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Posted on Jun 26, 2007 in Front Page Features, War College

Defending the Imperial Fortress

By Arrigo Velicogna

Fixation with the decisive battle

Leyte, the largest naval battle of history was again a complete disaster. Notwithstanding the supreme effort made, all the flaws of the previous years were combined in a single operation. Land based air attacked on their own, both before and after the naval engagement; widely separate task forces were defeated in detail and a lack of quick communication between the various commanders wasted the only real opportunity of the entire battle. In the end the supreme sacrifice of the once mighty mobile fleet (the concentration of Japanese carriers) used as a bait to draw their American counterparts out of the true battle zone (an effort in which it succeeded) accomplished only the destruction of the remaining Japanese operational carriers.


Sacrificial Pawns; the once proud Japanese flattops, here the Zuikaku, act as decoy in the battle of Leyte

Leyte was the end of the Japanese Imperial Navy for all practical purposes, but wasn’t the end of the war or of the fixation on the decisive battles. Next it was the time of the army to plunge with abandon in that concept at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Deprived of any form of external support the heavily reinforced garrison at Iwo Jima conducted a skillful defensive action conducted mainly from underground and interconnected fighting bunkers (an American officer commented during the battle that Japanese defenders weren’t on the island, but inside it) and bled to death 3 marine divisions. In one of the rare occasion of the war the Japanese fought also on the tactical defensive and used firepower instead of iron will and cold steel. But while the defense of the volcano island was a relative success (success in this phase of the war was inflicting more casualties to the enemy than their own, even if that meant the annihilation of the entire garrison), it wasn’t repeated in the next clash.

American F6F fighters pound Japanese defences on Iwo Jima

On Okinawa the Japanese were prepared to wage another decisive battle with supporting weapons. The Island was under the air umbrella from Japan itself, the remaining (few) units of the Navy were ready to sail in support of the defender and the garrison was one of the strongest faced by the Americans on a single island. And again the plan was to bleed the Americans and then smash them with a counterattack.

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