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Japan Strikes: 1941
Sixteen years before Pearl Harbor an English naval expert uncannily prophesied in detail the war in the Pacific. Now comes evidence that the Japanese heeded his theories—but not his warnings
December 1970 | Volume 22, Issue 1
Simultaneously with the destruction of the U.S. fleet and the invasion of Guam—in Bywater’s projection as in actual history—the Philippines come under siege. With the United States Navy out of commission, “the chief danger, the [Japanese] perceived,” said Bywater, “would come from the American aircraft.” Moreover, “thirty machines of a new and powerful type,” he declared, would just have arrived from the United States (in reality thirty-five new 6-17 Flying Fortresses did arrive by late November, 1941). Consequently, Bywater prophesied, hostilities in the Philippines would commence when Japanese planes “heavily bombed the aerodrome at Dagupan.” (Actually Clark Field, which had replaced nearby Dagupan, was attacked.) Bywater further predicted that the Japanese would have long scrutinized the topography of the Philippines. Provided with complete intelligence about the defenses of the islands, he reasoned, the Japanese invasion plan would give a wide berth to the fortress at Corregidor guarding Manila Bay as well as to the other heavily fortified base not far to the north at Olongapo guarding Subie Bay, both of which, in fact, the Japanese did avoid.
To confuse the island’s defenders, Bywater went on, the Japanese would try a diversionary bombardment at Santa Cruz on the west coast of Luzon. However, this stratagem was “so obviously a ruse to draw the [Americans] away from other parts of the coast that it failed in its purpose.” Here, the historical parallel is the actual diversionary Japanese landings on Luzon at Aparri and Vigan in the north and at Legaspi in the south, which General Jonathan M. Wainwright, the Northern Luzon Force commander, who was not fooled, believed to be feints. The major landings, Bywater wrote, would take place at Lingayen Gulf, northwest of Manila, and in “Lamon Bay between Cabalete and Alabat Islands,” southeast of Manila. The two forces would then converge on Manila “simultaneously from north and south.” The second largest island of the Philippine archipelago, Mindanao, would be invaded with a landing at Sindangan Bay, Bywater declared. The total invading force, he estimated, would consist of “an approximate strength of 100,000 men.”
Here again it was almost as if Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma, who commanded the Fourteenth Army, which invaded the Philippines in December, 1941, had done so with a copy of Bywater tucked in his pocket. Homma’s forces consisted of one hundred thousand men. Moreover, there were two main landings on the island of Luzon—one at Lingayen Gulf and the other at Lamon Bay, precisely between Cabalete and Alabat islands. Finally, a third major landing party attacked the island of Mindanao, also as Bywater foretold, although coming ashore at Davao Gulf on the southeast coast rather than at Sindangan on the northwest. Given the fact that there are over seven thousand islands in the Philippines and innumerable invasion routes with an almost infinite variety of combinations for simultaneous diversions and landings, the coincidences between Bywater’s book and the course of history are startling.
The first American attempt to carry the war into Japanese waters, Bywater imagined, would consist of a bold, indeed a reckless, stab at the Bonin or Ogasawara islands, which lie some five hundred miles southeast of Yokohama, not far from Iwo Jima, and which, if captured, might lead to a speedy conclusion of the war. In the attempt, however, United States forces would overextend themselves and be beaten back with heavy losses. It would then become apparent to the American commanders that the only practicable way to strike at Japan would be by means of cautious and deliberate pouncing from island to island all the way across the Pacific, carefully retrenching at each new base and pausing to bring up the rear. Three such routes across the ocean vastness are considered, and Bywater has the Americans select the same course that would actually be travelled by U.S. forces in the early 1940’s—across the stepping stones of the South Pacific— although the zigzag path of island hops that he described is slightly to the north of that actually followed, since Bywater did not expect the British Solomons or Dutch New Guinea to be included in the war zone. Nevertheless, there is a remarkable correspondence between Bywater’s campaign and the one later fought by General Douglas MacArthur. Moreover, once the Americans are within striking distance of the Philippines, the Imperial Navy is brought to bear en masse, and there follows a tremendous naval engagement destined, like the Battle of Midway, to become the turning point of the war.
It is at the Battle of Yap, as Bywater called it, that his account contains its most serious lapse: Bywater failed to foresee great naval duels, such as those later to be fought at the Coral Sea and Midway, in which the opposing surface vessels never fired a shot at each other, while trading devastating blows by means of their aircraft. Writing two years before Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic, Bywater understandably did not appreciate the might of air power.