What if nations were not so slow to adopt aircraft carriers in WW2?

A lot of emphasis is placed on the IJN really embracing carrier warfare, and implementing it into their naval plans during WW2. But even Japan still build big and impractical battleships, and their ‘decisive victory’ seems to envision surface combatants shooting it up over the open ocean. Through the war the US got the hint and put more emphasis on carriers. The RN had a few, and even Germany was working on one. But it seems like for most of the nations, it was too little, too late- Carriers were extremely effective, but if your navy is just figuring this out in 1940, by the time you tool up your shipyards to churn them out, the war is probably already over one way or another.

While there were battleship fights in world war 2, it seems like battleships, when compared to aircraft or submarines, accounted for relatively little tonnage sunk. Particularly if you look at the resources and cost to build and maintain them, it gets me wondering how battles would have changed if the nations had put more effort into carrier warfare.

It wouldn’t have mattered in the long run, because sooner or later we’d be able to nuke Japan from Korea even if they temporarily ruled the Pacific. The European theatre was where the war was really decided and Germany could not have used carriers to prevent convoys coming through once there were land-based planes that could cover nearly the entire route (not to mention Allied subs.)

Consider that aside from thge United States and Japan, sea power was effectively non-existent for most combatants. germany knew it was not going to match britain’s fleet, and that doing so would be a massively expensive boondoggle. Aside from a few high-powered ships, whose impact on the war was negligable, it was almost entirely a U.S. vs. Japan nabal battle.

This is not the dismiss the contributions of Australia or Britain, but both were principally concerned with home defense. In that role, Australia really didn’t have the money or facilities to build a big fleet, and Britain didn’t need one all that badly: you don’t need carriers to bomb Berlin from England.

Now, the thing with carriers was that nobody knew how effective they would be. They were believed to be useful, but how useful and in what role was still being worked out precisely because nobody had ever used them before. As such, it made very good sense not to put all your eggs in one basket. If carriers had turned out not to be as useful as thought, you’d be screwed. And indeed, air power had trouble knocking out enemy battleships. It was simply that combat ended up taking place at ranges far enough that battleships weren’t capable of responding.*

More to the point, it would not have changed things much. Japan had built about all the seapower it could afford, and during the war could not even replace its losses, much less grow the fleet. The United States threw itself into building its war machine and vastly expanded its ships, including fielding all the carriers it could handle. Not to mention that Japan couldn’t have filled those non-existent carrier with planes: while they had extra planes at the end of the war, this was more due to the fact that they’d damn near run out of pilots, too.

*Although I know at least one battleship on battlehsip engagement did occur, and the IJN was hammered like a railroad spike.

It’s not that America built aircraft carriers and Japan wasted its resources on battleships and we won because carriers beat battleships. It was really a battle of tonnage and the United States overwhelmed Japan. America built aircraft carriers and battleships throughout the war. Japan tried to do the same but fell far behind America. (The United States built four times as many battleships during the war as Japan did. And also built ten times as many carriers.) So the key difference was that America could afford to waste resources building battleships and Japan could not.

In, Victory at Sea: WWII in the Pacific, the military historian James Dunnigan lists 2 battleship on battleship fights in the Pacific Theater: The 2nd Naval Battle of Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Surigao Strait (part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf). Guadalcanal had for the IJN: BB Kirishima, CA Atago, CA Takao, CL Nagara, CL Sendai, and nine destroyers vs. USN: BB South Dakota, BB Washington, and four destroyers. The wiki goes into pretty good detail, but the end result was Kirishima getting annihilated by Washington, with South Dakota getting heavily damaged by Kirishima and the cruisers. The IJN had to retreat, and ended up beaching on Guadalcanal, the four transports they were trying to escort.

Surigao Strait is the famous “crossing the T” battle where multiple veterans of Pearl Harbor (BBs Maryland, West Virginia, Tennessee, California, and Pennsylvania) and USS Mississippi sank all but one vessel of a Japanese column including IJN BBs Fuso and Yamashiro. When I read about the battle, I was surprised by how much damage the 28 USN destroyers did with their multiple torpedo runs. It reads to me like most of the damage was from those, and not the multiple broadsides fired by the BBs and cruisers. Indeed, Pennsylvania didn’t even get to fire.

This contrasts with Dunnigan’s listing of 7 separate BB actions in the Atlantic Theater. In this list he counts KM Scharnhorst and HMS Renown as BBs, which gets in actions like their North Sea clash in 1940 and the Battle of North Cape.

The war would probably have been lengthened and US losses much greater if,
other things being equal, Japan had built ~4 carriers rather than the BB Yamato
and* Musashi.* With 8 instead of 4 Japanese carriers at Midway it is hard to imagine
a US victory at sea, or a Japanese failure to take Midway Island.

Subsequently the US would have been much less likely to divert so much of its
1942 effort south of the equator in places like New Guinea and the Solomons,
and the entire timetable of the Pacific was would have been altered in Japan’s favor.

How was the US going to get to Korea?

Excepting USSR territory to the NNE Japan controlled the Asian mainland within 1000s of miles of Korea.
The USSR would not allow US airbases on its land in the European war, and there is no reason to think it
would have been more accomodating in Asia.

Russia is, after they beat Germany.

You are talking about a 4-year wait then, because the USSR did not obtain
nuclear weapons until 1949.

It seems to me that the other advantage of the Pacific war was the simple vastness of distances. The Doolittle raiders could steam within flight distance of Japan without being discovered in time, simply because the ocean was so big it was impossible to cover it all.

Midway, like many battles, relied on the much larger recon range of aircraft (in good weather) to scour a huge area that could not be covered from surface exploration. Thus the convoys were sitting ducks to be attacked before finding each other for ship-to-ship encounters.

The North Sea and English Channel, Mediteranean etc. were hard to hide a battle group in; especially with arial sentries. You couldn’t bomb many effective targets from the Atlantic, it was easier to bomb Berlin from the British Isles, and mediterranean targets from land. You could launch much larger aircraft from land, with better range.

Considering IJN Musashi was not commissioned until after the Battle of Midway, it is difficult to see how all four additional carriers the Japanese would have made in their stead could have been present for the battle. Adding two additional carriers, say if Zuikaku and Shokaku were available, would have been an interesting twist to the battle though. If they were refuelling and rearming during the divebomber strikes though, I think you just would’ve added two more HVUs to the target list. I don’t know if adding however many Zeroes to the CAP from four additional fighter squadrons (12? 25% of 12 Zeroes X 4 ‘squadrons’?) would have made a difference to McCluskey’s attack.

It really was a near thing, Midway and June 1942. For all of the 20/20 hindsight and bravado that defeating Japan was inevitable, imagine if the U.S. had not had the timing they had at Midway, and instead, the Japanese were able to sink Enterprise, Yorktown and Hornet? Sure, you had Saratoga and Wasp available, but I really wonder with 2 carriers v. 4, and Midway in Japanese hands, whether the U.S. might not have decided to cut a deal.

Actually it’s hard to imagine a US defeat at sea. So what if Japan had eight carriers instead of four. So what if Japan had caught all seven American carriers at dock in Pearl Harbor and sank them all.

The United States built over one hundred new aircraft carriers between 1941 and 1945.

Prior to Pearl Harbor and confirmed by Midway six months later, the supremacy of the carrier over the battleship was not known. It was entirely prudent and conservative military procurement to diversify forces and build super battleships.

He’s not talking about Russia doing the nuking. He’s talking about using Russian bases.

BB Yamato was laid down 11/4/37 and commissioned 4 years 42 days later on 12/16/41.

BB Mushashi was laid down 3/29/38 and commissioned 4 years 40 days later on 5/8/42.

AC Shokaku was laid down 12/12/37 and commissioned 3 years 239 days later on 8/8/41.

AC Zuikaku was laid down 5/25/38 and commissioned 3 years 93 days later on 9/25/41.

Therefore my inference is reasonable as far as comparative construction lead time goes.

Also, the BB weighed almost exactly twice as much as the AC, so my inference should hold
for building material as well. Construction personnel and physical plant may represent an
unresolvable bottleneck for a 4-additional carrier scenario, but a 2-carrier scenario should
be a sure thing.

McCluskey and Leslie were lucky to find 3/4 HVU in the first strike; it would be asking way too much
for them to find 6/6, much less 8/8. And don’t forget the one they missed put Yorktown out of action.

Our fathers and grandfathers were a lot tougher than you seem to think they were, and there was
no possibility of them cutting any fucking deal.

Of course eventual US victory was inevitable; I was addressing the situation which obtained
before US production geared up. Starting several 1000 miles further away from the Japanese
home islands with zero carriers have made for a significantly longer war.

Addressed. See post #7.

I agree.

However, OP asks about a different, alternate history.

August 5th, the date of commissioning, comes after June 4-7, the dates of the Battle of Midway, last I checked. Meh, whatever…say they had 4 additional carriers instead of 2 from Yamato.

All of the IJN carriers were ‘next’ to each other; the U.S. knew where Hiryu was, and attacked it at ~1015 4 June. They just missed, that’s all. I’m guessing, absent a decision to split the carriers into 2 groups of 3 or 4, that all six carriers would be near each other, and therefore targetable.

Re your last point, consider the POV of the U.S. with a catastrophic defeat in the Pacific at Midway. They are down to two CVs, with Saratoga at Pearl and Wasp hauling ass to the Canal. The Japanese have or shortly will have, invaded and taken Midway. Other than the Doolittle raid, the U.S. has either lost or drawn every surface engagement within the last six months, losing in the process the Philippines, the Marianas, the East Indies, Wake, and now, maybe Hawaii. I don’t know if the IJN would’ve stopped at Midway. In fact, why would they have? They already have their concentration of force and an invasion force. Meanwhile, you have a fight against Nazi Germany that may or may not go well. So, given all that, why not cut a deal? Given my hypothetical, everytime the USN went up against the IJN, they’d gotten their heads handed to them.

Obviously, given our tremendous industrial disparity with both Japan and Germany—and their inability to interfere with it—we’d eventually outproduce them and win. Yamamoto certainly thought so. I just don’t know if we would have gotten to that point, if the Japanese would have had an overwhelming victory at Midway, with the attending ~10k casualties. I think your certainty in the moral fortitude of our forebears is bolstered by the knowledge that we eventually won. I don’t think that certainty is quite so clear in June 1942 after a hypothetical crushing defeat by the IJN.

Construction timelines I gave show that AC could be completed enough faster than BB
to have been ready for action 6/4/42.

I believe I read Hiryu was located late, after the 1st strike, by air recon.

The two quesions are:

(1) whether the depleted US air arm could be expected to both locate and sink
3AC as opposed to 1 in a 2nd strike,

and (2) whether Enterprise and Hornet could be expected to survive a full-strength
2-carrier enemy strike.

Oahu was manned by two entire Army divisions, with more available from
the mainland. Even suffering from “Victory Disease” as they were, the Japanese
would have thought twice about mounting an operation large enough to stand
any chance of success, given their experience with the resolute American defences
elsewhere, much further from North America than Hawaii. But even if they had
conducted such an operation, an attack on sovereign territory would surely have
increased US ardor rather than weakened it.

So you think our fathers and grandfathers would have said “Gee, I guess those guys
are just to good for us”? I don’t.

Our forebearers fortutude is a matter of unimpeachable historical record.
If there ever was a time it was tested it would have been in 1945 by the
prospect of invading the Japanese home islands. There was not a peep from
anyone that I have ever heard of, and it is sad to see the brave slandered by
their desendants, to whom they bequeathed, with their blood and treasure,
an unfathomably better life.

I do.