Courtesy Reuters

Why Japan's Fleet Avoids Action

JAPANESE ideas of sea power differ radically from those of the western world. But the inquiries made into this subject by foreign observers have adhered to western ideas and formulae and thus the true essence of Japan's strategy and tactics has frequently been misinterpreted or lost.

One error has been to assume that a Japanese fleet would always act in the conventional western manner, for example that it would always seek a decisive engagement at the first opportunity. As often as not, this was the very thing a Japanese admiral might not desire. Had western authorities scrutinized Japanese theory as well as Japanese practice they would have come closer to the truth. Of course, there were good reasons why they did not do this. The British and American peoples were averse to maintaining large armies and had come to rely completely upon their naval establishments. They hoped that their potential enemies could be defeated at sea. Any line of reasoning tending to show that Japan might have to be met in full strength on distant land fronts would have been highly unacceptable. Yet that is the very conclusion which becomes inevitable when we realize the divergency between Japanese theories and those of the West.

Decisive battle and pressure of blockade hold first place in Anglo-American naval doctrine. On first analysis it would seem that both were likewise honored in Japanese theory. In her wars with China in 1894-95 and with Russia in 1904-05, Japan gave evidence of seeking fleet action. On these occasions, and also in her undeclared war against China, Japan showed that she understood the significance of the blockade. Yet in the struggle which began on December 7, 1941, the Japanese not only have avoided fleet action as such, but appear to have done very little either to break the naval blockade of their enemies or to apply a counter-blockade. Their strategy has been in harmony with the fundamental Japanese belief that victory can be won by land forces, if the

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