Cautionaries, and War Games
By DAVID F. WINKLER
Dr. David F. Winkler is a historian with the Naval Historical Foundation.
When Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Vern Clark introduced the Navy's
new guiding vision--titled Sea Power 21: Operational Concepts for a New
Era--on 12 June of this year, it was no surprise that the venue was the
Naval War College's Current Strategy Forum. Because the Newport, R.I.,
institution played a proactive role in shaping Sea Power 21, the CNO used
the opportunity not only to detail the strategy, but to acknowledge the
contributions made by Naval War College students and faculty members.
The Naval War College (NWC) remains engaged in shaping America's maritime
strategy, continuing a tradition hailing from its 1884 founding. One of
the unique tools NWC uses to develop and refine strategies is war gaming.
Recently, the College opened a new multimillion-dollar war-gaming facility
that takes advantage of the latest technologies to add realism to the
various scenarios postulated. However, war gaming at Newport harks back
to an era long before computers--an era when participants walked over
large tabletops to move miniature fleets of varying colors. Before World
War II, the color used for the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) was orange.
Japan, of course, also was conducting large sea-battle simulations against
its potential cross-Pacific foe. Strongly influenced by their stunning
victories at sea against the Russians in 1905, Japan's naval leaders envisioned
a strategy based on what they termed the "Decisive Battle."
Japanese war-gamers deployed the U.S. Navy across the Pacific to defend
the Philippines and challenge the Japanese Combined Fleet. Although the
Americans boasted greater tonnage, Japanese planners believed that--through
attrition tactics exploiting the collective capabilities of submarines,
surface combatants, and naval aircraft--the American battle line could
be severely weakened before getting anywhere close to Japan's home waters--where
the IJN's powerful battleships could strike a decisive blow against the
Various versions of the American contingency plans against Japan, dubbed
"War Plan Orange," actually did envision a dash across the Pacific
by the U.S. fleet. However, the numerous logistics challenges involved
were a major concern to the Navy's planners. The 1917 version of the plan,
for example, called for the availability of 494 colliers or tankers to
fuel the Navy's warships. Still, advocates for the cross-Pacific dash,
labeled "Thrusters" by historian Edward S. Miller, believed
that the American people would not tolerate a long conflict and, for that
reason, a lunge into the heart of the Japanese Empire would be the surest
and perhaps only way to bring the war to a swift conclusion. The "con"
group, dubbed "Cautionaries" by Miller, postulated that the
swift conclusion forecast by the Thrusters might not be all that advantageous
to the United States and for that reason pushed for a more deliberate
The naval-dash strategy was tested repeatedly within the war-gaming hall
at Newport--usually with results, unfortunately, that would have been
reassuring to the Japanese, had they been present to observe. In the wake
of a 1933 war game that ravaged much of the Navy's battle line, the academics
at the Naval War College projected a strategy of containing Japanese offensive
actions within the Western Pacific while America built up its own offensive
forces. The forecast projected a four- to five-year struggle.
Despite the foreboding projections provided by the NWC, Navy planners
in Washington, D.C., retained the dash as a key element of War Plan Orange;
the surprise 7 December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, of course,
preempted the execution of that element of the strategy. However, the
strategic thinking conducted at the Naval War College during the 1920s
and 1930s enabled the Navy's leaders to overcome numerous early setbacks
to develop and then implement a credible and ultimately successful war
plan. Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, reflecting after the war about NWC's
contribution, said "Nothing that happened during the war was a surprise
... except the kamikaze."
Sources: John Prados, Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History
of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II; and Edward
S. Miller, War Plan Orange.