19th · 26th November, 1943
A Scenario for Carriers at War
By Kenneth G. Wastrack
One role of conflict simulations is to examine how various situations might have developed if circumstances were different from the historical conditions. This scenario represents one of those situations. The scenario description is written from the viewpoint of just such different circumstances.
Three specific changes from history are assumed. The carrier planes from CarDiv 1 were not sent to Rabaul to participate in the air battles there in October. CarDiv 2 was equipped with trained aircrews and available for action; not training new aircrews near Singapore. The heavy cruisers in TGs 3 and 4 were not sent to Rabaul where they all sustained considerable damage from air strikes.
Historically, the Japanese were in no position to respond effectively to the invasion of the Gilberts; with these assumptions implemented, they can make a go of it.
It is late 1943. For the first two years of the Pacific War, the· United States Navy was too weak to directly take the offensive against the Imperial Japanese Navy. But now the American advantages in production capability have begun to take effect and the fleet is ready to begin the advance through the Central Pacific Ocean towards the Philippine Islands and then onto Japan.
For the Allies, the past year has been one of slow advances in the Southwest Pacific, where the Japanese have been battered and pushed back in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea. While there have been some major naval losses, the advances have been essentially land campaigns within range of land-based aircraft.
Unfortunately, if the war continues at this pace, it could take ten years more to reach Japan. However, the prospects are bright for speeding up the pace and taking the · war to Japan itself. The massive naval forces that the United States has assembled should now enable the long strides that are necessary to bring the war to a quicker conclusion.
Now is the time to strike in the Central Pacific. Now, while the Japanese are still reeling from their recent losses and while they are still preoccupied with the Southwest Pacific campaign. The first step will be the invasion and conquest of the Gilbert Islands.
For the Japanese, the Allied advances in the Southwest Pacific have been a severe drain on the Empire’s resources. Although the Marshall, Gilbert and Caroline Islands have been stripped of aircraft to reinforce the air forces at Rabaul, the key island bases have been heavily fortified and are defended by first class troops. Furthermore, since the American Navy began conducting carrier raids on outlying areas in early September, the fleet has been concentrated at Truk in anticipation of an amphibious assault in the Gilberts or Marshalls area.
The American plan is fairly simple; assault Tarawa and Makin Atolls with overwhelming force, win a quick decision, and withdraw vulnerable naval support forces before the enemy fleet can intervene. The 27th Army Infantry Division (approx. 6,500 men) will assault Makin (approx. 800 men) while the reinforced 2nd Marine Division (approx. 18,600 men) assaults Tarawa (approx. 4,500 men).
Combined covering forces including seven old battleships and eight escort carriers will provide a preliminary bombardment followed by close support as needed. In addition, a separate force including 11 fast carriers and 5 fast battleships will provide distant protection against intervention by enemy forces from outside the Gilberts area. While a fleet action is not expected, the American forces are confident of victory if the Japanese fleet comes out to fight.
The Japanese plan is also simple. The defending ground forces must hold out as long as possible. Fleet and air units will then be concentrated for a massive strike against the American forces. While it is hoped that a major victory can be won, the real purpose of this strategy is to make the assault as costly to the Americans as possible.
If the price for invading the Japanese Empire can be made high enough, there may well be a chance for a negotiated settlement. At worst, there will be more time for the fortification of critical areas of the Empire.
As November 20th dawns, American aircraft and battleships are bombarding Tarawa and Makin Atolls, while Army and marine units are preparing to land. The fast carriers and battleships are deployed in a crescent to the north, northwest and west to intercept any enemy fleet and air units that attempt to break up the invasion forces. Submarines are stationed around Truk to provide early warning if the Japanese fleet sorties in force.
This massive display of force does not deter the Japanese command. There has long been a plan to respond to this attack. The fleet is readied and all units will sortie early on November 21st. Tarawa is 1,300 miles away. Sometime in the next four days there should be a fleet action between Japanese and American forces. If a major part of the Japanese fleet can avoid the fast carriers and battleships, an attack on the invasion forces is possible from November 25th.
This scenario covers the period between the initial invasions of Tarawa and Makin by American forces and the end of Japanese resistance on Tarawa. During this time, the covering forces were standing by and would have been vulnerable to Japanese fleet action. After this time, the Japanese fleet would have found empty ocean and been subject to air attacks from the new American bases in the Gilberts. Victory or defeat will take less then seven days.
The American Order of Battle is taken from Morrison (see Bibliography) while the Japanese Order of Battle is an estimate of what might have been available based on the assumptions used in this scenario.
The drive through the Central Pacific has begun. For the first time since the war began, the United States has assembled enough naval power to directly assault the island bases that form the defensive perimeter of the Japanese Empire. For the past year, the main Allied line of advance has been in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, always within range of land based air-power.
The assault on the Gilberts will be beyond the range of land-based aircraft, except for long-range bombers. The bulk of the air cover will be provided by carrier-based aircraft; the first time an operation of this scale has been attempted. A successful assault could be the first of many on the way to Tokyo; a failure could discredit Allied strategy and delay the advance on Japan by years.
The forces of Turner and Hill must stay near Makin and Tarawa to support the ground troops. Nothing can be allowed to interfere with these forces if the islands are to be taken, especially at Tarawa.
Pownall’s fast carrier task force must prevent enemy naval forces from striking the invasion forces. Pownall’s fleet is the strongest battle force assembled in the Pacific to date and substantially more powerful than any force the Japanese can throw against it.
The Allies have begun an assault on the defensive perimeter around the Japanese Empire. The current defensive strategy requires the ground forces defending the outlying bases to hold out until sufficient fleet and air forces can be assembled to repel the enemy invasion forces.
The air battles in the Solomon Islands have greatly reduced the air forces that can be deployed to face this new threat. However, the fleet is still intact and can reach the invasion area in a few days. Losses are likely to be heavy, but a major victory over the enemy will disrupt his timetable and provide precious time to re ·equip for the future.
Both Ozawa and Kurita have the same mission; disrupt or destroy the invasion fleets! With guile and luck, they may be able to dodge the American fast carriers and battleships and strike a telling blow.
Allied Victory- 500 points more than the Japanese. This outcome postulates such great losses to the Japanese Navy that it will not be a significant force for the remainder of the war.
Japanese Victory – More points than the Allied player or all ships in Allied TF 11 are sunk or removed; i.e. the break-up of the Tarawa invasion force. This outcome postulates that American losses are so high that the Pacific campaign is severely delayed.
Draw- Any outcome other than those described above. History is essentially unaltered.
1. Historical Situation. The following modifications to the Japanese Order of Battle will reduce their fleet to the historical level. Remove all CVs from Japanese TG 2 and divide the remaining ships among other Japanese TGs. Remove all heavy cruisers from the Japanese OB or alternatively assign 3-7 damage points to each. Reassign half of the carrier squadrons from Japanese TG 1 to Rabaul. As you can see, the Japanese can do little in these circumstances.
2. More Japanese Aircraft. This seems to be a variation in every post 1942 scenario! Assume the Japanese had not stripped the Marshalls to reinforce Rabaul. Add 6 Zero squadrons, 2 Betty squadrons, 2 Kate squadrons and 2 Judy squadrons to any airbases on Kwajalein, Wotje, Maleolap, Mili or Nauru. The maximum squadron size is 30. For every 2 aircraft added in this way, reduce the appropriate aircraft type at Rabaul and/or Truk by one airplane of the same type.
3. The Shinano. Add the giant CV Shinano to TG1. (Specs can be found in Run 5, Issue 1). Equip it with 2 squadrons of Zeros, 1 squadron of Judys and 1 squadron of Jills. Make the pilots top class. There is no historical justification whatsoever for this variant. But it really helps the Japanese!