Japanese and American Naval Power

I

IN discussing the forthcoming Conference at Washington and the issues to be raised there, the Japanese newspapers, with very few exceptions, assume that under no circumstances whatever will the Imperial Government consent to abandon the so-called ‘ eight-eight ’ programme of naval construction, because, as they insist, it represents the irreducible minimum of naval strength needed by the Island Empire for its own security and that of its overseas interests. The Chuo, a semi-official organ, denies that Japan entertains any fresh scheme of naval expansion, and adds: ‘All that we wish to do is to complete a national defense programme which was decided on long ago. For our part, we see no necessity for restricting our naval armaments; nor, indeed, is there any margin for curtailment.’ It would, however, be a mistake to interpret, these press utterances too literally. From recent speeches by the Foreign Minister, Count Uchida, and the Minister of Marine, Admiral Kato, it is clear that official Japan does not regard the eight-eight programme as sacred, and would be prepared to consider its revision, in the event that the other great powers agree to make corresponding reductions in their own navies.

In his address to the Gubernatorial Conference held at the Home Office, Tokyo, on May 4, Admiral Kato made the following significant statement: ‘The Japanese Government indorses the theory of disarmament in principle, and is ready to support any concrete plans for the carrying out of disarmament proposals.’ At the same time he took occasion to explain that the eighteight programme was in no sense a new scheme. It originated, he said, as far back as 1905, and was based upon the experience gained in the war with Russia. Previous to that war the Japanese Navy had been organized on the principle of a ‘six-six’ squadron, that is, a main battle-fleet consisting of six battleships and six armored cruisers, with a proportionate complement of ancillary vessels. But the engagements fought in the Yellow Sea in August, 1904, and in the Sea of Japan in the following year, showed this fleet to be too limited in numbers to carry out its tactical functions with full effect. It was consequently decided to increase the strength of each armored squadron by 25 per cent, thus making the tactical unit a battle-squadron of sixteen capital ships, half to be battleships and the other half armored cruisers.

Such a squadron was actually formed soon after the war by utilizing the armored ships captured from Russia; but as most of these vessels were obsolescent, the practical fighting value of the first eight-eight squadron was considerably below its paper strength. Admiral Kato argues, therefore, that the construction programme on which Japan is now engaged signifies nothing but an attempt to make up for the deficit caused in the eight-eight tactical scheme by the withdrawal of obsolete ships. Germany, it will be recalled, used the same argument to justify her intensive building under the successive Flottengesetze, which enabled her to ’replace’ small and ancient coast-defense ironclads by super-dreadnoughts of the most powerful type. Used in this connection, ‘replacement’ is therefore something of a euphemism, though it would be unfair to criticize Japan for borrowing a convenient word, which has been employed by other powers in justification of new naval programmes. And, as a matter of fact, the Japanese navy as it exists to-day docs include a fair number of capital ships so old and weakly armed that their only role in action would be that of defenseless targets.

To attempt to explore the extraordinary financial intricacies of the eighteight programme would be a thankless task, but its significance in terms of naval tonnage is more easily explained. The Japanese battle-fleet consists at the present moment of ten ships of the dreadnought type, including battlecruisers, and only one of these ships (the Nagato) comes within the scope of the eight-eight programme. This means that 15 more dreadnoughts remain to be completed, five of which are already under construction, leaving ten ships yet to be laid down.

Let us now turn for a moment to the American battle-fleet. At this date — September — it comprises 20 dreadnought battleships completed, with 15 additional capital ships in various stages of building or completion. In ships of the line available for immediate service, it thus outnumbers the Japanese fleet by two to one; and the position, superficially regarded, is so entirely in favor of the United States, that the idea of Japan’s attempting to contest the supremacy of the Pacific may seem absurd. Of that, more anon. The point to be noted is that, as regards capital ships still in the building stage, — that is, ships which incorporate the very latest ideas as to armament, protection, and other military characteristics,— the two powers are absolutely equal.

The international naval view, which may possibly be exaggerated, is that ships designed before the battle of Jutland are so inherently inferior to those designed subsequently, that the result of a duel between a pre-Jutland ship and a post-Jutland ship would be a foregone conclusion: in other words, that the post-Jutland type of capital ship has rendered all her predecessors totally obsolete. That there are grounds for conceding this claim in large measure will be denied by no one who is conversant with current developments in naval architecture, ship-protection, ordnance, and so forth; and the fact that pre-Jutland and post-Jutland are labels which are coming to bear much the same meaning in naval circles as that which attaches to pre-dreadnought and post-dreadnought is sufficient to indicate the importance attributed by students of naval warfare to the line of demarcation between ships dating from these respective periods. While it might be straining a point to assert that all capital ships belonging — as the vast majority do — to the pre-Jutland era would be useless in any future sea fight, it is unquestionably true that naval opinion has lost confidence in these vessels and is ready to consign them to the scrap-heap as soon as they can be replaced. As we have seen, Japan and the United States are both at work on large programmes of postJutland capital ships; and it is at these programmes we must look, not at the respective fleets of older ships, if we wish to form a true estimate of relat ive naval strength in the Pacific a few years hence.

II

Of the 15 big ships authorized by the eight-eight programme, only one has been completed to date. This is the Nagato, commissioned in December, 1920, and at present the largest and most powerful battleship in the world. With a displacement of 33,800 tons and a speed of 23 knots, she is 1200 tons heavier and two knots faster than the Maryland, America’s first post-Jutland vessel, which is now performing her trials. Both ships carry a main battery of eight 16-inch guns, and may be classed as equal in fighting power, though the Nagato’s superior speed might give her an advantage in certain conditions. A sister to the Nagato, the Mutsu, is practically ready for sea, and will join the flag before the close of the year. The next two battleships of the eight-eight programme are the Kaga and Tosa, laid down last year and due for delivery in 1922-23. They will displace nearly 40,000 tons, and are credited with a battery of twelve 16-inch guns, which is identical with that to be mounted in the American Indiana class. Next come four battle-cruisers, the Amagi, Akagi, Atago, and Takao, all of which are expected to be in service before the end of 1924. These vessels are approximately of the same size, speed, and armament as the six American battle-cruisers now building.

Of the eight remaining capital ships to be built under the eight-eight scheme no definite information is available, save that four of them will be battlecruisers. As these vessels have not yet been begun, their designers, having had the advantage of studying current developments abroad, will be able to endow them with tactical qualities on the very latest principles. Two of the battleships to be laid down next year, the Owari and the Kii, are reported by Japanese papers to be designed for an armament of 18-inch. If true, there would be nothing surprising in this, for Japan has always had a partiality for very heavy guns, and was, in fact, the first power to arm her cruisers with weapons which had previously been carried only by battleships.

In this connection attention may be drawn to an important circumstance that is almost invariably overlooked in making comparisons between the present and future standing of the Japanese and American navies. Whereas all the 16 capital ships authorized by the American three-year programme are already under construction, and their essential characteristics known, only half of the 16 capital ships for which provision is made under the Japanese eight-eight project have been actually begun. The remaining eight may therefore prove to be vessels of unprecedented dimensions and fighting power, in which case all estimates of future comparative strength based on the principle of ‘counting noses’ would be vitiated. This is not by any means an improbable contingency, for on three occasions since the dawn of the Dreadnought Era, Japan has enjoyed for a time the distinction of possessing the most powerful capital ship afloat, namely, the battle-cruiser Kongo in 1913, the battleship Fu-so in 1915, and the battleship Nagato in 1920.

Of course, it may be argued that the conventional method of appraising relative strength by the formula of battleship tonnage is no longer admissible, seeing that the primacy of the big ship has been impeached by authoritative critics, such as Admiral Sir Percy Scott. This, however, is not the place to discuss the present status of the battleship in the naval hierarchy, nor is it necessary to do so, in view of the fact that the three leading navies of the world have all decided to perpetuate the battleship as the chief tactical unit. Then, again, it is conceded, even by members of the ‘anti-mastodon’ school, that the great armored ship may still prove valuable, if not indispensable, when war has to be conducted in so vast an arena as the Pacific, however much her value for operations in the restricted waters of the North Sea or the Mediterranean has been depreciated by the evolution of submarines and aircraft. Consequently no excuse is needed for basing an estimate of naval power in the Pacific on the dimensions of the respective battle-fleets.

At the same time, it would be a great mistake to ignore the many other types of ships represented in every modern and well-balanced fleet. Light cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and auxiliaries are essential components, and the absence of any one of these types would mean a corresponding reduction in the efficiency of the fleet as a whole.

Japan, it must be confessed, has shown a keener sense of proportion than the United States in developing her ship-building policy. She has never committed the error of putting all her money into battleships, and neglecting to provide the satellites without which the big ship is a more or less blind, groping, and vulnerable Goliath. Since the year 1904 the United States has authorized only 13 fast light cruisers, whereas Japan, in the same period, has provided 27. The disparity becomes still more pronounced when it is remembered that throughout this period the United States has possessed more than twice as many battleships as her rival.

This omission to build an adequate number of fast scouting vessels imposes a severe handicap on the American fleet even in time of peace, and would undoubtedly be a matter of grave concern in the event of war. As the three scouts of the Birmingham class, completed in 1908, are now obsolete, and as the first of the ten new scouts building under the 1916 programme is still uncompleted, the fleet at this moment does not dispose of a single fast cruising ship, and is therefore dependent for reconnaissance duties on its destroyers, which have neither the fuel-endurance nor the seaworthiness to perform such work efficiently.

Japan, on the other hand, is reaping the fruits of a wiser policy. Irrespective of certain older ships, which are too slow to work with a modern fleet at sea, she has 10 fast cruisers completed, 4 building, and 12 about to be laid down under the eight-eight scheme. From these figures it may be inferred that she attributes to the fast scouting cruiser an importance secondary only to that of the capital ship, and the experience of the World War suggests that she is right. That conflict had not been in progress a month before the principal naval belligerents discovered the urgent need of fast cruisers, and forthwith proceeded to build them in large numbers. Between the outbreak of war and the Armistice Great Britain had laid down no less than 40; and Germany’s effort in the same direction was limited only by the exigencies of her huge submarine programme. It was one more case of history repeating itself; for Nelson a cent ury earlier was always calling out for ‘more frigates,’and finding himself hampered at every turn by the lack of speedy scouts to keep in touch with, and bring intelligence of, the enemy. Under modern conditions the functions of the light cruiser have expanded, and although certain of her duties may in future devolve upon aircraft, she is, and will remain for many years to come, a most necessary adjunct to the battle-fleet.

III

After their wonderful records of service accomplished during the World War, it would be superfluous to emphasize the unique value, in their different spheres, of the destroyer and the submarine. There are some critics who hold that neither type would find in a Pacific campaign so many opportunities for useful work as they found in the late struggle, which was fought, for the most part, in narrow seas and within easy reach of fuel stations. This holds good so far as the destroyer is concerned. For the rough-and-tumble work of patrol, submarine-hunting, and convoy escort, the medium-type destroyer of 1000 tons or thereabouts proved adequate for all practical purposes, and was therefore rapidly multiplied by nearly all the belligerents. America, in particular, created a record in massproduction by building 270 destroyers to a standard design; and thanks to this sudden spurt, is now amply provided with destroyers of a staunch, fast, and well-armed type. She can muster, in round numbers, 300 boats, all of modern design. The Japanese total is barely one third of this at present, but it will rise to 150 when the eight-eight programme is complete, not counting half a hundred older boats that are still good for many years of subsidiary service. Japan, however, has not adopted the system of standardization in building up her destroyer flotilla. Her method is to build boats in groups of 10 to 20, each group an improvement on its predecessor, with the result that her latest classes are larger, more heavily armed, and have a wider range of action than the American ‘flush-deckers.’ In effect they are small but very fast cruisers, of 2000 tons or more, steaming 36 knots at full speed, and mounting a battery of five 4.7-inch guns. Twenty boats of this design are known to be under construction, and in all probability a certain number of the 40 new destroyers for which funds have been voted will prove to be even larger and more heavily armed. On the whole, therefore, the American margin of superiority in destroyers is less than the bare figures seem to indicate.

The relative position in submarines is less easy to define, owing to the intense secrecy in which the Japanese naval authorities have always shrouded this branch of their service. It is doubtful whether anyone outside the Tokyo Navy Department knows either the exact number of underwater craft that Japan has available at the present moment or how many she has on the building slips. All that can be said with certainty is that most of the statistics and other data relating to the Japanese submarine flotilla which appear in foreign naval textbooks are unreliable, notwithstanding the fact that they are derived in some cases from official sources in Japan. The eight-eight scheme provides for an establishment of 80 submarines, all of which are to be ready for service by the end of 1927; but this total includes only ‘first-line’ boats of the latest design and largest dimensions. By the date in question Japan will probably have an additional 50 or 60 boats of older and smaller types, which would, however, be quite effective for short-range operations and coast defense. A careful analysis of information that has reached the writer from a well-informed quarter shows Japan to have ordered from 90 to 100 submarines of all types since the year 1903. At least 45 of these boats have been completed, leaving about the same number still under construction or contracted for. To these must be added an unknown number of new boats to be built under the eight-eight programme. By far the major proportion of the boats built or ordered in the past five years are of the ocean-going type, planned with a view to long-distance cruising.

In deciding the characteristics of their latest submarines the Japanese naval constructors have been influenced by the design of the surrendered German U-boats, particularly those of the submersible cruiser class. Of the 10 boats begun in 1919 (numbers 27 to 36), each displaces 1100 tons, and will have a surface speed of 17 knots. Cruising at economical speed, they will be able to cover a distance of 11,000 knots without replenishing their oil-tanks. A larger type, of 1250 tons, armed with one 5.5-inch rapid-fire gun and four torpedo tubes, was begun last year; but even this will be eclipsed by the huge submersibles reported to have been ordered during the current year— with displacement of over 2000 tons, a speed of 18 knots, and a battery of two 5.5inch guns and six torpedo tubes. The Minister of Marine is anxious to increase the submarine programme to 150 boats, all to be in service by 1926; but apparently he has not yet gained parliamentary sanction for this scheme. Nor is it likely that the Japanese industry would be capable of producing so many large submarines by the date in question. Even as it is, the Government has been compelled to place contracts for many sets of submarine engines with European firms.

The American submarine flotilla now consists of 154 vessels, only 63 of which are officially classed as ocean-going, the remainder being ‘coastal’ boats, with a nominal cruising endurance up to 5000 knots, though many of them could not traverse half that distance on one load of fuel. Hitherto American naval policy has differed from the Japanese in assigning to submarines a rôle that is mainly defensive, underwater craft having been regarded more as instruments for coast-defense than as vessels competent to operate on the high seas, either independently or in coöperation with the battle-fleet. There is, however, reason to believe that this view has lately been modified, and that most, if not all, of the new American submarines will be found equal to foreign contemporaries in cruising range, seaworthiness, and other essential qualities. Their studies of the strategic problems of the Pacific have apparently convinced American naval officers that a very extensive cruising radius is absolutely indispensable in the case of every type of vessel liable to be employed on war service in that ocean. Acceptance of this proposition naturally involves a substantial increase in size, which applies as much to the submarine as to the battleship. While, therefore, the coastal boats that constitute so large a percentage of the American submarine flot illa might prove valuable enough for the defense of continental and oversea harbors, they would count for little in an offensive campaign, which is generally admitted to be the only form of strategy open to the United States in the event of war with Japan.

No one can predict the part that airpower is destined to play in future naval wars, and least of all in a war waged in the Pacific, where so much would depend upon circumstances impossible to foresee with any clearness. If, for instance, the Philippines and her other insular possessions in the Western Pacific remained in America’s hands, she could employ her air-power against Japan with possibly decisive results. It is, however, a somewhat formidable ‘if,’ as will become manifest when we turn to the strategical outlook. So far as matériel is concerned, American resources for the conduct of aerial warfare at sea are far superior to those of Japan. Without entering into detailed comparisons, it is enough to say that the United States has more than twice as many efficient naval aircraft as Japan; and, if military machines are included, the American preponderance becomes as three to one.

Japan has not yet succeeded in producing a counterpart of the remarkable NC flying boats of the United States navy; and, in fact, there is positive evidence that her aviation services, both naval and military, are in a backward state. The 1918 programme made provision for 140 new naval airplanes, all of which were to be ready for use in five years’ time. Since, in their present stage of development, even the largest airplanes have a relatively limited radius of action, it is clear that they could not participate to any marked extent in a Pacific campaign unless supported by aircraft-carriers. This, however, is a type of vessel in which both navies are sadly deficient. The United States will shortly have two such ships, the Langley and the Wright; but as their speed is not more than 15 knots, they would be too slow to accompany the battle-fleet, and might prove more of a hindrance than a help if attached to it. Japan is even worse off, possessing as she does only one old and slow ship of limited carrying capacity; but the Hosho, a new aircraft-carrier of high speed, is under construction and will join the fleet next year.

IV

The personnel factor, it need hardly be said, is of supreme importance in relation to naval efficiency. Only the test of war could determine which navy has the most highly trained and efficient officers and men; but there is no reason to suppose that any marked difference exists between American and Japanese seamen in respect of morale and professional keenness. Both services have an unbroken record of victorious warfare, and both are imbued with the glorious traditions that inspire men with an iron ‘will to win.’ Japan is in a particularly advantageous position by virtue of her large establishment of trained personnel. She has sufficient officers and men to provide a full complement for every vessel that would be mobilized in case of war, and, in addition, a reserve force numerous enough to man every new warship and auxiliary that could be placed in commission. This means that the whole of the efifeclive strength of the Japanese navy could be mobilized swiftly and secretly, and dispatched to the war zone without a week’s delay.

The American navy, on the other hand, is hampered by the chronic shortage of personnel. Judging from recent experience, the first hint of war would flood the recruiting bureaus and fill the training camps to overflowing; but the fact remains that competent naval officers and bluejackets cannot be improvised. Two years is a very narrow estimate of the time required to convert a civilian into a useful rating on board a modern man-of-war. What proportion of the United States active fleet could put to sea on the outbreak of war, fully manned with trained officers and men, is a secret known only to the Navy Department; but external evidence suggests that the figure would be considerably below the total paper strength of the United States navy.

In the Pacific, as in other possible theatres of war, strategy is merely the handmaid of policy. Previous to the war with Spain the United States had no commitments in the Pacific beyond her own territorial waters, and was consequently under no necessity to maintain a powerful naval force in t hat ocean; for geography had imposed insuperable barriers between her Western littoral and a would-be invader from the East. But with the acquisition of the Philippines and other Pacific islands formerly held by Spain, the position underwent a fundamental change. The frontiers of America were thrust forward many thousands of miles, and the task of defending them by sea-power, hitherto so very simple, developed into a problem the complexity of which does not even yet seem to have been completely visualized. If it were possible to rule out these islands, the American people might feel supremely confident as to their naval position. But no one familiar with the American temper ever supposes that the Philippines would be tamely surrendered to the Japanese or to any other invader. Their retention would therefore compel America to concentrate her naval effort in the Western Pacific, where she does not as yet possess a single first-class naval base, and possibly to fight a decisive action at a distance of nearly 7000 miles from her home coast. She has one asset of great, value in the Isthmian Canal, which would enable her to transfer naval force from the Atlantic to the Pacific with the minimum of delay; but against this must be set a host of disadvantageous conditions, which cannot be fully realized unless the student has before him a large-scale map of the Pacific.

Assuming war with Japan to be a possibility of the future, three propositions may be advanced without much fear of contradiction. (1) The Western seaboard of the United States is absolutely safe from serious hostile attack, and a military invasion would be a sheer impossibility. (2) In the event of war, the Philippines are practically certain to be seized by Japan unless a powerful American fleet arrives in the Western Pacific within a fortnight after the declaration of war. (3) No such fleet could be sent unless it was sure of finding a secure base, with a submarine-proof anchorage, abundant stocks of fuel and other requisite supplies, and facilities for carrying out repairs, including those necessitated by heavy damage sustained in action. If these propositions are examined with the aid of a good map, they will be found to contain in a nutshell the strategical problems which the American naval command would be called upon to solve in case of war in the Pacific.

Distance and base-power are the dominant factors in the situation. It is nearly 7000 miles from the American coast to the Philippines, and no fleet dare venture so far in war-time without being assured of finding ample supplies of fuel when it reaches its destination. A few years hence, provided that the plans of the Navy Department are allowed to mature, a well-defended base will have been established at Guam. It will then be feasible for the American battle-fleet to steam across the Pacific and undertake warlike operations against an Asiatic power, using Guam as its advanced base. There is some talk, also, of extending the dockyard at Cavite; but professional opinion is rather averse to this plan, holding, as it does, that the Philippines, exposed as they are to successful invasion by the Japanese, should not be reckoned among the assets upon which the American navy could rely in the event of war. The development of Guam, though apparently now determined upon after many years of hesitation, will be a task of several years’ duration, and until it is completed, the American fleet will be practically debarred from waging warfare in the Western Pacific.

Unless they are far less intelligent than we have any right to suppose, Japanese naval officers must clearly perceive the immense strategic importance of Guam; and, this being so, it is reasonable to assume that they would make strenuous attempts to seize the island in the very first stage of a conflict with America. With Guam in their hands, they would have the Philippines at their mercy. Whether under these circumstances the American battlefleet would advance into the Western Pacific would depend far more on considerations of policy than of strategy. From the latter point of view it would be courting disaster to leave the nearest friendly base (Hawaii) nearly 5000 miles behind and venture into an area teeming with enemy submarines, where there would be no harbor of refuge for a damaged ship, no means of replenishing depleted bunkers, and scarcely any possibility of striking an effective blow at the enemy. A cruise of this nature would be a more desperate adventure than the voyage of the Russian Baltic Fleet, and we may be sure that it would not be countenanced by any responsible American strategist.

The Japanese themselves have never disguised their confidence in the impregnability of their position vis-à-vis the United States. A war with that country, they predict, would begin with her expulsion from the Philippines and the summary destruction of such American naval forces as were present in the Western Pacific. Japan, having seized the Philippines, would revert to the defensive and calmly await developments. If her opponent so far flouted the rudiments of strategy as to dispatch a fleet to the war zone, relying on a 5000-mile line of communications with Hawaii, the Japanese would resort to a war of attrition by means of submarines and mine-layers working from numerous bases in the South Sea Islands and off the coast of Japan. Then, when at length the American fleet, harassed and weakened by incessant submarine attacks and with its stock of fuel reduced to a low ebb, proposed to return home, the Japanese battle-fleet in full strength would sally forth at the psychological moment and repeat the iriumph of Tsushima on a magnified scale. Such, at least, is the sanguine expectation of those who would control the Japanese forces in time of war.

But it is usually in war-time that the unexpected happens, and the whole history of the recent world-wide struggle constitutes a warning against taking too much for granted. The German plans took cognizance of every foreseeable circumstance, and by all the rules of logic they were assured of success; yet it was precisely because of circumstances that were not and could not be foreseen that the plans were brought to shipwreck. On the surface of things, a war with Japan in the near future would confront the American naval leaders with a problem so difficult as to be wellnigh incapable of solution. There are, however, several alternatives to the more obvious line of American strategy indicated above; and the very fact that Japan, while professing so much confidence in her present naval position, is feverishly building new fighting ships and coastal defenses, suggests that she is not altogether easy in her mind as to the issue of a conflict with the United States. The risks and uncertainties of war are potent factors conducing to the maintenance of peace, in the Pacific as elsewhere. With the terrible lessons of the world struggle still fresh in memory, it is inconceivable that any nation would go to war except in defense of its most vital interests. There is happily no tendency in responsible quarters to exaggerate the differences now existing between America and Japan, and certainly no suggestion that they are grave enough to justify a resort to arms.

  1. Mr. Bywater, a British naval writer of note, speaks as a friendly, but absolutely neutral critic. - THE EDITOR.