Midway: When the Airplane Sunk an Empire (Part IV)

Image: ‘U.S. Navy ships sail in formation during a live-fire gunnery exercise‘. by Official U.S. Navy Page. Released under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License.

Analysis and Conclusions


The Empire of the Falling Sun and the Rise of the Eagle

The waves settle down beneath a blue sky and the warmth sun of the Pacific. The waters that were the scenario of a very intense and violent action, are returning to their previous calm state once the battle is over. Yet the seas were the only thing able to return to its previous state; Japan and the United States were very different once the battle was over.

For instance, when the battle started, Japan was the undisputed owner of the Pacific; as the battle ended, the bulk and best of the Japanese aircraft carrier fleet went beneath the waves, decimated. With them the aims of Japan and its quest for defeating the US Navy were shattered beyond point. Also, and as the aircraft carriers were the main assets for the encounter, being used in large scale and with no other warship taking direct part, the battle was historic.

The outcome of the Battle of Midway was unmistakably decisive for the War in the Pacific, not to say for the fate of the belligerent countries. At first, it changed the tide in the favour of the United States, giving it almost entirely the initiative afterwards, benefited by it industrial and economic weight. Yet Japan was far from absolute defeat, and more battles and campaigns – like Guadalcanal and the Gulf of Leyte, to name a few – would be necessary to defeat them and destroy their Navy. As Dahms (1963) Murray and Millet (2005) pointed out, Japan was still having a very good fleet with good quality traits, such as the very skilled artillerymen skilled enough for night-time combat and armed with good guns (as the Battle of Guadalcanal would make evident). And it still decided to carry on with the operations to seize some islands in Melanesia. Nonetheless, Japan was on total decline after the battle.

This decline was due to the heavy losses suffered by Japan, which were hard to replace as the economic and industrial might of Japan were very weak. But there was another factor that accelerated such decline and hampered Japan’s performance (for the rest of the war). Indeed, Japan proved to be a hard enemy to defeat, but as Canales & del Rey (2016) and Murray & Millet (2005) explained, the Imperial Navy kept the outcome of the battle from the Army, worsening the clash between both branches, and also lost its aggressiveness and initiative, relegated to a mere defensive strategy. This despite having 4 aircraft carriers, numerous island and naval bases at its disposal, and the chance to replace the losses (yet at a lengthy and costly process, worsened by the extension of the war in time).

As it became a mere defensive weapon, the Japanese yielded the initiative almost entirely to the US Navy and put itself under the mercy of a determined and advancing US Navy, thus weakening and defeating itself. The US Navy, on the contrary, was about to receive new and better naval aviation and aircraft carriers, acquiring the needed tools to push the Japanese back regardless of costs and time… as time was clearly in favour of America.

Being a mere defensive tool meant that the Japanese Navy contributed in consolidating the initiative the US Navy acquired, and also ended in placing itself under the crosshairs of the advancing US Navy under a long and painful self-weakening dynamic. A US Navy that was about to receive more advanced fighters, torpedo-bombers and bombers, alongside new and state of the art aircraft carriers that would enable it to push the Japanese back, no matter the costs and no matter the time – and time was definitely in favour of the Americans.

Worse enough, the defeat at Midway only worsened the serious issues within the Imperial Navy and the Armed forces in general. First, the rows between the aircraft carrier school and the battleship school, with the latter prevailing and making the Navy to look for a decisive encounter with battleships, so to repeat the deed of Tsushima, even for a good time after Midway, as Gibelli (1972), Kennedy (2007) and Thomas (2007) remarks. This, of course, is one of the most basic strategic mistakes Japan made: to repeat the same strategy and formulas of past conflicts – which normally are different in context and nature. This is but one of many strategic mistakes of Japan, which will be reviewed below.

Lessons from the high-seas

Every battle provides two series of lessons. First, lessons related to international affairs and geopolitics, considering that battles are not only part of a conflict but – like wars – a result of years of tensions and competition between two or more powers over a given geographical area, with such tensions and competitions having a crescendo when colliding at any point. Even if that point is located in the middle of nowhere. Second, lessons of military nature: this means, strategic, tactical and operational lessons, being all intertwined.

War is politics by other means…

This is one of the main statements by Clausewitz about war, very crucial to understand the factor behind a war and a battle[1]. As such, the place where politics by other means can take place might be at that same given point in the middle of nowhere, with an apparent lack of strategic value – having in fact a lot, as it was reviewed. Battles have a tendency to take place in locations of some value for either side or both, even if those locations are not located at places that could be considered valuable – like a crossroad, a pass, or a geographical area and accident. Actually, areas of strategic interest for naval purposes can be islands or straits far from inhabited areas and from the shore, increased only if located near important SLOCs. In fact, trade and economic interests can add value to such position; even more, interests elsewhere could make that given point even more important, moreover if it is vital to protect those far interests. This was the case with Southeast Asia, Pearl Harbour and the same Midway for Japan and the US. For the former, to protect the conquered territories of Indochina and Indonesia and their valuable oil and other resources. For the latter, to support its advance to the Philippines and to protect both the Hawaii Island and the continental territory. Midway was simply a valuable platform for supporting national interests and projecting power either east or west[2].

This importance was correctly assessed by both sides simply because of its location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, hence making vital its control or neutralization. Since the US controlled it, it was pivotal for US naval (power) projection into the Philippines and to protect its territories.

Given the important geographical location of Midway, the second lesson is that geography and geopolitics are important, even more during battles. Moreover, when considered in group alongside previous and current political development and a large historical background, one can understand the strategic and national objectives and interests as they can be framed by the aforementioned factors[3]. This is when war becomes politics by other means, as it becomes necessary to meet them and/or assert them vis-à-vis the adversary.

This holds even more true when two or more competing nations have overlapping interests right over the same area[4]. Therefore, competition will inevitably follow, even reaching an open conflict; prior the conflict and during the “peaceful” stages of competition, competing powers would be placing their military assets at locations crucial for asserting and protecting their interests, and to project thus their power towards the area of interest[5]. Those assets would be ready to defend those areas when conflict sparks, with battles normally deciding who controls what and who can’t. Like the Battle of Coral Sea.

Since competition is inevitable, the period prior Midway showed that diplomacy and rapprochements might not help in preventing the inevitable, as rivalling powers will see each other with concern and suspicion, even preparing for conflict during rapprochement and diplomatic efforts. As they assessed the other as a threatening competitor, they will be preparing the war – and plans – against the other, even if at a point both sides are allies for a period of time. Moreover, diplomatic bargains and agreements can be counterproductive, as concessions by one side can further stimulate the ambitions of the other, as it could see them as a blank check to advance further on its interests. The deals between Japan and the US are the example here. And such bargains can only give one side more time to prepare for war.

In the same way, measures aimed at curbing the interests – and advances towards – of one side could further stimulate its assertiveness and aggressiveness instead of halting it, as that said might see it as a blockade against it thus being encouraged to be more aggressive. This is very likely when concessions took place previously, or if that said power is forced to give up on its gains, being resentful at the point of being alienated. If there are pressing economic concerns worsened by sanctions and blockades, odds for open conflict – strategically questionable or not – will be very high.

At sea is not a chess but a game of Go…

As it was stated in the partIIIa, strategy is very similar to the ancient Chinese game of Go, where the aim is to surround the enemy by occupying the most number of tiles. On naval warfare this is the main principle driving its action, be peacetime or wartime. It might sound simple, but this is far from reality. Indeed, land warfare also requires the control of important strategic locations, but encounters are more like a chess; naval encounters might have this chess-alike nature, but battles tend to have more the essence of Go behind. The common underlying element is that warfare at any dimension are still rules by the general principles of strategy.

Naval warfare requires a good level of preparedness and responsiveness, simply because the commander of naval forces must be aware of threats above the sea, on the sea and under the sea; it is also subjected to the fog of war, which has a larger extension thus making harder for him to detect the enemy fleet while avoiding detection at the same time, and despite the current technology. As such, naval warfare is not only a set of Go, but also a game of cat and mouse where both are more like ghosts looking for each other.

In the light of this, Midway provides a good number of lessons of strategic and military/naval nature. Lessons that could be useful even in the light of high technology and powerful naval weaponry.

The first one is the abovementioned desire of the old battleship school to wage the tactics and strategy of a past war. Not only because it is a repetition of the same formula that will work only once, but also because of the big technological difference between Tsushima and World War II: on the former the battleship, still ruled by most of the traditional naval tactics; on the latter, the aircraft carrier. It is unwise to use the tactics that were useful in a past war. As Musashi (2007) puts, repeating the same technique is wrongful. Another important strategic mistake the Japanese made is the most common and most harmful of all mistakes possible: they underestimated the Americans at the point of thinking they would not be willing and ready to take on their challenge[6]. This was further stimulated by Japan’s overconfidence on its on assets and capacities, and the relative easy victories they achieved for the first six months, which made them think they were invincible. They underestimated their enemy while overestimating themselves.

This mistake prompted, in turn, a third mistake. This was comprised by arrogance, which might benefit the adversary, as it did in the end. As arrogance, overestimation and overconfidence usually do, the Japanese thought that further military victories and conquests were possible. This not only led to an overstretching of the very scarce resource of Japan, worsened by the fact that the war was becoming lengthy against their best hopes. This attitude also resulted in giving the Americans the chance to understand and know better the Japanese, and to realise their strong and weak points, thus adapting themselves to be able to defeat them. Midway was the result of such process of ‘understanding the adversary’. And this is a rule in every conflict. Arrogance is the worst enemy of every army, and warfare is about understanding the enemy while being adaptable[7].

But there are more strategic mistakes made by the Japanese. For instance, be by bad luck, wrong evaluation or both, it failed in destroying the warships that ultimately allowed the US to put in practice its pre-war plans and exert a flexible and mobile initiative and offensive, let alone to set in motion its overall strategy. As the aircraft carriers were left untouched, the US kept the assets enough to strike back despite inferiority, with the Tokyo Raid being an example. When attacking, the objective must be accomplished at its fullest[8]. Also, despite a recognition to the dire situation and no alternatives for Japan, a surprising and pre-emptive strike could be a self-defeating move, even more if the enemy is not evaluated correctly. As Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, it filled the US with determination enough to make use of its industrial and economic power; this might be the additional consequence of unprovoked pre-emptive strikes, as they can simply give the targeted nation to be fully determined in defeating the aggressor. Any force must consider carefully who attacks, and where is about to hit.

There were two additional mistakes by the Japanese. First, the division of forces weakened the strength of the attack. Second, the operation lacked adequate preparations and, as it will be reminded below, there were serious issues with the chain of command. In any case, the chain of mistakes of strategic and operational nature compromised the very scarce but valuable naval assets of Japan. As such, it is important to remind that, given the importance warships have for the strategic objectives, power projection and prestige of a naval power, naval operations require a very careful planning so not to lose these same high valuable assets that are quite hard to repair, unless having enough industry to cover the losses at a good rate. In any case, the loss of warships is also a serious issue, as they are useful for harming the adversary strategically by controlling areas of the sea and denying the adversary to control them, or even access them, at the point of hampering its same economic interests and stability as a nation[9]. In the light of this, the aim of Japan of destroying the US Navy in a single encounter by ambushing the bulk of its diminished fleet was in strategic terms, very accurate. It was the strategic and operational mistakes what doomed the plan.

But additional factors other than strategic also contributed to the outcome of the Battle of Midway, providing also a wide array of lessons.

As a matter of fact, the composition of forces and assets of both sides were equal at a first glance, since Japan and the US were having aircraft carriers, naval aviation – fighters, bombers and torpedo bombers embarked in the aircraft carriers – and their respective intelligence services, which were very capable and skilled with good preparation and training. But a closer look reveals the how the crucial differences between the two adversaries played a role in the battle, and in the end, in the war.

For instance, the strategic and material superiority of the Japanese Imperial Navy and the very dire and inferior situation of the US Navy was deceitful. As such, an adversary with superiority in numbers and with a good strategic situation facing a weakened adversary does not have its victory granted.

Here is where the first difference takes place. This is the aircraft carrier and its air power. As it was reviewed in part IIIa, both sides committed at developing the aircraft carriers in technical and operational aspects, at the point of having the most operationally efficient and capable warships of this time, capable of carrying a large number of airplanes and anti-air defences. Even their designs were very similar, which enhanced flight deck operations and allowed to concentrate the electronic equipment in a single area. Also, both sides developed and designed the airplanes purposed to be operated in the vessels, with well-designed, sturdy, capable and well-armed airplanes. In other words, assets matters; but even more, technology matters. Simply because good assets can make the difference when facing the adversary in battle.

The keywords for this acquisition of good assets are “right policies”. Such policies are the main requirement and the crucial element behind the creation of assets needed to meet and/or asserting national interests (defence and deterrence included), let alone to allow a nation to fight a war. Assets are also crucial for the conflict that would be foreseen by the strategists of each nation, as it was the case with Japan and the US, for both clearly assessed that war with other was inevitable at a certain point. Given how crucial is the preparation of assets prior a conflict, it is also important to implement any military build-up very carefully, as the most minimum fault might have very serious consequences for the fate of a nation. here is where the second difference lies. And it is here also where Japan was filled with several fault-lines that resulted in its defeat at Midway, and in the end, costing it the war.

As it was remarked, the Japanese focused on having very high-quality aircraft carriers and other naval (air) assets, which can be a very good input for operations. The problem is that elite-based forces and assets are also very hard and costly to replace, even more when those are the set of initial forces. In addition, they are especially vulnerable to exhaustion and attrition, with losses forcing the quality of the armed forces and fleet to be sacrificed for quantity. This negative effect is further worsened if the bulk of the armed forces is based upon elite forces, moreover if the abovementioned lack of financial and industrial solid basis is present. This was the first fault-line that costed japan the battle of Midway[10].

If the material resources available are very scarce, making difficult the replacement of losses, such difficulty will worsen if there are strong competition and rivalries within the armed forces as it was the case between the Japanese Imperial Navy and the Army. Political aspects were also present, especially the bitter clashes between the civil government and the armed forces. All of the previous factors, when combined, constitute the second fault-line: the resulted in a lack of cooperation between the Imperial Navy and the Army and a lack of cooperation between the government and the armed forces, and also in a lack of overall unified (strategic) criteria. The Japanese attack against Midway had their forces divided; in reality, there was a strong and self-defeating division within Japan that weakened the force of its offensive and the force and solidness of its armies and fleets. They were defeating themselves long before the battle. A similar situation can defeat any nation beyond any repair.

The third fault-line within Japan, which also nearly neutralized any advantage Japan had thanks to the initial superior quality of its assets, was the abovementioned prevalence of the ‘Old Battleship School’. In a more general sense, any current within the armed forces in favour of an outdated and strategically irrelevant assets, will result in hampering the technological development by denying their own armed forces of assets and weaponry that could bestow a better firepower or a certain advantage vis-à-vis any adversary. This could also result in ignoring other types of weapons that can be useful for securing the country in wartime or allowing the armed forces to effectively threaten the enemy; Japan ignored anything related to submarine and anti-submarine warfare, increasing the vulnerability of its sea-borne supply lines as the US submarines were free to strangle Japan by attacking the commercial ships. Submarines were also used as mere scout during the battle.

This is a sharp contrast with the case of the US Navy, as it implemented more efficiently the policies oriented at creating the needed assets (and the needed quality), alongside the devising of the needed tactics and operational aspects of both aircraft carriers and naval aviation, and the appointment of skilled officers – familiar with that type of assets – as commanders. Innovations that enhanced capacities of both warships and warplanes were the product of exercises and drills, which effectively complemented the abovementioned measures. More importantly, the Navy’s own flexible and independent structure, the attention given to AA defences on the ships, and the available resources enabled the US to create a good quality Navy in basically every aspect. This quality would make itself evident during the Battle of Midway. And basically, for the rest of the war.

Strategically speaking, the US did something that now we can evaluate as pertinent, if not entirely correct, and this is to take initiative. Despite facing adversity and having numerical or material inferiority, not to mention that strategically speaking, it was a compromised situation, the US Navy decided to have some aggressiveness and initiative right immediately after Pearl Harbour, from the Tokyo Raid that had a very strong psychological impact[11], and the limited but fiery offensives at basically all the fronts in the Pacific. This initiative also helped the Americans in gaining valuable experience and learning more their adversary, identifying the Japanese strengths and weaknesses and thus devising both the weaponry and tactics to deal with them. Initiative is to be maintained always, even when facing the odds. The Americans knew their enemy by experience. This accumulated experience, as a result, prepared the US Navy for the battle to come. In relation to this, and as it was abovementioned, the wrongful Japanese against Pearl Harbour awoke the “sleeping dragon” the US was, then using all its available resources to wage war against Japan, enhancing its forces and their performance upon the abovementioned accumulated experiences. In contrast, the Japanese were subjected to exhaustion, attrition and losses[12]. The Americans were able to turn defeat into victory by adapting and maintaining initiative, being able to overcome themselves in the process[13].

The US Naval intelligence proved to be much better than that of Japan, acknowledging that both were of good quality. Sun Tzu once stated that war is basically based upon deception[14]. As such, it is in the intelligence services where the capacity to set the deception or to detect it lies. This is the main reason why they are a very important element within any armed forces, as well as the fact they can penetrate deeper into the fog of war. Or more practically – and related to the Battle of Midway – it can break through the codes of the enemy, deciphering them and then capable of detecting its intentions[15]. In addition, a good intelligence service can be a very helpful tool for a commander to gather, process and evaluate the information correctly and efficiently – as it was the case with Admiral Nimitz – so to devise good strategies and plans for the battle. Hence, a good intelligence service is simply a must. On this way, it is also imperative to protect the own information – not to say the codes for such information – so to prevent the enemy to know one’s intentions. And a good intelligence service could dismantle the adversary’s own deception by setting a counter-deception, at the point of making it to make mistakes and to ‘reveal’ itself and its plans. Intelligence is as vital as information is. It is crucial to know the intentions and essence of an enemy[16]. As Musashi (2007) remarks, it is vital to have intuition. This intuition can be in great part thanks to good intelligence services.

As it was made evident, the commanding factor is equally crucial during any battle and war[17]. Mainly due to the fact that good leadership is vital, and even more for naval warfare. Traits such as character, personality, skills, training and formation, alongside flexibility, and capacity for initiative and responsiveness are all vital when a commander must take a decision during a very crucial – and often heated – moment requiring split-seconds decisions. Nimitz and the American subordinates were an example of this. Also, the Americans were able to grasp the possibilities and the aims of the Japanese.

In the same way, shortcomings will become that evident at the point of damaging the operational outcome of forces beyond repair. The Japanese, in fact, were having a large number of shortcomings on the commanding factor. For instance, the Japanese commanders were very strict and stuck to the textbooks, blindly following orders thus lacking flexibility and responsiveness and lacking initiative. Moreover, some of the Japanese commander were not the adequate commanders for the type of operations and assets used. There was also hesitation and lack of decision, as Nagumo lost valuable time when deciding the tack of attacks to execute after the initial bombing of Midway; it was because of this lack of decision that ordnance was stored on deck, being vulnerable to the bombs of the American SBD Dauntless dive-bombers.

If the commanders are full in overconfidence and arrogance, they and their forces will be going to battle blind to the real nature, strengths and capacities of the adversary, clearly underestimating it. This is worsened if there is no concrete information on the enemy, or if the same enemy has set a rouse to further deceive the commander in question, aided by his arrogance and overconfidence. As such, there is a general tendency for evaluating and expecting the enemy to behave in accordance to the ideas, preconceptions and prejudices… or basically to expect for the enemy to behave the way one would like upon oneself logic. This was the greatest mistake of Yamamoto, and a mistake that is a direct way to an important defeat.

Additionally, a good chain of command is important as it transmits and materializes orders and plans efficiently and right time, managing properly the action of subordinates and troops or sailors. As such, a good chain of command giving room to initiative, flexibility, responsiveness, independence and a sort of deliberative attitude can achieve a better operational performance resulting in a good outcome. The US was able to win at Midway thanks to this fact as well. On the contrary, a very authoritarian, inflexible and rigid chain of command that prevents initiative, flexibility, independence, responsiveness and subordinates to do suggestions will lead any force into bad performance and defeat. And a strong reliance on textbooks and preconceived ideas also denies capacity to react to situation out of the textbook of the plans, resulting in mistakes and consolidating the path towards defeat.

…until the time for the encounter arrives

With this said, now there can be a closer approach to the battle itself. First, an important battle can be – most of the times – pre-defined by previous encounters and events, as well as by elements beyond the military ones. The Tokyo Raid is a clear example, as it impressed the Japanese very deeply, at the point of insecurity. That insecurity and other considerations made japan to execute further operations, with Coral Sea and Midway included. The same Coral Sea battle played a role by diminishing the Japanese naval forces, diminishing the imbalance in number of forces and highlighting the US capacity to recover from any loss[18]. And the Japanese offensive against Ceylon delayed the changing of the codes, giving ample time for their deciphering by US Naval intelligence. In addition, Japan failed in neutralizing the most important naval asset of any navy – even then when attacked Pearl Harbour. It was their ‘lost opportunity’[19].

Secondly, and as it was briefly pointed out above, the Battle of Coral Sea gave the US Navy to take the initiative, and also the opportunity to test and hone tactics, being able to ‘measure’ and understand better its adversary. This is the observation here: well-learned lessons and the implementation of those from past encounters and operations can enable one to prepare well the own forces, and to wage with optimal performance a battle.

Third, luck and chance are, inevitably, elements that will be present in any battle[20], with the outcome of any being almost decided by these two factors. They can overcome the most fully prepared plans by any army or navy. As von Moltke once stated: “plans never survive the first encounter with the enemy”, with von Clausewitz remarking that luck is the ultimate element both in war and battle[21]. As such, it was at a good extent a chance and luck that the US Naval intelligence was able to break the Japanese coded due to their slight mistake of not changing them for a while; it was a matter of luck that the US carrier forces were able to detect first the Japanese the same way the Japanese submarines were not able to detect the US aircraft carrier forces as they were delayed in reaching their ordered position. It was also a matter of luck that the American dive-bombers found the air defence system of the Japanese concentrated on other threats, finding their way open, and exhausted by the actions of the previous uncoordinated waves of airplanes. And its was a matter of luck that all the dive-bombers converged almost simultaneously, with luck being the factor that made those airplanes to sink and empire, when a series of bombs happened to strike just were the ordnance was accumulated, sentencing the Japanese aircraft carriers and its aims.

And fourth, battles can be a decisive moment, yet not enough to put a war to an end inmost of the times; more encounters, a large campaign and more battles might be needed for one side to entirely defeat the other side.

At the seas, airpower is king

When thinking about naval warfare, the first thing coming to mind is about warships, facing each other with their guns or even with their missiles, and about submarines chasing each other or even threatening the commercial or military ships of the adversary. This is still true, somehow, but since the wake of the 20th century and both world wars, four new weapons emerged as important, with two of them becoming the capital ship for every important navy: those are the submarine, the missile, the aircraft carrier and the naval aviation. The last three are the ones that changed the shape of naval warfare. As controlling the air space is essential for any country during any war or campaign, having a warship capable of carrying airplanes is important to gain that control over the skies, so to protect the own forces and to defeat effectively the enemy forces, is important[22]. But also having the right airplanes for the task is necessary: planes able to neutralize the enemy air assets, airplanes capable of hitting the heart of the enemy territory, airplanes capable of defending the own naval forces, airplanes capable of hitting the enemy ships and submarines that are far away from the own forces[23].

The battles of Coral Sea, of Midway, of the Gulf of Leyte, the Falkland Wars, the same Battle of the Atlantic, and the series of small conflicts and interventions taking place in the third world after WWII, are all an evidence of the importance the aircraft carrier and naval aviation has regained for naval warfare and for the abovementioned operational objectives. Moreover, the aircraft carrier and the naval aviation are now an essential asset – and tool – for every major navy to assert its interests, project its power and determine the outcome (be military or political, or both) of any situation or crisis taking place somewhere else and that might affect those interests[24]. Also, the primacy of the airplanes shows how a small and comparatively cheap asset can change the course of a conflict or assert/deny the interests of a given nation, in a short period of time and with more room for action and agility in comparison to sea-based assets. And as with Midway, how a few decimated the best of a fleet.

In the light of this, it is clear that naval warfare evolved in both World Wars at the point of becoming the main weapon in relation to sea power, as its capacities allowed any navy to effectively neutralize and/or destroy the naval assets of the adversary, altering or changing the outcome of a conflict. The airplane proved its value and dangerousness as it was able to destroy the bulk of a carrier force in less time than an encounter with warships would have required, as it was the case in Midway. Or the capacity of the airplane to dislodge the ‘choking’ campaign against the shipping lanes by the U-boots, as it happened in the Battle of the Atlantic with the escort carriers and the aviation embarked there. Even more, the naval airplane proved to be capable of changing the fate of a nation, shattering its strategic and national objectives and ambitions or consolidating its hegemony over a disputed territory, let alone the national and strategic interests. Naval warfare has changed for good, with (naval) air power becoming as important as the battleships and guns were once. There is however, one striking similarity: as the old battleships and gunships, the aircraft carriers and their air assets are used as a political tool for intervention and crises. In any case, the introduction of new technologies hints that in the future, the carrier-based airplane will remain crucial in an era where power is airborne and where pilotless and intelligent air assets are gradually becoming mainstream. It is yet to be seen, however, how naval warfare will be changed by those new technologies and developments.




[1] See: Von Clausewitz, 1999, p. 37, p. 47, and pp. 291 – 309. And: Herwig, 1998, p. 70.

[2] Also, a war elsewhere can bring a given rising power into the area of interest of a local power – like the US-Spanish 1898 War did with the US – that will feel challenged, even more as the new power can see necessary to protect the newly acquired territories closer to the mainland of the local great power. This protection requires military/naval assets, obviously.

[3] As Friedman (2015) puts, Geopolitics basically frames the behaviour and pursuit of national interests by the nations – and their leaders – and other international actors (pp. 30-31). Owens, in turn, points out that Geography constraints or facilitates the foreign policy and strategy of every nation, and the way they assess their (in)security vis-à-vis other states (pp. 59-60).

[4] This competition can take place between a rising and a traditional great power, two rising powers or two traditional powers. And even between a local and an outsider great power.

[5] This lesson is similar to the one reached during the analysis of the Battle of Kadesh… simply because this is a sort of general law when studying the dynamic between great powers and the inevitable tendency for competition and conflict. See: The Battle of Kadesh, part III.

[6] To be fair, the Americans also underestimated the Japanese seriously up until Pearl Harbour, as Murray & Millet (2005) pointed out.

[7] Adaptability is a ‘must have’ attribute for every armed force, air force and navy, according to Murray (2009). Cfr. p. 1. In relation to arrogance, this is listed as one of the worst faults of the commander by Sun Bin (1996).

[8] See: Musashi, 2007, p. 39 and p. 49.

[9] The most prolific examples are the blockade of Germany by the Royal Navy in WWI, the German submarine campaigns in both world wars, and even the American submarine campaign against Japan in WWII. See also footnote 19.

[10] As Sun Bin (1996) puts, trying to compensate the things that are lacking and that an enemy state has in large surplus will harm the own forces. See: p, 143.

[11] Striking fear by a surprise in the hearts and minds of the enemies is an important tactic for Musashi (2007). The Tokyo Raid did basically that.

[12] As Murray & Millet plainly put, Japan simply made a political – and strategic – mistake when attacking US territory. See: p. 261.

[13] Following Musashi (2007), it is imperative to adapt by experience to the enemy, and to overcome and improve oneself, as well as to have always the initiative.

[14] See: Sun Tzu, 2014, p. 37.

[15] The Japanese lack of care with their own codes contributed the US Navy intelligence to break their codes and uncover their plans. And set the famous rouse.

[16] Knowing the enemy and knowing oneself is something that both Musashi (2007) and Sun Tzu (2014) point out as essential for any war or battle.

[17] Following Musashi (2007), the general – or admiral – is like the master-carpenter, managing the forces and how the plans will take place, while the soldiers – or sailors – are those who put into practice the plans (pp. 17-19).

[18] The reparation of the USS Yorktown, which was damaged in the Battle of Coral Sea, in a very short period of time, is a feat and an example of US capacities to recover any sort of loss. Noteworthy to remind that the Japanese actually considered her as sunken.

[19] Cfr. Cau, 2011, p.169; Macdonald, 1993, p. 64; and Canales y del Rey (2016).

[20] See: The Battle of Kadesh, part III.

[21] See: Von Clausewitz, 1999, p. 44.

[22] Cfr. Bergamino & Palitta (2015), Canales y del Rey (2016), Crawford (2001), and Kaplan (2008).

[23] As Ross & Sandison (2008) points out, aircraft carriers – and embarked air assets – have at either peace or wartime 9 tasks: corrective force; preventative force; precautionary force; demonstrative force; disaster relief; ASW; air defence; strategic/tactical reconnaissance and strike; and air-to-ground support (p. 79).

[24] As Kaplan (2008) points out, and in a more general approach, fleets are important instruments for political power, as it is the mean that facilitates the most the projection of national power far from the main territory, even more in combination with the air power – naval or land-based – and exerting political and diplomatic pressure (pp. 78-79). Friedman (2015) also points out that naval power is important for the control of the two main oceans, as well as of the international economic system (p. 23). This allows to understand more the capital importance aircraft carriers have for both naval and national power.




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