By Admiral of the Fleet Ernest J. King, USN
I CAN best stress the importance of the
U. S. Navy to the American people when I state that without sea power
on our side the United States would never have become a nation, would
not have continued to exist as a nation, and even more specifically
would not have won the great World War just so successfully concluded.
The destruction of British commerce by our commerce raiders, plus the
timely control of the Chesapeake Bay by the French Fleet that made
Washington's victory at Yorktown possible, insured our independence.
Our similar destruction of British commerce in the War of 1812, plus our naval victories on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain, forced Britain to concede us an equal peace without the great loss of territory which at first seemed inevitable. Our Navy's blockade of the Southern Confederacy and control of the river highways into the heart of the South tore the Confederacy to pieces and preserved the Union. Our naval victories in the Spanish-American War were the greatest factor in winning that war. The combined sea power of the United States and Great Britain in the First World War made possible our tremendous army in Europe which turned the tide of victory for the Allies. And in the recent war the Navy repeated the identical job in Europe and at the same time crushed the Japanese Navy and brought about the surrender of Japan while Army and Air Forces were still largely intact.
Sea power is not the combat Navy alone, but also includes merchant ships, bases, naval air power--all the things that allow a country to gain control of the sea for its own purposes and to deny that use of the sea to the enemy. In its essence you can call it "Our Navy." And the purpose of this history is to tell the story of that Navy.
By its attack on Pearl Harbor Japan attempted to erase the greatest threat to her hoped-for-victory--our Navy. And that attack, demobilizing for a year or more our most powerful warships through bomb and torpedo damage, was a terrible blow. It left Japan with a superior navy in the Pacific, even though we brought all our remaining ships from the Atlantic to help -- something we could not do because of our other enemies on the Atlantic side, the Axis Powers of Europe.
THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF
IN THAT trying time our President formed for the first time that unique organization for directing all our military effort--the organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff was composed of the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Chief of Naval Operations of the Navy, the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces, and the Chief of Staff of the President (Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy). Meeting together in Washington, those four men, with the help of their own service staffs, coordinated and directed the whole course of our military operations: the Battle of the Atlantic, the invasion of Africa, Italy, France, and Germany; the vast battle of the Pacific with all its numerous operations--the Coral Sea, Midway, Guam, Saipan, conquest of the Philippines, the Battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf that broke the Japanese Fleet--the blockade by air, submarine, and surface ships that strangled Japan--Okinawa, and the final bombing of Japan that shattered the last remnants of Japan's will to resist.
In the Joint Chiefs of Staff each member had an equal voice, and no plan could be made or put into effect without the common consent of all four members. Each man on it was an expert in his own field, and not until his agreement was obtained that a thing could be or should be done was that thing attempted. Frequently proposals were made that did not obtain that unanimous approval--there was not a member who at one time or another did not advocate things that would have been great mistakes. When, as on some few occasions, a dead-lock occurred on a vital matter, the decision was made by the President after hearing the proponents and the opponents. But always decisions were made, and those decisions proved correct.
When once a decision was made, the plan was turned over to be executed by that member whose branch of the service was best fitted to carry it out. If it was primarily an Army job, like the invasion of Europe, it was placed under Army supervision, and the Army commander on the spot, like General Eisenhower, was in complete control not only of the Ground forces but of the Naval forces and the Air forces that were necessary to convoy the troops, crack open the beachhead, land the troops, and then see that they were safeguarded from enemy attack. A similar instance was the invasion of the Philippines where, as it was primarily an Army ground forces job, General MacArthur was in supreme command, and the Navy and Air forces gave their support. Conversely if it was primarily a Naval job, like the operations of Midway, Kwajalein, Guam, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, the Navy's Admiral Nimitz was in overall command, even though Army divisions and Air Force planes supported him in doing that job.
Thus the final victory over the Axis Powers was not that of anyone
service alone but that of all the services, cooperating and working
together as fellow Americans for the common good.
ANOTHER function of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was coordinating our war effort with those of the other United Nations-chiefly with Great Britain, but also with Russia, China, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Holland, the South American Republics, etc. Our Joint Chiefs of Staff worked closely with the military leaders of all those other nations and developed the plans for the combined attack of all the United Nations on the Axis enemy.
The part of the U. S. Navy alone in this war was stupendous. And I wish here to acknowledge our debt not only to the men and women of the United States Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and their several Women's Reserves, but also to all those innumerable civilians who aided the Navy's war effort.
The day after Pearl Harbor our Navy's position in the Pacific was extremely grave. The bulk of our major ships had been put out of commission for a year; only our small Asiatic Fleet under Admiral Hart in the Philippines and portions of the Pacific Fleet that had been absent from Pearl Harbor on the day of the attack were in fighting condition in the Pacific. Even Hawaii might be attacked and overrun at any moment. And in the Atlantic the Axis submarines were destroying a tremendous tonnage of our shipping within sight of our very shores.
THEN, even at the lowest of the war tide, the decision was made, and correctly: first fight for time, especially in the Pacific-and then assemble the might to conquer first Italy and Germany, and then inevitably Japan must succumb.
It was a difficult decision. Japan swept through Malaya to Singapore, then overran Burma; she battered at the Philippines; she overran the Dutch East Indies, and threatened Australia and New Zealand and even India itself.
Distressful though it was, it was realized immediately that with our Pacific Fleet shattered, and no western Pacific bases left to operate from, we could give no help either to our Army in the Philippines or our Allies in Singapore-we could not even evacuate them. But our little Asiatic Fleet fell back, sacrificing themselves in innumerable battles against overwhelming enemy forces until only the remnants staggered into Australian ports. But they had gained time. And instead of challenging our enfeebled forces in American waters and attacking Hawaii, Alaska, and Panama, or cutting our supply lines in those waters, the Japanese Navy wasted time in serving as a mere adjunct to the Army in its land conquest.
But our shipyards, our ordnance plants, our scientists were working. Radar was perfected, new sonic devices invented, planes and warships built by the thousands, escort carriers and landing craft constructed, and millions of men recruited and trained in all forms of fighting and war effort.
The escort carrier, the destroyer, radar and other electronic devices defeated and then smashed the submarine menace. Our Navy transported and safeguarded the invasion forces to Africa and Europe, and then smashed the enemy beachheads to afford them a landing. Our still small forces in the Pacific turned back the threat to our lifeline to Australia at the Coral Sea battle, and then drove the first entering wedge into the Japanese conquered empire at Guadalcanal. At Midway we hurled back the first real Japanese threat at Hawaii, Alaska, and the West Coast. Our ever growing Navy and Marine Corps, and Naval Flying Forces bombed and then seized the stepping stone islands-Tarawa, Kwajalein, Guam, Saipan.
We guarded the landings that reconquered the Philippines, our carrier forces seized control of the air everywhere it was needed, and our Fleet broke the back of the Japanese Navy in the great naval battles of the Philippine Sea and of Leyte Gulf. Our submarines destroyed the majority of the Japanese merchant marine, as well as innumerable Japanese naval combat ships. When we seized Okinawa, we seized a point just off Japan from which we could, and did, destroy the remnants of the Japanese Navy and bomb the Japanese homeland into final submission-a submission that would inevitably have come anyway from the strangling blockade we had thrown around Japan. With a greater army and more planes than she had at the time of Pearl Harbor, Japan surrendered-because with the destruction of her Navy and merchant marine she could not obtain from outside those necessities without which Japan could not even live, much less fight.
Nor is the Navy content to rest on its present laurels. Long a leader in invention and research, our Navy is already studying new weapons, new methods-the atomic bomb and guided missiles, For instance. Whatever new weapons, or defenses against new weapons, science can develop, the U. S. Navy intends to incorporate them into itself, to make sure that the Navy shall always be strong enough to perform its historic function of defense of our own country and of offense against enemy countries.
It is to be hoped that every American will exert his effort and influence to see that that goal is achieved-that the U. S. Navy will always remain, as it is today, the world's greatest sea power.