Carrier Operations Defensive Positions?

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Delta Tank
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Carrier Operations Defensive Positions?

Post by Delta Tank » 29 Aug 2022 18:02

To all,

I just finished reading Ian Toll’s trilogy on the Pacific War and it it I found some things that I thought were very odd. I don’t understand why we put aircraft carriers into a “defensive box” limiting their movement and making it easier for enemy planes and submarines to attack them. Why did we do this? What is the logic behind this?

Mike

“Pacific Crucible, War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942” page 220: “The Enterprise had been a hive of activity. . . For all those hours (9 hours) she remained in a five by twenty five mile rectangle north of Maloelap atoll. She had thrown heavy punches at the Japanese air bases all up and down the Marshalls, and done plenty of damage.”

“The Conquering Tide, War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944”. page 107: Ghormley deployed this powerful task force between San Cristobal and the Santa Cruz Islands, in a rectangle zone measuring approximately 160 miles (east-west) by 60 miles (north-south). In this “centrally-located” position, Fletcher could move quickly to counter any Japanese advance into the Solomons while also providing air cover to Turner’s transport fleet as it ran supplies and reinforcements into Ironbottom Sound. But Ghormley’s orders had the perilous effect of tying Fletcher down in a specific area.”

Page 111: “The sudden and devastating loss of the Wasp at a time when the task forces were under omnipresent threat of submarine attack finally prompted Nimitz to lay down the law. “For three weeks Task Force 61 and its elements remained in the same waters adjacent to our supply route to the Solomons in an area known to be infested with submarines. The mission did not require that the Task Force be restricted to that area.” Henceforth, wrote CINCPAC, “The area of operations of our Task Forces should be changed radically at frequent intervals.”

Page 325: “As plans for GALVANIC took shape, Towers advised Nimitz to send the new carrier task forces on far-ranging missions to attack Japanese airfields and (if opportunity offered) the Japanese fleet. He warned against limiting their freedom of movement by keeping them corralled in defensive sectors.”

Page 373: “. . .Hedding, years later, offered tactfully measured criticism: “I think there was a tendency to be rather conservative and a little careful of what might happen. We didn’t want to have our ships damaged.” Clark was blunter: “The fallacy of confining carriers to defensive sectors had cost us one carrier sunk, another put out of action, and many lives lost.” The black shoe admirals at the top of the command chain, in Clark’s view had been slow to understand the capabilities of the new fast carrier forces, and the only remedy was to promote avaiators into senior policy-making jobs in Washington and Pearl Harbor.
On November 26, with Tarawa firmly in American hands and most of the Fifth Fleet bound for Pearl Harbor, Nimitz released the carriers from their defensive positions. . .”

Page 441: “The fast carriers could not be deployed to their best advantage in the confined waters between the Dutch East Indies and the southern Philippines.” ( my comments, doesn’t make sense when you confine the carriers in a tiny defensive box, Mike)

“Twilight Of The Gods, War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945” page 593-594: “For Task Force 58, operating in a 60 square-mile defensive zone north-east of Okinawa, the daily routine were an exhausting struggle”

Page 614: “Task Force 58 kept station to the East of Okinawa, constantly patrolling in an area of about 60 square miles.”

Page 615: “Individual task groups were diverted north repeatedly to raid Kyushu, but the bulk of Task Force 58 remained pinned to the beachhead, with its mobility sharply restricted. The daily pattern became predictable, and predictability was dangerous. Mitscher grumbled that his task force had become “a high-speed stationary target for the Japanese air force.”

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Re: Carrier Operations Defensive Positions?

Post by OpanaPointer » 29 Aug 2022 18:57

The "box" was usually surrounded by a hellish number of AAA-equipped ships. Each carrier, in addition, was usually assigned a section of the compass rose to focus their attention on.
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Delta Tank
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Re: Carrier Operations Defensive Positions?

Post by Delta Tank » 29 Aug 2022 20:12

OpanaPointer wrote:
29 Aug 2022 18:57
The "box" was usually surrounded by a hellish number of AAA-equipped ships. Each carrier, in addition, was usually assigned a section of the compass rose to focus their attention on.
The above posts are about a geographical location where the ships were ordered to operate in, not a ship formation.

Mike

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Re: Carrier Operations Defensive Positions?

Post by OpanaPointer » 30 Aug 2022 00:28

Just the difference between strategy and tactics.
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Re: Carrier Operations Defensive Positions?

Post by Delta Tank » 30 Aug 2022 00:49

OpanaPointer wrote:
30 Aug 2022 00:28
Just the difference between strategy and tactics.
Please explain.

Mike

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Re: Carrier Operations Defensive Positions?

Post by OpanaPointer » 30 Aug 2022 01:34

Delta Tank wrote:
30 Aug 2022 00:49
OpanaPointer wrote:
30 Aug 2022 00:28
Just the difference between strategy and tactics.
Please explain.

Mike
I was talking tactics. I leave strategy to the brass hats. Who knows what they get up to. "The world wonders."
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Re: Carrier Operations Defensive Positions?

Post by EwenS » 02 Sep 2022 13:23

Many reasons come to mind.

For starters your own strike aircraft need to know where their parent carrier will be when they return to it, especially if everyone is attempting to keep electronic emissions to a minimum. The latter became less important as the war went on.

If the carrier or carrier group is supporting landings somewhere it needs to ensure that it remains close enough to carry out that function, and that those ashore can have some idea of how long that support might take if called upon.

And also deconfliction. When it came to the various big amphibious landings in the Pacific, there were all sorts of groups of warships transiting into and out of the area of operations at different times that all needed to be co-ordinated. UDT groups, minesweeper groups, gunfire support groups, APA/AKA groups, slow LST/LCI convoys, CVE covering groups as well as the fast carriers. All requiring their little bit of ocean. Last thing you want in 1943-45 is multiple fast carrier groups (each with upwards of 25 ships) charging around the ocean at 15-25knots free to bump into everyone else.

But there were lessons learned along the way. Off Salerno for example the box allocated to Force V was reportedly too small and too close to shore which inhibited flying operations in the low wind conditions encountered.

As always there is a compromise. But an enemy still has to find the “box” in the first place. And then deploy aircraft and / or submarines to it.

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Re: Carrier Operations Defensive Positions?

Post by OpanaPointer » 03 Sep 2022 14:22

"For starters your own strike aircraft need to know where their parent carrier will be when they return to it,..."
You could always turn on your searchlights and point them straight up?
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Takao
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Re: Carrier Operations Defensive Positions?

Post by Takao » 10 Sep 2022 19:57

Delta Tank wrote:
29 Aug 2022 18:02
To all,

I just finished reading Ian Toll’s trilogy on the Pacific War and it it I found some things that I thought were very odd. I don’t understand why we put aircraft carriers into a “defensive box” limiting their movement and making it easier for enemy planes and submarines to attack them. Why did we do this? What is the logic behind this?
The logic is mostly "black shoe"(surface) logic. By assigning multiple defensive boxes makes it easier to defend against several threats coming in from different vectors, or by selecting a central position, instead of multiple positions, to do the same.

To be fair though, given the carrier's freedom of movement, only focuses on the carriers, while ignoring the other surface and amphibious groups that will need protecting.



However, some of the examples you ask about are not defensive boxes. So let's see.
Delta Tank wrote:
29 Aug 2022 18:02
“Pacific Crucible, War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942” page 220: “The Enterprise had been a hive of activity. . . For all those hours (9 hours) she remained in a five by twenty five mile rectangle north of Maloelap atoll. She had thrown heavy punches at the Japanese air bases all up and down the Marshalls, and done plenty of damage.”
Not a defensive box.

The carrier was marking time launching and recovering air strikes. As well as dispatching a surface bombardment group of 2 cruisers and a destroyer.

This was done to make navigation easier for returning pilots to locate the carrier, also easier for the returning surface bombardment group to locate the carrier. Not to mention, blundering into a Japanese surface force with some of the cruiser firepower away would not be wise.

Delta Tank wrote:
29 Aug 2022 18:02
“The Conquering Tide, War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944”. page 107: Ghormley deployed this powerful task force between San Cristobal and the Santa Cruz Islands, in a rectangle zone measuring approximately 160 miles (east-west) by 60 miles (north-south). In this “centrally-located” position, Fletcher could move quickly to counter any Japanese advance into the Solomons while also providing air cover to Turner’s transport fleet as it ran supplies and reinforcements into Ironbottom Sound. But Ghormley’s orders had the perilous effect of tying Fletcher down in a specific area.”

Page 111: “The sudden and devastating loss of the Wasp at a time when the task forces were under omnipresent threat of submarine attack finally prompted Nimitz to lay down the law. “For three weeks Task Force 61 and its elements remained in the same waters adjacent to our supply route to the Solomons in an area known to be infested with submarines. The mission did not require that the Task Force be restricted to that area.” Henceforth, wrote CINCPAC, “The area of operations of our Task Forces should be changed radically at frequent intervals.”
Ghormley was not the sharpest tool in the box. However, his defensive box left almost 10,000 square miles of area to operate in. Not an easy task for a submarine to search that much Ocean.

The real problem was a lack of appreciation for the Japanese submarine threat by on-site commanders, possibly coupled with an over estimation of ASW capabilities. For instance, Admiral Leigh Noyes, commanding the Wasp task group criss-crossed back and fourth across his track 12 times in the 3 days leading up to Wasp's sinking. For this, he was duly reprimanded and "beached" - never holding another seagoing command.


Delta Tank wrote:
29 Aug 2022 18:02
Page 325: “As plans for GALVANIC took shape, Towers advised Nimitz to send the new carrier task forces on far-ranging missions to attack Japanese airfields and (if opportunity offered) the Japanese fleet. He warned against limiting their freedom of movement by keeping them corralled in defensive sectors.”

Page 373: “. . .Hedding, years later, offered tactfully measured criticism: “I think there was a tendency to be rather conservative and a little careful of what might happen. We didn’t want to have our ships damaged.” Clark was blunter: “The fallacy of confining carriers to defensive sectors had cost us one carrier sunk, another put out of action, and many lives lost.” The black shoe admirals at the top of the command chain, in Clark’s view had been slow to understand the capabilities of the new fast carrier forces, and the only remedy was to promote avaiators into senior policy-making jobs in Washington and Pearl Harbor.
The fast carriers were assigned to 4 defensive boxes to cover several air & naval approaches to the Gilberts.

Hedding speaks the truth. There was an overestimation of Japanese land-based air and naval capabilities at the time, and the defensive boxes were assigned to prevent major losses to the amphibious & surface fleets due to air attack, as well as prevent any major intervention by Japanese naval forces.

The fear was not really dispelled until the carrier raids on Rabaul in early November, 1943. However, Spruance claimed it was too late to make any such major operational changes to the Gilberts invasion plans.

As much as I admire & respect JJ "Jocko" Clark, he heavy handedly exaggerates his case. First, the Independence was torpedoed and damaged on the first night of the invasion - hardly time for the fast carriers to settle into an identifiable routine for the Japanese to exploit. Also, it points more to the US failure to establish aircraft night-fighting operations(which were being worked up, but not quite ready yet - indeed, famed ace Butch O'Hare would soon be lost on such a night combat mission).
Second, the CVE, USS Liscome Bay, was torpedoed and sunk.
Unfortunately, being one of several CVEs committed to the Gilberts invasion, she was expressly tied to the beachhead due to the fact that she was their to provide close air support for ground forces. This, coupled with the slow speed of the CVEs, meant that her options for maneuverability would be severely restricted no matter what.

Delta Tank wrote:
29 Aug 2022 18:02
On November 26, with Tarawa firmly in American hands and most of the Fifth Fleet bound for Pearl Harbor, Nimitz released the carriers from their defensive positions. . .”
Not exactly...Nimitz sent a despatch of instructions, drafted by McMorris & Sherman on November 21. Spruance held off releasing the carriers until November 28 - Saratoga & Princeton were sent back to Pearl, Bunker Hill & Monterey were kept north of the Gilberts, while the rest of the fast carriers went off to attack the Marshall Islands(specifically Kwajalein).

Delta Tank wrote:
29 Aug 2022 18:02
Page 441: “The fast carriers could not be deployed to their best advantage in the confined waters between the Dutch East Indies and the southern Philippines.” ( my comments, doesn’t make sense when you confine the carriers in a tiny defensive box, Mike)
Not a defensive box.

The "confined waters" here pertain to the many islands and shoal waters scattered throughout the area. Thus, limiting where large fleets can freely maneuver without running into Islands or avoiding grounding in shoal waters.
Think:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=T9WMSxV6lMs

Delta Tank wrote:
29 Aug 2022 18:02
“Twilight Of The Gods, War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945” page 593-594: “For Task Force 58, operating in a 60 square-mile defensive zone north-east of Okinawa, the daily routine were an exhausting struggle”

Page 614: “Task Force 58 kept station to the East of Okinawa, constantly patrolling in an area of about 60 square miles.”

Page 615: “Individual task groups were diverted north repeatedly to raid Kyushu, but the bulk of Task Force 58 remained pinned to the beachhead, with its mobility sharply restricted. The daily pattern became predictable, and predictability was dangerous. Mitscher grumbled that his task force had become “a high-speed stationary target for the Japanese air force.”
Yes, the daily routine was an exhausting struggle. Think of it...Not only are the fast carriers having to defend against air attacks against themselves and Okinawa. They are also conducting forays against Japan. As well as defending against the occasional incursion by the IJN. Topping it all off, is that they are still providing close air support for US ground forces.

Mitscher did grumble about it, but he also knew it was where the fast carriers had to be.

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