicaps, the submariners led the United States offensive. They aided in the defense of Midway and battled the foe in the Aleutians. They helped to parry the enemy’s thrust at Guadalcanal. They blocked the ports of the Jap home Empire. Laid mines. Reconnoitered for air strikes. Rescued refugees. Served as lifeguard. Struck the Imperial navy some of the hardest blows it ever received. Swept the merchant fleets of the Rising Sun from the Central and Southwest Pacific. Penetrated the Sea of Japan. And finally halted at the beachheads of Kyushu, Shikoku, Hokkaido, and Honshu.

Above all, the US submarines accomplished the No. 1 purpose of the submarine force. They sank ships.

Composed of no more than 1.6% of the navy’s personnel, this comparable service arm accounted for 73% of Japanese ship losses from all causes during the first two years of the Pacific war. The final score, verified by post-war inquest, credits the US submarine fleet with sinking 54.7% of the Japanese merchantmen and 29% of Japanese naval vessels in World War II.

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