February 03, 2006

Anglospheric Naval Cooperation in the Pacific in 1945

There is a good article in the current issue of Joint Forces Quarterly entitled "The Short but Brilliant Life of the British Pacific Fleet":

In the long and proud history of the Royal Navy, the largest formation ever to see combat fought under the operational command not of Drake, Nelson, Jellicoe, or Cunningham, but rather of Americans Raymond Spruance and William Halsey. The British Pacific Fleet was massive and today would be the largest navy on the planet, but in 1945 it fought the Imperial Japanese Navy as a component of the U.S. Fifth and Third Fleets.
The British, at the end of World War II decided that they needed to be in at the kill at the end of the Pacific war, for political and diplomatic reasons. The Americans accepted the offer of a British task force, though somewhat grudgingly. This was not mere parochialism. The Pacific theatre presented challenges the Americans had mastered through years of hard effort, but which were new to the British.
Despite American assistance, the British still faced a huge problem. Naval architects had designed British ships for duty in the confined waters around Britain, not in the vastness of the Pacific. “The distances were staggering to those of us accustomed to the conditions of the European War,” [Admiral Vian, the British aircraft carrier commander] stated. The Royal Navy also had little experience in resupplying ships under way. The British transferred fuel at sea using hoses that trailed astern of the tankers since they lacked catamarans to keep ships apart and the appropriate block and tackles to sail side by side while fueling. Vian called this method “an awkward, unseaman-like business.”
In part offsetting these problems was the design of the RN's aircraft carriers. They had been designed for fighting in the narrow seas around Europe, and had been expected to stand up to land-based air attack, and hence were ruggedly built by comparison to the USN's carriers:
Task Force 57 quickly proved itself a worthwhile commodity to the U.S. Pacific Fleet. British and American officers soon learned that the carriers of the Royal Navy stood up to the suicide attacks better than their American counterparts. Designed to take a beating from enemy aviation, the British carriers had more defensive plating. “The armoured decks of our C.V.s have caused a great sensation among the Americans and have certainly proved their worth against suicide aircraft with their comparatively small penetrating power,” [British fleet commander] Fraser observed. The U.S. liaison officer on the Indefatigable was impressed at the resilience of the ship. “When a kamikaze hits a U.S. carrier it means 6 months of repair at Pearl. When a kamikaze hits a Limey carrier it’s just a case of ‘Sweepers, man your brooms.’”
The photos in the article show HMS Indomitable and HMS Formidable, and both are large and menacing-looking ships worthy of their resounding names.

In the end, the British made a valuable contribution, both in practical and in political terms.

When the war ended, Admiral Fraser represented Britain on the deck of the USS Missouri. He and his command had earned the honor. The ships flying the White Ensign of the Royal Navy had operated successfully at the end of an exceptionally long supply line. [American] concerns about logistic problems in matters of spare parts, refueling, and the speed of fleet movements were legitimate. British assets, however, outweighed liabilities in these areas. How this was accomplished lies in the fact that all forces have strengths and weaknesses, and the Japanese with their kamikaze attacks had stumbled onto a vulnerability; these suicide planes were a deadly threat to U.S. carriers, but one to which the British were largely immune. This niche contribution would have grown in importance had the war continued. The British presence also increased the weight the allies could apply against the home islands. Moreover, the British were a morale booster to Americans serving in the Pacific. The presence of His Majesty’s ships and sailors meant that the burden of combat in Japan would be shared, minimizing to some degree the losses the United States would suffer and helping sustain public sentiment on the home front. Put simply, friends are good to have in a fight. Finally, the British presence serviced the political interests of both nations. The leadership in each capital realized they were stronger with an ally than without one.
Obviously enough, the issue of "niche contributions", "burden sharing" and "friends in a fight" are still critical aspects of intra-Anglospheric military cooperation. Britain and Australia in Iraq and the Canadians and the New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan have filled similar valuable roles in our recent military efforts. (Non-Anglospheric allies such as the Poles in Iraq and the Norwegian special forces in Afghanistan also made valuable "niche" contributions.)

The larger lesson seems to be that such "traditional" cooperation should not be taken for granted. There are always forces pushing against it. These valuable relationships have taken decades to develop and they should be cared for and cultivated in the years ahead. The world will be a dangerous place for a very long time and the peoples of the Anglosphere will always want friends who are ready, willing and able to bring their guns to a fight.

Cross-posted at ChicagoBoyz

Posted by Lexington Green at February 3, 2006 07:42 PM

Analyzed dispassionately, this makes sense. The fact that the various nations shape their fighting forces for their own particular situations means that a diversity of designs and approaches will be pursued. As Lex pointed out, this means that when a new and unanticipated situation arises, there a variety of solutions at hand, and at least one of them is likely to work. At the same time, the fact that the different forces share a good deal of history and culture, and have closely parallel institutional cultures, means that it is relatively easy to throw them together into pickup teams and have them work together reasonably well.

This was demonstrated yet again during the tsunami relief effort. The Indian Navy had never interoperated significantly with the US Navy before, yet because of the common elements of their institutional cultures, they found cooperation relatively easy.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at February 3, 2006 09:11 PM

Another sub-text in the British Pacific Fleet was clearly revenge. The RN battleships Anson and Howe were sisters of the Prince of Wales, sunk in December 1941, and the Japanese had sunk the British carrier Hermes in the Indian Ocean in early 1942. The RN had as much of a stake in pursuing the Japanese Navy as did the USN, it just isn't as well known in the United States.

Posted by: David Fleming at February 4, 2006 06:48 AM

A very interesting article. One important question this raises is how far the United States should be pressing for standardization of weapons and doctrine with allies. There is a balance to be struck here but clearly we need to think about costs and benefits in a qualitative as well as quantitative way.

Posted by: David Billington at February 4, 2006 10:48 AM

While "NATO compatibility" was one major reason for the Pentagon's shift from .45ACP to 9mm pistols, the field-experience from Iraq is shifting the US military back to the .45ACP for it's increased stopping-power at close-ranges and for Special Ops. In a sense, this is a metaphor to the US's need to look to the practical over the ideological-value of our European "allies".

It also demonstrates a shift away from "wounding an adversary"...to "stopping an opponent" as a combat paradigm. The Rules of War developed by the European powers over the last 400-years don't apply to our likely opponents in the 21st-Century; rogue regimes, non-governmental militias and terrorist organizations...rather than the traditional historic-example of nation-states. Our 21st-century opponents will not be slowed by the historic combat-ratio of one wounded takes three men out-of-combat and off the line. There will be no "lines"; and this is reflected by up-armoring and the shift back to .45ACP, the 30-cal. rifle, the 12-ga shotgun and even the new 50-cal. version of the AR-15.

Posted by: Ted B. (Charging Rhino) at February 4, 2006 01:11 PM

Interesting that you bring upAnglopsheric military cooperation. Here,s another trival but important tidbit:
back when Canada adopted the Brits took a look at teh canadian version and one thing led to another and the Brits adopted it. So did the Aussies and New Zelander. They set up a steering committee to coordinate the Commonwealth FN and to make sure that the NATO FN parts would be interchangable. Not totally successful but the steering committee was a good success.
I'm leery about the Americans imposing standarization. This is old history and is connected to the FN rifle and military procurement. The Amricans imposed the 7,62 cartridge in 1954 when the Brits were correct that a 7 mm bullet was more appropriate for assualt rifles (cf the current experimentation with the 6,8mm) later on the Americans went the opposite direction and sort of imposed the 5,56.
I favour the current NATO approach which is to negotiate the standardization and codifiy them under STANAG directives. It sucks but such practice is truer to our principles as open societies. Europeans and Canadians aren't always wrong with doctrine and equipment even if the Americans develop excellent equipment and think of innovative doctrine.

I think all of the NATO special forces have been great force multipliers and are probably the closest in standarization of equipment and shared military doctrine. The regular units less so but they're still part of the Western military tradition and can become as formidable as the Americans. It's political decisionmaking that blocks that lethality. However citizens from the EuroNATO countries can always change their minds.


Posted by: xavier at February 4, 2006 08:42 PM
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