Salt Lake City morning 27 March 1943 g
Only September 14 US aircraft for the first time could bomb the island of Kyska (with Adyak), but this date is difficult to consider a full-fledged resumption of hostilities. Even using very rare days of favorable weather, it was difficult to hope for the imminent release of the islands. Until the end of the year, only seven such raids were carried out (the last one - December 20), which in general did not cause significant damage to the Japanese (six Zero fighters, four of which were destroyed on the ground). For cardinal changes, there were not enough landing craft, as there was no acceptable weather conditions for their actions, including support from the sea with ship artillery.
And this was, perhaps, a small but rather significant victory for the Japanese command. Therefore, it is worth recalling a few important points.
All the steps and military actions taken by the Japanese side in the Aleutian campaign, only at first glance, confirm the strikingly monotonous point of view of the American authors. We have already quoted them in previous editions and, in general, they boiled down to the following: it was pure insanity to attack the Aleuts, since 1) cannot conduct full-fledged military operations in this theater; 2) the strategic importance of the operation for Japan was reduced solely to the need to cause a distraction blow (the main goal was first Midway, and then Hawaii); 3) the forces involved in the operation could be of much greater benefit in the southern seas, for example, east of New Guinea.
And, we note, this is the absolute truth, from the point of view of classical western ideas about strategy. However, as in some other cases, such a point of view does not allow one to understand and even simply imagine the real motives of the Japanese high command. In fact, from the point of view of Japanese traditional ideas, the ultimate and common goal of all their 1942 campaigns of the year was to achieve completeness (completeness) of the strategic equilibrium belt stretching from the northern waters of the Pacific to the Bay of Bengal. In May, when the Japanese ships were still about to move towards Midway and the Aleuts, it was generally clear that the initial (and most valuable) time was missed. That is, harmoniously complete this belt in the near future will not work, and regardless of the outcome of the operation to capture Midway: in any case, the struggle for Hawaii promised to be difficult and long.
And in this case, the extreme points of the belt (corners of the world) acquired crucial importance - it was necessary at least to indicate its presence there. Here it is also important that, in the Japanese strategy, successful opposition to some natural logic of events is in principle possible if the forces and energy are properly distributed. The natural logic of events is in this case an unequal balance of forces and resources not in favor of Japan. Well, or otherwise: the inability with the available resources to defeat the United States and its allies in a long confrontation. It's simple. But about the ingenious distribution of forces in accordance with ancient teachings and how exactly the Japanese admirals were going to outwit the natural course of things, now only hypotheses can be built. But in any case, the presence of a “point of support” in the “corner of the world” meant a lot, given the main task of winning time. After all, there were still some prospects for increasing industrial production in Manchuria and in Korea (in Japan itself, it was already approaching the natural limits of growth, and there were still vast undeveloped resources, especially labor force.)
So, it was not at all in vain that the fierce struggle for two tiny islands of the Aleutian Archipelago was fought for almost a whole year. It is worth adding that the presence of Japanese forces there was of great propaganda significance: the belt’s completion at its extreme points was of tremendous symbolic importance - probably more than if it were a couple of similar islands of the Hawaiian archipelago or, say, east of Australian Queensland.
However, despite all these strategic considerations, the tactics and operational actions of both sides were generally very similar and boiled down to very simple provisions - that’s what the events in this theater of operations look like if we go down a level and consider them without taking into account the surrounding geopolitical realities and global strategic concepts. Collisions of large forces of ground forces, as well as large formations of ships were impossible here, in principle, due to local geographic and especially climatic conditions. (The American large ships and destroyers very quickly showed their complete uselessness here and they could only wait for the onset of a new favorable period of anticyclone prevalence at the end of the winter 1943 of the year). The decisive force capable of drastically changing something on a strategic scale was most often aviation alone. The second most important strategic factor could be considered the actions of submarines against transports, but they have not had a decisive influence on the course of events.
But the whole situation has changed very dramatically with the start of the new 1943 year. The commander of the American forces, Robert Theobald, considered all the advantages achieved to be insufficient for a decisive battle and the liberation of two small islands. He hoped to move to more active actions not earlier than June, when the nights would again become bright, and the forces of the enemy would be completely exhausted. In the meantime, in his opinion, it was necessary to continue to approach the enemy closer and closer to building new runways and organizing intermediate bases. However, the chiefs of staff and Roosevelt clearly did not intend to wait that long. And the point is not that they understood the significance of the Aleuts for the Japanese, and not only that this theater distracted part of the naval forces needed in the southern seas. Just for the American government, the propaganda component was also not in last place, and in subsequent changes and appointments it was decisive. And yet, as many American generals and admirals believed, the potential threat of Japanese expansion towards Kodiak and further to Anchorage, even if very ephemeral, did not allow to force forthcoming operations in the center of the Balance Belt - in Micronesia and further to the Philippines. And although in reality Japan did not have the strength for such expansion, in the fall, the possibility of replacing Theobald with someone more decisive was discussed in Washington. And a suitable candidate was soon found - 44-year-old Rear Admiral Thomas Kinkade, who was very helpful in initiating proposals and proposals for a decisive offensive on the Aleuts. Kincaid was one of the favorites of the press, he had an excellent reputation in the battles in Midway, in the Coral Sea, and especially as the commander of the so-called "16 Task Force" (or, as they would call it the carrier-based strike group), formed specifically for "Enterprise ". The fact that Kincaid had a rather poor idea of the conditions of the North Pacific Ocean, obviously, could not overshadow his determination and confidence in victory.
Immediately after Kincaid’s appointment as commander, in January 43, the construction of another airfield on Amchitka Island began. The Americans were thus still getting closer and closer to the enemy (this island is located just 150 km from Kyska Island and 470 km from Attu), but at an accelerated pace - the best engineering and modern engineering forces were thrown here. Here, the construction began to regularly interfere with the daring raids of Japanese aircraft. Despite the bad weather and low clouds, they stubbornly attacked the new base. However, they could not stop building. Already in February, the squadron of the P-40 was redeployed. The raids of Americans from Adyak to Kysk ceased - all available aircraft were now forced to cover Amchitka. Nevertheless, the fights in the air were very rare, the losses on both sides were sporadic, since opponents rarely managed to meet each other. But construction accelerated and in March another squadron, P-38, B-26 and B-24, appeared here. Amchitka Island thus became the main springboard of the US Air Force in this theater. At the end of winter, hurricane winds are not constant here, and anticyclones drive away low clouds (although thick fogs still regularly cover the foot of the mountains and the coast). And the Americans managed to realize this opportunity almost completely: By mid-April, continuous raids on Kysk completely destroyed all seaplanes here. The defenders of the island now had to rely only on anti-aircraft artillery. In addition, they were completely cut off from the supply bases in the Kuriles. Since the fall, the Japanese have lost more than fifty transport ships. Nevertheless, their position has continued to remain stable. If the same forces were able to capture some of the islands of the Hawaiian archipelago, their garrisons would quickly be dropped into the sea. And here, in March, Kincaid did not even have a final plan for a landing operation. And it was, in general, not to her.
The most important and dramatic events in this theater of operations were now developing at sea. At the end of March, perhaps the most unusual naval battle of the Second World War took place here - known as the Battle of the Commander Islands.
True, it should first be noted that, first of all, the improved weather conditions allowed, finally, the American the fleet go here to action - and secondarily the determination of the command. The main task of the ships that came at the disposal of Kinkade was the blockade of the islands occupied by the Japanese, and later - in April - the destroyers managed several times to get close to Kyska Harbor (where the main base of the Japanese was) and to fire at the ships standing there.
The main technical advantage of the American fleet here were flying boats "Catalina". The Japanese did not have a similar aircraft, which in these conditions for a long time for days and more, replacing each other, control the sea and air space around the islands. It is worth noting that it was the presence of these aircraft, and not at all the numerical superiority in the ships, allowed the Americans to carry out a long blockade - according to their data, since January no Japanese transport could break through to the Aleuts. However, the Americans, as well as the Japanese, failed to use any aircraft in the upcoming battle. Special environmental conditions did not allow submarines to participate in it either - so this was one of the last naval battles that took place in the form of a “clean” artillery duel. (But we are already running ahead.)
In early March, intelligence submitted a report to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, which stated that the Japanese were assembling or had already formed a reinforced convoy on Paramushir, which was accompanied by one heavy and one light cruisers, as well as four destroyers. The compound is about to go to the Aleuts. In fact, the escort forces of this convoy were much larger - they consisted of two heavy cruisers, “Hamu” and “Maya”, two light cruisers “Tata” and “Abacum”, four destroyers and auxiliary ships. Vice-Admiral Boshiro Hosogaya, commander of the 5 Fleet, commanded the compound.
In response to this threat in the western zone of the Aleutian Islands in mid-March, an additional force was quickly sent under the command of Vice Admiral Charles McMoris: the heavy cruiser Salt Lake City, the light Richmond and four destroyers.
The compound went along the Aleutian Ridge, approximately 100-150 miles south, across the intended Japanese squadron. Since the constant use of reconnaissance aircraft was impossible, and the Japanese from the very beginning strictly observed the radio silence regime, there were few chances to meet at sea. But fate would have it happen.
The paths of these two squadrons began to converge on 26 in March 1943, not far from Soviet territorial waters, near the International Date Line, about a hundred miles south of the Commander Islands. Visibility was poor, the weather still did not allow even Catalina to be used, and opponents were approaching each other almost blindly.
On 6 in the morning of March 27, the American destroyers repeated the maneuver that had become common for them in recent days: they moved to the southwest with a fan at intervals of no more than 5-6 miles, searching for Japanese ships with radars. Cruiser "Salt Lake City" and "Richmond" at low speed gradually lagged behind destroyers.
Most of the Japanese transports at this time pressed against the borders of the Soviet territorial waters to the west. And the warships of the Japanese were going at full speed separately from the convoy of transports (only two were with them) —and by a truly accidental coincidence of circumstances — directly to the Mac-Morris squadron.
In 7 hours 30 minutes the destroyer "Kolen", and then "Richmond" recorded the first radar signals. Only 10 minutes later, Mac-Morris gave the order to reorganize into battle order, and by that time there were already fifteen reliable signals. There was no doubt: the Japanese ships are only twenty kilometers away!
(To be continued)