Saturday, 05 December 2015 05:10

Pacific War - Minus the Atom Bombs

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Pacific War - Minus the Atom Bombs

William A. Barr

William Barr was an aviator with the U.S. Naval Air Corps during W.W. II, and flew in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Pacific regions.

"War is hell." These very words came from the lips of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman as his Union army cut a sixty-mile wide swath of devastation across the state of Georgia on its march to the sea to seal the surrender of the Confederacy in the Civil War. Once any war is raging, the means of stopping its carnage justifies whatever it takes to end its horrors.

Most historians and statesmen hold to this principle and accordingly Sherman is revered as a great General, yet there always will be a compassionate few who focus on the ruthlessness of battle as they deplore it in abstraction.

Then there are those who contend that the Japanese Empire was on the brink of defeat before the big bombs, having lost their aircraft carriers and skilled pilots; lost their fuel tanker route to the oil fields; even lost Iwo Jima and Okinawa nearby. These same people point out that Japan's Axis partner, Germany, had surrendered on May 7, releasing masses of Allied might ready in all haste and concentrated against beleaguered Japan.

Such theorists would contend that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unnecessary and avoidable.

The Bombs of August

Playing on historian Barbara Tuchman's book title, The Guns of August, which expertly analyzed the events and implications of the first month of the World War in August 1914, we find ourselves doing the same in accounting for the key events and implications of the last month of World War II with its full array of ironic and dramatic twists and turns.

We must consider the sudden death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, America's Commander-in-Chief, who passed away on April 12, 1945, some eighty-three days after taking the Presidency for his fourth term. His Vice-President, Harry S. Truman, was a political ploy holding his office for FDR's advantage and with no thought to this actual turn of events. Roosevelt had not exposed his running mate to any details or crucial decisions of the war itself before his sudden death. Truman, somewhat in shock and overwhelmed, was required to be briefed overnight by the counsels of the military and the state department with the Potsdam summit meeting coming up with Stalin and Churchill and with a momentous agenda concerning the disposition of postwar Europe.

Then another fateful event: on July 17, 1945, at the Potsdam Conference, it became necessary for Winston Churchill to humbly excuse himself from the conference when it was learned that the British Conservatives had lost the recent election to the Laborites. The new British Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, joined Harry Truman as an uninitiated newcomer to the Allied conference table when huge and vital decisions were in order on many matters concerning post-war Europe and the world leaving Joseph Stalin of Communist Russia as the one remaining experienced Allied leader. (Insight from hindsight tells us that this was the start of the Cold War that was to persist for the next forty years.)

Their business at Potsdam was to create occupation zones, set reparations, and arrange for peace treaties, but our new A-bomb capabilities were never disclosed there. Instead, Truman invited and encouraged Russia to declare war on Japan and invade Manchuria, supposedly to shorten the war.

Back from Potsdam, President Truman authorized the use of the atom bombs and so "Little Boy" (our uranium bomb) and "Fat Man" (our plutonium bomb) were shipped from the New Mexico proving grounds to Mare Island, put aboard the Cruiser Indianapolis, and delivered to Tinian Island in the Marianas where our B-29 Long Range Bombers were based.

* On August 6, 1945, Col. Paul Tibbets' Enola Gay released the first A-bomb that inflicted death, destruction, and suffering on Hiroshima, Japan. The intense heat of fission burns to the bone and its mega-powerful concussion levels everything in all directions - a description of Hell to the ultimate.
* On August 8, 1945, Russia declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria and the Sakhalin Islands, complying with their Potsdam commitment, but injecting Communist influence with profound future consequences in the Orient.
* On August 9, 1945, the Japanese city of Nagasaki was cremated in the same way with "Fat Man."

Who can deny that our two A-bombs ended World War II once delivered, dropped, and detonated? On August 10, the next day, Japan opened peace negotiations and on August 14 our terms of total surrender were met and World War II was finally over, three years, eight months, and twenty-two days after Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor by those 360 infamous warplanes.

Our Lives or Their Lives?

So now we ponder how many American lives were saved as a result of our fateful decision to employ our atom bombs against Japan? Historians do well by digging for relevant facts rather than speculate from hearsay.

Tarawa, Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Hollandia, Saipan, Peleliu, Leyte, Luzon, and Lingayen landings were deadly and costly in American lives. Few if any Japanese soldiers ever surrendered. We captured virtually no Japanese prisoners of war. They were trained to fight to the last man, even in futile charges at the last moment. But Iwo Jima and Okinawa were closer to the homeland and the ferocity became even more intense. On Iwo Jima we were forced to kill 20,000 Japanese soldiers at the cost of 5,000 Americans. On Okinawa, still closer to Japan itself, 6,000 kamikaze suicide pilots sank 36 naval vessels and seriously damaged 332 others. Our leader, Lt. Gen. Simon Buckner was killed along with 40,000 other American fatalities during the fighting which lasted more than two and one half months and brought death to 109,000 Japanese defenders.

Rather than speculate on the human cost if we had been compelled to invade Japan proper, we now have access to the actual declassified plans for more invasions without the use of our Atomic weapons.

Our Plans vs. Their Plans

Planning for Operation Downfall was completed by the summer of 1945. It called for two massive invasions even greater than the scale of Okinawa in April in which 2,200 amphibious vessels were deployed. The first assault was code named Operation Olympic in which American combat troops would land on Japan proper by amphibious attacks before dawn on November 1, 1945. Fourteen combat divisions would land on heavily fortified and defended Kyushu after heavy naval and aerial bombardment.

The second invasion, code named Operation Coronet, would happen on March 1, 1946, employing 22 divisions. This force would be met by one million defenders on the main island of Honshu which had in it the Tokyo plain. This final thrust has the unconditional surrender of Japan as its goal.

Operation Downfall called for using the entire Marine Corp, the entire Pacific navy, elements of the 7th Army Air Force, the 8th Air Force (recently redeployed from Europe), the 10th Air Force, and the 14th Air Force from China. More than 1.5 million combat soldiers with three million in support would be needed. More than 40 percent of all servicemen still in uniform in late 1945 would be involved in the two amphibious assaults and casualties were expected to be severe.

Adm. William Leahy estimated that there would be more than a quarter of a million Americans killed or wounded on Kyushu alone. Gen. Charles Willoughby, Gen. MacArthur's Chief Intelligence Officer, reckoned that there would be one million American casualties by the fall if 1946.

Whereas a thorough naval blockade was to be employed, it was not thought to be sufficient to bring down Japan. The planners came to realize that naval blockades choke, but fail to kill. (Witness Great Britain from 1939 to 1945 after seven continuous years of U-boat constriction.) Furthermore, the same planners thought strategic bombing might destroy cities and yet leave whole armies intact.

After extensive discussion, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on May 25, 1945, issued a top-secret directive to proceed with the invasion of Kyushu to Gen. MacArthur, Adm. Nimitz, and Air Force Gen. Henry Arnold. The target date would be after the typhoon season.

On July 24 President Truman approved the plans for the invasion. Two days later the United Nations issued the Potsdam Proclamation that called for Japan to surrender unconditionally. Three days later the Japanese officially broadcast to the world that they would not surrender, would ignore the proclamation, and defy invaders. It was later learned that during July of 1945 Japan closed all schools and mobilized all school children, began arming civilians, fortified tunnels and caves, and began building underground defenses in their homeland.

Operation Olympic called for four separate assaults on the island Kyushu in order to gain control of the southern part where naval and air bases could be established. Once done by Seabees, the naval blockade around all of the rest of Japan could be tightened and close aerial support given to the next invasion, that of Honshu and the Tokyo Plain.

The invasion of Kyushu would take place on October 27. The 40th Infantry Division and the 158th Regimental Combat Team would land on and gain control of the small offshore islands west and southwest of Kyushu. Seaplane bases there would be the first to operate radar and advanced air warning for the invasion fleet, render fighter direction for carrier-based aircraft, and emergency anchorage for the invasion fleet. Meanwhile, the Third Fleet under Adm. Halsey would unleash the massive firepower of its big guns and carrier planes, composed of battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and three fast carrier task groups. No less than 66 aircraft carriers would send forth several thousand fighters and bombers to strafe, bomb, and send rockets against enemy defenses, gun emplacements, and troop concentrations among the landing zones, all in preparation for the invasion force to be delivered ashore by the Fifth Fleet's 3,000 ships under Adm. Raymond Spruance.

Recently declassified war plans reveal that Operation Olympic was more than a plan for invasion, but also for conquest and occupation. Four months would be required to subdue the entrenched and tireless Japanese forces fighting on home turf, so three fresh American infantry divisions per month would be ready to support or replace our embattled troops from month to month. With this operation gaining planned success, Operation Coronet would be carried out on March 1, 1946 requiring up to 28 divisions, twice the size of the Kyushu invasion.

Post-war interrogations of Japanese military leaders and captured documents reveal that there were many Japanese warplanes held back during and since Iwo Jima and Okinawa for home defense, leading to our false belief that Japanese aviation was defeated. The Japanese leaders also had a home defense plan, called Ketsu-Go, which, in part, called for building 20 kamikaze take-off strips on Southern Kyushu, underground hangers, 35 camouflaged airfields, and nine seaplane bases. In addition, the enemy had 58 more airfields in Korea, Shikoku, and western Honshu from which they would launch continuous suicide attacks by 2,000 suicide planes in waves of 200 to 300 at a time against approaching American ships. Japan's 40 remaining submarines were reserved to launch their Long Lance torpedoes with their range of 20 miles.

Ketsu-Go plans would sink ships approaching the homeland, kill invaders at the beaches, and fight to the last man in the homeland laced with bunkers, booby-traps, pill boxes, and making use of familiar terrain. All these measures were calculated to kill so many Americans that our "Unconditional Surrender" terms would be abrogated or modified by the reality of unexpected slaughter.

Their defense plans counted on the fact that our naval and land-based planes must return to refuel, our antiaircraft guns will overheat, and our men will succumb to exhaustion, but the kamikaze waves could continue with great effect for up to ten consecutive days.

To Bomb or Not to Bomb?

By the numbers, we see that the invasion death potential dwarfs Hiroshima and Nagasaki fatalities. The actions of President Truman and Col. Paul Tibbets actually caused the saving of millions of lives, both Allied and Japanese. Instead, those millions of soldiers and civilians were able to live out their lives, raise families, and participate in the peaceful and prosperous reconstruction that history has since recorded. *

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