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"WWII: Did the US Navy 'Get Cocky'?" Topic

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28 May 2018 11:29 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian11 Nov 2017 4:24 p.m. PST

Writing in Bringing Mulligan Home, author Dale Maharidge charges that prior to Iwo Jima and Okinawa…

…the US Navy had also grown cocky about believing that it could take any island it wanted.

Do you agree?

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP11 Nov 2017 5:03 p.m. PST

But they DID take Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Whoever said it would be "easy"?

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP11 Nov 2017 5:29 p.m. PST

Well – they pretty much could

panzerCDR11 Nov 2017 6:18 p.m. PST

"Well – they pretty much could."

Exactly! The relative power of the US Navy in the Pacific towards the end of the Second World War is amazing. They landed close to the equivalent of today's ENTIRE Marine Corps at Iwo Jima, and then just a couple months later landed an ARMY at Okinawa (6-7 Divisions from the Army and Marines). The Navy alone could fly 1000 plane raids from its aircraft carriers, of which 99 had been built by the end of the war, both fleet, light and escort, let alone the dozens of battleships, cruisers, destroyers, escorts and zillions of landing craft. The Japanese were reduced to kamikazes (planes and ships) and digging in and defending (and dying). Yes, the Japanese could incur pretty heavy costs on the Americans at times, but the incredible advantages of force that the US had in every domain (air, land and sea) was not to be denied. So, cocky, maybe, but it was deserved. The Americans were bigger and better by 1945 in just about every criteria.

Gone Fishing11 Nov 2017 6:47 p.m. PST

It's already been said above: they were d…d good at what they did and had as much a right as any to be cocky.

But then, both my grandfather and great uncle were in the navy at that time, so I could be biased!

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP11 Nov 2017 7:02 p.m. PST

"Cocky" implies overconfidence and inevitable failure. Demonstrably not true.

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian11 Nov 2017 9:58 p.m. PST

"Cocky" implies overconfidence and inevitable failure. Demonstrably not true.

I think the author is suggesting the Navy underestimated the Japanese on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and suffered heavy casualties in consequence.

langobard Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2017 3:36 a.m. PST

I'm anything but an expert in the Pacific theater, but from what I have seen, pretty much from Tarawa onwards the US Navy EITHER overestimated the damage it could do in a pre-invasion bombardment OR underestimated the strength of Japanese defenses / bunkers etc.

I don't think they got cocky, because after each operation they conducted a review and learned more about their enemy and as a result consistently increased the amount of fire power they deployed for each operation.

Unfortunately the closer they got to the Japanese Home Islands, the stronger Japanese positions became and this does not appear to have been appreciated by the planning staff.

To me, that smacks more or problems in recon or planning, rather than cockiness.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2017 8:03 a.m. PST

It's not being cocky if you can do it.

Legion 412 Nov 2017 8:14 a.m. PST

In WWII the US Military were the unrivaled masters of Amphib ops. By mid war. But I think they may have gotten a little "cocky" or demonstrated a bit of hubris with fact that they knew that could take any island, any objective, etc., if they were willing to pay the price/high cost in men, planes, ships, etc.

They may have grown too used to the paradigm that we will/must lose many, many assets to achieve victory. Something IMO somewhat as in WWI. Or before that with Grant during the ACW in some cases.

IMO in retrospect, things could have been done differently/better. But as always hindsight is usually 20/20 …

Personal logo Saginaw Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2017 9:05 a.m. PST

I WHOLEHEARTEDLY disagree with the author.

Think about it: December 7, 1941, the U.S. Navy (and the United States) was blindsided by a surprise and costly attack at Pearl Harbor. By the end of June 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy had lost five major aircraft carriers at the battles of Coral Sea and Midway, and the stage was being set for the Guadalcanal Campaign, the beginning of our "island hopping" operations toward Japan.

That's not being "cocky" – that's simply called "RIGHTEOUS DETERMINATION".

thumbs up

Wolfhag12 Nov 2017 9:54 a.m. PST

I think if anything the forces in the Pacific underestimated the enemy resistance. That seems to be historical where adversaries underestimated their opponents.

At Tarawa the Navy thought the battleship bombardment would sink the island before the Marines could land. What happened was the battleships fired from a fairly close range at a low angle of descent and many of the rounds ricocheted off the island doing no damage.

Peleliu was another operation where the ship and air bombardment had eliminated all of the "targets". Intel failed to show the defenders were in caves.

I wouldn't call it cocky, I'd call it an intel failure. Imagine what would have happened at Midway if we were not reading their code, that's a Japanese intel failure and they were feeling pretty cocky about taking Midway.


jdpintex12 Nov 2017 4:14 p.m. PST


Sounds like an author/book I can pass on

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2017 6:27 p.m. PST

Dale Maharidge misses the point of the Japanese change in
defensive strategy.

From about mid-1943 on, the Japanese changed from an
defense grounded in offensive tactics (push the enemy
back into the sea) to one designed to inflict the maximum
number of casualties upon any invading force. The
thinking apparently was that the US public would grow
weary of endless casualty lists and insist on a
negotiated peace.

This strategy did not work well on small targets (such
as Betio) but larger targets (such as Iwo, the Marianas,
etc) were well-suited to very difficult defenses, hard
to overcome without extensive casualties.

The choice of 'cocky' to describe a Navy the likes of
which the world had never seen (and probably never will
again) seems to me more reflective of the 'authors'
bias and insistence upon styling as hubris that which
is better descripted by Muhammad Ali's 'It's hard
to be humble when you're as great…'.

RudyNelson13 Nov 2017 8:22 a.m. PST

By 1944, the US naval strength was overwhelming in both ships and land troops. Being able to take any island is an easy statement. Especially when casualties are not an issue. It will be an issue back home with the parents but any objective can be taken.
The navy was putting out far more ships than were being sunk or damage. the same with airplanes. So yes they got cocky.

22ndFoot13 Nov 2017 9:20 a.m. PST

The book does not appear to be about grand strategy but rather about the casualties and effects of the war on those involved. The context of the quote, which is not given, may be highly relevant. This is the Amazon review:

"Sergeant Steve Maharidge returned from World War II an angry man. The only evidence that he'd served in the Marines was a photograph of himself and a buddy tacked to the basement wall. On one terrifyingly memorable occasion his teenage son, Dale, witnessed Steve screaming at the photograph: "They said I killed him! But I didn't kill him! It wasn't my fault!"

"After Steve died, Dale Maharidge began a twelve-year quest to face down his father's wartime ghosts. He found more than two dozen members of Love Company, the Marine unit in which his father had served. Many of them, now in their eighties, finally began talking about the war. They'd never spoken so openly and emotionally, even to their families. Through them, Maharidge brilliantly re-creates Love Company's battles and the war that followed them home. In addition, Maharidge traveled to Okinawa to experience where the man in his father's picture died and meet the families connected to his father's wartime souvenirs.

"The survivors Dale met on both sides of the Pacific Ocean demonstrate that wars do not end when the guns go quiet—the scars and demons remain for decades. Bringing Mulligan Home is a story of fathers and sons, war and postwar, silence and cries in the dark. Most of all it is a tribute to soldiers of all wars—past and present—and the secret burdens they, and their families, must often bear."

Legion 413 Nov 2017 4:11 p.m. PST

Interesting review … when you look at it from that standpoint. It might be a good read.

Like "Flags Of Our Father", the war, the battles, etc. was really the backdrop. Not really a "history book/lesson" about that. More about the people involved and how they were affected, etc., not a wargame, tactical review, etc., of the campaign/battles, etc.

Walking Sailor15 Nov 2017 10:08 a.m. PST

"It ain't bragging if you can back it up."
Dizzy Dean

4th Cuirassier15 Nov 2017 11:15 a.m. PST

The sheer size of the USN by 1944 made it basically invincible, at least to Japan.

That didn't mean it couldn't be wrong-footed. A good example of this is Halsey being fooled by Ozawa's feint at Leyte Gulf. Despite being humiliatingly twitted, the USN still won – the jeep carriers were numerous enough to hold off Kurita's surface units, while Halsey destroyed the bait and then returned.

When you have more destroyers in a battle than the enemy has aircraft, when the enemy will run out of munitions before you run out of warships, you can get away with making a lot of mistakes.

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