With Our Navies Today

The War Illustrated, Volume 9, No. 210, Page 134, July 6, 1945.

It has taken three months to conquer the island of Okinawa, in spite of the fact that the initial landing after a series of bombardments by the U.S. Fifth Fleet under Admiral Spruance met with only light opposition. Apparently the Japanese had based their preparations on the belief that the American forces, marines and soldiers, would be landed in the south-eastern sector of the 60-mile long island. Instead, they came ashore near its centre, on the west coast.

Though the Yontan airfield was occupied with trifling loss, an immensely strong line of defences was encountered to the north of Naha, the capital, and it took weeks of the hardest fighting, with heavy casualties, to overcome the resistance that developed thenceforward. It became a matter of entirely wiping out the Japanese garrison, together with a considerable number of civilians who had been drawn into a defensive organization. As at Iwojima, caves and underground galleries formed part of the scheme of defence; and in some areas high cliffs honeycombed with these workings had to be scaled by the Americans.

All this time the Fifth Fleet was protecting the anchorages in which lay the transports, landing craft and supply vessels maintaining the invading forces. No longer able to muster sufficient sea strength to intervene effectively, the Japanese have for some time past devoted their energies to “suicide” attacks, using both aircraft and flying bombs directed towards their targets by pilots prepared to sacrifice their lives to this end. Though great numbers have been shot down by Allied planes and A.A. guns, some of these attacks have had a certain degree of success, as evidenced by casualties officially reported by the Navy Department.

Okinawa Operations Rank With Those for Normandy Invasion

These casualties included loss of 11 destroyers, the U.S.S. Bush, Colhoun, Drexler, Emmons, Halligan, Little, Longshaw, Luce, Mannert L. Abele, Morrison and Pringle. All are fine modern vessels designed for operating in the Pacific; the Mannert L. Abele, indeed, was one of the 2,200-ton ships of the Allen M. Sumner class, considered by their builders to be the last word in destroyer design. With the exception of the Emmons, which is a 1,700-ton destroyer adapted for minesweeping duties, the others all belong to the 2,100-ton Fletcher class. Two fleet minesweepers of 700 tons, the Skylark and Swallow, together with two destroyers converted into transports, the Dickerson and Bates, have also been lost, as well as a number of supply vessels, landing craft and other auxiliaries. Various other warships of different categories have received damage of a more or less serious nature.

It is clear, therefor, that even regarded from a purely naval standpoint the Okinawa operations deserve to rank with those for the invasion of Normandy; for though the actual number of ships employed may have been less, they had to operate from bases far more distant. Once the troops were put ashore, the protecting warships had to depend for supplies on their own resources in the way op depot and repair ships, as the nearest base able to deal with a fleet's immediate needs was Guam 1,500 miles away.

With Okinawa in U.S. hands, a fresh base will doubtless be established there, simplifying problems of supply and opening the way to future attacks upon enemy installations in the other islands of the Ryukyu group, in Formosa and in Japan itself. Its excellent harbour facilities were undoubtedly one of the main reasons for the choice of Okinawa as an objective.

If it has taken a quarter of a year to overcome the resistance of the Okinawa garrison, how long will it be before the main Japanese forces—hardly tapped up to the present so far as armies are concerned—are defeated ? The United States Secretary of the Navy, Mr. James Forrestal, recently stated : “I expect that the Japanese will fight with increasing tenacity an fury as our power begins to concentrate on their homeland. We have seen evidences of that fury at Iwojima and Okinawa. It will take the full power of the tremendous war potential that we have mustered in the past four years if we are to secure complete, unequivocal and unconditional surrender of the Japanese militarism.” From this it may be assumed that we shall be lucky if we see the end of the war in the Pacific in 1946.

Enormous Concentration of Naval Power Building-up in Pacific

For the subjection of Japan there is now being assembled in the Pacific the largest concentration of naval power the world has ever seen. In addition tot the fleets provided by the United States Navy, which is now nearing the peak of its strength, this country is dispatching additional ships and personnel to the Far East as fast they can be provided. It may be assumed that in the course of a few months there will be left in European waters only such forces of the Royal Navy as may be considered sufficient to deal with any local difficulties that may emerge from the aftermath of a great war. Ships so employed will be mainly the older units, with those more suitable for service in home waters and the Mediterranean, such as the smaller cruiser and destroyers of the escort type.

Two instance of the ingenious methods used by Germans to facilitate the operations of the U-boats have recently come to light. One was a compact little handbook, Die Handelsflotten der Welt (Merchant Fleets of the World), containing particulars of every merchant vessel in existence. As in the case of Lloyd's Register, from which the details would appear to have been copied, there are listed in two sections, the first comprising ships op 1,000 tons gross and upwards, the other smaller craft. A most ingenious code enabled the user of the book to refer to a series of outline drawings showing the appearance of each ship, so that the identification of every type was a simple matter.

In the introduction there is an elaborate key to this code, with examples of how it should be used. It consists of letters and figures denoting the number and arrangement of masts, funnels and deck erections, and reflects credit on the author of the book, Dr. Erich Gröner. Before the war Dr. Gröner was well known as the illustrations editor of the German naval annual, Taschenbuch der Kriegsflotten. There is no doubt his mercantile fleet handbook proved of considerably greater value to the German Navy that the publication with which he was first connected. Other sections of the book contain lists of shipowners all over the world, with the ships controlled or managed by each, and the names of the principal shipbuilders in each country. U-boat captains must have relied extensively on this handy little volume.

Another instance is equally interesting. In spite of precautions taken since the war began, tide tables of the estuary of the St. Lawrence, the great river of Eastern Canada, were found in U-boats that surrendered. These tables had also been regarded as confidential since 1939, but it is not easy to keep inviolate data of this kind, which from its very nature have to be communicated to numbers of people. Possibly when enemy records come to be examined the channels by which such information travelled may be exposed.