The Performance of Japanese Surface Forces in Torpedo Attack versus the expectations of the Decisive Battle Strategy
By Joseph Czarnecki
The acumen of World War Two Imperial Japanese Navy cruiser and destroyermen in torpedo attack is an accepted fact. The range and power of their Type 93 torpedo (dubbed the "Long Lance" by historian Morison) have become the stuff of legend. To call the Japanese surface forces the best at torpedo attack is easily defensible.
But were they good enough to meet the standard required for their own strategic and tactical preconceptions? Prior to Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku's radical break with pre-war IJN strategy, the accepted method of engaging the US Fleet was a three fold process:
Attrition operations by submarines and surface force raids.
A night attack by fast battleships, Class A cruisers, and Special Type destroyers.
A daylight battle line engagement at dawn following the night attack. If the officer in tactical command judged it appropriate, the battle line could be committed to the night attack if that effort was going better than expected.
Torpedo attack was the cornerstone of the night attack, and a critical element of the day attack intended to rectify Japan's initial 3:5 and worsening deficit in numbers. The night attack force was to launch an intricately coordinated long-range salvo of 130 torpedoes from 11 different groups using half their ready torpedoes. This salvo was designed to converge upon and hit 10 American capital ships with 20 weapons (a rate of ~15%).
After the initial salvo at long range (20,000 meters), the four Kongo Class battleships and 17 Class A cruisers detailed to the night attack force were to break through the American screen - suicidally if necessary - and clear the way for the force's two torpedo cruisers and the light cruiser and 14 destroyers of a destroyer squadron to expend the remainder of their ready torpedoes in a close range attack from as little as 2,000 meters.
Once all ready torpedoes were expended, the night attack force was to fight its way clear, reload torpedoes, and execute further attacks if possible. Survivors would eventually join the battle line for the "Decisive Battle" at dawn.
The daylight Decisive Battle was also to feature torpedo attack, including an initial salvo of 280 weapons at long range. As this salvo began to hit, the battle line would open fire. This massive salvo was expected to cripple or sink 10 American capital ships. When the Japanese Admiral judged the situation ripe, the three light cruisers and 48 destroyers of three destroyer squadrons would charge (again, suicidally if necessary) to close range and expend the remainder of their torpedoes. This charge was expected to be able to ensure the destruction of 16 American capital ships.
The IJN's battle plan reads impressively and dramatically, but it has numerous flaws. Most of these will not be discussed in this article. Here the principle question is thus:
Did the Japanese achieve the required 15% hit rate necessary to successfully execute their pre-war strategic conception of a Decisive Battle, had they fought the war in such fashion?