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WWII history and tactics

Uncle Fester

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Green time is not a prerequisite to being a tactical expert. None of the aviators in the fleet on 6DEC41 had any green time but they still developed the doctrine and tactics that were trained to in order to counter the expected threat.
And if you read how the Navy (and everyone else for that matter) did in the first couple of big engagements of the war, that should tell you something about developing tactics in a vacuum. Granted, they were experimenting in the dark by necessity in the 20s and 30s...the technology was outpacing the tactics rapidly, but they were looking at scenarios no one had ever really fought before.

Both the US and Japanese navies planned for and expected that a war that would start with air raids on shore facilities, followed by a big, blue-water battleships vs battleships engagement that would settle everything. All the training and doctrine and weapon design was oriented in that direction. The carriers would support the BBs, but the 'real' fight would be between the big guns. Nobody except a few weirdoes like Billy Mitchell really thought aircraft could sink big warships. 7 Dec effectively tossed all that out the window.
 

Pags

Pope of Chili Town
pilot
And if you read how the Navy (and everyone else for that matter) did in the first couple of big engagements of the war, that should tell you something about developing tactics in a vacuum. Granted, they were experimenting in the dark by necessity in the 20s and 30s...the technology was outpacing the tactics rapidly, but they were looking at scenarios no one had ever really fought before.

Both the US and Japanese navies planned for and expected that a war that would start with air raids on shore facilities, followed by a big, blue-water battleships vs battleships engagement that would settle everything. All the training and doctrine and weapon design was oriented in that direction. The carriers would support the BBs, but the 'real' fight would be between the big guns. Nobody except a few weirdoes like Billy Mitchell really thought aircraft could sink big warships. 7 Dec effectively tossed all that out the window.
I'll start by saying I'm no historian. But I do enjoy reading naval history and I recently re-read shattered sword and the first team and based on those books I disagree with you a bit.

all tactics are developed either in the vacuum of peacetime or in an engagement against a different enemy/threat. What worked once won't necessarily work again. Green time from recent conflicts for RW guys would involve overland flying and tactics and wouldn't necessarily be applicable in an SUW engagement. A SWTI who had flown DAP missions against HVTs in IRQ wouldn't have applicable experience against a FAC/FIAC threat. If we went to war against a peer competitor I'm fairly positive that our tactics, which have been taught as dogma for a decade plus, would change rapidly numerous times.

The notion that the USN was unprepared to fight the IJN seems to be a bit of pop history. USN aviators had trained aggressively all through the 30s. The amount of weapons training flights that the squadrons conducted seems to be much higher than what the fleet currently does. Both "the first team" and a "dawn like thunder" discuss how tactical acumen and aggressive training was pushed. The squadrons weren't full of novices, they were full of professional, trained aviators.

Once the war started, the USN hit the ground running. Halsey had his CSG on wartime orders before the Pearl Harbor attack. Following the pearl attack, Halsey had his carriers out searching for kido butai. If he had found them it would make for an interesting "what if" history. Raids on outlying Japanese outposts were conducted quickly and with a decent level of effectiveness for a fleet with no green time. The early battles of Coral Sea and Midway were conducted with pre-war doctrine and tactics out in to operational use. Did they work perfectly? Not at all, but these battles were won by aviators executing the training as they had learned it in peacetime. M
 

Uncle Fester

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In 1941 there were entire warfare areas - large-scale amphibious assault and carrier warfare, just to name two - where there had been a lot of thinking and experimenting but very little practical experience. They were aggressive and had trained in what they thought would work, yes; I'm talking about the tactics they'd trained to and how effective they turned out to be. Most of the tactics and concepts developed in the 30s went out the window after first engagements with the Japanese and Germans.
Incidentally, one of the best moves the Navy made was to roll all the guys who'd flown in the early air battles of the Pacific to the training command. That meant that the huge numbers of novice pilots who were being churned out at least had the value of being trained by guys with experience.
The USN was effectively in an undeclared war with the U-Boats from mid-1940 onwards, and there was a lot of development in ASW an convoy work going on between the RN and USN that at least gave us a running start in the Atlantic once war was declared.
The Marines really started thinking about large-scale amphibious assault in the 30s, based on their experiences with interventions in Central America and the Caribbean. But the first landings in the Pacific (Maikin Island and Tarawa, for example) were very nearly disasters, and they learned the importance of beach reconnaissance, among other things. And despite all that, when the Army began planning for its assaults in Europe and North Africa, there were precisely zero Marines on the planning staff.
So today we're in a position where we've been in one or more wars for going on 15 years. We've got very good at counter-insurgency and all the flying that goes with it, especially close air support. But the Serbs were the last bunch we went against that had their shit even remotely in one sock when it came to fighting a technological battle. If it ever goes off against the Chinese, there are a lot of doctrines and weapons that are still totally untested. We'll be much more well-trained and equipped and at least as aggressive as the guys of 1942, but it'll be just as much a plunge into the unknown. Though with the added challenge of having to fend off Su-30MKKs and DF-21s while being pinged to finish our PII and traffic safety training.
 

lowflier03

So no $hit there I was
pilot
I'll start by saying I'm no historian. But I do enjoy reading naval history and I recently re-read shattered sword and the first team and based on those books I disagree with you a bit.

all tactics are developed either in the vacuum of peacetime or in an engagement against a different enemy/threat. What worked once won't necessarily work again. Green time from recent conflicts for RW guys would involve overland flying and tactics and wouldn't necessarily be applicable in an SUW engagement. A SWTI who had flown DAP missions against HVTs in IRQ wouldn't have applicable experience against a FAC/FIAC threat. If we went to war against a peer competitor I'm fairly positive that our tactics, which have been taught as dogma for a decade plus, would change rapidly numerous times.

The notion that the USN was unprepared to fight the IJN seems to be a bit of pop history. USN aviators had trained aggressively all through the 30s. The amount of weapons training flights that the squadrons conducted seems to be much higher than what the fleet currently does. Both "the first team" and a "dawn like thunder" discuss how tactical acumen and aggressive training was pushed. The squadrons weren't full of novices, they were full of professional, trained aviators.

Once the war started, the USN hit the ground running. Halsey had his CSG on wartime orders before the Pearl Harbor attack. Following the pearl attack, Halsey had his carriers out searching for kido butai. If he had found them it would make for an interesting "what if" history. Raids on outlying Japanese outposts were conducted quickly and with a decent level of effectiveness for a fleet with no green time. The early battles of Coral Sea and Midway were conducted with pre-war doctrine and tactics out in to operational use. Did they work perfectly? Not at all, but these battles were won by aviators executing the training as they had learned it in peacetime. M
Agree with Pags here. The Navy had done some good testing via NWC to determine how best to utilize aircraft carriers and their associated aircraft, much more so than the British. In the end we had already worked up the proper role for carriers in fighting a war, as had the Japanese. (There were still some proponents of the battleship, but it wasn't like that was the only mantra in the Navy at the time.) The entire war in the Pacific had been war-gamed for some time. Once we acquired the PI and tried to figure out how to defend it we knew that any war in the Pacific would involve getting our nose bloodied as we were pushed back to HI or even CA, and then once our industry caught up we would slowly push our way back out. Turns out thats exactly how we fought the war.

I think the biggest difference between then and now is that now we rely less on honest war gaming, and theory testing scenarios. For many reasons we just don't allow or don't listen to that type of out-of-the-box thinking that gets us innovative new tactics, equipment, etc. And with the gear we do get, because of the broken acquisition system, we aren't allowed to run an honest evaluation and report that its broken and needs to be improved in x, y, and z areas before we accept it.
 

Flash

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I'll start by saying I'm no historian. But I do enjoy reading naval history and I recently re-read shattered sword and the first team and based on those books I disagree with you a bit.
Awesome book by the way, learned a whole lot new about a battle I thought I knew pretty well before reading the book.

USN aviators had trained aggressively all through the 30s. The amount of weapons training flights that the squadrons conducted seems to be much higher than what the fleet currently does. Both "the first team" and a "dawn like thunder" discuss how tactical acumen and aggressive training was pushed. The squadrons weren't full of novices, they were full of professional, trained aviators...but these battles were won by aviators executing the training as they had learned it in peacetime.
Something that was demonstrated amply in the Battle of Midway. While Army, Marine and some Naval aviators from Midway tried all day to hit the Japanese fleet they had zero hits, it wasn't until later in the day the carrier-based dive bombers came along and hammered the Japanese carriers with brutal efficiency. While all the pilots were brave men the carrier-based dive bomber pilots were the ones that had the right equipment and training to hit moving ships while the rest did not (the torpedo plane pilots had the right training but obsolete equipment and paid the unfortunate price). That is where the pre-war training paid off since the air wings were still almost exclusively made up of pre-war aviators at that point.

...Nobody except a few weirdoes like Billy Mitchell really thought aircraft could sink big warships. 7 Dec effectively tossed all that out the window.
Unfortunately like some true believers Billy Mitchell took it way too far going so far in arguing that navies period were obselete, I think most modern day folks forget that when praising him. Also, I think 10 December 1941 had a lot more impact on naval warfare and the wide realization that there was a new dawn in naval warfare since His Majesty's Ships were sunk at sea instead of anchored defenseless in a harbor.
 

Uncle Fester

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Something that was demonstrated amply in the Battle of Midway. While Army, Marine and some Naval aviators from Midway tried all day to hit the Japanese fleet they had zero hits, it wasn't until later in the day the carrier-based dive bombers came along and hammered the Japanese carriers with brutal efficiency. While all the pilots were brave men the carrier-based dive bomber pilots were the ones that had the right equipment and training to hit moving ships while the rest did not (the torpedo plane pilots had the right training but obsolete equipment and paid the unfortunate price). That is where the pre-war training paid off since the air wings were still almost exclusively made up of pre-war aviators at that point.
...Unfortunately like some true believers Billy Mitchell took it way too far going so far in arguing that navies period were obselete, I think most modern day folks forget that when praising him. Also, I think 10 December 1941 had a lot more impact on naval warfare and the wide realization that there was a new dawn in naval warfare since His Majesty's Ships were sunk at sea instead of anchored defenseless in a harbor.
Two books I think are relevant in this discussion - Those Angry Days about the immediate pre-war years and the isolationist movement in the US, especially about how many senior (including flag and general) officers worked overtly and behind the scenes to keep the US out of the war.

Second is Craig Symonds' Midway. It came out a couple of years ago, and it addresses a lot of the points you're talking about. Most histories of the battle focus on the admirals and only touch on the guys in the planes - Ensign Gay and Torpedo 8, etc. - but this one really gets into the guys leading the strikes and the personalities involved. Some of it is pretty hair-raising to read now. They really flung those dudes off the deck with only a vague idea of where the targets were, and they were astonishingly under-trained by today's standards, pulled it off by DR and luck and 100-lb balls. And a lot of them weren't long-service professionals like we think of a CVW today. Remember that the big rearmament and ramp-up in size of the forces didn't start on Dec 8, 1941, it'd been going for a while. An early-war CAG was maybe half guys who'd been in uniform before 1940. The rest were wide-eyed Ensigns.

Anyway, point is that it's oversimplifying it to say that training paid off at Midway. A lot of guys were slaughtered using unproven tactics and airplanes in the first years of the war, too. Yes, the VB squadrons were in the right place at the right time and pressed home the attack at Midway. But the Marines in the Buffalos, entire VT squadrons lost on their runs, early-make Wildcats getting torn up by the Zeros... In a current war, there's no way we'd look at a strike on a Chinese carrier that took 60% casualties and say "well, the training paid off". And it'd be pretty damn near impossible to replace those losses, too.
 

Flash

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...Second is Craig Symonds' Midway. It came out a couple of years ago, and it addresses a lot of the points you're talking about...but this one really gets into the guys leading the strikes and the personalities involved....they were astonishingly under-trained by today's standards, pulled it off by DR and luck and 100-lb balls. And a lot of them weren't long-service professionals like we think of a CVW today. Remember that the big rearmament and ramp-up in size of the forces didn't start on Dec 8, 1941, it'd been going for a while. An early-war CAG was maybe half guys who'd been in uniform before 1940. The rest were wide-eyed Ensigns.

Anyway, point is that it's oversimplifying it to say that training paid off at Midway. A lot of guys were slaughtered using unproven tactics and airplanes in the first years of the war, too. Yes, the VB squadrons were in the right place at the right time and pressed home the attack at Midway. But the Marines in the Buffalos, entire VT squadrons lost on their runs, early-make Wildcats getting torn up by the Zeros... In a current war, there's no way we'd look at a strike on a Chinese carrier that took 60% casualties and say "well, the training paid off". And it'd be pretty damn near impossible to replace those losses, too.
There was a pretty big difference in the training for the carrier guys vs the folks who flew from Midway, which did not just consist of USAAF guys with zero training for what they were tasked to do but also Marine squadrons (SBD's included) with a few Navy thrown in (VT-8 'det Midway' TBF's, etc). The difference was the specific anti-ship training that the carrier-based guys got, of the 5 Japanese warships sunk over the three days of the battle all of them were sunk almost exclusively by the carrier-based SBD's even though though were only a fraction of the overall aircraft in the battle. The VT guys suffered for a lack of good kit, not training.

The book Shattered Sword, which also recently came out in 2007, covers the different aerial attacks in detail and the ones from the carrier-based SDB's in excruciating detail. Even though half the pilots may have been fresh Ensigns the ratio of pre-war experienced aviators was much higher than it would be for the rest of the war, so the argument that their pre-war training played a key role still holds water. Luck definitely had a role in finding the Japanese fleet but good training is what made the Japanese carriers into flaming hulks.

As for taking those kinds of losses today, they would be very hard to replace but a frightfully possible scenario for the threat.
 

Pags

Pope of Chili Town
pilot
#1: this spin-off is fantastic. mods, maybe break it off in to it's own thread? either way, I'm enjoying this discussion :)
In 1941 there were entire warfare areas - large-scale amphibious assault and carrier warfare, just to name two - where there had been a lot of thinking and experimenting but very little practical experience. They were aggressive and had trained in what they thought would work, yes; I'm talking about the tactics they'd trained to and how effective they turned out to be. Most of the tactics and concepts developed in the 30s went out the window after first engagements with the Japanese and Germans.
I think that's always going to happen with tactics. If the only way to prove that tactics truly work is to have a succesful wartime engagement, then you're always going to be be going to war with unproven tactics.
Incidentally, one of the best moves the Navy made was to roll all the guys who'd flown in the early air battles of the Pacific to the training command. That meant that the huge numbers of novice pilots who were being churned out at least had the value of being trained by guys with experience.
Concur. The American rotation system turned out to be far more effective than the Japanese/German system of keeping guys in combat until they died. Experience was passed on and integrated in to doctrine/op art/tactics.
The USN was effectively in an undeclared war with the U-Boats from mid-1940 onwards, and there was a lot of development in ASW an convoy work going on between the RN and USN that at least gave us a running start in the Atlantic once war was declared.
Hmm. While we did conduct neutrality patrols, I'm not sure how well they prepared the US. Once Germany declared war there were ships being sunk within sight of major US cities because of unpreparedness. I tend to think that the Battle of the Atlantic is one theater of the war where we could have easily lost. I think the US was bound to win any protracted war against Japan; the Japanese just didn't have the necessary depth.
The Marines really started thinking about large-scale amphibious assault in the 30s, based on their experiences with interventions in Central America and the Caribbean. But the first landings in the Pacific (Maikin Island and Tarawa, for example) were very nearly disasters, and they learned the importance of beach reconnaissance, among other things. And despite all that, when the Army began planning for its assaults in Europe and North Africa, there were precisely zero Marines on the planning staff.
I've read that that had more to do with Army hubris than Marine reluctance to help.
So today we're in a position where we've been in one or more wars for going on 15 years. We've got very good at counter-insurgency and all the flying that goes with it, especially close air support. But the Serbs were the last bunch we went against that had their shit even remotely in one sock when it came to fighting a technological battle. If it ever goes off against the Chinese, there are a lot of doctrines and weapons that are still totally untested. We'll be much more well-trained and equipped and at least as aggressive as the guys of 1942, but it'll be just as much a plunge into the unknown. Though with the added challenge of having to fend off Su-30MKKs and DF-21s while being pinged to finish our PII and traffic safety training.
Agree completely. But I don't know how you'd get tproven tactical experience without going around starting wars with near-peer competitors. I've often wondered about the utility of using so many of our limited resources to deploy overseas and turn circles and wait for trouble to start. Maybe instead of deploying CSGs/ESGs/etc to the gulf they should be kept in the home waters and conduct large scale exercises against each other. And I don't mean the dog-and-pony international exercises that are essentially large scale airshows. Something more akin to the Fleet Problems of the 30s.
Agree with Pags here. The Navy had done some good testing via NWC to determine how best to utilize aircraft carriers and their associated aircraft, much more so than the British. In the end we had already worked up the proper role for carriers in fighting a war, as had the Japanese. (There were still some proponents of the battleship, but it wasn't like that was the only mantra in the Navy at the time.) The entire war in the Pacific had been war-gamed for some time. Once we acquired the PI and tried to figure out how to defend it we knew that any war in the Pacific would involve getting our nose bloodied as we were pushed back to HI or even CA, and then once our industry caught up we would slowly push our way back out. Turns out thats exactly how we fought the war.
The Navy knew the Carrier was going to be big in the next war. The Two-Ocean Navy act that authorized the construction of the Essex carriers was passed in July 1940; 18mo prior to Pearl Harbor.

I think the biggest difference between then and now is that now we rely less on honest war gaming, and theory testing scenarios. For many reasons we just don't allow or don't listen to that type of out-of-the-box thinking that gets us innovative new tactics, equipment, etc. And with the gear we do get, because of the broken acquisition system, we aren't allowed to run an honest evaluation and report that its broken and needs to be improved in x, y, and z areas before we accept it.
Check out my thought above about re-nstating the practice of Fleet Problems. I can't speak to the strength of our wargaming and whether its useful or whether it shows signs of Victory Disease.

I'm curious as to the content of your last post and why you'd say that? I've got 5yrs of Operational Test experience and I guarantee you that the testers do the best job they can to thoroughly and honestly evaluate a system. The reports that COMOPTEVFOR produces speak to the problem areas of systems and often result in follow on testing to correct deficiencies that were identified during initial testing.
Something that was demonstrated amply in the Battle of Midway. While Army, Marine and some Naval aviators from Midway tried all day to hit the Japanese fleet they had zero hits, it wasn't until later in the day the carrier-based dive bombers came along and hammered the Japanese carriers with brutal efficiency. While all the pilots were brave men the carrier-based dive bomber pilots were the ones that had the right equipment and training to hit moving ships while the rest did not (the torpedo plane pilots had the right training but obsolete equipment and paid the unfortunate price). That is where the pre-war training paid off since the air wings were still almost exclusively made up of pre-war aviators at that point.
I'd argue that for a unit to be effective it needs to have three Ts: tactics, training, and technology. Sometimes shortcomings in one area can be made up for by strengths in other areas, but other times large shortcomings in one area will be made up by strengths in the other. The VTs had the tactics and training. But their technology, both the Devastator, and it's primary weapons system, the Mk14 Torpedo, were completely non-effective. However, once the technology was improved with the Avenger and improved torps, the VTs became a fairly potent weapon. The VB/VSs had the three Ts and were successful throughout the war. The VFs were hampered early on by a lack of effective fighter direction control (but at least they had it. The IJN had none and their CAPs were poorly organized). Once that was improved, American CAPs were far more successful.

Anyway, point is that it's oversimplifying it to say that training paid off at Midway. A lot of guys were slaughtered using unproven tactics and airplanes in the first years of the war, too. Yes, the VB squadrons were in the right place at the right time and pressed home the attack at Midway. But the Marines in the Buffalos, entire VT squadrons lost on their runs, early-make Wildcats getting torn up by the Zeros... In a current war, there's no way we'd look at a strike on a Chinese carrier that took 60% casualties and say "well, the training paid off". And it'd be pretty damn near impossible to replace those losses, too.
I was often under the impression that the VFs were slaughtered early in the war, but "The First Team" and "Shattered Sword" show that the VFs comported themselves very well against Zeros flown by combat veterans. The IJN aviators were surprised to find that the Americans were peer competitors. To go back to my 3 Ts, the VFs did suffer from mediocre technology with the Wildcat. Once the tactics were further developed by Jimmy Thatch the Wildcat proved to be able to fight the Zero.

The VMFs flying Buffalos were woefully lacking in technology. VMFs equipped with Wildcats at Wake faired much better.
 

Flash

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If we think that engaging a peer competitor in War at Sea or any other area won't result in high losses than we do indeed have Victory Disease.
The Chinese are pouring enormous resources into a wide variety weapons that specifically counter our capabilities, even the best ones, while we are still largely relying on weapons built to counter the latest Soviet threats from the 80's. Here is to hoping all we do is just shadow box like we did with the Soviets....
 

Uncle Fester

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I don't completely agree...timing was a huge reason the Japanese carriers wound up on the bottom. It did turn out that dive-bombing was a much more effective tactic than low-level, but if the Japanese CAP had been up at altitude when the dive-bombers arrived over target, the battle wouldn't have been nearly the success it was. But I feel like you're hand-waving away the failure of the TBDs and TBFs as 'poor kit' when that's only part of the story. It was a combination of aircraft, training and tactics that were developed to do a specific mission - low level torpedo attacks on capital ships - that turned out to be shit when things got real. They were doing their mission, as they'd been trained to do it, with planes that were purpose-built for the role, and it turned out to be completely ineffective in a real war.

Which brings us back around (I think?) to the original topic - tactics being developed in a vacuum. We can train guys to perfection that we're going to fight our helos by leaning out the back with polo mallets, but without using combat experience, or failing that, realistic and brutally honest evaluation, to judge those tactics, we're just signing up to lose people and airplanes. All the aggression and training in the professionalism in the world isn't going to mean a damn thing.
 

Pags

Pope of Chili Town
pilot
I don't completely agree...timing was a huge reason the Japanese carriers wound up on the bottom. It did turn out that dive-bombing was a much more effective tactic than low-level, but if the Japanese CAP had been up at altitude when the dive-bombers arrived over target, the battle wouldn't have been nearly the success it was. But I feel like you're hand-waving away the failure of the TBDs and TBFs as 'poor kit' when that's only part of the story. It was a combination of aircraft, training and tactics that were developed to do a specific mission - low level torpedo attacks on capital ships - that turned out to be shit when things got real. They were doing their mission, as they'd been trained to do it, with planes that were purpose-built for the role, and it turned out to be completely ineffective in a real war.

Which brings us back around (I think?) to the original topic - tactics being developed in a vacuum. We can train guys to perfection that we're going to fight our helos by leaning out the back with polo mallets, but without using combat experience, or failing that, realistic and brutally honest evaluation, to judge those tactics, we're just signing up to lose people and airplanes. All the aggression and training in the professionalism in the world isn't going to mean a damn thing.
I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree :)
-Shattered Sword debunks a lot of the "timing" myth surrounding the VB attack and instead discusses shortcomings of the IJN's CAP and AA and the skill of the American VB/VS pilots.
-I think the tactics behind the use of VTs were sound. The IJN used their kankos (VTs) with amazing effectiveness and that was largely because of a superb aircraft in the Type 97 (Kate) employing the wonderfully effective IJN aerial torpedo. The American VTs were completely shortchanged by the Devastator and the Mk14s. Once the Mk14 was improved and paired with the Avenger it was an effective weapon system that was used with success against the IJN, to include IJNS Musashi and Yamamoto. According to wikipedia Mushashi was hit by over 11 torps and Yamamoto by over 10. Of course by that time in the war the technology of the Mk14 had been improved so that it could be dropped at higher speeds and altitudes. This technological improvement begat tactical changes which made the VT aircraft less vulnerable.
-I'd also argue that another factor of the failure of the VTs at Midway was due to the failure of the CAGs to work together properly. American operational art with regards on how to assemble a CAG airborne and attack in a coordinated fashion was not effective until later in the war.
 
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