Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Imperial Japanese Navy and the Allies in the Great War

From Timothy D. Saxton

Japan rendered vital, worldwide naval support to Great Britain during the First World War, culminating in the service of Japan's first and only Mediterranean squadron. This long-forgotten Japanese flotilla fought alongside Allied warships throughout the most critical period of the struggle against German and Austro-Hungarian U-boats in 1917 and 1918. 

Admiral Sato Kozo (seated, center) Commanded a Flotilla of
14 Destroyers Based in Malta

Japanese cooperation is all the more surprising given that both British and American historians have characterized Japan's role in the First World War as that of a "jackal state," one that took a lion's share of the kill after only minimally assisting the cause.[ 2] The record tells a different story. Japan in fact stretched its naval resources to the limit during the First World War. Japanese naval assistance in the Mediterranean Sea in 1917 boosted the strength of Allied naval escorts during the darkest days of the war. Beyond the Mediterranean, an argument can be made that without Japanese assistance Great Britain would have lost control of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. That would have isolated the British Empire's two dominions in the Far East, Australia and New Zealand, from the campaigns in Europe and the Middle East. Other British colonies, from Aden and India to Singapore and Hong Kong, would have been exposed. Despite this help, Japan, at best a mistrusted and suspect ally of Great Britain in 1914, emerged from the conflict feared and despised by its "friends."

How did the Imperial Japanese Navy cooperate with the Royal Navy during the First World War? Although the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902 did not require it, Japan declared it would support Britain in the war against Germany and sent an ultimatum to Berlin demanding withdrawal of German warships from Japanese and Chinese waters. Japan helped establish control of the Pacific and Indian Oceans early in the war by seizing the German fortress and naval base of Tsingtao and Germany's colonies in the Pacific (the Carolines, Marshalls, and most of the Mariana Islands); Japanese naval forces also aided Great Britain in driving German warships from the Pacific. At the outbreak of the war, Vice Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee commanded six cruisers of the German Far Eastern Squadron at Ponape in the Carolines; the Japanese declaration of war compelled him to lead most of his force east to South America and the battles of Coronel and the Falklands.

Destroyer Momo Served with the Mediterranean Deployment

The Japanese Navy maintained Allied control of Far Eastern and Indian waters throughout the war, assuming responsibility for patrolling them when demands on British naval forces exceeded resources, and in 1917 freeing American naval forces for service in Europe. Japanese forces provided escorts for convoying troops and war materials to the European theater of operations from the British dominions in the Far East. Japan built warships for Allied nations and sold merchant shipping to the Allies during the war when their shipyards, already working at maximum effort, could not meet such needs. Finally, Japan rendered direct naval assistance in the Mediterranean Sea in 1917 and 1918 when the Allied navies faced the prospect of abandoning that sea in the face of the Central Powers' increasingly successful submarine operations.

Despite the cooperative manner in which the Japanese extended their wartime responsibilities, American resentment of dependence upon the Japanese throughout the war and of Japanese gains in Micronesia closely paralleled that seen in British quarters.[ 69] The Japanese returned this antagonism after 1917, when the view took root among naval officers that differences between the two powers were irreconcilable short of war. Japanese expansion into Siberia in 1918, seen by some Japanese as preempting American containment on all sides, was to add to the antipathy between the two nations. By 1917, even while acting as an ally, the Japanese Navy had officially designated the United States its "most likely enemy" in any future conflict.

The apparent hostility toward Japan after the war, despite its service, led an increasing number of Japanese military officers to believe in an American and British conspiracy against Japan, founded on racial animosity.

Destroyer Sakaki Rescued 1,800 British Soldiers When the Troopship Transylvania Was Sunk. Later She Had 68 Crewmen Killed When It Barely Survived a Torpedo from U-27 

The severing of the Anglo-Japanese alliance, in fact, steered Japan toward cooperation with Germany. The arrival of the seized German submarines began a new, long-term relationship between the Japanese and German navies. German influence and technology quickly supplanted those of the British. The two services began to exchange personnel. Numerous Japanese officers received training in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, facilitating the Imperial Japanese Navy's ultimate break with its British mentors.

The British had their empire, and the Americans felt no shame in professing their "Manifest Destiny," but both attacked Japanese imperial ambitions as excessive. After 1918, neither nation proved willing to maintain the close naval cooperation with Japan that had benefited all parties during the First World War. So it was that despite the strong record of Japanese assistance to Great Britain during that conflict, the true legacy of that cooperation proved to be alienation. Thus began the breach between East and West that led to the Japanese attack upon British (and American) possessions in the Far East as part of a true two-ocean conflict, just 23 years after Japan, Great Britain, and the United States had been allies in the "war to end all 
wars." 

Source:  Saxon, Timothy D., "Anglo-Japanese Naval Cooperation, 1914-1918"

Read the full article at:  http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1004&context=hist_fac_pubs

2 comments:

  1. I'd like to hear more about the argument 'that without Japanese assistance Great Britain would have lost control of the Indian and Pacific Oceans'. Lost control to whom? Certainly not Germany?

    ReplyDelete