1927 – The Submarine Myth and the Ace of the Pacific

1927

The back-and-forth argument about the significance of submarines continued in a variety of ways in 1927. The British continued their aggressive campaign of influence to demonstrate the need to abolish the boats while the original defenders in American and elsewhere continued to predict that they would become even more important in the future conflicts.

Rear Admiral Sims was an outspoken proponent that had served as one to the leaders during the First World War.

This is from a Times article in March:

 

UNDERSEA AND AIR NAVIES PREDICTED

Sims Says Battleships Will Be Replaced in Future Warfare.

By the Associated Press.

NEW YORK, March 31—

The submarine and the airplane will replace the battleship in future wars, Rear Admiral William S. Sims says in the New York Times today.

“The battleship was once the backbone of the fleet; it is no longer,” Admiral Sims told Judson C. Welliver, director of public relations of the American Petroleum Institute, who gave the Admiral’s opinions to the Times. “The submarine and the airplane have put an end to its reign; they have clipped the wings of the sea power.

“In another war,” Admiral Sims asserts, “the best thing to do with our battleships would be to send them as far as possible up the Mississippi River, out of harm’s way, and send but submarines and aircraft to do our fighting.”

Undersea craft and airplanes, he continues, would make a naval blockade impossible. Anti-aircraft guns on a rolling ship would be ineffective against airplanes, he added. “As to the submarine,” he says, “here is no answer to it.”

Admiral Sims cites the refusal of other nations at the Washington conference to agree to Great Britain’s suggestion to outlaw the submarine. “The development of the submarine has ended the possibility of any power in future rating as mistress of the sea,” he asserts.

Availability of oil supplies on both coasts allow the United States as advantage in maintaining its Navy.

“All navies are now on the oil burning basis,” he declares, “but no other naval power possesses its own oil as does the United States.”

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 31 March 1927.

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1927-03-31/ed-1/seq-46/

But the British were ready to sink the pesky little submarines for once and for all.

The upcoming conference on further reductions would be another chance for them to destroy the boats if they could gather enough allies.

BRITON SCOFFS AT REPUTATION OF SUBMARINE

Value Grossly Overrated,

in Opinion of Naval Man,

Who Raps Admiralty

NEW YORK, June 13.—Arthur Pollen, eminent British naval authority, slashes at what he terms “the submarine myth,” in a remarkable article in the July issue of Foreign Affairs. He alleges that the submarine’s value has been exaggerated grossly, that it was a failure in the war against convoyed vessels, and that only the incompetence or lack of courage of professional naval men prevents them from informing the public of the fact. Incidentally, Pollen takes a whack at the torpedo, which he says is “obsolescent,” and the airplane, which he thinks has passed the zenith of its usefulness in war. He suggests that both the torpedo and the submarine be outlawed at the forthcoming Geneva Disarmament Conference.

Condemns Admiralty

Pollen, besides being the inventor of the fire-control devices used in naval gunnery, was editor of “Land and War” during the war and now heads several British automobile and armaments concerns.

After condemning the British Admiralty for having refused to adopt promptly the convoy system as a safeguard against submarine attack in the Great War. Pollen says:

“Of 100,000 ships that sailed in convoy, fewer than 450 were lost, and the great majority of those casualties were due either to marine risk or to falling out of the convoy altogether. But all ships could not be convoyed, and it was not until May, 1918, that the average monthly loss of tonnage fell below 200,000.

“But by this time the rate of replacement was creeping up to meet, as it ultimately passed, the rate of loss.”

Judgment Is Colored

“These two facts, the failure of the submarine against convoy, and its continuing success against ships that had to go singly on their way, are worth emphasis; because it was the latter, in combination with the memory of the devastating depredations between March and July of 1917, that to a great extent still colors the popular judgment of the submarine as a vessel of war.

“But equally forgotten is the now more significant fact that as a vessel of war, as distinguished from a vessel of piracy or sabotage, the submarine virtually was as useless to the enemy as to us. It had no successes at all against battleships of the first class.”

The Indianapolis Times. (Indianapolis [Ind.]), 13 June 1927.

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82015313/1927-06-13/ed-1/seq-9/

In the Pacific, the Japanese were not paying much attention to the British concerns about submarines. For that matter, their entire military and industry were working hard to grow the most powerful force under the Rising Sun.

From a series of articles written in the Washing Time in Late June and early July, the following parts of the series are shared:

Part One

IN the matter of defense, the first thing to do is to consider those, whose interests may conflict with ours as potential enemies. They may be our best friends, and yet when the clash does come, as clashes will, it is invariably between those whose interests conflict.

In preparing for defense, the first consideration is the possible strength that the enemy may exert. America does not have to search long to find the yardstick which should be applied. Our interests are wide flung and there is the usual chance for disagreement and friction between us and any one of 10 nations. But there is one in particular whose interests are so diametrically opposed to those of America that, without the slightest disposition toward jingoism, we may and should heed and scrutinize her present and potential air strength.

On the far side of the Pacific is a small but very powerful nation —a people who embody all the fatalism, the stoicism and almost the fanaticism of other Oriental nations, and yet with a reaction that is distinctive, quick and Occidental. India has deep hates and grave lassitude; China has ancestor worship and local prejudices; the Turk, the Arabian and largely the Slav respond to new things merely with curses and hate: Japan, on the other hand, leaps toward comprehension of the new and races toward its accomplishment. Japan is a combined unit, a worshiper of their Emperor, of his ancestors, of the government’s traditions, and yet Japan is one of the quickest of all nations to seize the momentary advantage.

Visit to Training Ship.

A Japanese training ship was in San Diego harbor last Summer. The writer visited with the friendly and keen students on that ship. He asked one of them to see his text books on navigation and mathematics. They were all in English! Made that way purposely so they had to learn English. A skilled navigator on one of our own largest battleships examined one of these text books and found it an exceedingly clever and comprehensive collection of the best from the texts of American, German and French works on the subject.

It is said the Japanese are imitative. They are, but they are more than imitative. They are so skilled in gathering the most effective points of every practical argument that their ability and adaptation is almost genius.

It is interesting to note Japanese reaction to new methods and new machines and new ideas during the last 30 or 40 years. Whereas most nations require generations to change their national policy, Japan apparently can swing her people into a new stride within half a decade.

When the Wright brothers made the first successful flight in the air the world had ever known—only two years later the Japanese flew successfully in his own country.

Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.), 29 June 1927. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1927-06-29/ed-1/seq-3/

Part Two

Japan’s Naval Program

The Japanese naval program will be completed by 1928, three years before the expiration of the time limit prescribed by the Washington Conference. Under the Japanese policy in 1928 Japan will have in actual commission a well-balanced fleet of capital ships, last cruisers, submarines, destroyers, aircraft carriers, which will need no replacement. In addition to her battle fleet of 10 capital ships she will have 25 new fast light cruisers, capable of steaming 33 knots per hour and ranging in size from 3,500 to 10,000 tons. Since 1922 her policy has put or is putting rapidly into commission some 100 destroyers and 80 submarines. Her new program of cruiser construction was adopted in 1925, when she attempted to justify to the world her large building program, by claiming that it was necessary to preserve the balance of power. Some 8 fast cruisers and 20 large submarines were then started and long before the expiration of the time limit set by the Washington Conference we will find Japan superior in every type of its fighting ships.

Plans Giant Submarines.

Japan, under German tutelage, has been quick to plan the construction of gigantic submarines, with a surface displacement exceeding 2,400 tons. These submarines will be specially constructed to avert the ravages of bomb or depth charge attacks, and will carry sufficient oil to give them a cruising radius practically around the world.

New 3,000-ton destroyers, with a speed equivalent to 40 miles per hour, and fuel-carrying capacity for a voyage of 5,000 miles, are either being built or about to he laid down. Lieut. Comdr. H. C. Bywater, a distinguished English naval air critic, refers to these destroyers as virtually being light cruisers masquerading under the term “destroyers.”

He reports also a number of Japanese submarines under construction at Kure, Yokosuka, Kobe and Sasebo with the dimensions and armaments oi small cruisers, and is authority for the statement that in novelty of design and in the numbers of cruisers, destroyers and submarines, Japan is setting the world’s pace.

Certainly in view of the recent development in the construction of destroyers alone, the current estimates of Japan’s destroyer strength, based on mere numbers, will have to be revised, as one of the new Japanese destroyers would he the equal of any two or three American destroyers in use at this time.

U.S. Program Behind.

The American naval program is falling behind each year. It is estimated that in the three-year period beginning with 1928 Japan’s entire budget of $100,000,000 will be spent on the purchase of planes and equipment for its air forces and on aviation.

While the peace propagandists in America are sowing their insidious seeds of discord, fighting against military training in our public schools and universities, we must take cognizance of what Japan is doing in the air.

Japan’s entire war ministry is working on plans and budgets. Ugaki, minister of war, in a public announcement, showed Japan to have plans for the complete divisional reorganization of the army, which will affect a saving of approximately $15,000,000 annually, without in any way reducing the numerical strength of the army. This saving is devoted solely to the development of a greater Japanese air force.

 

The world stood aghast at the national disaster .with which the Japanese were overtaken in 1923 by earthquake. The shock of that great earthquake, and minor earthquakes following it, made no more apparent impression upon the national consciousness of the Japanese than the ordinary passage of elevated trains in New York City makes upon the consciousness of the people passing underneath. I say apparent, because the Japanese can conceal his grief under a bland and smiling countenance, which does not portray his inner feelings. Thousands of Japanese perished in the earthquake, without affecting, however, the ultimate destiny of Japan, and while sorrow was confined to the individual home, the nation proceeded onward in its path without swerving.

Feeling of Japanese

The correspondent of one of Japan’s papers at Washington (Kawakami), writing for Harper’s Monthly (March, 1927), states that the disinclination of America to permit unrestricted entry of Japanese in this country nullified for the most part the happy effect of America’s magnificent generosity to Japan’s earthquake-stricken millions.” I think this writer correctly expressed the feeling of the Japanese toward America.

While Americans were engaged in Red Cross activities, the plans of the Japanese naval and military authorities were concentrating on the reconstruction of the capital, having regard to the consummation of aerial defense. Even before victims of the earthquake could be buried, the military authorities announced their air plans for the new Tokio. According to these plans, big airdromes were to be established in the four corners of the new Tokio, namely at Yoyogi, Tokorozawa, Ichikawa and Chobu.

***

Japan’s Preparation.

In 1925 a prominent War Department official at Washington announced that Japan had placed with France an order for the construction of 5,000 airplane engines. Of this number he stated that 3,000 were intended for use in combat and bombing planes, and 2,000 for training planes. From official statements the Japanese Navy’s complement of air dirigibles, observation, bombing and fighting planes, was rapidly Increasing in strength as fast as accretions could be added from purchases abroad and production at home. With the addition of the aircraft carriers Kaga and Akagi (27,000 tons) Just completed (March 31. 1927) and their complement of 70 planes each, Japan’s naval air strength will in 1927 approximate 1,500 units.

Nichi Nichi, the leading Tokio newspaper, announces that Japanese army authorities are determined to carry out the empire’s program for aerial expansion until the air forces of Japan equal those of the Western powers. It announced also that Japan planned the immediate construction of three new air battalions, each consisting in turn of three companies, with an ordnance repletion program calling for an increase in anti-aircraft gun tanks, light machine guns, poison gas equipment and field wireless. Air squadrons in Japan usually consist of 24 planes. Plans are even now well under way for the formation of at least 23 new observation, pursuit and bombing squadrons for the army.

Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.), 30 June 1927.

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1927-06-30/ed-1/seq-36/

Part Three

Meaning to America.

What does this mean to America? It means that the Yellow Ace of the Imperial Islands will dominate the Pacific; that her bombing planes will make our battleship a thing obsolete; that she can at will take the Philippines and Hawaii, and, assisted by her fast cruisers, that she could within a month banish our commerce from the Pacific Ocean.

Because of our great financial strength and our illimitable resources, no doubt in time we could wear her down, but it would be a long and humiliating struggle, one of the most costly wars commercially the world has ever known. And it would be directly the result of our own negligence in preparing an adequate defense, cruiser for cruiser and battle plane for battle plane.

This is not an attempt to flaunt the yellow peril. It is a cool and careful estimate of what is being done. We have no desire for war with Japan; we have no desire for war with any country; but, on the other hand, we do desire to retain our national integrity and to protect our own people and their commerce. But we desire it emotionally rather than practically. We talk about our patriotism and do little about it. We are quick to re- sent any interference with our commerce, and yet very slow to prepare for the protection of that commerce. And again, quoting from Kennedy Young:

“The wings of the Rising Sun. which scarcely have begun to sprout, soon may cause as much fluttering in the councils of the world as the peerless escadrilles of France now cause in Europe.”

Japan, indeed, has drawn her own inferences from our round-the-world flight. Yesterday the wings of the Rising Sun were sprouting; today they have passed the chrysalis stage and have burst into full flight. Japan is on the wing.

Evening Star. (Washington, D.C.), 01 July 1927.

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1927-07-01/ed-1/seq-24/

Hiei (比叡) was a warship of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War I and World War II. Designed by British naval architect George Thurston, she was the second launched of four Kongō-class battlecruisers, among the most heavily armed ships in any navy when built. Laid down in 1911 at the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal, Hiei was formally commissioned in 1914. She patrolled off the Chinese coast on several occasions during World War I, and helped with rescue efforts following the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake. Starting in 1929, Hiei was converted to a gunnery training ship to avoid being scrapped under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty. She served as Emperor Hirohito’s transport in the mid-1930s. Starting in 1937, she underwent a full-scale reconstruction that completely rebuilt her superstructure, upgraded her powerplant, and equipped her with launch catapults for floatplanes. Now fast enough to accompany Japan’s growing fleet of aircraft carriers, she was reclassified as a fast battleship. On the eve of the US entry into World War II, she sailed as part of Vice-Admiral Chuichi Nagumo’s Combined Fleet, escorting the six carriers that attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. The Hiei would fight at the November 13 1942 Naval Battle for Guadalcanal where she would deliver the death blow to both Admiral Callaghan and Captain Cassin Young on the bridge of the USS San Francisco. The Hiei would be sunk by Japanese destroyers the next day after being put out of action by American airpower.

 

The stunning accuracy of Col. W. Jefferson Davis in 1927 would not be heeded by enough people of influence. The depression that would follow the 1929 Stock Market Crash probably distracted the leadership at the very moments they should have been preparing. In 1931, Japan would begin to show the world why they were building all of those ships and planes. The Japanese military would begin a death march that would carry the souls of millions to their graves between 1931 and 1945 when they suffered their own wakeup call in the form of the atomic bomb.

My Dad was born in April of 1927. His father and grandfathers fought in their own wars.

Dad would be just in time to see the results of not being prepared firsthand when he went off to fight Japan.

Mister Mac

 

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