Five Things Japan Could Have Done to Beat America
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Five Things Japan Could Have Done to Beat America


How could Imperial Japan have defeated the United States during the Second World War?

I'm not much of one for alt-history; it's too much like writing fiction, a genre for which I have no gift. Prophesying about what would have happened had one of the antagonists done this or that quickly degenerates into a guessing game. Still, it is possible to identify some things Tokyo could have done to improve its chances of prevailing over an industrial giant that only needed time and resolve to build up overwhelming military power. Bottom line, the weaker side has to fight smart to win against the strong.

Herewith, my list of five ways Imperial Japan could have offset the resource disparity:

Don't fight land and sea wars simultaneously. Unable to referee between the army, which espoused war in continental Asia, and the navy, which beckoned his attention seaward, the emperor permitted both campaigns to proceed. Tokyo thus disregarded the strategic wisdom of a Carl von Clausewitz, who warned against opening new theaters that place success in the primary theater at risk. The emperor failed to adjudicate between the military services — and thus compelled the empire to fight a far stronger power with only a fraction of its strength. Dispersing power is misbegotten strategy for the weaker belligerent.

Bob Holliman
January 29, 2014 at 09:11

As was the case with Germany, the simplest single thing Japan could have done to improve its chances of defeating the Allies would have been to take better care of its information. Code-breaking (and code protection as exemplified by the code talkers) gave the United States a huge advantage in the Pacific. Midway is the most dramatic example, but the day-to-day impact must have been enormous. Never assume your knowledge of the enemy is accurate, and never assume your enemy’s knowledge of you is inaccurate.

udaya kumar
February 18, 2014 at 18:17

Do you think japan should have followed 5s principal in production of there fighting flights.

January 9, 2014 at 16:31

The two major mistakes Germany and Japan respectively made were:
1. Germany should have never ever opened the Eastern front and when they did, they stopped short at Stalingrad with one much discussed reason, Hitler’s inability and fear of Russia and
2. On the same page if only Japan would have agreed to Ribbentrop’s proposal to enter the Eastern Front together and meet in the middle of Russia, then everything would’ve been won.
The Japanese Imperial Navy was decimating the US in every theater in the Pacific except submarine warfare.
The muricans not only never saw such determined sacrifice and tenacity, they had no way of counter balancing it. It’s troops were frozen with fear. If these two would’ve been done, or at least no.2, Germany and Japan would’ve eaten the US alive. Both navies combined with Musashi, Yamato, Tirpitz, Bismarck, Scharnhorns, Gneisenau and the fleet of japanese aircraft carriers and german Uboat fleet, the United States would’ve been eaten alive. England was already dead with the V1 and V2 rockets and the atomic bomb was a couple of months away at Peenemunde. Very fast end of the war. I only think about the white G’s, Guderian’s Panzertruppen, have taken France and half of Russia in a matter of weeks.
The US didn’t win anything, Germany and Japan lost it by one hair. That’s reality, not assumptions.

January 27, 2014 at 14:12

Won it by a hair? Japan stretched itself too thin. Colonial forces in Korea, garrison forces spread throughout it’s Pacific islands. Forces in French Indochina, the Malay Peninsula, Java, Papua New Guinea, and of course in China, where it not only fought the Nationalists but the Communists as well. Germany..Hitler decided he didn’t like only having to keep the British bottled up mainly on their home island and in North Africa..he thought, hell why not open a front in the Soviet Union.

I just like how your post tries to undermine the efforts of America, the British & Commonwealths, the USSR and the partisan forces in occupied territories..while painting a picture of Japan and Germany as the superior forces who should coulda woulda. They never had a chance because of their superiority-complex.

mark francis
January 3, 2014 at 20:51

Japan depended upon its merchant navy for all imports of natural resources and something like 75% of food.
It took barely any precaustions to protect its merchant shipping from US & allied submarine attack. At the beginningof the war, Japan claculated it needed 6m tons of shipping and it psossessed 6.5m tons. In 1942 losses were contained due to the ineffectiveness of the US Mk17 torpedo & no precautions such as a convoy system were deemed necessary. Once the USN had sorted out its technical problems they slaughtered Japanese shipping. By surrender there was only 23% of tonnage remaining and most of its ships werestuck in port because they had no fuel owing to all thye tankers being sunk. The Imperial Japanese Navy was only interested in fleet actions and even when convoys were instituted they were small (2-15 ships) and ill co-ordinated due to the fact that skilled radio operators were constantly called up into the navy or military.
Destroyers crews were trained for fleet action not anti submarine. They sank 41 Us submarines, but claimed 468. They would detect submarines but due to their fleet training would attack too fast and lose contact. On one occasion 100 depth charges were dropped without hitting the submarine but they claimed a kill anyway simply because they had dropped so many charges.
Additionally priority was given to the Army for troopships and the Navy for supply ships, so any such losses were made up by requistitioning merchant ships, concentrating the losses within the civilain fleet. 40% of troopships were sunk. The USD also by passed many islands in its advance without strategic significance. The IJN continued to attempt to supply isolated garrisons of no strategic worth, with a consequent and pointless loss of shipping.

Britain- which was less dependent on imports than Japan- prioritised convoy protection, spending 10 times defending them than the Germans spent on U boats. The Japanese spent next to nothing. Even “coastal command” anti-submarine patrols (901 air Group) were requisitioned for scouting for the fleet and then wiped out by US fightyers.

Without the bombing campaign, Japan would have starved without the need for an invasion. This might have caused even more casualties than the bombing.

Also there was the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, which apparently caught the Japanese commanders by surprise, despite the fact that the Russians announced at the Yalta Agreement they would attack within 3 months of VE day and attacked in exactly 3 months to the day.
The Japanese lack of any half-decent tanks meant the Soviet advance was limited only by the top gear of the T34.
It seems the US wanted to bring the war to a close on terms of unconditional surrender (which apparently the Japanese had no word for) whereas the Japanes had been putting out feelers towards a conditional surrender prior to the atom bombs.
Ironically the concessions the US administration made – principallu allowing Hirohito to continue as Emperor – made such a distinction meaningless, since they effectively allowed the conditions asked for.

December 8, 2013 at 10:06

japan could not have won as the japanese admirl has stated “we knew there was a gun behind every blade of grass”

November 22, 2013 at 05:43

Your writing is very complicated and poetic. Is this to impress us or you think that you master war and peace. Just say it simple. I did not understand your point, maybe only the first one, Use either Army or Navy at one time, but I do not think that this is right or a choice in a war. The reason the Japaneis lost is quality and quantity of material, period”.”

November 28, 2013 at 10:52

I agree. This is the worst piece I have ever read. I can not understand it either. You use the term home team and defender. My understanding is that the US is the defenders, since we were attacked, but according to your writing I have no idea what you are talking about..

August 18, 2013 at 23:23

For Japan – it could never get Germany / Italy to strike that grand deal or bargain.  That aspect saved the US and USSR.

Lauren Garza
August 18, 2013 at 07:06

People, and nations do that they THINK they can get away with.

Facts , Not Opinions
August 15, 2013 at 06:15

1903 ….. Think about the wars, Korean US War, Japan US,  Russian Japanese War, etc….


April 26, 2013 at 06:57

Good points, I wanted to comment on the last part of your post. I have always wondered about German-Japan relations following an Axis victory. The Germans, of course, felt the were the superior race and all others subservent. What would keep the Nazis from invading and destroying the Japanese Empire once they had Europe/North Africa under their control.

April 17, 2013 at 23:44

Japan could have "won" by not fighting the US at all. Japan could have-and should have-coordinated with Germany and Italy to attack the USSR. Oil could have been captured from the Soviet Far East and from a limited operation in the Dutch East Indies. The Japanese Navy should have stayed concentrated and in reserve… and been ready to fight potential batlle against the USN in the western Pacific… just as it had been designed to do. Fighting the numerous and powerful USN in the South (eastern) Pacific , many thousands of miles from Japan, was NOT was the IJN was designed to do. And it was clear to Yamamoto that a protracted war against the US was very possible… and not winable. Therefore, he was AGAINST a war with the US. I'm sure many in the Japanese high command knew this. Japan's real problem was that their Army lacked the proper equipment to go head-to-head against the Soviets in the Far East. Japan was simply unable to execute the obvious strategic move at the critical moment.For all the Bushido BS-this was the brutal truth.

El Sid
April 12, 2013 at 04:05

If you're talking about Red Hill, the ASCE reckon the first tank wasn't ready until September 1942 :

There were lots of good reasons to abandon the third strike – the weather was getting worse, it would have needed night landings which they hadn't trained for, and they were already at the limits of their logistics. And of course there's that whole conservation of forces thing.


April 11, 2013 at 07:00

Well the only real turn of choices I see that Japan could have made to alter the final outcome is just one.

Delay the attack on the US and allied nations by 1-2yrs. In addition to that if Japan had done as their allies the Axis powers had requested and used their land forces to invade Eastern Russia and threaten/invade Siberia, they would have changed the whole dynamic.  The Soviets had over a million men in Siberia and E Siberia that once they saw Japan was not going to attack were then able to redeploy this force around Moscow at a critical time when the Nazi momentum was just slowing but they Soveit western army was exausted or gone.  The Japanese forces holding down this Soviet force in the east would have seen the Nazi's capture Moscow before the winter and probalby force Stalin into a peace settlement putting the border east of the ural mountians.  

The Nazis then would have turned south to the ME and instead of n africa the allies would have had to fight the gerth of the Nazi army across the ME (tank land).  The US would have been drawn in with the balance shift but it would have been much more bloody without the Soviets to grind the Nazis.  

Don't know if the final outcome even then would be different the US is a beheomath but it would have been very different and the axis would have had a very good shot if nothing else the war would have been much longer.  Japan unfortunatley regardless of the final winner would have been destroyed neither the US nor the Nazis had any plan on letting Japan be a Asian power giant.

William McDill
February 22, 2013 at 14:22

Excellent point.  Japan had already pulled off a 'soft conquest' in French Indo-China. A similar insinuation of troops and personnel into the Dutch East Indies would have probably not faced military action from the Brits (they already had a lot on their plate) and getting the US to get involved would have been impossible- after all, the main threat was Germany and the Dutch were insignificant.  But the Japanese never thought about war in a Clauswitzian way- never as a rational exercise.

February 20, 2013 at 07:39

Some good points. The seeds for Japan's entry into war with the Western powers lay in its treatment after the Boxer rebellion. The way Japan saw itself, and probably still sees itself is the leader of Asian world. Japan being hemmed in by Western powers was preventing it from establishing a larger empire.

There was little Japan could have done to win this war once it attacked the US. Yamamotto understood this clearly as he had seen the industrial might of the US. Possibly sinking the US carrier fleet would have helped, but that might have added a few years to the Pacific war.

Japan had too small a population to control the region it envisioned as its empire. One of the reasons (and I said one) they did not invade Australia were the number of divisions it would have taken to occupy Australia. The same for West Coast. It is possible they could have held parts of the West Coast, but that would have had little impact on US war production.

You can really almost say that Japan lost the war because the Germans failed at Dunkirk and failed in invade England. Had Germany done that, Britain, France, etc would not have been able to hold onto their Asian holdings and sued Japan for peace.

Long term though, I think Europe would have crumbled under German occupation due to economic pressures. But that is what frequently happens under Fueher system.

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