1931: The Great Pacific War

The Spring, 1991 issue of Military History Quarterly had an article entitled Bywater's Pacific War Prophecy. The article pointed out things that appeared in the book 1931: The Great Pacific War. My review of that article is here.

I decided to get the book and see just how much he had predicted would happen that actually did happen. There were some things, of course, that he could not foresee such as the invention of the Atomic Bomb or the degree of incredible hatred between Japanese and American soldiers. What I've done below is to do a synopsis of each chapter and point out what I consider to be the most interesting historical points.

The book, by the way, was published in 1925, 16 years before the U.S. entered the war.

Chapter 1

January-March 1931: Japan's industry has been growing and her foreign trade is increasing. Japan has already made moves into China (which she didn't do in a military manner until 1931). Japan works to freeze out all foreign business from China and to keep China divided with warlords battling each other.

Japan wanted China for her natural resources and stopped a U.S. developer who wanted to have access to China.

In Japan there was also a problem with Communism. Despite the fact that military chiefs reigned supreme there were still some worker revolts. Japan needed to draw attention away from internal problems She also felt she needed new territories in the Pacific and the conclusion was reached that a war with the U.S. was an answer to her problems.

Japan had invaded China in 1931 in actuality but for the same reasons; she wanted resources and territory. The idea of claiming there is some external threat to a country is an often-used form of drawing attention away from a country's own problems. This was aided in Japan by the concept of the Emperor who the Japanese had been taught was a god and that they should all get behind him. The only thing in this chapter that is off from reality is the timing and that's it. Otherwise it's pretty much dead-on for the reasons for the war and what Japan decided to do.

Chapter 2

The Japanese people begin to draw in behind the government's idea of hating the U.S. The Japanese government whips up tension over the U.S. immigration policies, and the movement of some U.S. ships to Pacific waters just drives the hatred level up.

The U.S. Pacific Squadron consists of rather old and obsolete ships. The Japanese blow up one of their own ships in the Panama Canal to keep U.S. ships from using that shortcut to the Pacific Ocean.

There is an attack on Manila Bay where the U.S. ships are anchored and the American fleet ends up being destroyed with thousands dead.

In reality: The attack was on Pearl Harbor and not on Manila Bay, but that was something the author probably couldn't have seen; namely, the ship to centering on Pearl Harbor rather than a base in the Philippines. The surprise attack was somewhat similar and the massive destruction and loss of life was pretty much the same as what happened.

The author missed out on just how quick the U.S. recovered from the attack, and how the Japanese fouled up their own attack by not hitting oil tanks and other valuable targets.

Chapter 3

March 1931: This is more on the attack on the American fleet. They move on to invade the Philippines in an attack that they had actually practiced.

In reality: The Japanese did extensive practice on the raid on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines were, indeed, an early target for their military forces.

Chapter 4

March 1931: The Japanese plan is to land on both sides of the Philippines at the same time. U.S. plans do manage to destroy ten Japanese transports, resulting in over 6000 Japanese casualties. Despite the actions by U.S. subs the Japanese are still able to land. Guam falls to the Japanese.

In reality: There is one area in which the author is totally off the mark and that is how the Japanese treated prisoners. He describes the Japanese as soldiers who would have treated prisoners we. The history of the war shows this was quite the opposite of what was actually done both to soldiers and to civilian prisoners.

Chapter 5

March, 1931: This chapter goes into the strength of both sides at the start of the war. Japan had superior ships of all kinds except destroyers. The Germans helped the Japanese on building subs. There was a small number of 'super-subs' built, along with many planes.

Moscow was neutral at the start of the war. One problem the Japanese had, though, was that many of her troops were tied up in Korea and in China.

The U.S. had not taken the building of defenses in the Philippines seriously, and they also made the mistake of assuming that the West Coast of the U.S. could not be attacked and that Pearl Harbor would probably not be attacked.

Chapter 6

March-April 1931: The first part of the chapter deals with Guam. It's also pointed out that Germany is not involved in the war other than selling weapons to Japan.

A defense is set up for Guam. A Japanese carrier is dealt with along with a few other ships but it's no where near enough to stop the Japanese from taking the island. The Governor of Guam is evacuated, something like MacArthur.

Chapter 7

April 1931: Guam falls. Political feuds end in Japan. The U.S. remains in control of the Eastern Pacific waters. A lot of the ships burn coal. Japan is still in the League of Nations which, in reality, it walked out on. The Japanese go after merchant ships.

One other thing missing: there has been, in the book, no talk about the internment of persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast.

Chapter 8

April-May 1931: China embargoes shipments from Japan. Japan then puts even more troops into China. Russia and Japan argue over the Sakhalin Islands. The Japanese are starting to run short of oil.

Japan is trading with India and Australia. This is a part to me that is sort of hard to believe, that countries that are friendly towards the U.S. would continue to trade with Japan even while it was at war with the U.S.

The United States and Japan actually end up in a buying contest, each country trying to buy up what the other country wants. The United States has a problem with having enough trained personnel.

The Japanese then set up mines off Honolulu and San Diego Bay. In reality the Japanese did end up staging a few limited attacks on the West Coast, including the shelling of a refinery and using a sub-launched plan to try to start forest fires (which didn't work since it was the rainy season.) Also, there is no reference in the book to something else that really happened, and that was the use of balloon bombs built by the Japanese and launched.

They were supposed to float across the ocean and then, after that got over the U.S. coastline, drop incendiary devices on U.S. forests and maybe even cities. It was a rather large-scale effort that had almost no success at all.

Chapter 9

June, July 1931: A Japanese sub shells a train wreck on the West Coast. A tanker near Los Angeles is torpedoed, and then one near the Golden Gate. A sub sinks a ship near the Columbia River. Some towns are shelled, and San Francisco is bombed by the Japanese with a 'severe' loss of life. Los Angeles is attacked by 20 Japanese airplanes.

U.S. recalls destroyers and works to build up West Coast defenses. Old ships, though, are still being used.

The book actually predicts much worse damage than the Japanese were able to inflict. There was an 'attack' on Los Angeles but, to this day, no one really knows exactly what happened.

(UFO first day cover)

Chapter 10

August-September 1931: The Japanese arrange a submarine ambush at Cape Horn. We loose some ships but the Japanese eventually lose two of their subs. The Panama Canal reopens. The American fleet is undergoing repairs. Meanwhile, the government of the U.S. starts to censor the media.

Chapter 11

Oct-Dec 1931: The U.S. fleet is growing in number. Japan loses any chances at a full-scale invasion of the West Coast. There is unrest in the U.S. and the stock market is having trouble. Guam is held by the Japanese who had used gas in their attack. The U.S. still controls Midway. There is no breaking of Japanese codes. The American fleet heads to Midway.

Chapter 12

Dec. 1931-January 1932: A gale hits the U.S. fleet and does a lot of damage. The two fleets end up battling and the U.S. gets the worse end of the stick.

Chapter 13

Dec. 1931-Jan. 1932: There's a revolt in Manchuria. New U.S. planes attack Hokkaido. The Japanese are still trading with Australia. There are some plans for attacking Hokkaido.

Chapter 14

Feb-March 1932: The United States plans to attack Truk island. There's another battle between fleets and this time the U.S. does better. 700 U.S. sailors die, but 2000 Japanese die. The U.S. loses 6 ships, but the Japanese lose 24.

Chapter 15

March-April 1932: The people in Japan are upset about the battle loss. [In reality, news of loses was kept from the Japanese people or the news is spun to make even a loss look like something good.] The Japanese plan to attack Dutch Harbor [which in reality they did.] They lose 10 planes in the attack. One crashed plane is found and seized by the U.S. [Which actually happened and let the U.S. learn lots about the capabilities of the Zero.] U.S. ships attack Japanese ships going to Australia and also start to make inroads against Japanese trade with Europe.

Chapter 16

April-June 1932:Japanese ships sail to London. Several more U.S. ships are sunk. Rifles are smuggled

to the Japanese living in Hawaii and they stage an uprising, taking control of a barracks. They cut telegraph wires and tear up railroad tracks. They also kill some U.S. troops. U.S. troops counter-attack and it takes several weeks to put down the uprising. Other of the islands see similar but weaker riots. Some of the rioters end up deported to labor camps while the others are put into a segregated area. The United States attacks and takes the island of Truk with little difficulty.

Chapter 17

June-Aug. 1932: The U.S. intelligence service proves to be far better than the Japanese one. The Japanese Army and the Japanese Navy don't get along. [As they really didn't, even during the actual war.]The super-subs the Japanese built fail, two with mechanical problems and two sunk, with the final two never being completed.

The United States continues to take over Japanese bases in the Pacific. The U.S. disguises some ships as being fighting ships which tricks the Japanese. The Japanese people are suffering food shortages and live under martial law. [By the end of the war they were, indeed, suffering terrible food shortages. The U.S. had managed to sink or block almost all the Japanese merchant fleet.]

Chapter 18

Aug-Oct. 1932: The author describes the process of island-hopping which is exactly what was done during the actual war. The U.S. takes more islands.

Chapter 19

Oct-Nov. 1932: The U.S. air defense is better than the Japanese. The Japanese keep losing ground.

Chapter 20

Nov. 1932: The Japanese are involved in an air battle. They start using kamikaze attacks. Both fleets involved in the battle have heavy loses, but the Japanese fleet is just about done for.

Chapter 21

Nov. 1932-March 1933: There are more political troubles in Japan. The Chinese are moving against the Japanese in China. The U.S. retakes Guam and lands on the Philippines. There are shortages in Japan. Leaflets are dropped on Japan and a treaty is signed on May 15, 1933.

Some things that did not happen in the book but did in real life: there was no firebombing of Japan. There was little if any major fighting in Burma or in India. There was no mining of Japanese waters. Iwo Jima and Okinawa seemed not to have been attacked.

Thus, the book does predict correctly quite a few things that did end up happening in the war, although a number of things that did happen were not foreseen, for various reasons.

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