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Eboreg2

1943: Where were the carriers?

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Hey guys, while I was researching the Pacific War, I came across a rather puzzling trend: there were no carrier duels in 1943 despite the fact that both sides had a fair amount of operational carriers during that time frame. I'll admit that, on the surface, this doesn't seem like that much of an oddity, of course both sides had to rebuild their forces after taking a pasting in 1942 but the more I looked into it, the more confusing the whole timeline became. As such, I've created a small chart to display when each carrier on each side was present in the Pacific Theater of Operations with the bars showing them being present and the empty spaces showing them being docked either in Japan for the IJN carriers or Pearl Harbor/CONUS for the USN carriers (or just not in the area as the case with USS Robin/HMS Victorious).

364088243_CarrierAvailability.thumb.png.8133fbdfba6c806eccf3628ca092859b.png

Just to get a little bit of housekeeping out of the way, I couldn't find very detailed movements for USS Lexington between its arrival at Pearl in early August and a raid conducted (and I quote my sources) "in late September" and if it seems that USS Yorktown returned to port a lot, that may be due to its movements being documented in a much more detailed fashion by my sources (read: Wikipedia, I'm NOT paying the National Archives to get the complete story) than any of the other American carriers. Based on this graph, we can see a number of interesting things, for example, USS Enterprise was NOT relieved by the Essex-class carriers as is commonly claimed but by HMS Victorious/USS Robin. We can also notice that the Japanese fleet carriers were not ready for action together until early July, which may account for the lack of action up until then. However, there are other things that this graph doesn't show, for example, in late May, pretty much every frontline carrier that the Japanese had (Ryuuhou does NOT count as a frontline carrier) was being assembled to relieve Attu Island but the Operation was cancelled when the Army contingent on Attu basically banzai'd itself into oblivion. Another interesting thing I noticed was that while American carriers certainly were not idle, the Japanese carriers were stuck with aircraft ferrying duties. This is a rather poor use of resources due to the fact that it throws away the primary advantage of a carrier fleet but Japanese high command may not have been in a very good mood after the slogging fest in 1942. Also, there's the inescapable fact that flying aircraft from airfields is defensive in nature while flying them from carriers is offensive, and the Japanese were very much on the defensive in 1943. Another thing to consider is that Japanese airbases were well within range of the frontline which may have made the carriers capabilities seem superfluous (if you don't account for the element of surprise gained by attacking from different directions) but the most important thing to consider is that the Japanese just did not know how many American carriers were still operating. They had already seen ships come back from the apparent grave multiple times by this point so they just had no reliable intel regarding American numbers. I don't think many of them were willing to take the chance with what little numbers they did have. And... oh yeah... American submarines were running interference. I had to leave out various sorties from the home islands in this graph because they lasted a very insignificant amount of time due to a submarine waiting just outside of port for a capital ship to come by, licking its chops in anticipation. With all that said, I think the simple answer to the question about why carrier duels didn't happen in 1943 was because the Japanese were just too shellshocked to risk one.

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Interesting.

Im playing a Guadalcanal scenario in War in the Pacific, Admirals Edition...and the IJN refuses to come out and play as long as I have carriers covering Iron Bottom sound.

1942 did indeed do away with the IJN advantage in CVs...but the Americans suffered heavily to accomplish that fact (Midway aside).

The simple fact is that carriers had significant drawbacks in terms of combat staying power. Neither side had robust ships...nor could a carrier loiter and conduct sustained operations without a nearby source of fuel and armament.

Plus, land based air was inherently superior to carrier based air.

By 1943, the IJN had no wish to go on the offensive...and the USN did not uet have the MEANS to use the carriers offensively either.

After all, most Japanese offensive success was covered by land based air...the carriers were great raiding units capable of disrupting and destroying areas for a few days at a time...but no sufficient to conduct operations to support suppression of a strongly held base for weeks (what the USN knew would be necessary for offensive operations post 1942).

By all means, continue to educate us on what you find. There is not much critical historical scholarship on the actual course of the war in the mainstream.

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22 minutes ago, Eboreg2 said:

of course both sides had to rebuild their forces after taking a pasting in 1942

Therein lies your answer.

In June 1942, on the Japanese side, we had the Shokaku afloat but with extensive bomb damage from the battle of Coral Sea.  Zuikaku's air group was devastated in that same battle though the ship was structurally undamaged. (Remember that Japanese carriers considered the air group and the carrier to be one, so Zuikaku would have to train a new airgroup before being considered combat ready.  The Hiyo and Junyo did not have full squadrons even during their operations on the Aleutian Islands.  And Zuiho carried a small airgroup and was not considered to be an effective fleet carrier as it could not carry fighters, bombers and torp planes squadrons.  With slow naval plane production, and slow pilot training, and the extensive training needed for Japanese carrier tactics, this put their carrier force out of action for some time.  (worse as they lost many of the surviving pilots from the Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu with land-based units during the battle for Guadalcanal.)

Also in June 1942, on the American side, the airgroups of Enterprise and Hornet were decimated at the battle of Midway.  Yorktown's squadrons were already depleted at the battle of coral sea, Yorktown used many of the Saratoga's squadrons (who were in Pearl Harbor at the time, awaiting the Saratoga which did not arrive in time for the battle.)  So after the battle of Midway, the Americans had 3 floating carriers Enterprise, Hornet and Saratoga, but no complete fighter, bomber or torpedo groups for them.  So new squadrons had to be trained, and the new torpedo squadrons needed the new Avenger planes as the Devastators were proven ineffective and obsolete at Midway.

And don't forget the battle of Guadalcanal -- where the remaining USN carriers and their quick replacement squadrons battled Japanese land based planes, augmented by pilots from Kaga, Akagi, Hiryu and Soryu.

You may be interested in the book Shattered Sword by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully.  The book is about the Battle of Midway from the perspective of the Japanese Carrier force doctrines, ship designs, damage control, etc.  An excellent read if you're interested in how Japanese carriers operated.

 

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Nice basic info.

Out of curiosity; why USS Robin for the Brit CV? Some kind of placeholder name to maybe confuse Axis intel? Or something more mundane?

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Logistics.  Doctrines of strategy & tactics.  Equipment capabilities (or lack thereof).

There's a reason the "Island Hopping" campaigns were undertaken.

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1 hour ago, Estimated_Prophet said:

Nice basic info.

Out of curiosity; why USS Robin for the Brit CV? Some kind of placeholder name to maybe confuse Axis intel? Or something more mundane?

http://www.armouredcarriers.com/uss-robin-hms-victorious/

I can't tell if it was a genuine attempt at deception or if it just went with the US Makings on the aircraft to prevent them from being shot down by trigger happy US Navy pilots. So far it is interesting reading.

At some point during the war, a US Navy fighter did try and shoot down a Royal Navy PBY in poor visibility,  Apparently the low visibility RAF roundel and the Japanese hinomaru look a lot alike in bad lighting.

The RAF actually changed the markings in the Pacific to omit the red dot to help with this.

 

 

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1 hour ago, SgtBeltfed said:

http://www.armouredcarriers.com/uss-robin-hms-victorious/

I can't tell if it was a genuine attempt at deception or if it just went with the US Makings on the aircraft to prevent them from being shot down by trigger happy US Navy pilots. So far it is interesting reading.

At some point during the war, a US Navy fighter did try and shoot down a Royal Navy PBY in poor visibility,  Apparently the low visibility RAF roundel and the Japanese hinomaru look a lot alike in bad lighting.

The RAF actually changed the markings in the Pacific to omit the red dot to help with this.

There is one instance I know of where a Mosquito PR.Mk XVI being escorted by Spitfires (or P-47s, can't remember which)  was attacked and shot down over France by P-51s who claimed a kill of an Me410.

Edited by Helstrem

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17 hours ago, Eboreg2 said:

Hey guys, while I was researching the Pacific War, I came across a rather puzzling trend: there were no carrier duels in 1943 despite the fact that both sides had a fair amount of operational carriers during that time frame. I'll admit that, on the surface, this doesn't seem like that much of an oddity, of course both sides had to rebuild their forces after taking a pasting in 1942 but the more I looked into it, the more confusing the whole timeline became. As such, I've created a small chart to display when each carrier on each side was present in the Pacific Theater of Operations with the bars showing them being present and the empty spaces showing them being docked either in Japan for the IJN carriers or Pearl Harbor/CONUS for the USN carriers (or just not in the area as the case with USS Robin/HMS Victorious).

364088243_CarrierAvailability.thumb.png.8133fbdfba6c806eccf3628ca092859b.png

Just to get a little bit of housekeeping out of the way, I couldn't find very detailed movements for USS Lexington between its arrival at Pearl in early August and a raid conducted (and I quote my sources) "in late September" and if it seems that USS Yorktown returned to port a lot, that may be due to its movements being documented in a much more detailed fashion by my sources (read: Wikipedia, I'm NOT paying the National Archives to get the complete story) than any of the other American carriers. Based on this graph, we can see a number of interesting things, for example, USS Enterprise was NOT relieved by the Essex-class carriers as is commonly claimed but by HMS Victorious/USS Robin. We can also notice that the Japanese fleet carriers were not ready for action together until early July, which may account for the lack of action up until then. However, there are other things that this graph doesn't show, for example, in late May, pretty much every frontline carrier that the Japanese had (Ryuuhou does NOT count as a frontline carrier) was being assembled to relieve Attu Island but the Operation was cancelled when the Army contingent on Attu basically banzai'd itself into oblivion. Another interesting thing I noticed was that while American carriers certainly were not idle, the Japanese carriers were stuck with aircraft ferrying duties. This is a rather poor use of resources due to the fact that it throws away the primary advantage of a carrier fleet but Japanese high command may not have been in a very good mood after the slogging fest in 1942. Also, there's the inescapable fact that flying aircraft from airfields is defensive in nature while flying them from carriers is offensive, and the Japanese were very much on the defensive in 1943. Another thing to consider is that Japanese airbases were well within range of the frontline which may have made the carriers capabilities seem superfluous (if you don't account for the element of surprise gained by attacking from different directions) but the most important thing to consider is that the Japanese just did not know how many American carriers were still operating. They had already seen ships come back from the apparent grave multiple times by this point so they just had no reliable intel regarding American numbers. I don't think many of them were willing to take the chance with what little numbers they did have. And... oh yeah... American submarines were running interference. I had to leave out various sorties from the home islands in this graph because they lasted a very insignificant amount of time due to a submarine waiting just outside of port for a capital ship to come by, licking its chops in anticipation. With all that said, I think the simple answer to the question about why carrier duels didn't happen in 1943 was because the Japanese were just too shellshocked to risk one.

I can find Yorktown’s war diaries from April 1943 on.  When I get home I can copy the important movement info and post them.  Most importantly, CinCPac war diaries show daily force locations and movements, but they are huge and take time to go through.

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Carriers are by their very nature weak.  They can withstand little damage before being disabled and their aircraft are weaker then land based variants and provide marginal support in naval invasions.  CVs only come into their own far away from land.  Unless there are major naval units deployed deep into the ocean, there is little reason to deploy CVs.  Battleships remained the core of the fleet-in-being power projection, denying which islands could feasibly be invaded and because Japan was starved of oil, it would not deploy naval major assets far from land until their hand was forced.

Airfields were the more important currency vs the CVs.

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This also missed the four Sangamon class CVE that operated between New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands for most of 1943.  These combined were operating somewhere between 120 and 160 aircraft and primarily engaged in covering convoy movements supporting Guadalcanal as well as strikes on Japanese targets in the Solomon Islands.  They might have been slow, but their combined air strength made them a formidable force in that area of the Pacific.

All four returned to US waters around October 1943 for refits having served almost the entirety of 1943 to that point in the South Pacific.

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15 minutes ago, Murotsu said:

This also missed the four Sangamon class CVE that operated between New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands for most of 1943.  These combined were operating somewhere between 120 and 160 aircraft and primarily engaged in covering convoy movements supporting Guadalcanal as well as strikes on Japanese targets in the Solomon Islands.  They might have been slow, but their combined air strength made them a formidable force in that area of the Pacific.

All four returned to US waters around October 1943 for refits having served almost the entirety of 1943 to that point in the South Pacific.

I left out the CVEs on both sides on purpose since they weren't supposed to take part in carrier duels. In fact, I would have left out Ryuuhou if it didn't take part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

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No Pacific CV duels in 1943?  Easy.  The early half of 1943, Shokaku was still being repaired and wouldn't link up with her sister until mid-1943.  But the real damage was the lost aircrews.

 

First and foremost, Battle of Midway was June 1942.  This event left the two "Cranes" of the Shokaku-class as the last two Fleet CVs of the IJN.  The Allies surprise the Japanese with an offensive soon after Midway, i.e. Guadalcanal in August 1942, which set into motion the hotly contested campaign surrounding that island and its airfield.

 

Secondly, the last CV clash of 1942 was the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands in October.  USS Hornet was lost while Shokaku was severely damaged.  The damage was so severe that on the way home to Japan she almost sank again (much respect to the damage control of Shokaku, saving the ship from disaster multiple times until her luck finally ran out in 1944).  The effects of this battle were extensive, but specifically for Japan's Carriers, Zuikaku was undamaged and Shokaku would get fixed up by March 1943.  Wikipedia says they link up again by mid-1943, yet there were no attempts by the IJN Carrier forces to fight again.  Why's that?

Lack of trained aircrews for their Carriers.

After the two "Cranes" were sent back to Japan due to the effects of the Battle of Santa Cruz, one of the things the Japanese did was send their trained naval aircrews to shore, i.e. the big base at Rabaul, and continue to fight the Allies from there.  These veteran, irreplaceable aircrews suffered high attrition during the long campaign to contest Guadalcanal.

By the time Shokaku was fixed up and ready to rejoin her sister Zuikaku in mid-1943, there were no aircrews for them.  That's why there were no Carrier clashes in the Pacific during 1943.

 

The aircrew loss was severe and it would take the IJN until mid-1944 before they had Carriers filled with trained naval aircrews again to send against the Allies.  They would do so to contest the American landings for Saipan and the resulting naval battle of the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944.  Better known as the Marianas Turkey Shoot where the large USN Carrier force with now experienced aircrews slaughtered the totally inexperienced IJN aircrews.

 

But back to 1943... The USN expected the IJN to use Shokaku and Zuikaku again.  If you check the link earlier in the thread for "USS Robin" / HMS Victorious, when the US asked the UK "hey bro, can you loan me a carrier for a bit?" and the UK obliged.  When "USS Robin" operated with Saratoga and North Carolina, they were specifically looking to get into a Carrier duel again.  But the IJN couldn't... They no longer had aircrews for Shokaku & Zuikaku in 1943 despite their fleet carriers being fully functional by that time.

Edited by HazeGrayUnderway

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On 3/17/2020 at 1:00 AM, HazeGrayUnderway said:

No Pacific CV duels in 1943?  Easy.  The early half of 1943, Shokaku was still being repaired and wouldn't link up with her sister until mid-1943.  But the real damage was the lost aircrews.

 

First and foremost, Battle of Midway was June 1942.  This event left the two "Cranes" of the Shokaku-class as the last two Fleet CVs of the IJN.  The Allies surprise the Japanese with an offensive soon after Midway, i.e. Guadalcanal in August 1942, which set into motion the hotly contested campaign surrounding that island and its airfield.

 

Secondly, the last CV clash of 1942 was the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands in October.  USS Hornet was lost while Shokaku was severely damaged.  The damage was so severe that on the way home to Japan she almost sank again (much respect to the damage control of Shokaku, saving the ship from disaster multiple times until her luck finally ran out in 1944).  The effects of this battle were extensive, but specifically for Japan's Carriers, Zuikaku was undamaged and Shokaku would get fixed up by March 1943.  Wikipedia says they link up again by mid-1943, yet there were no attempts by the IJN Carrier forces to fight again.  Why's that?

Lack of trained aircrews for their Carriers.

After the two "Cranes" were sent back to Japan due to the effects of the Battle of Santa Cruz, one of the things the Japanese did was send their trained naval aircrews to shore, i.e. the big base at Rabaul, and continue to fight the Allies from there.  These veteran, irreplaceable aircrews suffered high attrition during the long campaign to contest Guadalcanal.

By the time Shokaku was fixed up and ready to rejoin her sister Zuikaku in mid-1943, there were no aircrews for them.  That's why there were no Carrier clashes in the Pacific during 1943.

 

The aircrew loss was severe and it would take the IJN until mid-1944 before they had Carriers filled with trained naval aircrews again to send against the Allies.  They would do so to contest the American landings for Saipan and the resulting naval battle of the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944.  Better known as the Marianas Turkey Shoot where the large USN Carrier force with now experienced aircrews slaughtered the totally inexperienced IJN aircrews.

 

But back to 1943... The USN expected the IJN to use Shokaku and Zuikaku again.  If you check the link earlier in the thread for "USS Robin" / HMS Victorious, when the US asked the UK "hey bro, can you loan me a carrier for a bit?" and the UK obliged.  When "USS Robin" operated with Saratoga and North Carolina, they were specifically looking to get into a Carrier duel again.  But the IJN couldn't... They no longer had aircrews for Shokaku & Zuikaku in 1943 despite their fleet carriers being fully functional by that time.

Pretty solid explanation.  Bored sitting here at home so I started an excursus on the strategic situation in 1943, but it's even more boring.  Needless to say, South Pacific Force (Halsey) - 3rd Fleet after March 15 - kept plugging up the Solomon's (amphibious warfare supported by land and tender based air, cruiser-destroyer TFs) and Kinkaid was tasked with securing the Aleutians (same as Solomon's but add OBBs).  Victorious was loaned to PacFlt and the new construction CV/CVLs started to join that Summer but needed working up for Galvanic, the assault on the Gilberts, then follow on to the Marshalls, which would strip Halsey and Kinkaid of their transports.  Central Pacific Force (Spruance) - 5th Fleet - husbanded much of the new CV/Ls and BBs.  In Oplan 1-43 for Galvanic, he expected and prepared for a fleet engagement.  In the Fall, Halsey had a few CV TFs assigned to assault Rabaul and used them before they had to be returned to Spruance.  Wake was also raided with new CV/Ls and BBs while working up.  Except for Japanese land based air, the IJN CVs never moved out of Truk.  Much of the remaining trained and available IJN CV air was sent piecemeal to Rabaul and chewed up during the Solomon's campaign, so they never really made good use of the downtime to rest, retrain and reequip effectively.  The result was the Battle of the Philippine Sea in 1944, and we all remember how that turned out. 

This is from the "Nimitz Graybook" or running summary, early 1943:

image.thumb.png.c91876370ee430f639e05a919d9a4ccd.png

image.thumb.png.3b84c9df18ba0dac0854a51cabcab097.png

image.thumb.png.32e08429226c44472f53c1577b7ff32b.png

Morison in Volumes VI and VII covers a lot of this topic more eloquently than most of us can.  In July, the JCS sent PacFlt its allocation for future tasking:

image.thumb.png.dde54b98ae97af458e3959c8df5e761a.png

image.thumb.png.7787ae466a6605f6d17612685c9e596b.png

 

In August/September, as a large number of new construction was now in the Pacific, AirPac reorganized CarDivs:

image.thumb.png.3dfc4401ffbac2e0d4bff03769a28988.png

Posting war diary info is much more difficult since NARA online is from Fold3 and is encrypted.  CinCPac war diary has daily dispositions and monthly allocations in excruciating detail, but the gist is in the above.

Foreign Fleet Location report for August:

image.png.90cd4a368ad534e36cb41596e38240f5.png

image.png.af41b5f9cd403ccbf8289afe00a6ec7e.png

image.png.106e5375f0ad7b13d036889394ae68a1.png

 

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By the end of 1943, the army and navy had lost about 10,000 pilots. As American Lt. Gen. George C. Kenney reported to Washington, “Japan’s originally highly trained crews were superb but they are dead.” When matched to pilot production of 5,400 army and 5,000 navy in the same period, and when one considers the expansion in units, missions, tempo and geographical separation, it is clear that Japan’s pilot strength had not increased at all. Worse, the vast majority of prewar and even 1942-43 veterans were dead or wounded, and their replacements had none of the veterans’ experience. - J.W. Whitman, Japan's Fatally Flawed Air Forces in World War II

=======================

Even without a Carrier Clash in 1943, even with Shokaku being finally repaired of her battle damage, they didn't have the aircrews to clash with, at least not in strength.  Again, the US looked for and expected a clash with Carriers in 1943, to the point on getting the UK to buy off on loaning a precious Fleet Carrier (not some dinky little CVL or CVE, a full fledged, big Fleet Carrier) to the USN in doing that, and the Japanese couldn't oblige.  They just didn't have the pilots for it.

 

The IJN would not have the pilots for it until mid 1944, for the Battle of the Philippine Sea, which was to relieve the garrison at Saipan, and their new batch of aviators were just all massacred.

 

I remember in the book "Japanese Destroyer Captain" that the author, Capt Hara Tameichi, was pretty critical of a number of the IJN leaders in command of formations thinking the quality of their aircrews in 1943-1944 were something near that from 1941.

Edited by HazeGrayUnderway

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On 3/15/2020 at 5:22 PM, Estimated_Prophet said:

Nice basic info.

Out of curiosity; why USS Robin for the Brit CV? Some kind of placeholder name to maybe confuse Axis intel? Or something more mundane?

Robin Hood is where I think they got the name from.

Edited by ModelShip

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