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Sea-power in the Pacific : a study of the American-Japanese naval problem

BYWATER?S PACIFIC WAR PROPHECY

By William H. Honan

No one studied the English naval expert’s strategic blueprint more closely than a Japanese officer named Isoroku Yamamoto–the architect of Pearl Harbor.


Hector C. Bywater–a convivial, pub-crawling English journalist, author, and raconteur who in the 1920s and 1930s knew more about the world’s navies than a roomful of admirals–had an obsession: the possibility of war between Japan and the United States.

By 1925, 16 years before Japanese forces struck at Pearl Harbor, he had accurately predicted the general course of the Pacific War. The fulfillment of his prophecies was no mere accident: What he wrote powerfully influenced Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander in chief of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Navy, and a host of leaders of the U.S. Navy as well.

Bywater imagined that Japan would make a surprise attack against the American naval presence in the Pacific and launch simultaneous invasions of Guam and the Philippines. By taking such bold steps, Bywater calculated, Japan could build a nearly invulnerable empire in the western Pacific. He also surmised that, given time, the United States would counterattack. Immense distances would separate the adversaries after the fall of Guam and the Philippines, but ultimately, Bywater believed, the United States would be able to reach Japan by pursuing a novel campaign of amphibious island-hopping across the central Pacific. The result, he said, would be “ruinous” for the aggressor. With that outcome in mind, he advanced his ideas in the hope of deterring Japan from attempting any such adventure.

Bywater’s two books and many articles on Pacific strategy attracted brief notice from the public and were soon forgotten. But for professional navy men on both sides of the Pacific, his work became required reading. Indeed, Bywater succeeded Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan as the world’s leading authority on naval theory and practice.

Until now, historians believed that Admiral Yamamoto, architect of the Pearl Harbor strike and many of Japan’s subsequent moves in the war, conceived his war plans independently. But today it can be shown that Yamamoto, while serving as naval attaché in Washington in the late 1920s, reported to Tokyo about Bywater’s war plan and then lectured on the subject, adopting Bywater’s ideas as his own. Yamamoto followed Bywater’s plans so assiduously in both overall strategy and specific tactics at Pearl Harbor, Guam, the Philippines, and even the Battle of Midway that it is no exaggeration to call Hector Bywater the man who “invented” the Pacific war.

Bywater’s influence on the U.S. Navy was such that many officers at the highest level considered him “a prophet.” He was the first analyst to publicly spell out the revolutionary concept of island-hopping across the Marshall and Caroline chains, a concept that became a fundamental of American strategy during the war. A year and a half after Bywater published this proposal, the navy drastically revised its top-secret War Plan Orange—the official contingency plan for war against Japan. The option of a reckless lunge across the Pacific, which Bywater said was doomed to failure, was replaced with his careful, step-by-step advance.

Bywater was a man of mystery and paradox. A tall, imposing figure, he could hold the rapt attention of a packed pub room when he recited poetry, sang, or told anecdotes, such as the one about how he mischievously persuaded Mussolini to invest a fortune in modernizing a couple of old rust buckets. But Bywater also had a hidden side: Between 1908 and 1918 he lived the double life of a spy—first as a British Secret Service agent and later as a naval intelligence agent. He deceived not only the Germans, from whom he extracted a bounty of naval secrets, but also his friends and neighbors in Britain and the United States.

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Posted by George Freund on September 22, 2019 at 1:26 PM 154 Views