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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
Nevertheless, he did make a few redeemingly accurate prophecies about the war in the air. First, he anticipated the kamikazes. The desperation of the Japanese after having seen their defensive rings of islands smashed, combined with their fanatical Emperor-worship, he said, would result injapanese aviators “never hesitating to ram when otherwise balked of their prey, preferring to immolate themselves. …” Second, Bywater foresaw that the torpedo plane would demonstrate its “complete superiority” over the bomber as an instrument of naval combat, since the six-hundred-pounders, which he judged to be the heaviest bombs that planes would be able to lift in the short take-off space provided by carriers, were simply not big enough -barring a down-the-stack freak hit—to sink a modern warship. As it turned out, except at the Battle of Midway, the Douglass “Dauntless” dive bomber, which carried a five-hundred-pound bomb, could not compare in effectiveness with the Grumman “Avenger” torpedo plane; the huge “tin fish” accounted for the great majority of heavy Japanese ships sent to the bottom by aircraft during the war. The rule was borne out by Japanese experience, too; enemy successes at Pearl Harbor as well as a few days later off the east coast of Malaya against the British dreadnoughts Repulse and Prince of Wales were the work of torpedo planes.
Bywater did not foresee the atomic bomb. And yet, curiously, he did perceive that something out of the ordinary would be attempted by the United States to spare both itself and its adversaries the horror of an invasion of the Japanese home islands. This coup de grâce , he guessed, would be a “demonstration” air raid on Tokyo in which the “bombs” contain leaflets urging the Japanese to petition their government to come to terms rather than “waste more lives.” American planes did indeed drop millions of leaflets over Japan urging the citizenry to petition Emperor Hirohito to end the war. In Bywater’s account the surrender is duly arranged after the “demonstration,” a treaty of peace is signed, and the former German islands mandated to Japan by the League of Nations are turned over to the United States “for their future administration.”
Needless to say, Hector Bywater was no ordinary fabricator of les guerres imaginaires ; he was right much too often. Not only did he predict a great many details of the coming war, but, more significantly, he spelled out in advance the daring, unorthodox strategy with which Japan would burst her confines in the Pacific. This strategy, based on the concept of the surprise destruction of the American fleet and simultaneous invasions throughout the southwestern Pacific, was novel; it leaned heavily on the elements of surprise and exact timing, which are always difficult to achieve in a tactical situation. It also violated the cardinal military rule of the concentration of an overwhelming force at a single point, positing instead the dispersion of already fairly weak forces throughout a far-flung theater of operations. Furthermore, the Bywater plan ran counter to the accepted war-contingency strategy that had been rehearsed at the Imperial Staff College in Tokyo since at least 1918. In the event of war with the United States, this rather conventional battle plan called for employment of the full might of the Imperial Navy in a crushing attack to capture the Dutch East Indies, on which Japan would depend for oil in time of war. Once these oil-producing islands were safely under Japanese control, the fleet was to be redeployed to lie in wait for the expected American counterattack somewhere in Japanese waters, against which the Imperial Navy would fight a defensive war. The majority of top Japanese Navy officials, led by Admiral Osami Nagano, chief of the Naval General Staff, favored this strategy until the very outbreak of war. Even Captain W. D. Puleston, the foremost American naval strategist of the period, wrote in 1941 that the American commander in the Pacific ought to be “grateful” if, in the event of war, “Japan should obligingly scatter her light [naval] forces, submarine and aircraft.” Influenced by this line of thinking, American planners did not take Bywater’s prophecies seriously.
However, Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the supreme commander of Japanese forces in the Pacific, harkened to a different drummer. It was Yamamoto who devised the plan for the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor together with simultaneous invasions throughout the southwestern Pacific—in essence the Bywater plan—and he was so ardent in his commitment to this strategy that he once threatened to resign unless it was adopted and put to the test. But how did Yamamoto come upon this remarkable plan for conquest? Could it be that he was influenced by Bywater? Could it be that in writing The Great Pacific War Hector Bywater had unwittingly composed the Mem Kampf of Imperial Japan?