THE war power of a nation is the product of both mental and material forces. In measuring Japan's capacity to sustain war we must take account of both categories of forces -- what the Japanese people believe and will to do, and what they have to do it with. We should also remember that war power and industrial power, while closely related, are not identical. It may happen that a nation poorly endowed with resources but possessed of an ironbound will may accumulate enough materials in advance to enable it to prevail in war, at least for a time, over a nation richer in materials but suffering at the start from a weaker will or a less united purpose.

These considerations apply to the relative situation of Japan and the United States today. To make any reasonable guess as to the probable length of the present struggle we must ask two questions: Can the will of the Japanese be broken or bent while we maintain ours? Can Japan develop the raw materials in the areas occupied by her forces, in sufficient quantity and at a sufficiently rapid rate, to replenish her prewar stocks before they are exhausted?

A complete analysis of all the factors which will determine the answer to either question is beyond the scope of an article. Regarding the first, it will be sufficient to say here that the war would not have begun, at least when it did, if the Japanese had not been misled by appearances into believing that we had neither the interest in the Far East nor the unity of purpose necessary to sustain a long and bitter war there. The Japanese generals constantly preached the necessity of spiritual mobilization. They believed we were incapable of developing this in sufficient degree and quickly enough to affect the result of the war. Our implacable determination to crush Japanese militarism is now clear. It will have a strong psychological effect on the Japanese. But whether people or leaders will crack short of military defeat cannot yet even be guessed.

In the material field, the leaders of Japan were not under any illusions as to our potential power, but they counted heavily on the difference between that and developed power. On their side, the preparations for the great war which they knew lay between them and the fulfillment of their dreams were excellent. Over a number of years, and at considerable sacrifice on the part of the Japanese people, they filled their arsenals and accumulated large stocks of raw materials.

When the great moment came, a series of well-executed moves at once carried the Japanese forces to and through the Malay States and Burma. They failed, however, to get into India and to exploit that country's discontent, on which they had deeply counted. They also seized the Philippines and the Netherlands East Indies; but they did not succeed in landing in Australia. They took Wake and Guam, captured two of the Aleutian Islands and held them for a time, and even lobbed a few shells onto the California coast. But they lost out at Midway. Soon, moreover, they found their hands full in the Southwest Pacific.

On the whole, we must concede that the Japanese executed their first moves brilliantly. But though they came close to fulfilling their ambitions, they fell short in important respects. And what the cost of their conquests was and what the profit from them might be were other matters.


Undoubtedly the Japanese seriously depleted their accumulated stores of materials in their great opening moves. Even the relatively limited fighting in China had, by the time Hankow fell, called for the expenditure of so much of Japan's precious stocks that high indignation was publicly expressed in Tokyo at the stupidity of the Chinese in not knowing that they had been defeated, and in obstinately forcing Japan to drain her supplies still further. The more extensive campaigns which began in December 1941 have of course made even heavier drafts on the Japanese stockpiles. True, the territories overrun by the Japanese armies contain in abundance many of the key materials which Japan lacks. But these require exploitation, and it is extremely doubtful whether up till now the Japanese have derived much benefit from them.

Many of the elementary facts necessary for estimating Japan's current strength are lacking. We do not know with any sureness just how well supplied she was with certain key materials at the moment she attacked us in 1941, nor do we know how much her stocks have been depleted in the course of operations to date or how much they are being replenished from the conquered territories. Only guesses may be made as to particular items, and these may be wide of the mark.

In the case of petroleum, for example, we know that before the war Japan drew only about 10 percent of her normal consumption from domestic sources (including the shale oil in Manchuria). Her imports had been cut off some months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, except for the small supplies she received from Sakhalin. Her oil in storage is believed to have been the equivalent of about 18 months' normal consumption. Though additional amounts may have been accumulated in secret underground storage places, this estimate is at least approximately correct.

Japan made long and persistent efforts to enlarge the output of the oil fields under her control, but without notable success. No new field was found on the mainland, except in Jehol. Careful drilling there in 1939 revealed oil in a series of thick fat shales of Jurassic age. It is doubtful whether a large output can be built up in that field, but it has possibilities. There is plenty of oil shale at the Fushun mines, near Mukden; but the difficulty of expanding production rapidly in wartime is very great, given the numerous other demands for materials and skilled operators. The same limitation applies to Japan's plans for increasing her output of synthetic oil made from coal. However, Germany makes a specialty of manufacturing the machinery used in synthetic oil production and she may have supplied her ally with a certain amount of equipment. It is known that various kinds of German machinery and tools were delivered to Japan via the Trans-Siberian railroad, and probably some shipments came in by water.

Capture of the oil fields in the Netherlands East Indies was a major objective of the Japanese, and one of their early accomplishments. However, the employees of the owning companies carried through a thorough campaign of destruction before they withdrew, except in one field where paratroops landed in time to stop the work. The extent of the destruction has been checked by a neutral observer. It was so complete that the owners themselves estimated that it would require a year to restore production under peacetime conditions and with free access to normal machinery markets. The Japanese are cut off from such markets and, having but a small petroleum industry, are not likely to have had in stock any large amount of the necessary tools or parts such as usually are on hand in any American oil field. Moreover, in modern oil refineries like those destroyed at Palembang in Sumatra and at Balikpaipan in Borneo the cracking stills are as large and as difficult to manufacture as big naval guns. It does not seem probable, therefore, that the Japanese have been able to spare material and effort sufficient to rebuild either plant. Besides, just to make sure that both plants are out of commission, the Allies have bombed them several times since their retreat.

It is true that if the oil wells can be recovered the crude oil can be shipped to Japan and run through the refineries which formerly operated on California oil. Both plant and practice would need to be altered, however, in order to operate satisfactorily on the Dutch crude. Besides, it is not by any means certain that tankers are available. The distance is much shorter than from California, whence Japan formerly drew much of her crude oil, but many tankers have been sunk and a large number must be operating with the fleet. One may conclude, then, that the Japanese are extremely unlikely to have profited much as yet from their capture of the main East Indian oil fields.

On the other hand, one small oil field in Borneo and one in Sumatra are reported to be in operation. They form an important exception, since they yield a crude oil which is rich in Diesel and lubricating stocks. One is apt to forget, in the excitement of watching air fighting and transport, that lubricants of high quality are as necessary in modern warfare as gasoline and are much harder to produce synthetically or from any other source than crude petroleum of proper quality. In the First World War, Germany found herself more handicapped by the lack of lubricating oil than by the lack of gasoline; and while mechanized and air fighting make immensely greater demands on gasoline supply than were made at that time, lubricants are still a prime necessity. In this connection the conquest of the Netherlands Indies seems to have been of real service to the Japanese.

There are many indications that gasoline is scarce within the Japanese lines and that Japan is still depending largely on her prewar stocks. Extremely severe rationing of gasoline is in effect for the public and even extends to officers. Alcohol and charcoal are largely relied on to provide power for transportation by car, bus and truck. For strictly military and training purposes, however, gasoline is still supplied. Japanese airmen, for example, keep up steady practice and manœuvres far back of the fighting line, and scouting is widespread and constant.

The extent to which rationing can be pushed and petroleum supplies stretched has come as a great surprise to experts who studied such matters in advance. It was commonly believed by men in the petroleum industry that Germany would run out of gasoline in eight to twelve months of active warfare. It is true that there have been long periods of comparative inactivity in this war and that the periods of extreme consumption are brief, even if they have become increasingly frequent. It is also true that Germany's strategic efforts have manifestly been directed toward getting hold of additional oil supplies; but still lack of oil may finally lead to her defeat. The fact remains that both Germany and Japan are still fighting. This must be mainly due to their success in cutting down ordinary civilian consumption. We in the United States have now seen what large amounts of gasoline can be saved for war use by rationing civilian use. Japan began restricting civilian use of petroleum severely several years before Pearl Harbor. Nevertheless, any stored supply must in the end run out. The time when Japan's store will fail may possibly be near -- but we cannot say so with any certainty.

Japan's conquest of the Malayan States and the Netherlands East Indies has provided her with a surplus of tin and rubber -- two of the materials, incidentally, which the United States needs most. With what the Japanese had and with what is easily available in the conquered areas, they should experience no shortage of chromite or manganese, though they are busy gouging out high-grade ore in the Philippines. They are short of nickel and other rare alloy metals and must use them sparingly. Their supply of aluminum need not fail even if, as reported, it be true that their efforts to reduce the metal from the high aluminous clays found under the great coal beds in Manchuria or from other local sources have not been successful. They can still draw upon the bauxite resources of the Netherlands East Indies and the deposit near Singapore which they secured shortly before the war. It is interesting to note in passing that the Singapore deposit was considered to be gravel and was being worked to secure road material until one of the Ishihara engineers recognized its value. The amount of bauxite needed by Japan is not great enough to impose an over-heavy burden on Japanese shipping, scarce as ships undoubtedly are.

Abundant supplies of coal, the great work-horse of civilization, are available to Japan. She ceased exporting coal as long ago as 1938, but continued to import, thereby adding nearly 3,000,000 tons a year to her domestic supply. She increased production in Manchuria and Korea and received an allotment of 2,000,000 tons per year from Kailan, in China. Probably she has had the use of 10,000,000 to 12,000,000 tons additional per year. Also, she has been developing water power extensively in recent years. There has nonetheless been a power and fuel shortage since 1938. Coking coal in particular has always been a problem in Japan; but new mines in Manchuria began to help before the war began, and the supplies from the Kailan mines supplement the local output. There are many evidences that use of coal is closely restricted. In the countries occupied by Japanese troops there is a great shortage of coal; this the Japanese have been unable or unconcerned to overcome. In the home islands, however, while the coal shortage may well have led to inconvenience and hardship, there has been nothing approaching disaster.

Japan has probably been able to increase her steel supply materially since the war began, despite stoppage of the inflow of scrap which in the past had permitted her to manufacture steel in quantities considerably beyond the capacity of her blast furnaces plus her pig iron imports. When the war began, Japan was believed to be making 7,200,000 tons of steel per year and to have 11,000,000 tons of scrap piled up. Her national program called for a total annual output of 10,000,000 tons of steel. She immediately limited the use of scrap to 30 percent in steel making, which would have lengthened the life of the scrap pile to about four years. She had recognized the danger inherent in this dependence on scrap as early as 1936, and lifted the bar against the construction of additional blast furnaces. By now a number of the new furnaces undoubtedly are in blast. In addition, several of the Krupp furnaces using the Renn process are operating in Korea and Manchuria. Though probably these furnaces have not been completely successful, they doubtless do make some contribution, if only to supply the blast furnace feed. Japan has also built a number of electric furnaces for making steel but other projected plants are not completed, and it is doubtful whether actual production has reached even the expected total of 10,000,000 tons.

Japan is known to be deficient in iron ore, and even in prewar years such small local deposits as she possessed were being rapidly stripped. The Japanese steel industry was almost wholly dependent on imports of scrap, pig and iron ore. The supply of the first two has almost entirely ceased, except in so far as the systematic looting of the occupied countries has helped fill the gap in the case of scrap. She began the war with full stockpiles of ore and the major sources from which she imported it remain accessible, though the shortage of shipping has probably cut down supplies. In prewar times, the imports of ore came in nearly equal parts of a million tons each from Malaya, the Philippines and China (especially along the Yangtze). Of the two mines in the Philippines, one is certainly not shipping since its loading dock was blasted beyond easy repair before our troops retreated. At the other the facilities are available, but it is believed that no shipments have been made. Certainly none was made through most of 1942 and none has been reported since. There is no known reason, other than possibly a lack of ships, why this mine and those along the Yangtze should not be in operation. In northern China an attempt has been made to increase rail shipments. The first results were disappointing because of the unexpectedly high silica content of the ore. It is reported that the mine railroad has now been extended to a point at which a better grade of ore is available. Considerable improvement has been made in the railway facilities to the coast; but at best the line is long and was not built for heavy traffic.

Manchuria may well be now a major source of supply for both ore and pig iron. Since the Japanese came into possession of that territory they have accomplished two major improvements. They found and opened previously unknown deposits of high-grade red hematite along the Yalu River, and they worked out an ingenious process of beneficiating the large low-grade iron ore deposits in south Manchuria which permits the delivery to the blast furnace of a unit of iron, in the form of sinter, at a favorable competitive cost. Doubtless both proceedings are very helpful to the Japanese in their present difficulties, but there would seem to be small warrant for believing that there has been any notable increase in actual overall steel production. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that the demand for steel has been sharply increased by the war. If one may judge from appearances, the net result is reflected most notably in a shortage of ships, which persists despite active and fairly successful salvage operations.

It will perhaps be sufficient for present purposes to outline the situation with regard to one other metal in which a critical shortage exists, namely copper. The mining of copper and the making of brass are ancient Japanese industries. Not many years ago Japan stood next after the United States, and second in the world, in copper production. Since then our own production has greatly increased, and Chile, Rhodesia, Canada and the Belgian Congo have risen to high rank as copper producers. Japan's production has also grown, but not nearly enough to enable her to maintain her old position as a producer.

In the years preceding the present war, Japan's domestic production stood at about 70,000 tons, which seemed to meet demands for consumption. Immediately before the war she purchased as much more abroad, mainly from the United States. In the most recent of those years she purchased enough ores and concentrates from Canada, Chile and the Philippines to enable her furnaces to push production up to possibly 100,000 tons per year, much of which undoubtedly went into war storage. Imports were all cut off by the war. But early in 1942 the Japanese took possession of the Lepanto mine in the Philippines, from which they had previously been buying ore, and began to operate it. Incidentally, they found more than a million dollars' worth of ore and concentrate which had accumulated at the shore after shipments stopped. The mine had been producing at the rate of 11,000 tons of copper per year. The Japanese spared neither work nor expense to increase the output and have been very successful. They opened additional workings and were fortunate in finding richer ore. They moved in additional machinery from gold mines in Northern Luzon, improved shipping facilities from mine to shore, and, contrary to their policy elsewhere, raised wages and paid workers a premium for regularity in attendance. They are even reported to have issued gasoline to the large number of trucks plying between mine and dock. This is the only place in the Philippines where the issuance of gasoline for other than strictly military equipment has been reported.

These measures indicate that copper is one of the items most needed to carry out the Japanese program. The belief is reinforced by the news that has come of the widespread campaign for copper scrap under way in the Philippines and elsewhere and of the imposition, in the fall of 1943, of control measures over the use of copper wire. In addition, the Japanese are making efforts to develop mines out of small prospects in the central islands of the Philippines. All these various efforts seem to have been well rewarded. From Lepanto alone by the end of 1943 copper was being drawn at a rate of about 36,000 tons per year, equal to half the normal output of the mines in Japan proper; and active steps were being taken to build up production still further. American submarines had sunk at least two cargoes of concentrate. In this instance Japan can nevertheless be said to have succeeded in deriving notable profit from an occupied country.

This story of copper has been recited in some detail to show that the Japanese situation with regard to at least a certain war material is critical. There are many other gaps which evidently remain unfilled. Fibres for weaving into textiles are a case in point; and strenuous efforts are reported to increase food production in the home islands. But so far as an observer in the Philippines could judge, the chief shortage is in shipping. Since manpower seems also to be lacking, one may conclude that the shortage of ships is probably due to lack of steel and of skilled shipbuilding labor.

Beyond any shortage of individual materials is the overall shortage of manpower. This seems likely to be a critical factor in the war. The Japanese have not to any considerable extent won their way into the confidence and liking of the peoples they have conquered. They disorganized industry, removed the men who had been "making it tick," and then were unable to put Humpty-Dumpty together again. Since they had assumed the position of friends coming to rescue the various peoples from exploitation, they are precluded from using over-forceful methods to make them work when disinclined. They must either abandon the pretense of being a protective big brother or wait as patiently as may be until their propaganda becomes convincing or despair forces the various peoples into coöperation. The Japanese themselves are used to repression and yield to terroristic measures. They do not seem to be able to believe that there are people who abhor such methods and resist all the harder when they are applied. From time to time when the Japanese give up persuasion and resort to force they lose any psychological ground that they may formerly have gained. At the same time, the disorganization of industry subjects the people to increasing hardships and steadily increases their hatred of their conquerors, which is not the less intense because concealed as much as possible. Certainly in the Philippines at any rate the people submit only and to the extent that they must.

The failure of the Japanese propaganda is what prevents Japan from quickly organizing industry in the conquered territories and precludes her from replacing promptly the supplies which she is currently expending. If we are able to bring our power to bear against her before the subject peoples give up hope and start collaborating more effectively with their conquerors, she will not have sufficient materials with which to maintain the struggle. However high their courage and determination, the Japanese cannot win without sufficient guns, ammunition and ships. They are not able to keep up the supply alone. For us, then, time is the essence of victory.

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  • H. FOSTER BAIN, recently Adviser on Mines to the Philippine Government; interned at Santo Tomas in Manila and returned on the Gripsholm in December 1943; formerly Secretary of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers; author of "Ores and Industry in the Far East" and other works
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