Operation FS: Japan's Final Strike

XXXIX: Old Enemies (5/43)
XXXIX: Old Enemies, May 1943

The Imperial Army was bristling with confidence even as Fiji fell to the Allies. Army forces had seen a nearly unbroken chain of successes for as long as anyone bothered to think about: Eastern China, the Philippines, Malaya, Burma, the East Indies and the South Pacific had all returned victories, and British attempts to push them back in Arakan had been a total failure. The two most prominent defeats, in New Caledonia last year and Fiji just recently, were both the Navy’s fault for failing to deliver the proper supplies. Other than General Ito, who had become a prisoner instead of seeking an honourable death, no major Army commanders had brought shame upon themselves or their families.
As the war dragged on, this overconfidence had been clouding the judgement of Japan’s top commanders to an increasingly extreme degree. A victory in the East Indies had led to the Port Moresby landing being approved, then that had led to FS, and on Yamamoto’s part at least, the final naval clashes of FS had led to a fixation on the Second Decisive Battle, which was fast becoming an unwinnable affair owing to America’s enormous productive capabilities. The Army had also succumbed to the so-called ‘victory disease’, perhaps worse than the Navy had (at least privately, the Navy acknowledged that losses so far had been higher than expected). By the middle of 1943, tensions between the Army and Navy had reached an all-time high, and both services were spending more time looking warily at each other than at any of Japan’s much more powerful external enemies.
Fiji’s fall was a shock to all in the Japanese High Command. Yamamoto was unconcerned (and possibly the only senior officer not involved in the internal conflicts), but the Army decided that this was the time to take control for themselves.

In May, the IJA’s plans had not yet reached the far more radical actions that would soon follow. They had already secured control of the country’s propaganda arm, and appeared to wish to sideline the Navy’s influence in the war planning. They had already blamed the Navy publicly for every major failure that Japan had suffered, but the Navy had won just as many victories as the Army had: while the Army could claim the credit for the Philippines, East Indies and Burma, the Navy had Pearl Harbour, Coral Sea and the destruction of the USN off Efate. If the Army was to prevail against the Navy, they had to score another triumphant victory. More importantly, this victory had to be won in a theatre where the Navy had no influence, so that they could not claim any credit of their own. The decision was obvious at that point: the battle had to be won in China.
The plan they decided to use, ‘Operation 5’, was the last realistic hope Japan had to win the war. Made up of two simultaneous offensives, one beginning in Henan province to take Xi’an and then Chengdu, and the other beginning in Hubei province and advancing along the Yangtze river, the final goal was to conquer the Sichuan basin, Chiang Kai-Shek’s last meaningful power base, and take his capital in Chungking. While the plan would do nothing about the persistent guerilla problem in China, if successful it could severely weaken any further organised resistance against Japan in the country.
Unfortunately for the Japanese, the Army was impatient and utterly certain of victory. Despite earlier versions of the Sichuan plan calling for several divisions’ worth of troops to be transferred from Manchukuo to strengthen the offensive (troops that were still available by May 1943), the Army faction in the Imperial Headquarters urged that the offensive go forward immediately. About 100,000 troops were available in the region, instead of possibly triple that had a two month delay been allowed. The Army believed that a two month delay would allow the Navy an opportunity to do a never-defined ‘something’ (they had influenced the Emperor once before after all). Generals were given orders, and the offensive was rushed into action.

When the offensives began on May 4th, the Chinese lines broke just as the Japanese believed they would. Equipment shortages and weak leadership, problems that had never been solved in China’s vast armies, once again reared their ugly heads. The Japanese were facing roughly double their number in these opening stages, and for several days the Army’s belief of its own superiority looked to be ‘proven’ true once again.
Chiang Kai-Shek, who was hesitant to get into a major battle with the Japanese (instead preferring to prepare for the next stage of the old conflict with the Chinese Communists), knew that this time he had no choice. Sichuan was too important to lose. As soon as reports of the Japanese offensive reached him, he ordered every available reserve be sent to the battle. Hundreds of thousands of troops. Even poor quality soldiers could slow down the Japanese, burying the attackers in a sea of manpower. The Communists watched on, their stronghold in Shanxi being largely ignored by the Japanese who were more interested in targets further south. The IJA felt there was no prestige to be gained from taking Mao’s mountain forts.
Their ignorance would cost them. When the moment was deemed right, towards the end of May, Mao unleashed his forces, striking the northern Japanese force in the flank and throwing them back. Although the counter-offensive pushed the Japanese most of the way back to their starting point, it cost the Chinese, Communist and Nationalist both, thousands of casualties. Chiang Kai-Shek’s incoming reserves began turning the tide in western Hubei at around the same time, but instead of a dramatic push east, all that he achieved was a stalemate. A new cell of guerillas opened up in the newly-taken territory, but there was no glory to be found there. In a battle that looked for prestige first and military objectives second, that stalemate was useless. The Japanese Army had been halted, the Nationalists had been bloodied, and the true victor of the offensive was the one power that was never supposed to be a part of the battle in the first place.

The Imperial Army made sure that they covered up the story as much as possible. No-one was to know that they had rushed a plan into action without the forces it needed to succeed (post-war historians believe that had the Japanese attacked with 300,000 troops instead, they would very likely have taken at least one of their first-stage major objectives). What men did already know about the operation outside of the Army’s highest ranks in the Home Islands were told that it was a localised incident of no particular importance. Those same top generals, foiled in their plan to present a major victory to the Emperor and the Navy, now began to look to other sources of power and glory. The fact that MacArthur was gathering an invasion force off the coast of New Guinea appeared to be of no concern to them at all.

- BNC
 
Hmm, looks like Ichi-Go a year early, on a smaller scale but with similar grand strategic outcomes. (Japan makes gains but doesn't really improve their position, Nationalists humiliated, prestige for the commies) But if this is what the army is doing now, what will those "more radical actions" be?

I wonder what would had happened had the troops used for this instead been sent to defend New Guinea?
 
But if this is what the army is doing now, what will those "more radical actions" be?
Those actions will be the subject of several updates in the near future. Don't want me giving too much away now do you? :p

I wonder what would had happened had the troops used for this instead been sent to defend New Guinea?
Probably they'd starve to death. New Guinea's terrain is pretty awful and there's no infrastructure so supplies for 50-100,000 more soldiers (they've already got a division plus some Navy stuff there) won't be easy to bring in. The airfields at Moresby have been hammered by months of MacArthur's raids and sailing around the eastern coast of NG to unload them by sea is a great way to get a lot of Japanese ships sunk - Yamamoto won't be giving up his precious warships before the decisive battle 2.0, and Fletcher's navy is still fairly strong.

Those troops OTL never left China, so the situation in China gets worse if they are pulled out as well.

- BNC
 
XL: The Next Step (5/43)
XL: The Next Step, May 1943

Douglas MacArthur spent months pressuring the Joint Chiefs to approve his plans for a large-scale offensive through the South Pacific, with no success. Their strategy to focus on Micronesia left little room for the recapture of island after island in the south, every one of them sure to cost thousands of American casualties for little strategic benefit. Japan’s more important outposts, in the Marshalls, Gilberts and Marianas, were more easily attacked with the fleet operating out of Pearl Harbour. Smaller operations would be conducted first to test amphibious doctrines and new equipment, and to remove the direct Japanese threat to Australia and New Zealand. Fiji’s liberation had protected New Zealand, now Port Moresby would do the same for Australia. Only now, they would call it ‘Drop Bear’.
Much to MacArthur’s annoyance, the Port Moresby operation was very much a limited offensive. Drop Bear called for a single amphibious landing near Port Moresby, followed by an advance to the foothills of the Owen Stanley mountains. At that point, MacArthur was ordered to halt and build a new set of fortifications in case the Japanese decided to launch an overland counteroffensive. The Japanese base at Lae, which had grown substantially since its capture early in the war, would be destroyed by air bombing, as would Guadalcanal and then Rabaul as more long-range bombers could be deployed to the South Pacific.
MacArthur was convinced that the operation should be expanded to include a conquest of all of New Guinea, a suggestion that was repeatedly denied. The malaria-ridden jungles and mountains of central New Guinea was some of the worst terrain possible for any kind of military operations, and the resources such an advance would require were considered not worth expending in a secondary theatre. MacArthur then suggested that the Allies do what the Japanese had done in taking New Guinea in the first place, but in reverse: two landing operations, one in the south and then a follow-up operation in the north to take Lae. This too was met with opposition: as long as the Japanese controlled Guadalcanal and Rabaul, sending the fleet through the Solomon Sea would be a dangerous move, made worse by the knowledge that the Japanese still had a powerful Navy. Yamamoto’s whereabouts were unknown, but if he was anywhere near MacArthur’s command it was likely that he would show up once more.

Allied intelligence had been hard at work trying to put together a picture of the Japanese defence system across New Guinea and the Solomons and Bismarcks, but they had achieved little success into the middle of 1943. Air reconnaissance was difficult, made more difficult by six months of heavy tropical rain and then several newly-reinforced squadrons of Japanese fighters, including the new Ki-61 and more familiar Ki-43. New Guinea had not spawned a resistance movement anywhere near the scale of that of Fiji, so another very useful source of information was gone. The Australian defences had still been quite small when the port fell in May 1942, and it was likely that the Japanese had built them up considerably, the details of which would now be unknown as well. Where Fiji could be likened to an open book, New Guinea was shrouded by the fog of war.
The job of piercing that fog of war would fall primarily to signals intelligence units, which had been reading the Japanese communications for much of the war. In Fiji, radio traffic had revealed a notable lack of Japanese reinforcement efforts for the islands, and more recently it had revealed that Rabaul was much more strongly defended than the Allies had previously thought, with several divisions fortifying the island. In New Guinea however, there was only a very confusing series of messages to go by. It seemed as though major Japanese commanders could not agree on what they were doing in New Guinea, or even who was in command in the first place. Units were appearing and then disappearing, in a far more unorganised fashion than any usual rotation of forces. “By God, sir,” one of MacArthur’s intelligence officers was recorded as saying, “the Japs have gone mad!”
Some believed that the Japanese had started a deliberate misinformation program intending to confuse the Allied commanders or perhaps disguise an important troop or fleet movement. Considering the Allies’ incredible good fortune in reading the Japanese communications for so long, it was certainly possible that the Japanese had worked out that their codes were no longer effective. Others thought that the confusing messages were a massive overstatement of strength, possibly intended to please the Emperor after the loss of New Caledonia and Fiji.

The truth was stranger than anything the Allies considered. The Imperial Army and Navy were turning the South Pacific into a political battlefield of their own on the eve of MacArthur’s invasion. In order to make up for their loss in China, the Army’s top commanders ordered Generals Hyakutake (commander of the 17th Army based Rabaul and the Solomons) and Horii (55th Division, New Guinea) to enforce the IJA’s control over the South Pacific, evicting any Navy infantry and taking over the naval bases unless Navy personnel would submit to Army authority.
For the moment, no-one from either the Army or Navy had been killed, and the matter was passed off to Tokyo. The Army was the clear victor in the present dispute, acquiring total power over the defence of the entire South Seas Area at a time when Yamamoto and the rest of the Navy had little interest in supporting the region. Only when a Japanese (Army) scout plane noticed an American destroyer operating nearer New Guinea than usual did the two services appear to remember that they were also fighting the juggernaut of US production, and even then the swapping out of Navy Zeroes for Army Ki-43s continued.

General Horii was reading a report about the Navy’s complaints to Tokyo regarding the incident when MacArthur approached. The bear was beginning to drop.

- BNC
 
Lol, the Ki 43 is actually a worse plane then the A6M.
The Japanese High Command is really putting in a lot of effort digging that big national grave.
 
So how long until the civil war kicks off?
One could say it has already started... Army and Navy aren't really helping each other any more.

That would be my favorite part of an (ASB) Japanese Victory in the Pacific TL.
I would love to read such a TL! It would definitely be kind of nuts to see the IJA and IJN in open fighting - considering one has basically no sea power and the other no land power.

Lol, the Ki 43 is actually a worse plane then the A6M.
The Japanese High Command is really putting in a lot of effort digging that big national grave.
Yes, but the Ki 43 is an Army plane. That automatically makes it better than any rubbish the Navy could come up with. All they do is steal the glory. ;)

It's so satisfying reading such a great TL. :D
This is really great, can't wait to find out how Operation Drop Bear goes!
Really enjoying this alot
Thanks everyone :)

- BNC
 
XLI: Drop Bear (6/43)
XLI: Drop Bear, June 1943

Twenty-four hours before the troops were set to storm ashore, four American battleships fired their guns at the southern coast of New Guinea. North Carolina, South Dakota, Indiana and Massachusetts were tasked with clearing the way for a combined Allied force, primarily Australians and Americans but including detachments from other nations as well, to take the beaches west of Port Moresby before storming the city itself. Beaches, to the annoyance of commanders both Allied and Japanese, was a relative term, for this part of New Guinea lacked any great expanses of open beach ideal for the easy unloading of troops and supplies. Steep hills extended almost to the sea in even the best of locations, and the Japanese had lost hundreds taking many of those hills the previous year. Getting the troops on land safely and then supplying them on the march east would be a challenge that worried virtually everyone involved, but it was a job that had to be done.
While the battleships battered jungles and hillsides, General MacArthur and Admiral Fitch were keen to finish the Japanese air presence over New Guinea for good. Fighters flying from the Saratoga, Hornet, Victorious and Illustrious were joined by P-38s and P-47s flying out of bases in northern Australia. Behind them were B-17s, directed to attack every known airfield in New Guinea. If the Japanese fighters did not meet their foes in the air, they would be destroyed on the ground.
The aerial assault on New Guinea began very successfully. Unlike the Navy, and probably just because the Navy was doing it, the Imperial Army had made no effort to pull experienced pilots out of the most dangerous roles, and eighteen months of intense operations had taken its toll on the Army’s Air Service. Well over two-thirds of the Army’s elite crews that had been serving Japan in the Pacific on December 7th, 1941 were now dead, and their replacements had been rushed through a training schedule that provided only a minimum of flying hours before sending them to the front. The Ki-43, while hardly the world-beater it had seemed at the beginning of the war, was still a capable aircraft in the middle of 1943. In the hands of novice pilots, it proved no match for its sturdier, better armoured rivals. Dozens were destroyed, while Allied losses were lighter than expected.

On the eve of the invasion, an air of confidence filled MacArthur’s headquarters. The ease with which the counterattack in New Caledonia had been conducted, the quick collapse of their position in Fiji and the destruction of their air power over New Guinea was making Allied commanders believe that the Japanese defence was fragile. They may still be capable on the offensive, their effort towards Tontouta had been proof enough of that, but the moment they were stopped was the moment they would begin to die. MacArthur was the most confident of all, and with two divisions (the 32nd US and 9th Australian) set to land, he had fair reason to be so. Intelligence was suggesting that the Japanese were in a complete shambles.
What MacArthur did not know was that the chaos in the Japanese command was occurring far behind the lines. Although the Imperial Navy had stationed some troops on New Guinea, General Hyakutake had wanted to ensure that it was Army troops that would have the glory of repulsing an American landing. The Navy troops were now being sent out of New Guinea, but they were leaving the sectors of the island considered less important by the Japanese. General Horii and the 55th Division were still manning the beach defences, only the interior was weakened.

On June 11th, 1943, nearly 4000 Japanese were stationed at MacArthur’s landing sites. Despite the air and naval bombardment of the previous day, too few had been dislodged from the hillsides, and now they swept the battlefield with machine gun and artillery fire while remaining safe in hundreds of wooden and concrete bunkers. Bombers originally planned to destroy Japanese bases across Western New Guinea were redirected to assist in the destruction of the hillside bunkers, while hundreds of MacArthur’s infantry fell. The first wave of Drop Bear suffered some of the heaviest losses so far seen in the Pacific war, but after nearly nine hours Blue Beach, one of the four landing sites, was declared taken. Smaller beachheads at Red, Green and Orange beaches were also occupied, but many of the bunkers in those sectors continued their menacing presence.
Horii, who had been forced to split his time between the Allied landings and the dispute with the Navy, was under the impression that the bunker lines were holding. He had built several such lines at every location close enough to Port Moresby that he thought an invasion could arrive at, but now found his manpower – 25,000 all up – divided along a nearly hundred kilometre front. An hour of disputes with a Navy officer delayed the decision of whether to pull forces from these other sectors, and intelligence reports suggesting a second invasion was soon to follow made the general even more uncertain. After dawn the next day, when another recon flight reported no second invasion fleet, Horii finally made the decision to pull some of his defences away from the bunkers east of Port Moresby.
MacArthur, on board the cruiser Louisville, watched nervously as his troops clinged on to the scraps of ground that they had lost a thousand men for. All through the night, there was a fear that the Japanese could push forward with some unseen reserves. The sea was just a few hundred metres behind them, and the destruction of a landing group remained a feared possibility, especially at Orange Beach where the situation was more precarious than anywhere else. The Australians at Blue Beach worked through the night to unload several artillery pieces, and by morning they were ready to push forward once again.
MacArthur’s hope to be in Port Moresby in three days had been dashed, and the situation was deemed to dangerous for him to personally join the troops on the beaches, but at the beginning of D+1 the position at Blue had been consolidated sufficiently for a new advance to be made. The troops at Blue, along with newly-landed forces, were ordered into the hills again with the difficult job of clearing the Japanese from their bunkers, one by one. Only once the bunkers had been silenced would it be possible to advance on Port Moresby. The fanatic soldiers fighting to the death in the hills of New Guinea were proving that Japan was just as fearsome on the defence as they had been on the attack.

- BNC
 
XLI: Drop Bear, June 1943

Twenty-four hours before the troops were set to storm ashore, four American battleships fired their guns at the southern coast of New Guinea. North Carolina, South Dakota, Indiana and Massachusetts were tasked with clearing the way for a combined Allied force, primarily Australians and Americans but including detachments from other nations as well, to take the beaches west of Port Moresby before storming the city itself. Beaches, to the annoyance of commanders both Allied and Japanese, was a relative term, for this part of New Guinea lacked any great expanses of open beach ideal for the easy unloading of troops and supplies. Steep hills extended almost to the sea in even the best of locations, and the Japanese had lost hundreds taking many of those hills the previous year. Getting the troops on land safely and then supplying them on the march east would be a challenge that worried virtually everyone involved, but it was a job that had to be done.
While the battleships battered jungles and hillsides, General MacArthur and Admiral Fitch were keen to finish the Japanese air presence over New Guinea for good. Fighters flying from the Saratoga, Hornet, Victorious and Illustrious were joined by P-38s and P-47s flying out of bases in northern Australia. Behind them were B-17s, directed to attack every known airfield in New Guinea. If the Japanese fighters did not meet their foes in the air, they would be destroyed on the ground.
The aerial assault on New Guinea began very successfully. Unlike the Navy, and probably just because the Navy was doing it, the Imperial Army had made no effort to pull experienced pilots out of the most dangerous roles, and eighteen months of intense operations had taken its toll on the Army’s Air Service. Well over two-thirds of the Army’s elite crews that had been serving Japan in the Pacific on December 7th, 1941 were now dead, and their replacements had been rushed through a training schedule that provided only a minimum of flying hours before sending them to the front. The Ki-43, while hardly the world-beater it had seemed at the beginning of the war, was still a capable aircraft in the middle of 1943. In the hands of novice pilots, it proved no match for its sturdier, better armoured rivals. Dozens were destroyed, while Allied losses were lighter than expected.

On the eve of the invasion, an air of confidence filled MacArthur’s headquarters. The ease with which the counterattack in New Caledonia had been conducted, the quick collapse of their position in Fiji and the destruction of their air power over New Guinea was making Allied commanders believe that the Japanese defence was fragile. They may still be capable on the offensive, their effort towards Tontouta had been proof enough of that, but the moment they were stopped was the moment they would begin to die. MacArthur was the most confident of all, and with two divisions (the 32nd US and 9th Australian) set to land, he had fair reason to be so. Intelligence was suggesting that the Japanese were in a complete shambles.
What MacArthur did not know was that the chaos in the Japanese command was occurring far behind the lines. Although the Imperial Navy had stationed some troops on New Guinea, General Hyakutake had wanted to ensure that it was Army troops that would have the glory of repulsing an American landing. The Navy troops were now being sent out of New Guinea, but they were leaving the sectors of the island considered less important by the Japanese. General Horii and the 55th Division were still manning the beach defences, only the interior was weakened.

On June 11th, 1943, nearly 4000 Japanese were stationed at MacArthur’s landing sites. Despite the air and naval bombardment of the previous day, too few had been dislodged from the hillsides, and now they swept the battlefield with machine gun and artillery fire while remaining safe in hundreds of wooden and concrete bunkers. Bombers originally planned to destroy Japanese bases across Western New Guinea were redirected to assist in the destruction of the hillside bunkers, while hundreds of MacArthur’s infantry fell. The first wave of Drop Bear suffered some of the heaviest losses so far seen in the Pacific war, but after nearly nine hours Blue Beach, one of the four landing sites, was declared taken. Smaller beachheads at Red, Green and Orange beaches were also occupied, but many of the bunkers in those sectors continued their menacing presence.
Horii, who had been forced to split his time between the Allied landings and the dispute with the Navy, was under the impression that the bunker lines were holding. He had built several such lines at every location close enough to Port Moresby that he thought an invasion could arrive at, but now found his manpower – 25,000 all up – divided along a nearly hundred kilometre front. An hour of disputes with a Navy officer delayed the decision of whether to pull forces from these other sectors, and intelligence reports suggesting a second invasion was soon to follow made the general even more uncertain. After dawn the next day, when another recon flight reported no second invasion fleet, Horii finally made the decision to pull some of his defences away from the bunkers east of Port Moresby.
MacArthur, on board the cruiser Louisville, watched nervously as his troops clinged on to the scraps of ground that they had lost a thousand men for. All through the night, there was a fear that the Japanese could push forward with some unseen reserves. The sea was just a few hundred metres behind them, and the destruction of a landing group remained a feared possibility, especially at Orange Beach where the situation was more precarious than anywhere else. The Australians at Blue Beach worked through the night to unload several artillery pieces, and by morning they were ready to push forward once again.
MacArthur’s hope to be in Port Moresby in three days had been dashed, and the situation was deemed to dangerous for him to personally join the troops on the beaches, but at the beginning of D+1 the position at Blue had been consolidated sufficiently for a new advance to be made. The troops at Blue, along with newly-landed forces, were ordered into the hills again with the difficult job of clearing the Japanese from their bunkers, one by one. Only once the bunkers had been silenced would it be possible to advance on Port Moresby. The fanatic soldiers fighting to the death in the hills of New Guinea were proving that Japan was just as fearsome on the defence as they had been on the attack.

- BNC
It sounds like proto Iwo Jima just happened. Are those USA troops or USMC troops that Big Mack have under his command?
 
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