Anaconda Plan, 1945 Installment
With the anniversary of VJ Day this week, I was brainstorming something.
The jury will always be out on just what won the U.S. Civil War: the defeat of Lee in the North, Grant’s splitting of the Confederacy by capturing Vicksburg, Sherman’s total war campaign across Georgia, and the turn to take on Johnston in the Carolinas, the South being bled white by losses that it could not replace as the North grew stronger every day, the refusal of Britain to come into the war in support of the South…maybe all of the above.
Of course, I wager that without the Anaconda plan, all of the above would have been much harder to pull off, if not impossible.
Envisioned by that “The Grand Old Man of the Army,” Gen. Winfield Scott, the North’s war chief at the beginning of the conflict, Scott– aged 74 when the balloon went up– earned his commission as a captain in the artillery in May 1808 and knew firsthand how much the War of 1812 sucked when the Brits had default naval superiority and controlled the coastline. Sure, the plucky U.S. Navy and a force of privateers raided around the globe and took the fight to the Brits in their home waters, but they couldn’t keep the RN out of the Chesapeake or from landing at New Orleans.
Then there was the blockade.
Robert, 2nd Viscount Melville, who had become the First Lord of the Admiralty in June 1812, noted that,
“We do not intend this as a mere paper blockade, but as a complete stop to all trade and intercourse by sea with those ports, as far as the wind and weather, and the continual presence of a sufficient armed force, will permit and ensure. If you find that this cannot be done without abandoning for a time the interruption which you appear to be giving to the internal navigation of the Chesapeake, the latter object must be given up, and you must be content with blockading its entrance and sending in occasionally your cruisers for the purpose of harassing and annoyance.”
At the end of the war, Scott, who advanced to major general (brevet) during the conflict, remembered the lessons when it came to 1861 and he recommended an idea coined “The Anaconda Plan” to rigorously (if somewhat passively) blockade all of the major and minor Confederate seaports, and seize control of the mouth of the Mississippi, to ensnare and strangle the budding rebellion, cutting them off from imports of munitions and manufactured goods they had no factories for, as well as exports and of agro goods on which their economy was based.
Implemented in the first few weeks of the war, the blockade of the rebel coast proved extremely effective, though some blockade-runners always got through even in the last days of the war. In true capitalist fashion, many of these runners carried luxury goods on their return trips rather than muskets and shells, as there was more profit per pound in the former.
Enter July 1945
With the end of the war in Europe in May, the culmination of the apocalyptic battle for Okinawa (Operation Iceberg) at the end of June, the starving remnants of Yamashita’s Japanese 14th Area Army reduced to isolated pockets on Mindanao and Luzon in the Philippines, and the British annihilation of the Sakurai’s 28th Army in Burma the same month, the biggest nut left to crack (other than bypassed forces Java, Southeast Asia, and China which was a whole ‘nother thing), was the Japanese home islands.
We all know what came next.
A continuation of the intense and unrelenting long-range air campaign by the AAF’s heavy bomber force that flattened and rained fire across Japan.
At the same time, the Army prepared Operations Olympic–the land invasion of the southern island, Kyūshū; Coronet–the assault on the main island, Honshu; and Pastel, a diversionary fake-out. The effort, expected to use four full U.S Armies as well as a combined Commonwealth force, would have heaved 55~ infantry and armored divisions across Japan’s beaches under the world’s largest umbrella of Allied air and Naval power in an effort that would have made D-Day look like a yacht club regatta.
The thing is, Olympic/Cornet/Pastel was expected to cost, as noted by Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s staff, upwards of 1.7–4 million American casualties, including 400,000–800,000 fatalities, and 5- to 10-million Japanese fatalities. With the Japanese plan for absolute resistance, Operation Ketsugō, putting millions of untrained and laughably equipped civilians into bitter village-to-village, street-to-street, room-to-room fighting, those figures may have been conservative.
The Kokumin Giyū Sentōtai (Patriotic Citizens Fighting Corps) — that included men and boys 15-60 and women 17-40 — were armed with everything from obsolete 1880s black powder Murata rifles to clubs and bamboo sticks with anti-tank mines attached.
Even with that being said, the Japanese did have a significant stockpile of small arms and light artillery in the Home Islands.
On 31 August 1945 the Japanese reported on hand 1,369,063 rifles and light machine guns with limited ammunition of only 230 rounds per weapon. Records later indicated that actually some 2,468,665 rifles and carbines were received by the Occupation forces and later disposed of. The Japanese reported more artillery ammunition than small arms ammunition. Ammunition for the grenade launcher, often known as the “knee mortar,” was also more plentiful; some 51,000,000 rounds were reported, or an average of 1,794 rounds for each weapon.
This, as we know it, led Harry Truman to drop a couple atom bombs and threaten more, leaving the Emperor to sue for peace and avoiding the above. In effect, saving the lives of those 6-14 million lost on both sides in estimates.
But was there a third option?
The invasion fleet in place in the Pacific by the end of July 1945, made up of U.S., Commonwealth, and French naval assets, amounted to no less than 42 fleet and light aircraft carriers, 100 escort carriers, 24 battleships, 500 destroyers, and destroyer escorts, and nearly 180 fleet submarines including British, Australian, and Dutch boats. The majority of these were new wartime construction with a large portion just off their shakedown cruises.
To oppose this armada, in Japanese Home Waters there was a small and battered Imperial naval force consisting of four battleships (all damaged), five aircraft carriers (all damaged), two cruisers, 23 destroyers/large escorts, 46 seagoing submarines, 115 short-ranged Kōryū-class midget submarines (with another 496 building), 200+ smaller Kairyū-class midget submarines (with 760 planned), 120 Kaiten manned torpedoes (with another 500 planned), 2,412 Shin’yō suicide boats, and 13,000~ aircraft of all sorts.
Of these, most were capable of littoral operations only, which, due to extensive mining of Japanese coastal waters by Allied forces, was a danger all its own.
In effect, there was no way that the Japanese Navy could lift a blockade of their shores, especially if one was done far enough out to sea to limit the effect of manned torpedoes and kamikazes.
The islands were suffering from an extended lack of food, fuel, and raw materials, all of which had to come by sea.
The Japanese merchant fleet by August 1945 had been reduced to 1,466,900 tons, about 1/5 of its pre-war strength, and many of these ships were damaged or incapable of operations. With every wave hiding an Allied periscope and every cloud a B-24 ready or PBY/PBM, it was hazardous to a Maru’s health to poke around in blue water.
During the war, U.S. Navy submarines over the course of an amazing 1,474 patrols sank around 1,300 Japanese merchant ships, as well as roughly 200 warships, accounting for most of these losses. By 1945, Navy bombers and flying boats had become adept enough with the new SWOD Mk.9 (Special Weapon Ordnance Device) “Bat” radar-guided glide bomb to become a verified standoff shipkiller.
Therefore, this leads to the speculation that the Allies could have paused in late July 1945, kept the Manhattan Project up their sleeve, placed Operations Olympic/Cornet/Pastel in a holding pattern, and concentrated on a renewed Anaconda plan around the Home Islands.
With Guam, Tinian, and Saipan-based B-29s continuing their operations over the skies of Kyūshū and Honshu, flatting factories and military targets; PBYs and PBMs could haunt the coastline looking for things to sink while sowing sea mines so thick you could walk across Tokyo Bay without getting your feet wet.
The surface fleet could establish an exclusion zone around the islands, standing far enough offshore to avoid Shin’yō and Kaiten, enforcing a blockade on the high seas to cut off communications and supply coming from Java, Southeast Asia, and China, letting Japan wither on the vine.
While the Empire still had thousands of aircraft ready for kamikaze attacks, most were single-engine trainers and fighters with short legs. Of course, there was the possibility of long-range suicide raids, such as the Japanese Operation Tan No. 2 in which 24 Yokosuka P1Y Ginga (Francis) bombers flew from Kyushu to attack Ulithi on a one-way 1,100-mile trip, but such strikes took planning, knowledge of Allied fleet movements, and– most importantly– lots of fuel and expendable yet well-trained aircrews capable of navigating precisely over water, neither of which the Japanese had in abundance at that stage of the war.
With the Okinawa campaign showing the Japanese were capable of one-way single-engine aircraft attacks some 400 miles out from Kyushu, a surface fleet blockade zone some 600-700 miles out would keep the Japanese supply lines severed while remaining relatively safe. With F6F’s capable of an 850nm combat range and TBMs as well as the larger follow-on F8Fs some 1,100, its conceivable that Hellcats/Avengers and Bearcats could be launched by carrier groups coming in a tad closer from time to time to get in some coastal strikes over Japanese harbors if Halsey and Spruance felt strongly about it.
Inside the exclusion zone, the massive Allied submarine fleet could keep doing what they did best: sinking Marus and anything afloat with a meatball on its flag. While doing so, they could form early warning pickets for outgoing long-range kamikaze raids and lifeguard service for downed B-29 and PBY crews. Nighttime shore bombardment with their 3 and 5-inch guns could add an element of harassment to outlying areas. This could work with deception and psywar operations to keep the Japanese land forces shuttling from point to point, wasting resources and keeping men tied down on the beach and in the hills waiting for an amphibious assault while the cities, plants, and marshaling yards in the rear burn.
However, what of the Japanese forces overseas?
On the day of surrender, the Imperial Japanese Forces totaled 6,983,000 troops including construction units, naval, and air forces. Of these, Army and Navy forces stationed within the home islands numbered 3,532,000, which meant that nearly as many, some 3.4 million, were still scattered around the Pacific from Manchuria to the Solomons:
-In China, the 900,000-strong Kwantung Army of Gen. Otozō Yamada (along with another 200,000 toy soldiers of the Mengjiang and Manchukuo Imperial Armies) sounded massive on paper, but was filled with the bottom of the barrel units and armor that could be stopped with your average sticky bomb much less a Sherman or T-34. When the Soviets muscled in starting on 9 August, they swept through all of Manchuria with their 1.5 million Ivan force within two weeks. Sure, you can argue they could have held out longer if the Emperor had not ordered Yamada to lay down his arms on 15 August, but either way, this force would have been steamrolled by Stalin by October regardless. The same could be said of Lt. Gen. Yoshio Kozuki’s 17th Area Army in Korea, though allowing Moscow to sweep through the whole Korean Peninsula may not have been politically acceptable in the West.
-Stroke-addled Gensui Count Terauchi Hisaichi’s 680,000-man Southern Expeditionary Army Group controlled French Indochina, Singapore, Thailand, Malaya, New Guinea, Borneo, Java, Sumatra, and a dwindling slice of Burma but was facing a huge Indo-British-Australian effort to keep pushing him out. Though they laid down their arms to Lord Mountbatten on 12 September 1945 following the surrender order, the odds that they could have held out against the tide was slim and Hisaichi’s scattered command would likely have folded by that Christmas regardless of events in Japan. Sure, far-flung units would likely have held out longer (it should be remembered that an estimated 1,000 Imperial Japanese Army troops joined Indonesian guerillas and fought the Dutch into 1948) but this would not have ended the blockade of the Home Islands.
-General Rikichi Ando’s 10th Area Army in Taiwan consisted mostly of poorly trained reservists, conscripted students, and local Boeitai home guard militia with some units equipped with sharpened bamboo pikes and longbows. They surrendered to Kuomintang General Chen Yi on 25 October 1945 as almost as an afterthought but could have been left, like Japanese garrison island Truk, to remain isolated in our Anaconda redux effort.
-Smaller forces existed in the Philippines, New Britain, the Japanese naval and air base at Truk, Wake Atoll, the Bonin Islands, Mili Atoll, Jaluit, the Ryukyu Islands, and others. Over the course of a July-December 1945 Anaconda campaign, they could continue to either languish as being strategically invaluable or be captured in small-scale sideshow operations. By that time, most of these areas had been pulverized.
Mili Island, in the Marshalls, for instance, had been the target of 18 months of ceaseless bombing by U.S. Marine Corps aircraft when the surrender order came in Sept. 1945.
So as the theory goes, could a six-month naval and air blockade/bombardment of the Home Islands, say stretching to January 1946, the bitter winter of the new year, coupled with the eventual reduction of the Empire’s overseas outposts, have resulted in Japan seeking peace?
During this time, the B-29s and the newly-introduced Consolidated B-32 Dominators would have covered Japan with fire from sea to sea.
Between January and July 1945, the U.S. firebombed and destroyed all but five Japanese cities, deliberately sparing Kyoto, the ancient imperial capital, and four others. The extent of the destruction was impressive ranging from 50 to 60% of the urban area destroyed in cities including Kobe, Yokohama and Tokyo, to 60 to 88% in seventeen cities, to 98.6% in the case of Toyama….Overall, by one calculation, the US firebombing campaign destroyed 180 square miles of 67 cities, killed more than 300,000 people and injured an additional 400,000, figures that exclude the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki…
Suffer the POWs
At-risk during the pressure cooker of Anaconda 1945, would be the more than 36,000 Allied personnel of various categories located in approximately 140 POW camps in the Home Islands. Another six months of firebombing and evaporating supplies of medicine and food would likely have led to most if not all Allied POWs in the Home Islands losing their lives either through neglect or culling by the Imperial Army.
At least one source maintains that in the last three months of the war, 173 American POWs were murdered in Japan including 62 who were burned alive in their cell blocks by guards. Surely, these instances would have increased if the war continued.
Also, there is the Japanese nuclear option.
Japan managed a small-scale atomic program going as far back as 1931 and had both centrifuges and cyclotrons as well as a tiny amount of uranium on hand during WWII, which they attempted to weaponize. Hitler tried to help a brother out and sent U-234 to Japan in the last days of the Third Reich with plans for radars and super-weapons as well as 1,200 pounds of uranium oxide. However, when Germany surrendered, the U-boat’s commander was ill inclined to complete his epic voyage and made for the U.S. where he raised the white flag to an American destroyer south of the Grand Banks, Newfoundland on 14 May.
This left the Japanese woefully short of heavy water and uranium and, while some reports have surfaced that hinted the program was still making progress in the last days of the war, was likely never going to produce a workable bomb. Further, even if by some unlikely miracle Tojo pulled off an atomic strike on a U.S. anchorage via aircraft, or West Coast port city via submarine, the retaliation made possible from the more advanced American atomic program would have seen the last remaining Japanese cities glow in the dark– while still not breaking the blockade or clockwork firebombs.
Further, barring a radio broadcast by the Emperor or military coup by the peace faction, Japan’s government may have still been willing to fight to the last bullet in January 1946, leading to Truman dropping the bombs anyway and/or Operation Downfall getting the green light.
Would a rehashed Anaconda worked and brought peace by 1946?
But would it be worth it?
Hundreds of thousands if not millions of additional Japanese would have perished between 1 July-31 December 1945 due to famine and flame that otherwise survived following the actual events. Further, thousands of Allied POWs that made it home in real life would have likely found shallow graves in Japanese soil. Add to this would be Allied submariners sunk by uncharted mines in the winter of 1945 and even more American airmen parachuting into hostile and very hungry villagers below.
Strategically, Anaconda would have extended the war by six months and cost billions of extra dollars keeping huge fleets at sea, B-32s in production, and men under arms. Further, the Soviet Union and likely Mao’s Red Chinese Army would have made much more extensive gains during the last half of 1945 than actually occurred, leaving the prospect of Korea and Taiwan still being vassal states of one or the other.
In retrospect, and in my personal opinion, Anaconda 1945 may have worked, but the A-bombs and Hirohito’s subsequent decision to run a peace appeal was and is the better choice.