March 19, 2012

The Significance of the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands

Just a little follow up on that Enterprise post.  They call Midway the turning point of the Pacific War, but it would have been hard to say so at the time.  The U.S. went to the Battle of Midway with three carriers and left with two, Hornet and Enterprise.  Then Hornet was lost at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, while the Japanese fleet lost no capital ships.  The U.S. lost 81 of its 136 aircraft in that fight, while the Japanese lost 99 of their 199.

And yet, after the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands the four Japanese carriers went home.  Why?

The Japanese lost 148 pilots and air crew members in the battle, compared to only 26 for the US.  According to the fine Wikipedia article:
The Japanese lost more aircrew at Santa Cruz than they had lost in each of the three previous carrier battles at Coral Sea (90), Midway (110), and Eastern Solomons (61). By the end of the Santa Cruz battle, at least 409 of the 765 elite Japanese carrier aviators who had participated in the Attack on Pearl Harbor were dead...  The Japanese lost so many aircrew members that undamaged Zuikaku and Hiyō were also forced to return to Japan because of a scarcity of trained aircrew to man their air groups.
Historian Eric Hammel:  "Santa Cruz was a Japanese victory.  That victory cost Japan her last best chance to win the war."


Blogger Viceroy De Los Osos said...

Your historical posts are among my favorites. Pilot training is a serious business.

"According to the AAF Statistical Digest, in less than four years (December 1941- August 1945), the US Army Air Forces lost 14,903 pilots, aircrew and assorted personnel plus 13,873 airplanes --- inside the continental United States. They were the result of 52,651 aircraft accidents (6,039 involving fatalities) in 45 months. "

March 21, 2012 at 2:57 PM  
Blogger The Other Front said...

Thanks - when I was a kid these events were as recent as the first Gulf War is now. In the Steller library there was a book that had most of the photographs in this post and some art as well. So that precarious moment in the Pacific and the stand at Bastogne stick with me. Moments where, if evil had one more punch left in it, we might have been taken down.

Perhaps not altogether rationally I take the fact of the loneliness (and let's be frank, desperation) of those men as they faced long odds, and the fortunate outcome of the war, as amounting to a kind of obligation we owe to them. I don't mean some Greatest Generation thing, I mean a specific moral obligation to those particular men, who drew the short straw and had to face off against a well-armed monster with no certainty as to the ultimate meaning of their sacrifice. Not just an American thing or a World War II could include Massoud in that conversation.

There was nothing they could do then to ensure their sacrifice meant anything. It's up to the rest of us.

March 22, 2012 at 12:45 PM  
Blogger The Other Front said...

Not sure what that has to do with Kate Upton, but there's a connection in there somewhere, I'm sure.

March 22, 2012 at 6:22 PM  

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