January 23, 2008
A few miles out to sea, a metal behemoth sailed towards the harbor. On its flat wooden deck, a white painted number "6" gleamed in the Pacific sun. The Enterprise was coming home. The time: 710am. The date: December 7th, 1941.
The term "first order counterfactual" refers to the changing of one detail of a recorded event, and seeing where that change takes you. In the world of "alternative history," such as Harry Turtledove's writings, a first order counterfactual may be something as simple as the Confederate Lost Orders not falling out of an officer's jacket, leading to the United States being divided permanently.
742am. A huge flight of Japanese fighters and attack planes approach Pearl Harbor. Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, gazing out of the cockpit of his Nakajima B5N, has just keyed his radio to life. "Tora tora tora!"
Back on board the Akagi, the flagship of the attacking Japanese fleet, static whispers through the speakers of the radio room. Then, unexpectedly, Fuchida speaks again. "There's a carrier in the harbor!"
In the actual events of history, the Enterprise had been on a mission to Wake Island, delivering fighters to the garrison located there. Scheduled to return to Pearl Harbor on December 6th, she was running late... and thereby missed out on being the main target of the December 7th attacks.
A carrier battle group, steaming in formation, would have been a sweet target for a 20kt nuclear weapon. One bomb per CBG and Japan would have found itself without a navy in relatively short order. The limiting factor would then be how quickly the US could make atom bombs.
...which, if I recall Rhodes (Making of the Atomic Bomb) correctly, meant about 1-2 bombs per month in 1945-46.
Posted by: Ed Hering at January 23, 2008 02:09 AM (4/tk8)
Not quite that straightforward. The bomb was carried by a B-29 launched from Tinian. That was extreme range for B-29's. If the bomb was ready in August 1945, but there were no B-29 bases within range of the home islands, then what do you use it on? The idea of using it on enemy fleets is naive; they move and are hard to find for a long range bomber flying in from a base many hours away. B-29's were not a tactical weapon.
On the other hand, I'm not sure I believe the loss of the Enterprise on the first day would have had quite the catastrophic consequences described here.
Honestly, losing Halsey would have been more critical, but it's not certain he'd die in such an attack.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at January 23, 2008 06:02 AM (+rSRq)
Posted by: Mitch H. at January 23, 2008 07:20 AM (iTVQj)
What I meant to say is that although I'm really not an expert on the Pacific war, the "Lost Orders" counterfactual is a guarantee to pull me out of my cave and rant a bit.
Firstly, the famous lost orders were the *sixth* set of operational orders lost by either side in the late summer of 1862. The fluidity of the Rapidan-to-Pennsylvania operations meant that various divisional and army headquarters got overrun or otherwise compromised on a regular basis. Both Stuart and Pope's staff were scattered and overrun on separate occasions, both times losing their paperwork to the other side's benefit.
Secondly, it's been recently argued that the Union advance was actually *slowed* by the discovery, as it occasioned an additional iteration of McClellan's OODA loop, and perhaps cost him an extra six to eight hours as he paused to figure out what the discovery meant - and more importantly, whether it was real or a trick. He had already put his scratch force on the move - this is how they found the lost orders in the first place - and because of Stuart & the cavalry's poor showing in screening against this advance, he would have caught the Confederates scattered and unprepared regardless of the intel bonanza.
A far more interesting what-if is a situation where McClellan is *not* in control of the Union forces around Washington at the time of the Potomac crossings. The tenuousness of McClellan's authority in making the advance into western Maryland is often understated. A situation where Stanton & Halleck get crosswise with McClellan & put him under arrest for something untoward said by one of his hot-head subordinates like Fitz Porter or Franklin in the heat of the moment, post-Second-Bull-Run - I could see a situation where command chaos in Washington could have resulted in an indecisive fall campaign.
The key in the September 1862 campaign was what led up to the capture of DH Hill's superfluous operational orders in Frederick, not the contents of those orders. It was the fact that there *were* Union infantry in Frederick rummaging for cigars through the clutter of an abandoned Rebel camp, and not cooling their heels in front of the Washington defenses.
Posted by: Mitch H. at January 23, 2008 07:37 AM (iTVQj)
No battle of Midway, no four Japanese carriers sunk in one day. No destruction of Kido Butai and the Japanese continue to outnumber the US in the only manner that matters in the Pacific until sometime in 1943.
Yes, the A-bombs would be available in August '45, no question. Would the US have an airfield near enough to Japan that a B-29 could use by then? If you posit a year's delay in the arc of the Pacific War, Tinian wouldn't be invaded until August of 1945, let alone have the busiest airfield in the world.
It's all speculation, of course, and I don't claim to be able to read tea leaves... but the contents of this post have been bugging me for a couple of days, and I finally got a couple-three hours to put it on 'paper'.
Mitch, would any of those previous 'lost orders' be the plans for an entire season's campaign, like THE lost orders were? Please note that I honestly don't know; the Civil War has never interested me enough to study such details. Weak, I know, but what can I do?
Posted by: Wonderduck at January 23, 2008 08:09 AM (AW3EJ)
The result? Five ships of the target fleet sunk: two APAs, two DDs, and a CL. The Saratoga (CV-3) was more-or-less undamaged, though we know her electronics would have been zorched and any exposed planes would likely have been blown away.
So unless the US got lucky and dropped the bomb right above a Japanese carrier, it's not sure that it would have completely killed it. If it was dropped dead-center in the usual Japanese carrier formation, they'd be damaged, but probably not sunk.
It wasn't until Crossroads Baker that the Sara was sunk, and that was an underwater burst, which carry more shock power than airbursts.
Posted by: Wonderduck at January 23, 2008 09:04 AM (AW3EJ)
The B-29's range is the real limiting factor here, IMHO. The Pacific is a big ocean and the thing's combat range of 3,250 miles is not that great. And, of course, you couldn't get a satellite image to show you where the ships were.
Still, while my initial thoughts might be overly optimistic, I think the nuclear bomb option would make pretty quick hash out of the Japanese effort in the Pacific in 1945.
Posted by: Ed Hering at January 23, 2008 09:33 AM (4/tk8)
You wrote: Even a near miss with a nuke would cause a lot of Japanese sailors to get sick and die, and if you got enough of them, it would effectively kill the CBG until it could be remanned.
True. The thing is, the Japanese couldn't have remanned very quickly, if at all, because they lacked the skilled manpower. In prewar Japanese society, mechanical skill and technological experience--the prerequisites for a trained air department--were relatively rare. If Japan had had the ships to replace the four carriers lost at Midway a week after the fleet returned home, they wouldn't have had the air department personnel to crew them with. (There's a long discussion of this point in the recent Midway book Shattered Sword, which I highly recommend.)
On the other hand, Americans had mechanical skill and technological experience in abundance. It's been said that in every deuce-and-a-half full of American infantry--the ones left over after all the skilled gearheads were siphoned off by the Navy and Air Corps--there were at least two or three guys who could fix the truck if it broke down.
Posted by: Mike at January 23, 2008 11:39 AM (6gdkP)
Few ships have ever been as pivotal as the Enterprise. The scenario that Wonderduck outlines is actually qute likely IMHO. Enterprise was for a time the ONLY CV in the Pacific. Without her there is no aircover during that crucial time.
WD is also right that the capture of Tinian is what made the Atom Bombing possible.
Even if Midawy is fought, keep in mind that historically, Midway was an incredibally close run thing with 2.5 American CVs...With just 1 fully operational carrier plus,Yorktown the American long odds become quite dismaying. Also, Hornet was fairly ineffective in that most important battle, the kills were largely made by the planes from Enterprise and Yorktown. Take Enterprise out of the equation and the Japanese almost certainly win.
Without having half their air crew killed at a stroke, the IJN does not suffer from the acute experience shortage they did historically, they can afford to rotate some veterans for training and the smaller holes in their order of battle could probabnly be filled even given their slow training procedures.
If, due to the reasons Wonderduck gives the Japanese ignore Midway, then they likely concentrate on the Indian Ocean and actually execute the planned joint operation with Germany on Madagasgar. With 2-4 german heavies, (the "twins" plus a pocket BB or 2) plus a few detached IJN carriers the Indian ocean becomes an axis lake, leaving more than enough IJN assets to deal with the US for a time. The ANZAC convoys are swept from the seas, India almost certainly falls to revolution, insurgency and invasion, the Suez is threatened from the EAST and it is likely that an amphibiouys assault would be made to ensure that the vital minerals from South Africa go to the Axis.
IJN aircrews are even less deplested in this scenario.
Straying farther from the path, close cooperation with the IJN might convince the Germans to finish Graf Zeppellin and Peter Strasser which could complicate the Home fleets problem even more.
All in all a bad thing.
Thank you for that ray of sunshine Wonderduck.
Posted by: brickmuppet at January 23, 2008 09:06 PM (V5zw/)
Muppet, it gets worse. Assuming the war doesn't end in 1945 as it does, the USA wouldn't be in position to tell the Soviets to stay away from an invasion of Hokkaido.
Japan may very well have ended up like Berlin in the Cold War.
Posted by: Wonderduck at January 23, 2008 09:15 PM (UdB9M)
This assumes things go as well for the USSR as they did historically....if recious minerals are obtained by the Germans in abundance they would not be out of fuel. Chromium for their jet engines would have made a big difference in a bad way and if the middle east fell....the pressure on the USSR would have been very great indeed.
Posted by: brickmuppet at January 23, 2008 09:21 PM (V5zw/)
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at January 23, 2008 09:59 PM (+rSRq)
Posted by: Avatar at January 23, 2008 10:39 PM (LMDdY)
Not a chance. The chance that the plane carrying the bomb would have a malfunction and crash-land someplace the Japanese could get their hands on it wouldn't be taken under ANY circumstances. We barely let our friends know what was going on with the bomb, after all. The flight from Tinian, on the other hand, was completely over water... perfect for jettisoning the bomb where nobody untoward could get their hands on it.
The logistical problems with flying B-29s from China are well-documented as well. Throw in the added headaches of trying to get the various pieces of the bomb to the Chinese base, and it seems even less likely.
"Also, nothing about this scenario affects the new Navy scheduled to start coming off the blocks late 1943."
Granted, and mentioned in the body of the post. The first Essex came into the field in mid-'43, by the end of the year there were four.
And the submarine war could have been effected by the loss of the Enterprise. In 1942, the US moved a large number of subs to Australia. If Japan made their move towards Australia, that could have put a serious crimp in the sub campaign.
Nothing could have saved the day for Japan, really... just prolonged the bleeding.
Posted by: Wonderduck at January 23, 2008 11:11 PM (AW3EJ)
(From a lecture I had years ago at Air War College) This itself may be counterintuituive, but Pearl Harbor was actually a blessing for the US Navy. The Navy was still dominated by battleship admirals; Navy doctrine still favored the "decisive engagement" of capital ships slugging it out.
Pearl Harbor took the battleships off the table, leaving only the carriers as our remaining tools. Luckily for the Navy, the naval aviators had long been experimenting and thinking about using carriers for more than scouting and fleet defense (which was their assumed normal role). Thus, the Navy was forced to adapt to carrier-centric battle, which, thanks to the forward thinking of it naval aviators, was not as wrenching as it might otherwise have been.
Had the Enterprise been in Pearl during the attack, there arguably would have been no carrier force to turn to, and the battleship admirals might still have prevailed. A counter-attack might have waitied until enough battleships were on line. Then, an American battleship fleet (with carriers only in their usual scouting role) might have sailed out, seeking to "cross the T" with the Japanese Navy, only to get pulverised by Japanese carriers. Thus, the US Navy might have been delayed even longer in switching to carrier strategy, and the Pacific war might have thus lasted even longer.
Another lesson from Pearl Harbor: prior to the attack, US Navy ships had only a modest number of anti-aircraft guns sprinkled on the decks. After Pearl, all ships bristled with AAA guns of all calibers. Battleships became floating AAA batteries, and in an ironic twist, were assigned to help defend carriers when they weren't supporting Marine landings.
Posted by: Bob1 at January 23, 2008 11:15 PM (o4Y4V)
The only way japan could have avoided losing the war was to never start it. The imbalance was that great. Also after the actions at the beginning of the war the Kido Butai was limited by logistics. The Japanese never developed a forward refueling strategy and this severely limited their operational flexibility. For instance the Kido Butai could not operate off the US coast as Enterprise and Hornet could operate off the coast of Japan even early in the war. Loss of the Enterprise would probably mean that Wasp would be transferred to the Pacific earlier to replace her. Replacing Halsey would probably have been more difficult but I imagine that Nimitz would have found somebody, probably sooner rather than later.
Posted by: J Carlton at January 23, 2008 11:26 PM (1WtAL)
The Combined Fleet website is fantastic, by the way.
Posted by: Wonderduck at January 24, 2008 12:26 AM (AW3EJ)
As for the loss of the Enterprise, I surprised that no-one's made the obvious linkage: the American prioritization of the European theatres over the Pacific. In a context where the airpower assets were that badly unbalanced and the Pacific coast & Australia were effectively exposed, I can't see King agreeing to the historic compromise which gave priority to the war against the Germans and Italians. At the least, I'd guess that the North African and Med campaigns would have been shelved, and any diversion of resources from the Battle of the Atlantic might have been the last straw for the build-up in Britain.
Without the Enterprise, Guadalcanal wasn't happening, which probably would have resulted in the total loss of New Guinea. With resources as thin as they would have been without the Enterprise, would they have exposed the Lexington and Yorktown in the Coral Sea? Mightn't we have seen a re-trial of the Battle of Midway with an intact Yorktown and the Lexington in place of the lost Enterprise while the Australians get pinned into the Indian Ocean by a barrier of fortified bases across New Guinea and the Solomons?
I can't see an actual Australian front, if only because the Japanese Army just didn't have the resources to pour into another continental campaign.
Posted by: Mitch H. at January 24, 2008 08:19 AM (iTVQj)
It seems amazing in retrospect, that Japan would have started a conflict against such odds that even given near-perfect military successes, that it could not have won unless we were convinced to stop fighting. Yet, such things are often not defined by rationality, no matter how much men in suits sitting around tables may think otherwise. Not to de-rail the thread to modern times, but I suspect such an attack today would have a greater chance of success than it did then.
One of my favorite counterfactuals was actually posited by Rev. Sensing (http://www.donaldsensing.com/2003_10_01_archive.html#106729189888046907). What if WWI had ended early with a German victory? What if Moltke had not stripped troops from the western front prematurely, and had pressed the plan to its original design?
The world might have been a much better place. Given what we see today, I think that you could make the claim that maybe Western Civilization was mortally wounded in those trenches.
Posted by: Big D at January 24, 2008 11:12 AM (JJ4vV)
However, history is a malicious pachinko machine and things might not.
Given a successful Madagascar operation (and there is no reason to believe that Scharhorst, Gneisenau Prinz Eugen and select elements of Kido Butai could not have conquered the Indian Ocean) then the European front looks VERY different. Suez is threatened, this threatens Egypt from the EAST. The North Africa campaign suddenly looks different. IF Suez falls (and is useable) then Germany and Italy have DIRECT access to tremendous resources like the chromium and other minerals from Africa (say...Namibian cryolite). Burma and possibly India falling (bad) Even if Suez holds out or is rendered impassible, Madagascar is a staging area that allows, say 30 I boats to be added to the Battle of the Atlantic during the dark days of '42. The Japanese submariners and kit were actually pretty good, they were handicapped by doctrine....doctrine which would not apply if they were TAD with their German allies.
It gets worse...there is the specter of (unlikely, but possible) two IJN CV's added to the North Atlantic blockade to assist the German cruisers in scattering the convoys for their wolf packs. Remember PQ17? Imagine that 20 times over. Additionally, the "Twins" would make fine complements to the Kongo class in the Pacific, screening the IJN carriers.
The European Theater is going to be way harder for the allies even if the US agrees to Churchill's plea. Turkey probably turns to the Axis. (suck!)
This reduces the logistical chain on the German Panzers in the USSR. (suckity suck!)
Without Midway an important US submarine refueling/repair base is off the table. The effect of a successful blockade of OZ has already been mentioned.
The submarine campaign is harder and less effective until, perhaps '44.
Things would begin to turn around '43-44 but more slowly...possibly accelerating as the intrinsic racism in the upper levels of the two main Axis powers begins to unravel their alliance.
It is still a mess. The US is not building against Japan, but Japan, and a Germany un hobbled by strategic materiel shortages. The Eastern front might be rather different.
If things went this far south before turning around, does FDR even WIN in '44?
If he does not, then Dewey will likely find the State Department riddled with commie spies...and get rid of them.
Thus No Atom bomb secrets to the Russians. No sell out at Yalta.
If the USSR DOES survive as the USSR, then Eastern Europe doesn't fall behind the Iron curtain.
Hiss is in prison or gets a well deserved bullet in the head and so he doesn't get to keep putting Nagasaki on the nuke list, so all those allied prisoners (and the citizens of Nagasaki) don't die. (With no Hiss, Kyoto and Nara would not have been on the nuke list either.)
Perhaps the Cold War never really gets started. The benefits of that are incalculable.
However, that silver lining is tarnished by the fact that millions more die in WW2 proper. The Holocaust lasts longer killing several million more Jews. With a year or two of breathing room, perhaps the CCP gets hit by the Japanese rather than ignored. Or perhaps Chang Kai Sheck is finished off as here is no Burma road to supply him. If Mao and he CCP are destroyed, then perhaps tens of millions actually live...a net gain that would never be appreciated as the horrors perpetrated by that evil regime never come to pass.
WW2 could have been immensely longer and more costly, some of the more exotic German weapons might have made it to service. Would NY or DC have been hit by a dirty bomb?
How many readers of this post would never have been born if the war had accounted for millions more people?
Would there be, in the early years of the 21st century a duckbilled blogger who would post some spectacularly speculative revisionist post concerning some US carrier (an ignomimious footnote in history) and what might have happened if only she had been a bit late on what was historically her last voyage...to Pearl Harbor?
Posted by: Brickmuppet at January 24, 2008 01:25 PM (W6Ekm)
Big D, it's interesting you should mention the good Rev's post, because I was just reading a very similar article in the book "What If? 2"... the writer of that one basically says "Germany wins WWI, the world becomes a very happy place full of rye bread and rainbows."
Brickmuppet, for good or evil, it's almost a guarantee that yours truly would NOT be here if the war carried on for another year or two. My paternal grandfather was in one of the divisions slated to be the first wave in Operation Olympic (the invasion of Japan proper). He was a platoon leader as well, so it seems somewhat unlikely that he'd come out of the campaign unharmed.
If Grampa Mallard never made it off the beaches, my father (who was born in 1947, I believe) would never have been hatched... thereby depriving the world of the Wonderduck.
Posted by: Wonderduck at January 24, 2008 06:00 PM (AW3EJ)
I've really wanted to see the Rev's one wargamed out more... I can see a chance that Lenin would find fertile ground without ever leaving Paris, thus resulting in (possibly) yet another French attempt at empire, but it's sorta iffy--France is in a much weaker position geopolitically by 1900 than it is in 1800, and doesn't have the wits and luck of Napoleon in his early days to bail them out. In addition, in any kind of Red/White battle, there's a chance the Brits and/or Germans would intervene against Lenin in the first place.
OTOH, The Great Game would still be in full swing come 1918. Who knows what mischief they could have come up with (it'd be hard to top reality, though)?
Here's a cute idea... with no WWI, Britannia rules the waves with no loss of a generation, and remains our greatest rival. We end up siding with Japan *against* England around 1940 in an all-out naval war (this would require Japan to make concessions like "no raping, pillaging, or mass murder", of course).
Posted by: Big D at January 24, 2008 08:03 PM (JJ4vV)
I'm not even sure a US loss at Midway would have been that significant. Oh, sure, screws up the operations pattern for everything following. But while the US certainly took territory and defeated Japanese garrisons, it's entirely plausible that the war could have been won exclusively with logistics warfare, and the destruction of the Japanese carriers and pilots at Midway isn't a major contributor to that aspect of the war. If anything, lack of offensive fleet action would probably have spurred the US to a greater submarine effort...
Then again, the US didn't KNOW that at the time - while we can sit back on historical records of overpowering material warfare, there was a little more urgency felt by the actual participants.
In the end, though, nothing affects the timing for Manhattan, and it's not like there's any way to defend against it. (Well, aside from shooting down the bomber, good luck.) I don't know how you can plausibly rewrite WW2 and get around a quick end after Trinity...
Posted by: Avatar at January 25, 2008 03:07 AM (LMDdY)
I don't know how you can plausibly rewrite WW2 and get around a quick end after Trinity...
You can't get the bomber in range.
Of course, if China falls due to a lack of the Burma road then the first nation to have nukes used on them is Germany. Given ramping up of production on the nukes by the time Tinian or Iwo Jima are occupied there might be an attempt to have multiple Japanese cities hit by nukes simoultaneoulsly...though it is unlikely that even 5 simultaneous atomic attacks on Japanese cities would have cost as many lives as the firebombings did.
OTOH if the war goes into 46'-47perhaps the Japanese are so starved by the submarine offensive that they just give up. IIRC the USN felt that was the most likely scenario and opposed the firebombing for that reason.
Posted by: Ken Talton at January 25, 2008 01:33 PM (V5zw/)
I can't see the war cabinet surrendering, since a good chunk of them wanted to fight to the death IRL; but, I don't think it's impossible that starving citizens might not have revolted. That would have been an ugly way to end the war, though--millions dead from starvation, and parts of the military continuing to fight.
Posted by: Big D at January 25, 2008 03:21 PM (JJ4vV)
It should probably be pointed out that Nimitz's performance in the first six months of the war was considered miraculous -- and so it was. By 9 months after Pearl Harbor he'd stopped the Japanese advance and gone on the offensive himself.
That wasn't expected, and it wasn't according to plan. The expectation at the beginning of the war was that it would probably take until 1947 to beat Japan. Germany was rightly seen as the worse opponent, which had to be taken out soonest, so the situation in the Pacific was expected to stagnate for several years before enough production could be spared for anything like a major offensive there.
Loss of the Enterprise and a failure to win at Midway would have been approximately according to plan. If things could have been stabilized with Australia and New Zealand still secure, and Hawaii safe, that was about all the plan really required.
As it turned out, Nimitz did far better than anyone had any right to expect, and this actually made life harder for top command because he, and even more so MacArthur, kept clamoring for more resources to be able to follow up on those early successes.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at January 25, 2008 03:40 PM (+rSRq)
Posted by: J Carlton at January 25, 2008 09:07 PM (1WtAL)
I've read it, oh, six times since then...
Posted by: Wonderduck at January 25, 2008 11:49 PM (AW3EJ)
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